In today’s marketplace, you will find yourself sitting across from a more sophisticated buyer than ever before. Company presidents and CFOs can discern whether you are an expert in their industry, and they have more access to a larger circle of potential service providers. Hear what select members of CPAConnect, a national association of independent CPA firms, have to say about how they win over prospects by establishing themselves as experts in their field. Their advice could significantly impact the way your market your CPA practice.
Building Your Personal Brand
“It is essential to be known as an expert to be successful in this profession,” says Elizabeth Na, of Na & Associates CPA LLC of Cincinnati. “As an example, I became a Certified Tax Coach three years ago and have used that accreditation to gain new clients. I have seen fellow CPAs building their personal brands as well. Some have done very well.”
Ben Anders, owner of Anders Accounting Inc. in Sacramento, agrees. “I have seen some CPAs do this in the dental world by preparing an annual financial statement showing local industry averages. I have also seen them collect happy customer testimonials and then use them in their advertising.” Anders adds, “I think that building a personal brand is very important for building a niche-based business.”
Carolyn Larsen-Wieber works hard to build her personal brand. “As a CPA who practices in the area of personal financial planning I would advise two initial action items: The first is to become a member of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning (PFP) division and, second, obtain the CPA’s certification of Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).” Larsen-Wieber works at Steward Ingram & Cooper PLLC, in Raleigh, N.C. (FY13 net revenue of $1.76 million). She adds, “Personally, I made it a point to join my local county Estate Planning Council.”
Targeting an Ideal Client
Most successful CPAs with strong personal brands agree that it’s easier to build a quality reputation when you focus on a specific target audience. Larsen-Wieber believes that focusing on a particular type of client – or finding your niche – is critical to establishing yourself as an expert and building your personal brand. “Targeting an ideal client creates a win-win for both the CPA and the ideal client. It allows the CPA to focus on similarly targeted characteristics of the client – translating into being more impactful – and the client receives demonstrated proactive services. The outcome is an increased level of service given and a happier, healthier relationship between CPA and client.”
Na agrees that it’s important that your target audience sees you as someone who is intimately familiar with their business and is aware of the issues and challenges they are facing. “I make a point of building relationships with referral partners, such as business bankers, attorneys and financial advisors that also serve my target audience.”
Anders considers his ideal clients very carefully. “I think it’s a wonderful thing. We have developed a list of characteristics that our ideal clients would have. This allows us to share this with our referral sources and to build a practice that fits our lifestyle and meets our desires.”
What is the Biggest Obstacle in Establishing Yourself as a True Expert in Your Field?
Anders acknowledges that finding ways to publicize professionals in a particular field can be tricky. He’s made it a point to learn more about LinkedIn to help grow his personal brand. “I’ve been trying to get articles published in dental-focused trade publications and am also considering posting them on LinkedIn dental groups as well.” Na is committed to presenting more seminars to promote her “CTC” (Certified Tax Coach) brand and the benefits of proactive planning.
Larsen-Wieber adds, “One of the biggest obstacles for certified public accountants and financial advisors is educating the consumer that the value-added proposition of financial planning is the individualized creativity we offer – along with the development of an integrated financial plan. We need to fight the stigma that some consumers view us as a commodity. My passion is to prove that personal financial planners and CPAs are trusted advisors and assist our clients by providing independent objective services.”
Overcoming Obstacles by Focusing on Key Areas
Lisa Tierney is a certified life strategies coach (CLSC) and the owner of TIERNEY Coaching & Consulting, which offers specialized consulting and coaching to solo practitioners and multi-partner CPA firms. Tierney suggests focusing on current clients and other advisors of influence over your target audience for building and strengthening your personal brand.
Current Clients – Na makes sure to check in with clients periodically. “I try to address their issues or concerns during those check-in meetings to find out their current interests and to simply stay in touch.” Anders agrees. “Clients are the easiest to provide additional services to. We are developing a plan to meet with them and discuss their goals and how we could better help them achieve them.” Adds Larsen-Wieber, “I will focus on current clients because, historically, 80% of growth in revenue comes from my current clients. I make a point to educate them about what I offer and invite them regularly to complimentary meetings.”
Referral Sources – Na often has coffee, breakfast or lunch with referral sources. Larsen-Wieber asks other advisors to participate in the client engagement process and afterward asks those advisors for new client referrals.
Tierney emphasizes that effectively targeting current clients and referral sources requires a long-term, focused effort of 18 months to two years before “the phone starts to ring on its own.” Na agrees. “By targeting these key areas over time, you can better understand the return on your investment – time and money – as well as doing more with less.”
“I totally agree,” Anders says. “Recently I have been focusing on these areas to some extent with the biggest focus on referral sources. The momentum builds on itself and the business starts to flow in. It’s exciting!”
This originally appeared in Inside Public Accounting – blog post dated January 9, 2015