Branding is never going to be a practitioner’s top priority – but it can make larger practice concerns like finding clients a lot easier.
Rachel Balchin was still considering her firm’s name when she sat down with the Companies House form to register her practice. Her family suggested she went down the professional route with the name, but she couldn’t escape the reason why she wanted to start her own firm in the first place: to spend more time with her pet bulldog, Esme.
“I dreamt about having a bulldog,” Balchin said. “It’s been lovely so I felt it was appropriate to use that as a figurehead. It's given me a really nice hook to hang the other stuff on.”
Starting out there are a lot of things to consider. On that day, Balchin didn’t just choose Bulldog Accounting as her firm’s name (as documented in AccountingWEB’s weekly Small Change feature), but by choosing to differentiate herself, she also set the ethos for her firm. “I am on Twitter quite a lot and I tend to tweet about the dog and sometimes mention accountancy things in between it,” she said. “It opens a conversation in a way that VAT doesn't always.”
How will people take you seriously?
At first, a family member thought she was being twee. How were people going to take her seriously as an accountant? "You need a certain level of credibility for people to trust you with their finances", was the concern. But standing out with her bulldog branding helped her attract the type of clients that she would want to work with.
If people like you or understand you and get who you are, they're more likely to be comfortable talking to you about stuff
“When I meet people I'm not very uptight, I'm relaxed,” said Balchin. “I know what I am doing but I don't like to stand on ceremony so I thought people who want a corporate face in an accountant aren't going to pick me anyway.”
Authenticity is one aspect Balchin wants to talk about during her ‘Lessons from my first year in practice’ session at the ICAEW’s annual practice conference later this year: “If people like you or understand you and get who you are, they're more likely to be comfortable talking to you about stuff,” she said.
“I want my clients to pick up the phone and have a chat with me about their lives and their businesses. I don't want to be a black box they send things to at the end of the year who charges them loads of money.
“My clients are all really similar in terms of being informal and wanting to chat and get things done.”
Death and taxes
Having a strong brand has helped Balchin stand out from the crowd. In many ways, the same can be said for goth accountant Psyche Coderre.
Often clad in black and sporting striking purple hair, she enjoys subverting the 'born dull' accountant stereotype. In her own words, she’s "the last person you’d expect to be an accountant".
Her personality is stamped indelibly in her Death and Taxes practice. Fittingly, her logo is the grim reaper clutching a vintage calculator, rather than a scythe, alongside the ‘keeping you in the black’ slogan.
Coderre has a range of clients, but the fact that she plays in alternative mash-up band The Meme Punks attracts others in the creative field. “For the creative clients, there is that advantage that I am someone that they feel they can relate to more than someone who wears a suit and sits in an office,” she said.
When you are a bit different you stick in people's minds more than other people do.
Like Balchin, Coderre’s personality has helped her cut through the white noise. She is now oversubscribed with clients, many of whom share her spirit.
“There are a lot of accountants out there and they all seem the same. So when you are a bit different you stick in people's minds more than other people do. Another small advantage is that my hair is purple, so when I meeting a client for the first time in a coffee shop they can always find me.”
Human touch in the digital age
The human touch will become even more important, as the profession approaches a potential watershed moment with Making Tax Digital. The ICAEW practice conference, for instance, will feature various sessions to prepare firms on their digital journey.
Standing out is one strand that the ICAEW’s director of practice Amanda Digne-Malcolm has seen practitioners take to move their practice forward. While both accountants featured may seem like extreme examples, they show the value of knowing your client: “You obviously will have people like Rachel who have done something more unconventional that gets them out there.
“She has taken the brand approach, others might take another approach. The key thing is to offer something that clients value and get yourself noticed so clients come to you and once you're delivering it, make sure clients value it.”
If you'd like to hear more about Rachel Balchin’s first year in practice and more, take a look at the ICAEW’s annual practice conference. Click here to register for the event.