Conquering Shyness

Youve got the skills—use them!

  • VERY FEW CPAs ARE EXTROVERTED, "people" persons. But to be a successful CPA today you have to go out and sell yourself and your business to clients and prospective clients.
  • YOU CANT BECOME extroverted overnight. But by following some tips, little by little you can overcome shyness about marketing yourself. First, you must be willing to make a change.
  • START OFF WITH A self-motivation list of rewards—what good things will happen if you change your behavior. Get angry at yourself for holding yourself back.
  • DONT FIGHT YOUR FEARS or shyness. Everyone is shy, but realize that and work to overcome it. Remember, other people may be just as scared as you are. Try playing the part that you want to be; if you want to be extroverted, try acting extroverted.
  • CONCENTRATE ON BEING RELAXED, and be yourself. But dont be afraid to stretch a little and take little risks. Use your fear as an excuse to take some action. And dont let other peoples expectations of how you are or should act hold you back.
  • STUDY HOW EXTROVERTED PEOPLE ACT. You will notice they seem to enjoy themselves.
  • MOST OF ALL, LEARN WHAT selling really means. Selling doesnt mean manipulating people or lying to them. It does mean helping them find solutions to problems.
Allan S. Boress , CPA, CFE, is sales consultant to the CPA profession. He is the author of American Institute of CPAs I Hate Selling and I Hate Marketing My Practice continuing professional education self-study courses.

I became a CPA so I would never have to talk to people. I left a career in sales to get as far away from customers as I could; becoming an accountant seemed a perfect way to achieve that goal. "Let me hide behind a spreadsheet and a Victor adding machine," I thought (this was a long time ago), "and leave me alone with my numbers." Maybe you can relate to that. Many CPAs can.

That was back in the good old days—fees were secondary to work quality, old clients were loyal and new ones walked right through the door. Those times are long gone—work no longer falls into our laps, more people do their own taxes and CPAs compete against businesses outside of the profession. To be successful today, we have to be out in the public arena marketing our practices, meeting and networking with people. This can be quite a challenge for someone who is shy. And like me, very few CPAs are extroverted "people persons."

In order to be successful, build a practice and feed my family, I had to conquer my shyness about marketing myself. I did it little by little, over time. You can do it, too. This article offers 14 steps to help recognize and overcome shyness. It also will help you identify assets you have and make use of every day as a CPA that can help you market yourself.

Learning how to be extroverted wont happen overnight. But if you work at overcoming your shyness little by little—following these 14 steps—youll begin to feel more comfortable about approaching new clients.

1 Be willing and committed to change. You have to want to change in order to change. You must recognize the need to alter the way you do things. Are you as successful as you could be? Are you tired of letting fears and shyness hold you back? Nobody can force you to change or make the decision for you. In order to overcome shyness, you must be willing to recognize it is hindering you and be ready to make the effort to conquer it.

2 Create a self-motivation list. List all the reasons why you would be better off if you were not shy. What would you do that you dont do now because shyness stops you? Would you attract more clients and earn more fees? Would you speak at more functions and increase your prestige? Money and prestige—put these items on your reward list; they will serve as powerful incentives to change.

3 Get angry. The day you become absolutely sick and tired of holding yourself back is the day you will change. When youre fed up with being overweight, you will stick to a diet. When you get angry about being shy and timid, your anger will spur you on to beating your shyness.

4 Dont fight your fears or shyness—accept them. Instead of fighting your shyness or your fears, accept that you have them. Anxiety is normal, and it is perfectly human to feel anxious and fearful whenever one takes a risk. Some fears will never go away.

Accepting my own fears has helped me overcome my reluctance for doing personal marketing and selling. Now, before a speaking engagement I face up to the butterflies I still get, even though Ive done thousands of speaking jobs, and that somehow helps dissipate my fears and makes them go away. Try it; youll be amazed.

5 Remember, theyre scared, too. We often assume things about other people that just arent true—that theyre brimming with confidence or that theyre not scared, for instance. Many people you do business with have the same fears that you have about meeting new people and promoting themselves. These people are often relieved when you initiate a conversation rather than wait for them to come to you.

6 Play the part. William James, the father of modern psychology, once said that if you want to be a certain way—for instance, to be bold—you should act as if you are bold, and then gradually youll become bold. If you really want to overcome shyness, act as if you arent shy. Eventually, playing the part will begin to feel less like playing a part and more like the way you are. Another way of putting this is "fake it til you make it."

7 Concentrate on being relaxed. When you are alone or with family and friends, you probably feel comfortable. Next time you feel relaxed, capture that feeling and store it in your memory bank. When you are in a social situation, and are feeling uneasy, concentrate on recapturing that comfortable feeling.

8 Be yourself. Many CPAs believe that when they interact with the public they should appear "professional"—but mistake that to mean formal and stiff. If you act formal and stiff, however, other people will believe you are that way. One of the keys to overcoming shyness is simply to be yourself. Be the same open, vulnerable, likeable person you are when youre not at work and people will feel comfortable with you and be attracted to you. And that makes the whole personal marketing and selling process much easier.

9 Stretch a little. Take little risks. Talk to someone in an elevator. Say good morning to strangers as you pass them in the hall of your office building. Start with one—anybody can do something once. Will they run away or call the police? More than likely, theyll simply say hello back.

