International Women's Day: Business development for busy working mothers

20 March 2017

By Kirsten Flanagan, partner, Friedman LLP (DFK International)

Accountants are often responsible not only for performing the day-to-day duties of their profession but for identifying new ways to bring in work and develop their business. Building strong, genuine relationships, especially with new clients, is one of the best ways to drive business and ensure growth. This includes networking, identifying markets and prospects, and pursing opportunities such as speaking engagements. These efforts, which often consume time, are never-ending and develop on short notice, and don’t necessarily fit nicely within the typical workday. So, where does one find time to network and develop business, work long hours in a demanding profession and at the same time, care for young children or other family members?

This is a challenge working mothers face in most careers and one I have certainly faced. As women, we often feel we have to choose between work and family. Throw business development into the mix and finding the right work-life balance becomes even more difficult. There is hope though. While some business development initiatives may require a lot of extra time, some simple networking steps can be taken on a daily basis and require little to no time or effort.

Networking, one of the biggest components of business development, is about forming relationships. With a little effort, networking can be incorporated into the daily life of a working mother, not just in the workplace or at work functions. The basis of effective networking is to be courteous in all your interactions, whether you are at an event or walking your dog. Ask questions of others when you are at  a school event and listen and learn about the people you meet. Random acts of kindness can be refreshing. Figure out what others need and then offer suggestions for how you can help, without expecting any personal gain. Being generous, rather than self-serving, will not only help build relationships, which ultimately is one of the best tools for  selling yourself and your service, it will also help you to feel better as a person, which will go a long way toward helping you handle the stress of a busy life.

I sometimes hesitate to engage in conversation, even with neighbors, because I am too tired. This is a mistake. Over the years, by being friendly and courteous, after a long day in the office, I have established a rapport with a number of my neighbors, and it has paid professional dividends. One neighbor in particular who knows about my professional work asked me to speak at a women’s event, a great opportunity for networking. I have another neighbor who became a key connection for me to get my foot in the door at a firm which is a major player in my field of expertise.  If I hadn’t engaged in simple, friendly conversations with my neighbors, I would have missed these professional opportunities.

Another opportunity for conveniently incorporating into the workday, is when riding the elevator in your office building. You can choose to stand with your head down, avoiding eye contact, or you can give a simple “good morning” or “have a nice day” to those you meet or those you ride with every day.  After seeing the same people repeatedly and offering simple gestures of courtesy, you will develop trust and then, eventually, you can develop the conversation and learn more about them.  The goal is to build trust and likability, so that ultimately they want to learn more about you as well.

At times you may attend personal events with family and/or friends. These functions, which are important to you, can and should be used as a networking opportunity. Attending a child’s school or sports event ultimately can be a gold mine. Networking during these events, which requires only a little time and effort, entails being “present” and engaging with others. This simply means talking to those sitting next to you and learning about them. Ask about their family.  Show a genuine interest. You do not have to be in “salesman” mode.

When I talk with parents from my son’s various sports teams, I gather information and try to assess what professional needs they may possibly have. More often than not, their needs are unrelated to my area of accounting expertise, but nonetheless, whether it be rides to or from practice for their child, a recommendation for a doctor, information about the local schools, etc., I try and find a way to help. This attentiveness to others takes very little time and effort and helps to develop warmth and trust.  The next time they, or someone they know, are in the market for an accountant in my area of specialty, I know they will recommend me.

Informal networking, which can occur each and every day without a lot of time and effort, is crucial for those of us with demanding personal lives.  Be engaging, listen to others and learn about them.  Ask questions demonstrating that you are paying attention and are interested. You want people to remember you as being accommodating and friendly.  Going above and beyond for others and being genuine is the best tool you have for selling yourself.