To stand apart from the competition, you need to define what makes you unique and better able to serve clients’ needs (Getty Images/Thomas Barwick)
From handling finances to crisis management, CPAs are seen as experts in change with skills that are in high demand. And in a rapidly evolving and ever more competitive marketplace the need to profile those skills for prospective clients and employers is crucial. That’s where personal branding comes in.
“A personal brand should enable the customer to quickly understand the service they will be getting from the practitioner,” says David Blaser, senior consultant, career transition, executive coaching and talent management at Toronto-based Feldman Daxon Partners.
Not surprisingly, CPAs start with an advantage, says CPA Scott Browne, chief financial officer at Densify. “The CPA training itself is a great way to get exposure and the skill set is really transferable,” he says. “You see a lot of CEOs who started as CPAs.”
Using the built-in reputation and trust that comes with the designation, the next step is to layer on your own personal brand. Here’s how to do that.
1. FOCUS ON YOURSELF
When developing your personal brand, first ask yourself some key questions: What are your core values? What’s your value proposition? What makes you unique and better able to serve customers’ needs? Branding is about matching customer expectations with you and your organization.
Next, CPA Saeideh Fard, senior vice-president, finance at PointClickCare suggests exploring how you can connect your brand to a business strategy. “There’s the ‘what are you good at?’, then there’s the connection to the strategy or the problem that’s being solved. From a branding perspective, it’s important to do both.”
2. KEEP IT REAL
Learn to tell your story in a way that feels natural to you, says Fard. “The more enduring brands come from the folks who do that well,” she says. “Brands are only really useful when they’re authentic, and they're only authentic, if you believe your own story.”
Uncovering that authenticity will take time and reflection, adds Fard. It may even entail financial investment in a coach or finding a mentor to talk things through.
“The most authentic candidates, when they interview, are the folks that are able to show that reflection has been done,” she says. “When you get a sense that someone has taken the time to really understand and tell their story, I think you have better confidence that they can also tell your financial story, as a finance leader, or a finance manager."
3. BE CLEAR AND CONSISTENT
Blaser suggests that you determine the right market for your services, then target customers that share the values, behaviours and personality traits you have defined for your business or offering.
Make sure your messaging is easy to understand. “Clarity is a major factor in communication to your target market, and business success,” says Blaser.
Create a consistent brand message across all of your marketing channels—website, social media, email, etc.—that tells customers what they can expect from you. Make sure your language, tone and information are all aligned with your brand.
Aside from the hard skills, be consistent in the way you treat people too, and you’ll get repeat clients. “Make sure that you’ve got an opportunity to work with people a second and third time,” Browne says. “All that is better for branding than specific actions you’re going to take, or personal promotion."
4. SHARE YOUR EXPERTISE
Without the option for in-person networking right now, you’ll need to look for additional ways that you can interact with your target customers. Consider creating how-to blogs, videos, webinars, infographics or eBooks to share—and promote—your knowledge.
And when you’re on the job, actions speak louder than words.
“I’m more of a believer of showing [my skills] over time, as opposed to just telling somebody, ‘hey, you should respect me, because I can do all this stuff',” says Browne. “I think that’s a better way to build a brand.”
Fard adds, “The easiest and fastest way to get past [the impostor syndrome] is to share the knowledge we have. There’s no faster way to feel like a leader than when you give back because you start to see the value that you are giving to somebody else.”
5. KEEP EVOLVING
Once you've developed your brand and message, Blaser advises testing it with trusted colleagues and stakeholders to ensure it’s communicating what you want it to. Have them read it and tell you what kind of person or business they think of when they do. There’s a good chance you'll need to tweak it a few times to ensure the message you envisioned is what’s being communicated.
After nailing down today’s personal brand, you’ll still need to keep working on it—and on your career skills. Fard recommends that CPAs take time to reflect, at least annually, on what they have learned, especially from failures and what skills they have added to their toolbox of assets.
“Your brand isn’t static,” Fard points out. “What’s important in the marketplace has shifted over time for CPAs. For example, change and transformation skills are becoming more and more relevant. So if you don’t have enough of those skills at this point, you end up being less relevant in different business settings.”
STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME
Learn how to build your personal brand and stay relevant in the market with CPA Canada’s Success podcast series. Also, delve into insights emerging from CPA Canada’s strategic initiative, Foresight: Reimagining the Profession, and uncover what the future holds for accounting.