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New Firm 2: Building a Firm Brand
How to craft a unique identity that differentiates a firm
For every accounting firm owner lamenting the “commoditization” of the profession, there are at least a dozen undifferentiable accounting firms. They all have virtually identical websites, taglines, messaging, offers… We have become the very thing we detest.
In the previous post, I laid out why my ideal customer should want to work with my new firm.
Now it’s time to create a brand that uniquely appeals to that ideal customer.
📍 How to position a brand
Positioning your brand is a critical step in creating a successful business. You carve out a unique spot in the marketplace and in the minds of your customers.
This makes you the “go-to” option within your target market. Jonathan Stark calls invoking a “Rolodex moment”:
A Rolodex Moment (RM) has occurred when someone is inspired to mentally run through the list of people they know and successfully comes up with one or more who they should introduce you to for business reasons… _RMs are most likely to occur in your audience if you have adopted a Vertical Specialization or a Demographic Specialization (e.g., “I help dentists” or “I help people who suffer from migraines”). RMs are unlikely to occur in your audience if you have adopted a Horizontal Specialization (e.g., “I help people who need QuickBooks integration”).
Compare and Contrast with the Competition: Start by doing thorough research on your competitors. Understand their strengths, weaknesses, messaging, pricing, and how they are disrupting the market. This gives you a clear picture of the competitive landscape and where you can differentiate. (For accounting firms, it’s mostly generalists, so notice if there are any firms specifically niching down on your target market.)
Ideal Customer: Identify the characteristics of your ideal customer, their desired outcomes, experiences, and motivations. This will help you tailor your services and messaging to attract and retain these customers.
Uniqueness: Ask yourself, “Why me?” What unique value can you offer that your competitors can’t? This could be your expertise, your approach, or even your personality. _If any of your competition would also claim it about themselves, move on. I’m sorry, but you are not more “beyond number crunching” or “all about a superior client experience” than any other accountant out there.
Messaging: Develop a clear and compelling message that communicates your category, benefit, offering, and methodology. This includes your XY positioning statement and website hero statement (see below).
Test and Iterate: Finally, test your positioning and iterate based on feedback and results. Look at conversion rates, SEO rankings, and other key metrics to measure your success and make necessary adjustments. Yes, you should be tracking this stuff!
🎯 Target market: Who I can help
In Obviously Awesome, April Dunford defines a target market as “the customers who buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts and tell their friends about your offerings.” NB: Many business owners might call these ideal customers, but we aren’t there yet!
The goal of defining your target market should be to identify as wide a group of possible who care the most about the value your product delivers and would buy from you instantaneously given the chance.
Note that most accountants define their target market far too broadly: taxpayers who need to file a return, or companies that need audited financial statements. But on the other hand, I think many also have too narrowly drawn the borders around their target markets, continuing to focus on geographic areas in the digital age.
For my new firm, the target market is independent and self-employed knowledge workers. These are individuals who leverage their expertise and knowledge to provide value to their clients. The group includes creatives, consultants, and professionals. They value flexibility, autonomy, and the ability to work on projects that they are passionate about.
🤩 Ideal customer: Who I want to help
Within the admittedly too-broad target market sits your ideal customer. Where as the target market is a group that shares common characteristics making them candidate prospects for your business, your ideal customer is the one person—real or imagined—whom you want to help.
Now, take a step back from branding for a moment and think about your business model. If your business sells implementation-first services, your ideal customer likely is someone who wants certain work done for her. But if you sell strategy-first services, she needs help achieving a transformation. I discussed the distinction here.
This is critical because, in selling strategy-first, defining your ideal customer should bookend who you want to help based on that transformation. In other words, an ideal prospect comes to you needing help to achieve a transformation, you provide that help so she achieves it, and your work is done. That customer no longer fits the profile of your ideal customer because she no longer needs your help achieving the transformation!
My ideal customer is from 25 to 45 years old, a self-employed licensed or experienced professional bringing in $250–750k revenue annually, who has already worked with at least one tax advisor. I’ve found that having never worked with a tax advisor makes setting and maintaining expectations much more difficult and significantly increases the chances of churn within the first two years.
To sum up, define your ideal customer in such way that you easily determine whether a prospect is ready for your help or not, but also whether she has exceeded your ability or desire to continue helping.
⚡️ The Laser-Focused Positioning Statement
A two-sentence message that tells people what your business is, how they will benefit from it, and how it is different from others. It is typically not used verbatim in marketing materials, but rather as a guide for crafting various types of messaging (e.g., tagline, slogan, cocktail party answer, etc).
The LFPS template looks like this:
I’m a DISCIPLINE who helps TARGET MARKET with EXPENSIVE PROBLEM. Unlike my competitors, UNIQUE DIFFERENCE.
You see the competitor and target market research from Vana’s five-step method I shared above built into this. Each blank represents a critical expression of who you are, whom you want to help, and how.
On the other hand, it can change. As Stark says, this is not meant for the public! So you can revise it at will without worrying about sending confusing signals to the market. But it should drive your messaging and marketing efforts. So while you can—and should—tweak it, try to avoid frequent changes.
This is my current LFPS:
I’m a tax strategist who helps independent knowledge workers paying too much tax by optimizing their tax liabilities. Unlike my competitors, I provide a year-round subscription model and offer advice focused on long-lasting financial stability for solo practitioners.