Networking Rules for Accountants and Bookkeepers

There is no arguing it; networking is an important skill for most business people. It is how we create and maintain relationships in our professions, learn about the latest business trends, and gain insights from those who are in the trenches with us.

However, the rules of networking are changing.

Online social networking is quickly replacing awkward handshakes, nametags and Styrofoam cups of less-than-hot coffee. Some of us are afraid of losing those interpersonal connections, but what we are losing in personal meetings we are gaining in online relationships.

Say goodbye to time and distance restrictions

When I look at my network, I can honestly say there is no limit in the world where my friends and colleagues might turn up. Sure, some of these people I met in person at an airport restaurant, tech conference or any number of places, but many I never met in person.

My friend Nhien (pronounced Neen) is a marketer in San Francisco – I’m in Texas. I support his marathons (virtual fundraising!), he ‘likes’ my dog photos on Facebook and between those clicks, we share best practices on how to collaborate with customers virtually.

In the past, the best way to connect with other professionals was by attending a conference or joining a local business group. We were limited by where we were located. Good for those in a big city! Bad for those in sparsely populated rural areas.

What changed? Well, at this point we all know that innovation in communication tech has made the world very small and highly connected – and that means we don’t need to all live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or even San Francisco.

We can join like-minds on any topic we want at almost any time. We no longer worry about where our business contacts are located; with cloud and mobile technologies, we are only a message away.

Information right now, when we need it.

Right now, I’m writing this on a plane flying somewhere above the Rocky Mountains. My flight has Wi-Fi on-board. For a relatively reasonable price (the airline knows they have a captive audience), I can purchase access to the Internet. Good thing, too, because I need to ask one of my colleagues about a project we are working on.

Asking a question to a peer who is not physically beside me, while on a plane, is a very real scenario.

Business owners who might be interested in learning how to transition from a brick and mortar store to a virtual office may find it difficult to go to the local chamber of commerce to learn more about what options are available. However, if the owners jump on to Twitter and searches #VirtualOffice, they might find themselves in the middle of a conversation with people across the world learning and sharing about the benefits, concerns and tools needed to make this leap. This is a very  special interest group that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across the globe. The collective knowledge of these “Tweet-ups” turns the micro-blogging site into a constantly evolving super brain on the only subject the business owner cares about right at that moment.

The world of online networking may have catapulted online collaboration into what it is today. I’m convinced online collaboration led the way to, yes, in-flight Wi-Fi!

Most importantly, the human element

The most critical part of networking is still the human element – you and I. We are the essential components that make networking so valuable. Regardless if we meet in person or online, by being highly available and constantly informed, each of us is increasingly more valuable to one another.

With online networking, we can rub virtual elbows with the leading minds of business.

Big companies are now very small and we can talk to individual employees or leaders about relatively anything at any time for any reason whatsoever. Online social networking allows us to connect with our customers, competitors and colleagues in ways we have never achieved before.

Want to know what your biggest competitor is up to? Follow them on Twitter and they’ll tell you directly. Do you know what your customers think of your brand? Read it on your Facebook page or Google your name to find out. With all that reading, you now can respond.

So, exactly how have the rules changed?

Networking is faster, smarter and more available than it has ever been. With online networks, we can now access people and information at any time on any subject, and with our completely filled-in social profiles, we have more opportunities. Of course, we just need to be willing to adjust how we connect and learn from one another.