An airport is a great place to try this. I walk up to flight attendants and ask them where they are flying. I approach strangers and ask them if I just missed a flight announcement, or if the plane has started boarding yet. After a while it becomes a habit and you start "kibitzing" with people without even realizing it. And all the while youre taking steps to better personal marketing.

You've Got the Skills

Dont be afraid to make use of the assets common to almost all CPAs. Remember, the very best salespeople tout the skills you probably take for granted. Here is a look at some of CPAs best selling tools:

We are accustomed to asking questions. We ask questions all day long—its part of our job.

We are trustworthy. The U.S. public holds CPAs in very high esteem.

We are organized and systematic. Very few salespeople are as organized and methodical about accumulating and maintaining the information necessary to succeed at selling as we are.

We are perceived as business experts. More and more businesses are turning to their CPAs for business management advice.

We arent threatening. Most buyers are afraid of salespeople and of being sold. But whos afraid of a CPA?

10 Use your fear as an excuse. Use your very fear of people and of talking to strangers to take action. How many times have you been at a conference coffee break and not spoken to a soul? If a man (or a woman) is sitting alone and reading the conference agenda, its a good bet he would be receptive to your greeting. Go ahead and say hello, ask him why he is attending the conference and find out what he does. You never know—your assertiveness might lead to future business opportunities.

Once, when I was speaking before a large chamber of commerce group in the Chicago area, I was standing with some men by the coffee machine when a woman walked in, marched past us and sat down right smack in the middle of about 200 empty seats. Feeling very intimidated, I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself. Then I asked her, "Whyd you choose to sit here, rather than talk to us over at the coffee machine?" Her reply: "I couldnt imagine anyone wanting to talk to me."

11 Leave behind others expectations of you. Some people may have pigeon-holed you over the years as someone who is shy and introverted and who doesnt do personal marketing. Leave those constricting ideas behind. Stop living down to others expectations. Take control of your own life. Set your own expectations and live up to them.

12 Learn to love the word "no." Most CPAs set the wrong goals regarding business development, if they set any at all. Accountants generally seek only those people who will do business with them, who will refer to them and who will hire them. Try seeking out people who wont do business with you, refer to you or hire you, for example. Thats right—start setting monthly goals for people wholl say "no" to you. Often were held back because were listening only for that first "yes." When we dont hear it, we get discouraged and stop. Looking for nos—and learning you can live with hearing them—helps you to become more comfortable with rejection.

And while youre looking for nos, you just may stumble on a yes or two. When I was hired to do sales training, I told people to include in their goals a number for how many rejections they thought they would get. Steve, a senior manager at a firm in the Midwest, was surprised by this, but because he wanted to change his approach, he said hed give it a try. Three months later, when I returned to Steves firm, he proudly announced that 17 people had, indeed, told him no. But in looking for those nos he had found 7 people who had said yes. One yes became a $65,000-a-year client. Last July, Steve was promoted to partner.

13 Study others who arent shy. Next time you go to a social event, observe others who are smooth networkers. Watch how they act and what they say. Youll notice one thing: they enjoy themselves.

More Personal Marketing Tips

The American Institute of CPAs published a book on developing marketing skills that will set your firm apart from the competition. Increase Your Personal Marketing Power: Relationship Skills for CPAs by Randi Marie Freidig ($28 for members, $37 for nonmembers; product no. 090417JA) explains how to manage mingling and create connections deliberately and professionally. It can be obtained by calling 800-862-4272.

14 Learn what selling really means. One reason CPAs are shy is that they dont understand what selling really is. They have many misconceptions about selling—the fast-talk used by car salesmen, for example—that turn them off to seeking out new business. But if you are serious about expanding your business, you must throw out the following misconceptions about selling:

It isnt manipulation. Selling isnt forcing people to do things they dont want to do or coercing them to take actions they will later regret. When people feel theyre being manipulated, especially when confronted with outdated, hard-sell techniques, they stop listening and walk away.

It isnt doing all the talking. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time CPAs talk on a sales call and the likelihood of securing the client or getting the referral. You cant convince people to do anything—they have to discover it themselves.

It isnt lying. Unfortunately, some people will make promises they know they cant fulfill and say they can perform services they know they cant just to get the client. Lying will poison the client/CPA relationship and create bad will and negative word-of-mouth advertising that hurts the entire profession.

In reality, marketing yourself is helping other people find solutions to problems they have. We dont do our clients or prospective clients any good by waiting for them to come to us with their problems. How can you know who needs your help if you dont actively go out and market yourself to those who need your services?

As a CPA, youve got the skills, and now you know the steps to take to get out and sell your skills at solving problems for prospective clients. Why should a CPA feel shy about that?


Year-end tax planning and what’s new for 2016

Practitioners need to consider several tax planning opportunities to review with their clients before the end of the year. This report offers strategies for individuals and businesses, as well as recent federal tax law changes affecting this year’s tax returns.


News quiz: Retirement planning, tax practice, and fraud risk

Recent reports focused on a survey that gauges the worries about retirement among CPA financial planners’ clients, a suit that affects tax practitioners, and a guide that offers advice on fraud risk. See how much you know with this short quiz.


Bolster your data defenses

As you weather the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to make sure your cybersecurity structure can stand up to the heat of external and internal threats. Here are six steps to help shore up your systems.