Build Your Accounting Firm’s Reputation in 5 Stepsby
You can share the best content with the right people. However, your firm will have to get their attention again--6 to 20 more times--before there's enough trust to turn them into clients. This is why reputation matters.
Your accounting firm’s reputation is a shortcut between the initial attention and the sale. According to multiple studies, reputation “is the way in which stakeholders, who know little about an organization’s true intent, determine whether an organization is worthy of their trust."
There is a clear link between reputation and revenue: research shows that “companies with a good reputation outperformed companies with poor reputations on every financial measure over a five-year period,” and links an improved reputation with increased revenues and higher market share.
While reputation is intangible (thus, tricky to quantify), here’s a helpful comparison: either work to build client trust, or build a firm reputation which builds trust with all potential clients.
The pandemic has made consumers more savvy and slower to gain trust. Establishing a good reputation now is more than a shortcut, it’s a necessity.
Be Human, Not Corporate
People don’t necessarily trust companies, brands, or even accounting firms. People trust other people. Often, to be professional, small firms minimize human-sounding language.
It’s particularly common in financial services: formality is almost an industry standard. But out-dated communication norms can cost your firm. Maintain professionalism, but not at the expense of personal connection.
- Adopt a conversational tone for blog posts and social shares. Use first-person writing to share your opinions, perspectives, and experiences.
- Acknowledge individual authorship. Who writes blog posts or newsletters? Name the writer. Multiple contributors? Give them all credit. Don’t use the firm name as the author.
- Include bios of firm members on your website. Review website copy, marketing materials, and service descriptions. Update language that sounds like a legal document. How would you describe this service, in-person, to a client? Describe it that way on your website, too.
Choose and Define a Specialization
Specialization helps your firm stand out and build credibility. When you define your specialization, you immediately define your expertise. Demonstrating that expertise on an individual level is what Lee Frederiksen calls being a visible marketing expert. Take it firm-wide, and it’s a visible reputation.
Here’s an example: Kruze Consulting, a outsourced CFO/accounting firm, almost doubled their number of clients last year by defining their specialization in VC-backed startups. “It lets our client relationships become very tight and meaningful: they know that we know what to do for this specific type of client, so they refer to us heavily,” says Healy Jones, Vice President of FP&A. “We can have a very tight brand message, so it’s clear to the right type of company that we are specialized and can help them. It also lets us be very tight in our marketing... we only talk about the needs, problems and opportunities for our specific client base.”
Expertise is trusted, but only when it’s proven. The more clearly defined your firm’s expertise, the easier it is to demonstrate:
- Write a clear, single sentence defining your firm’s specialty. Here’s a good formula to use: “We provide (specific service) for (particular client or vertical).”
- Filter for the type of clients, publicity, expertise, skills, and content that matters for your firm. A clearly defined specialization allows you to find the right signal in all the noise.
- Make a list of the top 10 new-client questions. Write about each question. Share excerpts on other platforms.
- Talk to current clients about their most pressing needs and problems. Focus on providing information, resources, and services that directly solve those problems.
Establish One Reliable Communication Method
For Charles Thomas, financial advisor and founder of Intrepid Eagle Finance, that method is an email newsletter. "We've gotten incredible engagement from our email newsletter,” says Thomas. “Between readers who forward our expertise on to family and friends or readers who reply with questions and feedback, it's been great.”
One authoritative source of information makes it easy for people to find what they need. When published consistently, it becomes reliable; by extension, your firm is seen as reliable. When it is focused, accessible, and practical, that’s how your firm will be seen, too.
- Choose one platform (newsletter, website, blog) which you control as your primary communication method.
- Establish a regular publishing schedule. Use a consistent format. People will know what to expect and see the communication as a reliable, familiar, trusted source.
- Highlight and link to other resources, articles, or news published elsewhere. You want your readers to trust that they won’t miss out on anything.
- Make it easy to share. Everyone wants to be a hero. Invite readers to pass it on to friends and colleagues who could benefit.
Share Your Firm’s Expertise Generously
A clearly defined specialization will lead you to smaller, specialized audiences. Seek to be a contributing member by sharing knowledge and resources. Actively participate to connect with people who are looking for exactly what your firm offers. “Attending conferences via Zoom webinar has allowed me to discover breakout sessions where I can join smaller groups on the online platform,” says Michael Hamelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group. “The quality of participants in these sessions is absolutely second to none.”
Pandemic protocol means that most in-person events are virtual. Find the ones relevant to your firm’s specialization. Beware networking events for the sake of networking; focus on events where you can share, speak, or provide resources.
Rotate participation among members of your firm so no one is overloaded. Can each person commit to a monthly or bimonthly event?
Join a few relevant groups. Create resources based on the discussions. Ask questions. Look for repeated subjects. Put the firm’s knowledge into something you can share easily.
Don’t focus on gaining clients immediately. To build a reputation, your firm’s reach must go beyond current and potential clients. "Many more folks will be exposed to our work than will ever become clients of the firm,” says Thomas. “We're just fine with that."
Focus on Supporting Your Reputation
Support your firm's reputation by saying no. Say no to imitating other firms. Say no to chasing the latest marketing trend. Say no to feeling limited by a specialization when you’ve just defined it.
“Authenticity” is an overused term, but as a component of reputation, it’s irreplaceable. Be authentic by requiring that everything your firm does--from sharing (or not) on social media to developing new services-- is meaningful in your specialization and for your audience:
- Test each idea by asking questions: Why does this matter to our audience? How does this fit into our specialization? Who will care about this? What are the expected results?
- Don’t let what is popular distract you from what is effective. Expert-based content, like roundups and interviews, are among the most effective blog formats, but not the most popular for bloggers to use.
- When making a decision about marketing, service offerings, and sales, opt out of what does not build or support your firm’s reputation.
Your firm’s specialty, like your firm’s reputation, can and will expand as it grows. Focus is what brings clarity for better decisions and effective communication. When you align marketing, services, and communication with focus, reputation follows. With consistency, trust is right behind.
Annie Mueller, an experienced financial writer and principle of Prolifica Co, specializes in producing content that helps financial professionals establish their expertise, future-proof their firms, and effectively market to the right clients. She has worked with...