Over the course of my career in public accounting, I have mentored and coached quite a few young women. One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how to build a practice. This is definitely one of the major obstacles most women face in advancing our careers. The common bias is that women aren’t rainmakers. But experience tells me that bias is just plain wrong.
I often relate it to gardening, an activity I love. There are many similarities between gardening and building a practice. For example, we all know that a garden needs sunshine, rich soil, and good seeds. It’s no different in a practice: You need a collaborative working environment, strong internal resources, a great referral network, and persistent follow-ups.
I had come to the United States after college. I didn’t know anyone in the professional world when I started public accounting. Fortunately, Moss Adams offers a collaborative environment. On numerous occasions partners or senior managers took me with them to have lunch with prospective clients as well as referral sources such as bankers, attorneys, and financial advisors. I learned so much in those meetings. And they helped me gradually build my own professional network and referral sources.
Associating ourselves with the right network is the first step – it’s the practice equivalent of identifying those good seeds gardeners talk about. We meet a lot of people over the course of our career. Not everyone we know will refer clients to us, and we probably won’t have the time to nurture every relationship. But over the years, I’ve learned to identify the key potential referral sources and focus on these meaningful relationships, which eventually lead to prospects.
Once we identify good seeds, regular TLC is a must. Frequent contacts and follow-ups with referral sources play a crucial part of getting referrals. This is the most challenging part for me personally. I have a school-age child. I try my best to avoid evening functions so I can be home with my daughter at night. Lunchtime becomes my networking time. My lunches are usually scheduled out two months in advance.
Networking and building a practice can be daunting at the beginning. It takes effort, determination, and caring to build a strong network and gain the trust of referral sources. But with the right outside factors and internal effort, you can indeed harvest the fruits of your labor.