Art of Accounting: Branding yourself

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I think branding is very important. Everyone and every business has a brand. Inattention to branding creates a brand that might not be what you would like, but nevertheless you will have a brand. Branding needs deliberate attention.

A brand is an intangible image a company has. It cannot be felt or touched, it cannot be bottled or mass produced, and it cannot be changed without effort. Logos and trademarks are not the brand, but are evidence, depictions or reminders of the brand. You do not need a logo, but if used, it conveys the brand so it must be carefully chosen.

I work hard at supporting, strengthening and projecting my brand. And I do it all the time in all situations. Here are some recent things I did and that you can think about doing:

• I try to dress appropriately for the client, but a little more upscale. For instance, I had a recent meeting with a client I know appreciates fine ties. I purchased an expensive tie that I guessed he would notice. He did and mentioned it. If I have a meeting and think about what to wear, I wear a suit.

• When I go to a client meeting and have a memorandum that is more than two pages, I prepare a cover with the client’s logo and have it bound into a booklet.

• I try to reply to every email saying that it has been received, and if a reply is needed, I give a time or date. I always leave some lead time and make sure I respond sooner.

• When a response is needed, I have found it much easier to call with my answer rather than typing or dictating an email. If clients have their phone number in their email address, I just need to click it on my iPhone to dial the number. If client doesn’t answer, I leave a brief message or ask for a call back.

• I work primarily off my cell phone. I am always reachable with it. I am now very careful to call people who might need to call me back on my cell. I have a direct dial number in my office, but if I call from there, that number is not recorded on the receiving phone. Instead, my firm’s general incoming number shows up on their phone. Then, no matter what my message is, I get called back on the calling number, causing delays since it goes through the receptionist. If I am not in, they have to leave a message, when it is likely I could have answered the call on my cell phone.

• Sometimes I am home and need to call someone. I never ever use my home phone even if the land line is more convenient. If I do, that can become the number of choice or convenience for the person who needs to return my call, or to call me at some other time. This invades my “personal” space and can clog up my home’s voice mail with business messages that should only be heard by me.

• I work at showing “availability.” I do this by frequent calls to clients “checking in” or even stopping at their offices or factories if I am in their area to say hello. These 10-minute showing-ups work wonders in indicating my availability and that I am thinking of them. I also do this with referral sources such as attorneys and other accountants.

• I write frequent blogs and columns such as this. Most are serious, but some aren’t—and are designed to signpost my personality and interests. I believe this personalizes me and makes me more approachable—although I am easily approached.

• I buy and mail books to clients that I believe they would be interested in or enjoy reading. I do not have them sent directly to clients, but have the book sent to me and I repackage it to send out. When I can, I mail it to the client rather than bring it to them. This indicates I was thinking about them afterwards and took the time to get the book and mail it to them. I like using the U.S. Postal Service for mailing books. I use fixed rate Priority Mail envelopes that I can either put in any mailbox or give to my letter carrier.

• I am a stamp collector and like to use old stamps on my mail. A problem with this is that if stamps are used and the package weighs more than 13 ounces it must be taken to a post office. I get around this by placing a 1₵ postage meter label on the package. This meets postal requirements removing the required post office visit. Not everyone, but quite a few, mention the nice stamps I used. Who knows? I might even kindle an interest in stamp collecting.

• The type of car you drive also fits in with your brand. I won’t comment further on this, but keep this in mind.

• Perhaps one of the biggest brand establishers or busters is the person answering your phone or greeting a visitor to your office. Super important. For many, this is the first point of contact and first impressions are very important.

• Rong speling, especially a client’s name, is fatal. Bad imaging. Never let this occur.

• We take pains to dress well, but what about your briefcase or shined shoes or your beat-up old umbrella? These details are visual reflections of your brand.

I could go on and on with this and then establish a brand of being longwinded. The main point is the importance of working on your brand. For more on this subject, see my June 1, 2015 column on branding.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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