Say you run a small accounting practice but are not a marketing expert. What can you do to build your business that’s easy, quick and inexpensive? The answer is LinkedIn.
The LinkedIn platform is designed specifically for business use. It is the social media of choice for more than 90 million users around the world. Executives from virtually every Fortune 500 company are represented. But LinkedIn is not just for the big guys. Sole practitioners and small practices can leverage its power, too, to reach a wider audience.
Following are 10 tips accountants can use for accelerating connections and achieving new business successes via LinkedIn. (Those less familiar with LinkedIn’s basic functionality can refer to “Are You Linked In?” in this issue on page 48.):
1. Make your profile complete using accounting language derived from your firm’s marketing materials, brochures or company profile.
The more detailed and descriptive your summary and specialty profiles are, the easier it will be for someone searching for your expertise to find you. Identify keywords by asking yourself, “What is my client prospect looking for? What search words might he or she use to look for me?” Take your lead from your firm’s marketing materials and firm profile and incorporate some of that language. For example, if you are a forensic accountant, you will certainly want to include that term in your profile. In my case, I include keywords that are likely to be searched on when describing my services as shown in the screenshot below.
2. Search for CFOs or tax directors by title to research new business targets.
Save time searching for new business targets by using the Advanced People Search feature, which you access by clicking on the word Advanced next to the search box in the upper-right corner of any page. You can find almost anyone by entering a job title, keyword or phrase. For example, you can enter “CFO” or “Tax Director.” You can narrow your search by adding a city, state, country, industry, company or school, as shown in the screenshot below.
If you want to win new clients in the international import/export trade, for example, you might use “CFO import export” as your search term.
Can’t find what you are looking for? More extensive searches for categories such as seniority level, years of experience and company size can be done with a premium membership.
3. Conduct competitive intelligence research on current accounting clients, targets, referral sources, etc.
Losing a client hurts. It is especially painful when you might have prevented the loss if you had just known more about that client’s situation. Using LinkedIn to follow your clients and their companies will help you research and stay current. LinkedIn helps you keep track of your list and makes it easy to add, change or delete your settings.
For example, if a client acquires a new subsidiary, you will know as soon as it happens and can respond quickly with relevant services your firm offers.
The Follow feature also works well for target clients, referral sources or companies you’d like to know more about. You can track new hires and watch general industry trends, too.
You can follow anyone in a group in which you both have a membership. To follow a company, you can click on any company your connection lists in his or her profile, or you can visit the company profile of any company you want to follow and click on the Follow Company icon.
4. Use LinkedIn Jobs to forward accounting jobs to friends, track those in new positions and send congratulatory notes, etc.
One of LinkedIn’s major functions is to help people find work. The Jobs section allows you to look for work for yourself and/or post a position open at your firm. (There is a fee for listing an open position. That fee varies depending on geographic location. For example, a single 30-day job listing in the Atlanta area costs $195, according to LinkedIn’s Job Price Calculator.)
According to LinkedIn, job applicants who are sourced through LinkedIn are of a higher caliber than those who are sourced through the major job boards—something to keep in mind if you are searching for talent for your practice.
You can also forward job opportunities to your friends and associates. When they find new positions and update their profile or status, you will be notified in All Updates on your Home page and can send them a quick note to say, “Well done!” See the screenshot below for an example.
You will also receive automatic Network Updates e-mail alerts unless you opt out of that feature.
“As a profession, we are all trying to bring in younger folks and excite them about the importance of what we do,” said James F. Hart, CPA/ABV/CFF, MBA, CIRA, CFE, and managing member at Lightfoot Group LLC in Atlanta. “To find them and get them involved, we need to go where they go and be where they are, such as through LinkedIn.”
Hart is specifically putting this to work as the section chair for the Georgia Society of CPAs (GSCPA) Forensic & Valuation Services Section. Due to the effectiveness of the section’s LinkedIn group in adding value to its members, among other activities, Hart was honored as “Distinguished Member of the Year” by the GSCPA for his achievements in 2009.
“LinkedIn works 24/7 for me as a leader of the GSCPA and in my personal practice,” he said. “It doesn’t cost us anything. For the section, there is no extra effort to monitor or respond because, whenever any of us are there, we can all jump in.”
5. Join accounting-focused LinkedIn groups such as the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) to get business development tips.
The AAM’s LinkedIn group and the AICPA’s PCPS offer education and professional development for the specific challenges accounting professionals face as they market their services. Participation in these LinkedIn groups gives you the opportunity to increase your visibility by asking and answering questions as well as raising points for discussion.
You can search for professional groups by selecting “Groups” from the dropdown menu next to the search box in the upper-right corner of any page. See the screenshot below.
6. Join your local accounting society or association’s LinkedIn group. Information is vital to success in today’s competitive accounting profession. Local accounting association groups keep you in touch with fellow members, keep you up to date on the latest events, and increase your visibility within the association.
Elizabeth Kistler, public relations manager for the GSCPA, said, “The GSCPA LinkedIn group is growing larger and faster than any of our other social media outlets. … It proves that GSCPA members are joining and using LinkedIn to advance their professional careers.”
“The group now includes 844 of our total of nearly 10,000 members. In other words, 8.5% of our membership is now connected through the site,” she said.
You should also join other LinkedIn groups that allow free group participation even if you don’t belong to their association. Consider groups that represent your ideal client, reflect your practice specialty and/or your professional and personal interests. All of these groups help you connect with people you want to meet, do business with, and with whom you share common interests.
