One of my goals for 2017 was to take one of the Society’s CPA Center of Excellence® interactive courses. They received a lot of recognition over these courses and I’ve heard a lot about them, especially as a member of INCPAS Emerging Leaders Alliance. If I was going to help promote these courses, I really needed to try one myself.

So, this past December I did just that. I signed up for the Collaboration and Networking online interactive course.

Networking isn’t my strong suit. I feel a lot of CPAs can relate to my struggle, especially younger CPAs recently promoted or working on their advancement in the profession. You are usually promoted because of your excellent technical skills in an area. But as you move up the ranks, your technical skills take a bit of a back seat. You are expected to start networking and developing your business referral contacts. To continue to advance, you are then expected to start to bring in clients and have your own great network to pull from.

This is something most of us do not get real training on. We had years of school to get our degrees in accounting, followed by the studying and stress of taking the CPA exam. In the workplace, we get tons of continued experience in everything we studied beforehand as we work with real projects and clients. Then suddenly, the “networking” part comes in. “Go out, find referral sources and build your book of contacts!”

While I have no issue connecting with current clients and providing them great services – going out and marketing myself; finding new clients and referral sources, that’s a whole different world. It’s also one I openly admit I am not comfortable in. I’ll do it. I go to networking events, but let’s be honest: I would rather be at home with a book and my cat. Why can’t that work to get clients?

So, the Collaboration and Networking course seemed like a good fit for me. Taking this course not only allowed me to finally experience an online interactive course, but also to work on a soft skill I am lacking in. In the process of taking it, I got some valuable ideas for my networking process. I also identified where many of our typical webinar-type CPE courses fail, at least for me, in that it doesn’t require you to really focus or engage with the learning material.

First off, I really did enjoy the setup and flow of the Collaboration and Networking course. It has a great mixture of reading, videos, link clicking and typing. You can’t just read an article and forget about it, or zone out watching a video. There isn’t a quick multiple-choice test to make sure “you are there.” You have to pay attention to the videos and articles in each section, because you are expected to comment on them. This forces you to pay attention to what you read or watch so you can really provide a thoughtful response. The course is also set up in a way that’s easy to follow. It has 10 “levels” that start off with explaining what networking is and why it is important and conclude at the difficulties and networking and how to overcome them.

I personally loved the variety of articles and videos. I enjoyed that the articles pulled from different news sites and viewpoints. This kept the reading fresh. The articles were also short and to the point, making them easy to read and stay focused on. There were quite a few articles I liked enough to save or print out, because I could see easily sharing them with others at my firm, or even with clients.

I also enjoyed the commenting part of the course. After you read an article or watched a video, you had a question to think about and make a comment on. You also get to see previous comments. I enjoyed reading other people’s comments and seeing their thoughts on networking, or what methods and techniques worked for them.

Completing the Collaboration and Networking course qualifies for a waiver of eight hours of CPE. While it didn’t take me eight hours, I did come away feeling excited about networking and with more takeaways than I usually do from an eight-hour course. You don’t have to finish the entire course in a day either, you can do a little bit here and there as you have time.

You have 90 days once you register to complete the course. This was great for me, as I didn’t end up having time to start it until about 15 days after registering. You can also continue to access the videos and articles to the course until your 90 days are up in case there is something you want to re-watch or an article you forgot to save.

Once the course is finished, you get a certificate much like your regular CPE certificates. You also get a neat digital badge that shows you are a networking expert. I did get a lot of great tools and suggestions that I hope to implement in 2018 to up my networking game. The course also helped remind me that networking takes time. You don’t develop your book of referrals overnight. Be yourself and find what works for you.

I encourage all of you to take one of the online interactive courses. You may learn something about your own learning style, like I did. You will also get a taste of these great new type of CPE courses that you’ve been hearing about!

Have you already taken one, or maybe all? I’d love to hear your feedback and impressions.

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