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The Rationale for CPAs to Establish Their Brand

Mar 3rd 2016
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You know people talk about you. If you go to the gym and work out with several friends, you’ve heard them size up other gym members across the room. What goes around comes around. People talk about you in a professional context, too, although that probably happens when everyone is fully clothed. What do they say about you? Can you control it?

Is This Important?
A financial advisor in the Sacramento, California, area was approached by a person who wanted to do business. Curious, the advisor asked, “Why did you pick me?” The fellow explained he asked around. This advisor’s name was the only one he heard mentioned twice. You know plenty of people who are well-positioned to tell your story. Your clients are the obvious first choice. It doesn’t get much better than a ringing endorsement from a satisfied client.

Centers of influence, either traditional ones, like your attorney and financial advisor, or nontraditional ones, likes your barber and religious leader, should know what you do. Your friends have other friends in different circles. They need to know your message.

What is a Brand?
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary has called it, “A distinctive mark to show quality.” We are familiar with product brands. Consider something more personal instead. Name recognition + benefits = brand. In other words, people know who you are and have something good to say.

What Do They Say About You?
Seniors made buying decisions based on brands. Baby boomers migrated to referrals. Millennials visit TripAdvisor and other websites where thousands of individuals share their opinions. You’ve seen those online reviews yourself. You’ve heard the statistics. A happy customer will tell another person. An unhappy customer will tell 10 other people. The online review process makes those numbers grow geometrically. When asked about you in social situations, you want people to tell a positive story.

Consider your barber. If someone said, “Poindexter Number-Cruncher: What do you know about him?”

It’s extremely unlikely she will say, “He is a CPA with 20-plus years of experience. He has a general practice, yet also specializes in forensic accounting. He has been published in several professional journals.” Your barber won’t say that. She is too busy cutting hair.

Ideally, you would like her to say, “I know Poindexter very well. He’s been my personal and business accountant for 10 years. He’s very detail-oriented. He never talks about his clients, but I know the big money around here works with him.” Back to cutting hair.

Can You Control It?
“Control” is a bad word. You don’t want to manipulate anyone or put words in their mouth. You want people to tell the truth in their own words. Here are a few ways to prime the pump.

Clients. Confidentiality is one of many benefits you deliver to clients. Periodically remind them, especially after you’ve solved a problem or delivered a great result. You are bound by confidentiality. You can’t tell anyone about them or even volunteer their name in a business context. They are not bound by that rule. If they are happy, they can tell as many people as they like. You would even encourage them.

Centers of influence. Your religious leader, barber, and attorney are often asked for advice. Some problems are outside their realm of expertise. The person asking for advice knows that; he just wants to be directed to someone with relevant knowledge. Raise their awareness of the type of people you can assist and the types of problems you help to solve. Be their go-to person for specific situations.

Friends. They know you in a personal, not professional, context. They might not meet your ideal client profile. Who cares? They are friends! That’s all that matters. Yet, they might encounter people who need your help, especially through extended family. You might feel awkward sitting them down and explaining what you do. They will periodically ask, “How’s business?” Drip on them with short, anonymous stories about how you helped someone recently. Gradually, they will build a picture of what you do.

The rationale for branding is simple. People need to know what you do in case they are asked. You need to take an active role. If you don’t clarify what you do, someone else will tell your story for you. The bad review on TripAdvisor might be inaccurate, but it still gets around.

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