Networking has always been a key soft skill in accounting, and platforms like LinkedIn allow you to be deliberate about how you present yourself to the market.
But when a LinkedIn search of people in South Africa with ‘Accountant’ in their titles returns “about 106,000 results”, it can feel almost impossible to stand out.
Yet, your digital profile has become your first impression in today’s hybrid working world.
In this article, we share tips and strategies to make it a good one.
Consistency builds trust
Accountants are in the business of money. And when you deal with other people’s finances and advise them on how to manage their businesses, the biggest concern they’ll have is if they can trust you to act in their best interests.
Trust forms the foundation of long-lasting relationships between accountants and their clients. But it’s not something that you develop overnight. Building trust takes time and effort, but remember that you’re building a digital presence that advocates for you when you’re not around.
So, what’s the most authentic way to build trust? By showing up consistently, participating, and making meaningful contributions to important conversations. Here are a few ways to do that:
Polish your LinkedIn profile
A complete LinkedIn profile can get up to 40% more views, says Este Pretorius, LinkedIn expert and CEO of Boost Sales.
Pay attention to these key areas of your profile, which Este says are prime real estate:
Banner: Replace the standard LinkedIn banner with one that represents you, your passion, company ethos, or positioning.
Profile picture: Choose one of you smiling and looking professional. Your photo should take up 50% to 60% of the circle.
Headline: You have 220 characters to make an impression. Este suggests this formula: “I help (target audience) achieve (what you help them achieve) within (timeframe) with my (your process or methodology).”
About section: Explain what you have done for other clients and how you helped them achieve results. Use all 2,000 characters available but resist the urge to regurgitate your CV. Someone viewing your profile will only see the first three lines of the ‘About’ section – make them want to “click more”.
Activity: Try to post, share, or comment at least once a week. Not only does this show people that you’re active on the platform, but it also feeds the LinkedIn algorithm.
Experience: This is where you can stand out – sell and showcase yourself through links, media, testimonials, etc.
Skills: LinkedIn lets you list 50 skills – use them all, even if you aren’t endorsed for them. The algorithm will love you for it.
Recommendations: I.e., Your track record. Have at least three that are not older than six months.
Find your niche
Every accountant is an accountant.
But not all accountants are e-commerce specialists, ESG consultants, or cryptocurrency experts.
It’s easier to stand out when you have a niche and a unique selling point (USP). And when you figure out what that is, it should be immediately clear when someone views your profile.
Not sure what your niche is? Asking these questions might help.
What makes you different from other accountants?
Where is your career heading?
What type of people do you need to connect with?
What do they need help with?
Why are you the best person to help them?
Pro tip: Include keywords in your profile title. A LinkedIn search for ‘ESG accountant’ or ‘sustainability accountant’ returned 56,000 results, so you’ve already halved your competition. Plus, few people actually have these keywords in their titles. This means you have an even better chance of being noticed by including them in yours.
Rekindle old connections
Start with people you know. Reach out to friends, old colleagues, and acquaintances you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while and ask them how it’s going. Ask about your friend’s business venture. Comment on an ex-colleague’s baby announcement. There is no better reason to reconnect with your network than being genuinely interested in their stories.
Aim for quality, not quantity, when making new connections
Make a list of your ideal connections – aim for quality, not quantity (LinkedIn prefers this).
Then send a personalised connection request, and comment on something you’ve seen on their profile or your newsfeed.
“Follow leaders in your industry who already have a large following, and engage with meaningful insights on their content. This establishes you as a thought leader and exposes you to a large pool of potential connections,” says Este. “And never brag, sell, or hijack someone else’s post to promote your own agenda.”
Connections must be meaningful, and requests to connect should be authentic. Be clear about why you want to connect, and what’s in it for them, so they know it’s not just a one-sided relationship.
Este offers this example:
Delighted to connect. Saw your name and thought you might be from South Africa – hence me checking your profile! I grew up in Zambia and have many fond memories of Southern Africa.
“Don’t connect with someone and then ignore them,” says Este. “LinkedIn networking is a bit like dating – building relationships takes time and effort. Engage with their content regularly, but only if you have something meaningful to contribute (don’t sell!).”
Stay out of LinkedIn jail
A surefire way to get locked up is to use automation software to find or buy connections. Also, don’t do anything that makes you seem like the desperate one in the relationship, like removing or sending lots of connection requests at once, sending multiple messages in one session, or sending requests but not getting acceptances.
Be interesting, often
Sometimes showing interest, having an opinion, or expressing concern gets you noticed.
Este suggests that you post topical, conversational content at least twice a week on your personal and business page (if you have one). Talk about things your target audience is interested in, as well as their pain points and challenges.
ESG accounting, for example, is a relatively new field. Still, you probably already know a lot more than most business owners. Don’t let the “curse of knowledge” stop you from sharing interesting articles, offering advice on how to treat ESG in accounting, or joining discussions on carbon credits. This is a new topic to many people, and they’ll need help understanding it and getting it right. You could be the person that makes their lives easier.
Listen, participate, and pay it forward
Listening to and focusing on how you can help the other person in the relationship is the most critical skill for good business networking.
You can nurture relationships and form new ones simply by listening, being helpful, and connecting people. If someone in your network posts something interesting, share and comment on it. If someone asks for a recommendation, connect them to someone you believe could be a good fit.
Always thank the person who connects you to someone else and strike up a conversation with your new connection.
Show up early to video calls
Ok, this doesn’t have anything to do with LinkedIn, but the few minutes before and after a video call are golden – or at least have the potential to be.
When you’re meeting in person, there’s more opportunity for small talk while waiting for everyone to arrive and settle. Relationships flourish in quick conversations about the weekend football game, a colleague’s sick child, and engagement announcements.
Virtual meetings, on the other hand, are all business.
They start on the dot, there’s usually an agenda, and everyone stays on mute until it’s their turn to talk (and even then have to be reminded that they’re still on mute). The moment the meeting ends, no one hangs around. It’s like a game of “Who can click ‘Leave Meeting’ fastest?”
Why not join a video conference a few minutes before kick-off and chat to whoever is already waiting? A moment of genuine conversation with a colleague or client can go a long way to nurturing relationships. Even though we’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue, we still crave human connection and interaction.
Benefits of networking for accountants
Networking is ultimately about creating, investing in, and maintaining personal and professional relationships. Over time, you’ll build an ecosystem of partners from which you can draw energy, ideas, and inspiration, which pays dividends throughout your career.
Here are just a few of the advantages of expanding your network:
It raises your professional profile, advances your career, and uncovers business opportunities
Builds your knowledge and helps you to stay on top of trends
Makes it easier to find prospective clients and mentors
Establishes yourself as a thought leader in your chosen niche
Helps you to generate referrals and build trust in the market
Uncovers opportunities for joint ventures or partnerships
Introduces you to new concepts and methods
Gives you a morale boost during isolating times
Other ways to strengthen your professional network
Join a professional organisation
Attend webinars, conferences, and social events to connect with similar-minded people around the globe
Join industry networks, like the SA Accounting Network
Read widely across disciplines to find interesting connections
With fewer face-to-face engagements, your digital profile is your new first impression. And since you won’t be around when potential clients “meet” you for the first time, your profile should advocate for your skills, capabilities, and expertise while also giving a sense of who you are.