Branding. It is a word often bandied about: personal branding, corporate branding, product branding, and so on. It is easy to categorize branding as another overused buzzword along the lines of synergy and paradigm shift. In fact, it represents how your firm is perceived and the
results of that perception. It can be a valuable asset that you should proactively manage.
A brand to me is a living, breathing entity that extends well beyond a logo and website. It is constantly evolving or devolving. It is important to realize that what your firm brand stands for mostly begins with you. Your values and your personal reputation are most likely the biggest factors impacting your brand.
This is the secret for effectively managing your firm’s brand.
With that truth in mind, take a step back and think about your firm. What do you think your brand is? What would clients say if I asked them what you stand for? How would you like them to answer that question? And finally, what is the best way to go about building the brand of you (and subsequently your firm)?
Here are three steps to build your brand from the inside out.
Step 1: Write Down and Communicate Your Values with Your Employees.
You may have an idea of what values your personal brand encompasses, but have you shared them with your employees or your customers? Values represent an important cornerstone for brands. It is what your brand stands for, what it delivers.
In my experience, it is best to write down an outline of the things I care about and then talk with the people I care about to get their input. It is no surprise that the Bill.com corporate values are a close reflection of my own personal values: humility, passion, authenticity, dedication and fun.
The most important thing is to be yourself when developing your values. Your values will help communicate your brand and help you and your employees run the business. They will form a central foundation for ongoing activities that employees can build from and reference each day.
Once you write down your personal values, ask your team and your customer: Does this list of values represent our firm? Are there other values that have been omitted? This discussion will help you identify and fine-tune your firm values.
Once you have the values finalized, post them on your wall right at the front door. Values are too important to be left in a company memo.
Step 2: Practice Your Values Every Day When You Are Hiring, Growing and Managing Your Team.
Practicing your values is harder than it sounds. This is why your employees need to share and reflect your firm’s values. If you have set out that expectation, then you will be comfortable managing to it. At Bill.com, a major component of our annual performance reviews is how well our employees live up to our values. We highlight employees throughout the year that represent the values in a unique way.
As a manager you have to take the time to share your thinking about values in 1x1 and team meetings. Equally important, you have to take the time to make sure your decisions reflect those values.
Each day should inspire you to hone in on those values. For example, imagine one of your values is to provide excellent service. When a client called you this morning with an urgent question, were you able to quickly respond and advise on it? Or if one of your values is quality, how are you measuring your performance? Some of your values will come in conflict with customers you serve. For example, either the business they are in or the way they treat your team could be in conflict with your values. Are you prepared to “fire” the customer in either situation? Having the values on the wall and being a part of the day-to-day decision-making helps you and your teams do the right thing.
Step 3: Build Your Brand Through Your Everyday Actions.
It is important that your values – the cornerstones of your brand – be represented in everything you do. That includes the services you provide in addition to your communications, actions and appearance. This will ensure consistency in how your firm is perceived – its overall brand.
Imagine what an archaeologist would say about your firm if you walked out the door today and an excavation team walked in 500 years from now. What pictures are on the walls? Is the office neat or messy? Is the furniture frugal or expensive? Is there a lot of security or none? What would someone in the future think you cared about? Much in the same way that the archaeologist interprets the essence of a culture by examining its cues, so do your clients as they walk into your office, read an email from you or meet face-to-face.
One of the cues you give your clients about your brand hinges on the set of tools you use to manage both your firm and their business. Accountants tell me all the time that they want their clients to think of them as buttoned up and on top of things. However, their practices are often inconsistent with this image.
Imagine doing your clients’ taxes in pencil on the forms mailed from the IRS. What would your clients think? What does writing checks by hand from check stock stored in an unlocked drawer say to your clients? If you are still doing that, chances are the brand you are communicating is not that of a forward-thinking accountant.
On the other hand, if you enable your clients to access information from a mobile phone or if you respond quickly with a digital copy of a tax return during a mortgage refinancing, you are wowing them. And they will think you are buttoned up.
Your brand is not what you say it is. It is what your clients think it is. And actions speak louder than words. Indirect communications and the way you manage your practice dominates client impressions. A solid set of values that drive your team and your business will ensure that your brand promise is what you want it to be – now and when the archaeologists come digging!
About the Author
René Lacerte founded Bill.com in August 2006, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience in the finance, software and payments industries. As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, Lacerte developed the concept for Bill.com based on personal experience growing up in multiple businesses as a kid and then co-founding his first company, PayCycle, in 1999. Lacerte also spent five years at Intuit, creating and managing the company’s bill presentment team and growing its bill payment and credit card businesses into a multimillion-dollar concern. He also launched Intuit’s first connected payroll product, growing the team from two employees to 300 in 18 months. He has a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics from Stanford University.