[IMGCAP(1)] According to Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle was not an accountant, but he was a very smart man.  As an early philosopher, it is fair to say that he was a trusted advisor. Furthermore, Aristotle was not a marketer, but he clearly understood branding.  

A brand is fundamentally a set of perceptions that represent your business. Professionals aspiring to establish a viable brand resulting in building a stronger accounting practice (or any business for that matter) must adhere to, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

When an accountant enters an audit engagement, prepares a tax return, or undertakes a consulting assignment an established and consistent level of excellence is expected.  The client minimally requires accurate work within a predetermined timeframe.

Many accountants will correctly state that they are simply doing their job and delivering good client service.  And, they are right.  Progressive accounting firms communicate that this habitual excellence is the brand that they live.  These firms are successful!

Too often, branding is placed in the marketing category.  This is wrong.  Branding goes in the operations category!  A savvy marketer once simply stated that “Marketing is communication.” A logical next step leads to marketing being something you say. 

However, branding is not something you say. Branding is something you do - just like work, just like operations.  Clients don’t hear what you say because your actions are too loud.  So, the question remains are your actions screaming that your excellence is a habit?

Clearly, it is not possible for an accounting firm literally to scream that excellence is a habit.  But what is not only possible, but required, is that your firm’s employees’ actions scream excellence is a habit! One firm accomplishes this by creating a culture where they habitually under-promise and over-deliver. 

Many businesses make that claim.  However, this firm lives it.  This firm has embedded over-delivering in its culture by repeatedly creating internal deadlines ahead of stated delivery dates.  But, here is the hard part. The staff fanatically adheres to the accelerated deadlines.Operationally, they repeatedly exceed deadlines and demonstrate excellence to a loyal clientele. Without clever slogans and artistic logos, this firm’s brand clearly, articulately shouts trustworthy client service.

A young, modestly-sized firm in a competitive metropolitan market lives its brand by investing in and developing superior people. The firm then charges premium fees to a narrowly defined and demanding clientele. The simple assumption is that this dedicated, soft skill culture may show a fancy brand, but how well do they operate? After all, their staff must be learning their technical skills on the job. More importantly, how well do they collect? The empirical answer resides in their superior realization. How superior is their realization? According to industry benchmarks, it is probably better than yours!

So, what in the name of Aristotle is a hard working accounting firm to do to have a strong brand?

First, focus on excellence. Discover your firm’s competitive advantage. Great client service does not count, look deeper. Does your firm have disproportionate market share in a particular niche, like franchises? Then, create easily replicable processes for your franchisee clients so you can communicate and implement your expertise for additional clients. Does your firm have deep community relationships where clients and friendly competitors look to you first for solutions to tricky problems? In that case, painstakingly detail the intricacies involved in solving the client’s unique problems and then exceed their expectations at delivery. 

Is your firm’s advantage a monsoon maker who has never spoken to the same prospect twice because they become clients after the first call? Then, ramp up developing technical skills in your staff to keep up with eager and loyal clients so they will not dream of anyone else taking care of their every financial need.

At all costs, repeatedly demonstrate your expertise such that your excellence roars through your market place.Clients can often overlook weaknesses, as long as breaking your promises is not one of them. Living a strong brand requires doing what you say when you say you are going to do it. If a client or prospect cannot operate within your stated commitment to them, then they may not be ready to be your client. Honestly assess your strengths and then deliver to the market place according to them.

  Gregg Lederman, the branding expert who wrote “Achieving Brand Integrity” said, “your organization achieves its desired brand image while reaching business goals—when employees, customers, partners, and the market understand, believe, and experience that you are who and what you say you are.”

Think about it; all those stakeholders are your market place and are essential to your profitability. Now, have your firm go be your brand in every single interaction and accept the rewards. At that point, “Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Glenn Hunter is the Director of Member Development for The APA/ Enterprise Worldwide, a division of Five Star 3, LLC.  Glenn focuses on connecting certified public accountants to resources and other professionals so that they get the most value from their association membership and contribute to their firms’ performance improvement results.