By Steven E. Sacks
The NEW Fundamentals
Seasoned professionals in CPA firms would rather skip the “meet and greets” because they are burned out, especially during tax season. But it is known that the best time to look for business is when you are doing year-end audit and tax work, letting the client know that you have his or her best interests at heart.
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So, if the managing partner suggests you attend a conference or an open house – either offered by your own firm or by an outside firm – don’t look at it as a chore but rather a way to differentiate you and your firm from the competition. This holds true whether you are a new partner, on the partner track or an up-and-comer who is not sure how to navigate a professional gathering. Especially for the younger professionals, I recommend just jumping in to learn the ropes and the dos and don’ts – sooner rather than later.
Making a Positive First Impression
So, you agreed to appear at an event (albeit begrudgingly). While Woody Allen may have said that “Eighty-five percent of life is just showing up,” you need to do more than just appear. Making a positive first impression is your number one goal; seeking opportunities to push your skills, products or your firm is second – a distant second. If you fail at the former, the latter may never materialize.
“You never know what results will come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results.” – Mahatma Gandhi
What is meant by a positive first impression? What are its components? Typically, it is appearance, behavior and language (including voice modulation, tone and word selection). Why is your appearance so important? It’s the first thing that people notice as you approach them or are being introduced by a third party. Your attire conveys that you are professional, serious and competent – and may even project a level of success. It’s like driving a fancy car. You are trying to keep up appearances.
Behavior, or more specifically, body language, influences the opinions formed about you. Be aware of such things as solid eye contact during a conversation (when both speaking and listening), a firm handshake upon the initial introduction, a posture that shows interest and the elimination of distracting hand movements and other idiosyncratic habits.
You may have perfected appearance and behavior, but the last leg of the three-legged stool is your language. Your use of words will be carefully noticed by others and will be the arbiter of whether you are truly a professional. Words matter as does the tone and quality of your voice. Speaking clearly and employing the proper words (25-cent words have their place in journals but may be turnoffs to others in networking settings) will enhance understanding and the flow of the conversation, as well as build trust.
For those who listen carefully to what others say, precise speaking and the avoidance of derogatory or disparaging remarks will ensure that those with whom you are conversing will still be with you. And for our younger professionals, the elimination of word fillers such as “you know, “right,” “um” and “uh” will make your points more impactful. It may be okay with your contemporaries but will surely turn off potential customers and clients.
Finally, as the old adage goes, “It’s not what you say but how you say it” is as relevant today as it has ever been. This is more important in face-to-face interaction rather than in tweets or texts, which invite opportunities for misinterpretation – causing ill will to manifest and escalate. Try to take the high road even when you are dealing with someone who is violating the rules mentioned earlier.
Older professionals may know this (though they may not be strict adherents). But if you are planning to bring your younger professionals to a networking event or a client proposal meeting, make sure they know the proper comportment. As their boss, serve as a role model. It’s a difference between the successful cultivation of a relationship and an abrupt and unsuccessful end to advance your personal brand and that of your firm.
These are fundamental guidelines, but how many times have they been violated or ignored? Too many.
As Mark Twain was to have said: “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”