Persona: According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, persona is the way you behave, talk, etc., with other people that causes them to see you as a particular kind of person.
Whether you realize it or not, your persona is secretly giving away clues about you every minute of every day. You’re smart, conscientious, and dedicated to your firm and your clients but is your persona saying the same thing? To the average client, there is no discernible difference between a financial statement prepared by someone in a Big Four firm or a firm of four people, but there are many differences in the personas of the CPAs who explain what the numbers mean. Make sure your persona is a positive one. Make sure your persona reflects who you are: the business world’s most trusted advisor. If your persona is sloppy, people will likely think that your habits are sloppy, and the underlying message is that the work being done with their financial assets is sloppy. Appearance is important and manners still matter. Yes, we’re much more casual than we were “back in the day,” but clients are human and they will form an opinion about you within the first few seconds of meeting you.
Here are five easy ways to polish your persona.
1. Gear. As the business world’s most trusted advisor, you don’t get credit for just showing up, especially if you look like you just woke up. Get serious when it comes to your clothing. Be sure that whatever you wear is always clean and pressed. Know the rules of business casual dress, and kick it up a notch. When in doubt, it’s almost always better to over-dress than under-dress, unless perhaps you’re doing an inventory observation that requires a ladder and bug spray. Don’t be afraid to wear a dark sports coat or blazer, even if others don’t. Your persona will be remembered in a positive way and, more importantly, you’ll FEEL more professional and competent. And, even if it’s subconscious on their part, you’ll garner more respect from every client, regardless of their business.
2. Hair, ink, and other body embellishments. Important reminder: the “bed head” is “dead,” (thankfully). The only worse look is facial hair that’s not properly groomed — the five o’clock shadow on steroids! Long or short, your hair plays a huge role in exuding a polished persona. Make sure yours is clean and combed. As for tattoos and piercings, you need to cover them at work and at any business related functions to achieve and maintain your professional persona.
3. Space. Oh, my! I’ve seen it all in CPA firm offices floor-to-ceiling files that rival the freedom tower in New York! Stacks of paper on desks, credenzas and computer monitors; crammed into drawers, flowing out of audit bags — yes, even in this day of less paper! I once visited a firm where a client walked past a neat office near his own accountant’s and exclaimed, “Why can’t your office look like his? I don’t know how you find anything in yours.” It’s not exactly something you want to hear clients saying about YOUR office, but if you can’t get from your door to your desk without tippy-toeing around stacks of files and piles of paper, they probably are.
4. Speech. After your appearance, what you say and how you say it can make or break your client (or any!) relationship. People are subconsciously forming opinions about your voice, accent, diction and yes, grammar. Number one: let’s extinguish the word “like” from the English language, except for maybe your Facebook page. It’s the latest synonym for “uh” and “um,” but it’s, like, 10 times more annoying when used multiple times in one sentence. Try counting the “like”s used in one sentence by your friends and co-workers. You’ll be amazed at how many times that word is overused as an adverb. When you hear yourself starting to say “like,” and it follows a pronoun (I’m like she’s like it’s like ), try taking a deep breath or just pause before finishing your thought. Another pronoun problem is using him or her instead of she or he “The manager and him are going to lunch; her and her sister are attending the conference.” AGGGGHHHH! It’s like screeching chalk on a blackboard, and your clients surely do not want to hear such egregious grammar mistakes from their well-educated and most trusted business advisor. Easy tip: simply replace the pronoun you want to use with “we” or “us.” If “we” makes sense, you should use “he” or “she,” and if “us” makes sense, you should use “him” or “her.”
5. Eats. More business is done breaking bread than anywhere else. Now that busy season is over, there will be plenty of dining opportunities at client, charity and firm events so let’s tidy up our table manners. Be sure your host starts eating before you begin and always remember that b comes before l bread before liquids. Your bread plate is ALWAYS on your left. You certainly don’t want to mistakenly take a bite out of your client’s roll just because her bread plate happened to be closer to you on the right-hand side. Actually, that’s a bad example anyway since you should never take a bite out of your or anyone else’s roll. Tear a piece off that easily fits into your mouth for each bite. As for liquids, the last thing you want to do is get hammered during a client event. Know your firm’s policy and your personal alcohol limit and stick to it. Be especially wary of the wait staff refilling your wine glass when you’re speaking to the person on your left (remember the b before l rule?).
Now that your persona is polished, you’re ready to get out there and be a proud member of the elite group of the business world’s most trusted advisors. Just remember, when you put your best foot forward, be sure it’s in a scuff-free shoe.
Maureen Schwartz is the executive director of BKR International, a global accounting association of more than 150 independent accounting and business advisory firms in over 300 offices and 75 countries. More information is available at www.bkr.com.