When It Comes to Client Networking, It Doesn't Pay to Cheap it Out

Gina Deveney
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Earning new business through client networking represents the life blood of any accounting firm. Client networking builds initial trust, finds mutual interests and starts lifelong business partnerships. The beginning portion of finding new accounting clients usually starts over a casual meal. One trick of the trade is not to seem cheap while remaining frugal when out to dinner.

CPA Kristen Rampe explains she has heard of several instances wherein accountants hesitate to pick up the check, or rush around to pay for their own tab, while client networking at restaurants. Rampe notes there is a difference between being cheap and frugality when attempting to woo prospects with casual lunch meetings or 15-minute discussions over latte. Cheap means you cut corners, whereas frugality denotes responsibility with financial choices.

Frugality versus cheapness achieves brand recognition among your prospective accounting clients. Do you want to be known as the McDonald's coffee firm or the country-club brunch accounting company? How you present yourself while client networking sends a message about the worth of the client in front of you. How badly do you want the other person's business? Are you willing to go the extra mile for someone before they even pay you a dime?

One way to be frugal without seeming cheap is to host meals at places with which you have familiarity. That way, you know exactly what to expect from the menu, pricing and service. Even better, develop a rapport with establishments, and become a frequent customer. That way, you may be able to swing a discount with regular client-networking lunches. Restaurants, like any company, love frequent and returning customers.

Pick up the check, no matter what. Even go so far as to practice putting your card down as soon as the check arrives. Accounting firms can even issue a corporate card account to track expenses. Meals related to work lessen income tax bills in April whether you file as a corporation or an individual. The onus for paying a client networking meal should be on the one who made the invitation in the first place. You don't invite someone to a party without providing food at your own expense.

Accept someone else's offer to pay the check, but only in certain circumstances. If your invitee insists on paying for the entire meal and may inflict physical harm while grabbing the check and shouting, "No, allow me," then you may have to forgo payment this time.

Don't fret when paying the check doesn't bear fruition. Sometimes, landing a new client may take weeks or even months. Ask the right questions at lunch, and go from there: Do your goals and the client's goals mesh? What does the client have in terms of revenue streams? What are the client's assets? These questions need to be hammered out before an agreement is reached. Sometimes, numbers and statistics simply cannot be digested over a 30-minute casual meal.

Client networking is one important aspect of landing new business for accounting firms, and paying for meals shows your commitment, even in a small way. Are you going to be cheap, or are you going to be frugal?


Photo courtesy of worradmu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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