Creating a brand, for yourself or for your firm, can help you stand out among competitors and position you as an expert to be trusted. It can also help clients find you and recognize that you are the right professional to help them. Good branding differentiates you from other options a potential client is considering, and it helps keep you focused on the business you are building.
Building a brand doesn't happen overnight. It takes clarity about what you want your brand to be as well as intentional effort to build your reputation. A career expert and three CPAs who have successfully built their brand share some advice:
Identify your brand. How do you start building a brand? Rebecca Bosl, career coach and owner of coaching and résumé writing firm the Dream Life Team in Cleveland, says it's about asking yourself, "Why me, and what sets me apart?" She suggests taking a few weeks to ask yourself whom you want to work with, what solutions you have for clients, and what your competitive differentiation is. After reflection, summarize this with a statement such as:
I help [target person] by doing [solution offering], which brings them [results, like increased profitability or peace of mind].
This statement will help clarify your image for you and your prospective clients and will keep you focused as you start to build a long-lasting brand.
Develop a niche. One way to build a brand is to concentrate on a niche. Carol Topp, CPA, a sole practitioner and owner of HomeschoolCPA in Cincinnati, realized that there was a big need for help in the homeschool niche and not a lot of competition. Homeschooling parents and organizations needed help with concerns such as qualifying for Sec. 501(c)(3) status and knowing whether teachers in a homeschool group are employees or independent contractors. She decided to focus fully on being a CPA for homeschoolers and develop her brand to speak directly to the needs of that niche, through publishing resources like articles, a podcast, and books.
Create a compelling website. Once you know the niche you're going to focus on, you'll need to communicate it to potential clients. That's where a targeted website can be helpful.
Topp uses her website to make it clear she helps homeschoolers. "A lot of CPA websites are all the same. People don't necessarily know why they should choose one practice over another," she said. "I wanted a homeschooler to find my website and know that I could help them." Her website serves as her hub, where viewers can find articles, links to her books and podcast episodes, and a description of her services. Then, when potential clients find her through web searches or her guest appearances on other podcasts, they arrive at a website that speaks directly to their needs.
Find ways to connect with clients. Brainstorm about what your clients might be thinking and feeling when they approach you for advice, and shape your brand to address their concerns. Many creative entrepreneurial types, for instance, envision working with a CPA as intimidating, said Amy Northard, CPA, owner of Amy Northard, CPA LLC, branded as "The Accountant for Creatives," in Indianapolis. As she reached out to this niche, she turned to social media to connect with clients in a more relaxed way. It's there that she shares more about her life as a business owner and mom on social media. In one post, she might cover how she plans meals or finds efficiencies at home as a busy business owner. In another post, she might put up a simple, plain-language reminder about applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
It's this mix of information that makes Northard both approachable and helpful to her followers. "They can see my life, business, and changes, such as when I hire a new employee," she said. "They can relate to me growing a business just like they are."
Create and distribute helpful content. Creating and sharing content helps build your brand because it positions you as an expert and gets helpful content in front of the people who need it. Northard offers podcasts, webinars, and free training. Topp has a podcast and has written several books on finances for homeschoolers. Derek Davis, CPA, founder of GreenGrowth CPAs in Los Angeles, shares authoritative content about the cannabis industry through writing articles that answer pressing questions future clients might have. By addressing the topic well, he's developing his firm's presence in the cannabis niche and bringing in leads.
Share your content in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to find. For instance, Topp shares her content and information through a Facebook group for homeschoolers that she moderates. She's able to see what questions people are asking and share answers either directly in the group or by writing a blog post that addresses the topic.
Make sure your content is accessible to the clients you're trying to reach. Because she finds that some clients can become easily overwhelmed with details related to taxes, Northard focuses on sharing content that is simple and that prospective clients can implement in their business right away. She keeps her tips high level, rather than diving into the weeds.
Ensure your brand matches your plans for growth. A brand that's centered on you as an individual can work well if you are a solo practitioner but can prove limiting if you want to grow your firm. When creating a brand for his practice, Davis was intentional about creating not only a personal brand, but also one that could grow beyond him. In naming his practice, he made sure not to use his personal name, but instead one that focused on the niche the firm serves.
PCPS Section members can use the Small Firm Client Recruiting brochure to market their firms to prospective clients and attend the YOU Are The Value workshop to determine what sets them apart and how they can present themselves to clients.
— Erica Gellerman is a freelance writer based in Hawaii. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.