Once you are a group member, you can ask and respond to questions, make a comment or take a position on a topic. For example, a recent hot topic in the GSCPA group centered on studying for the CPA exam and which publishers did the best job with their study materials. That discussion generated a number of information-rich responses and tips. LinkedIn’s weekly e-mail updates will keep you alerted to hot topics in the profession your group serves. (Weekly updates are automatic unless you opt out. Manage the notifications you receive by clicking on your name in the upper-right corner of any page and selecting Settings from the dropdown menu. Then under Email Notifications, select Receiving Messages to bring up the menu shown below.)
7. Connect your profile to your accounting issues blog and/or your website.
Have you just completed a new blog post or newsletter on the latest fund accounting practices? Linking your profile to your accounting blog or website can be an effective tool for building traffic. You can easily link your blog in the Edit Profile section of your profile as shown in the screenshot below.
You can also integrate your WordPress or TypePad blog directly into your profile by adding the appropriate application. (Select Get More Applications… from the More dropdown menu at the top of any page. Scroll down until you find the WordPress or Blog Link powered by TypePad, click Add and follow the prompts.
Add more impact by posting a status update that mentions your latest blog post. For example, if you want to call attention to that blog post or newsletter on fund accounting practices, you could say, “Just posted some tips on Fund Accounting practices on my blog at www…” or “Just published some tips on Fund Accounting practices in this month’s edition of my online newsletter at www….” You can also attach the link instead of including it in the text.
LinkedIn sends out a weekly update to everyone in your network— another way to reach out to your connections and encourage traffic to your blog. Again, those default settings can be easily changed as described in Tip No. 6.
You don’t have a blog or newsletter? You can still link to your website and show any changes in a status update.
8. Join alumni networks for past accounting employers.
Don’t overlook your past employers. Connections made through past employment alumni networks are often excellent sources for references, new employees and business referrals. For example, the Ernst & Young Alumni Group has more than 20,000 members.
Not a Big Four alum? Your former co-workers at any past employer may have set up a group. Or, why not start one yourself? But before you do, consider checking the company’s social media policies first.
Look for these groups by name in the Groups Directory or include “alumni” with your search term in the search box.
9. Maintain your marketing effort during busy season, or whatever that season is for your firm, by taking advantage of LinkedIn’s ease of use.
Fifteen minutes three times a week on LinkedIn can help you stay on top of marketing even during the busiest times of the year. (One caveat, however. Fifteen minutes can quickly turn into three hours if you’re not careful. Watch the clock or set a timer to make sure you stick to your schedule.)
Minutes 1–5: Do a status update. Have you just landed a new client (no names, of course, unless your client agrees) or achieved a personal best? It only takes a minute, but each posting is far-reaching thanks to LinkedIn’s Weekly Updates broadcast. (For more on status updates, see “Make Your Mark With Your Social Media Status” on page 20 in this issue.)
Minutes 6–10: Browse All Updates on your Home page. Congratulate a connection or comment on a profile update, even if it’s just to say, “Great new photo.” All of these comments go out to your entire network.
Minutes 11–15: Glance through People You May Know by clicking on Add Connections in the upper-right corner of the Profile screen and selecting it from the screen that appears. These are people who are connected to your connections. If you see someone you know, invite him or her to join your network. When your invitation is accepted, All Updates, shown on your Home page, will reflect that and your new connection will be included in the Weekly Updates broadcast. See the screenshot below.
If 15 minutes three times a week is too much, post just one status update every other day and invite a connection with just one new person a day.
“Stated simply, I always have my LinkedIn page open when I’m at my desk, so that I can watch for updates from my connections,” said Thomas L. Jollay, CPA, a shareholder at Bennett Thrasher, a large Atlanta-based accounting, audit and consulting firm. “I also devote 15 to 30 minutes of every day to reaching out through the network. I make notes of people I need to get introduced to in the future and monitor activity of our current clients.”
10. Inspire all of your accounting firm or company accounting department employees to join with you and benefit from the power of a group marketing effort. Organize LinkedIn training sessions for them so they can get the most out of it for the firm and for themselves.
Don’t keep LinkedIn a secret. Invite your associates and employees to participate. Use by multiple employees will bring a multiplier effect to your network activity and increase your online presence exponentially. Be sure to set clear policies on LinkedIn use to avoid nondisclosure and privacy issues, and be sure to provide the proper training so everyone participating will get the most out of his or her efforts. If you don’t have time to develop a training program, bring in an outside expert to deliver the training for you.
Jollay and his colleagues have achieved sales results from posting information on LinkedIn about articles they want to draw attention to. “I have definitely had numerous individuals respond to offers for various articles. This has led to in-depth calls about specific needs they may have at present or pending,” he said.
Michael Blake, director of Valuation Services at Atlanta-based Habif, Arogeti & Wynne LLP, knows that LinkedIn can lead to concrete results, too. “Through LinkedIn, I have (already) gotten one valuation engagement for $10,000.”
He did this by scanning his targets to see what they were reading. When he noticed that one of them had listed a valuation book on his Reading List by Amazon (found by scrolling down the right side of the Home page), he reached out, suggested another book and asked if there were any questions he could answer. That contact eventually led to a meeting, and the potential client hired Blake to perform the engagement.
LinkedIn is a highly intuitive and easy-to-use tool that offers access to the people you already know personally and professionally, and the people you want to know. Using these 10 simple tips will help you maximize your time and effectiveness online as you market your services in a shifting and aggressive work climate.
Editor's note: Also read "Are You LinkedIn? An Introduction to the Social Media Tool," March 2011.
More from the JofA:
Find us on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter