Jody Padar
Jody Padar

Reach Out to a New Pool of Prospects

Here's how.

May 11, 2011
by Jody Padar, CPA, MST

I've personally never been to an event at my local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or even a Business Networking International (BNI) meeting. And while there is much value in onsite networking, social media should be your primary networking forum because it also happens to be the right choice for today's busy firm. If your life is already crazy busy, maybe it's time for you to take a closer look at social media and see how its networking tools can provide you with far more reach into a focused prospect pool efficiently.

As baby boomers come closer to their retirement ages, the future of your practice will lie with Gen Xers and Gen Yers. So the big question is: How do you network to capture this market? Yep, you guessed it, the answer is social media. Tools like Facebook and Twitter are simple and convenient. More importantly, cyberspace is where your Gen X and Gen Y prospects live, putting them within easy reach.

It is very interesting to see so many CPA firms limiting their staff and managers in the use of social media. I think they simply don't understand that Twitter and Facebook are today's version of the Chamber of Commerce or happy hour at the popular local bar. Think about it ... with social media you're not limited to prospects within your geographic area or a once-a-month meeting or event, but instead have an unlimited pool of prospects. And with a little fine-tuning, you can attract those within the niches you desire.

I've spoken with many CPA firm partners about social media, and I always hear the same reasons for resisting the use of new media applications. Partners are worried that staff will be misrepresenting the firm, or they don't see any return on investment (ROI). Here are my responses to these familiar arguments:

  • If you are afraid your staff will misrepresent the firm via social media, what makes you think they won't misrepresent you at onsite events? It's really more a matter of hiring the right employees, not where they socialize.
  • You want ROI? Okay, but only if you can tell me the ROI of the last COC Chicken Dinner you attended.

With client retention as the number one concern at most firms, it's time partners started thinking differently about how to attract new business. My firm has tripled in size over the past four years, and this during a recession. How? Because I accept the shifts that are occurring and adjust my firm to take advantage of new trends by:

  • Aggressively going after Gen Xers and Gen Yers where the distribution of wealth is progressively shifting; and
  • Realizing that these prospects live on the Internet. I've implemented social media into my broad marketing strategy by making Facebook and Twitter a standard part of my workweek. I've also opened use of social media tools to my staff, giving them an incentive to be a part of the firm's growth.

To hit this point home, I want to share one of my biggest social media success stories. I use social media not only to reach out and be seen and heard, but also to obtain information that can help advance my firm. Always interested in ways to improve customer service, I started following a small business that specialized in high end customer service consulting on Twitter. I started a dialogue with the social media business (SMB), asking for information. Eventually, the business started asking for information from me about accounting. We had started a two-way, cross-informational dialogue, providing valuable knowledge to each other. In the end, the SMB hired my accounting firm, and sends referrals. And that is what social media does best. It provides a way for people to share knowledge and connect.

Last Thoughts

Social media is opening new doors, and many businesses are benefiting from its value. I suggest that you do the same in your firm, i.e., allow staff to use tools that they are familiar with like Twitter and Facebook. Maybe even take it a step further by offering incentives to "sell" business. You might be surprised at the number of rainmakers you have in your firm. Trust your staff to represent your firm through social media. With a little time and patience you will experience greater ROI.

At the AICPA TECH+ conference you will have the opportunity to be part of a Tweet Up-Twitter Party. A what? My favorite form of social media is twitter. I am organizing the coolest Happy Hour Tweet Up of CPAs at the conference. There will be drinks and networking, games and prizes. A nice size group of like-minded CPAs from all over the U.S. has formed on twitter. Many of us will be attending the conference and want to meet face-to-face. If you have been unsure of this whole social media thing, come to our Tweet Up-Twitter Party. You will network with CPAs who are using Twitter to grow their firms. Everyone is welcome! When you leave the party, you can take those relationships online and watch them grow. Some of the best social media CPAs will be present and would love to help you figure it all out. At the end of the Happy Hour you will have lots of new relationships and a great start on learning to social network from helpful peers.

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Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. She is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of the Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation.