Marketing expert Jo Edwards brings 35 years of experience to the topic of personal branding for accountants and CPAs in creating industry rockstars in accounting.
Jo shares why building a strong personal brand is critical for standing out and attracting high-quality clients in a competitive marketplace.
Rob and Jo discuss how to build an authentic brand aligned with your interests, the power of microniche expertise, and how to measure your brand’s progress.
Jo emphasizes being intentional about developing your brand and using tools like content creation and public speaking to raise your profile. She offers advice for overcoming introversion and making time for branding activities.
Jo argues that amplifying your personal brand is essential for commanding premium fees, generating referrals, fast-tracking your career, and achieving influence in your firm.
- The “three R’s” of personal branding are recognition, reputation, and respect. A strong brand helps you get “paid” through attention, high fees, and referrals.
- Authenticity is crucial – crafting a brand that’s not true to you is hard to maintain long-term. Align your brand with your genuine interests.
- Consider micro-niche expertise, becoming known as the go-to expert in a very specialized area aligned with your interests.
- Measure progress by conversions – when target audiences seek you out, invite you to speak, and refer new business to you.
- Use tools like content creation, public speaking, and networking, but play to your strengths and act within your comfort zone. Seek help from mentors.
“Any accountancy firm that isn’t winning more than 80 percent of their new work from referrals is doing something wrong.”
The Accounting Influencers Podcast drops every Monday to accounting professionals, finance specialists, software vendors, tech providers and influencers across 150 countries in the accountancy, CPA and bookkeeping space. To participate in our international virtual speed networking events for the accounting community, book your place at the next gathering: https://accountinginfluencers.com/events. Great to build your personal brand and make valuable industry connections in return for a small donation to charity.
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Marketing for accountants, accounting firms. It's dead. They're so busy. They're all overwhelmed. We don't need marketing anymore, Joe Edwards, do we?Jo Edwards:
Uh, I think we do, Rob. I wish marketing was like a tap that you could just switch on and switch off when you needed it. Sadly, it doesn't work that way. And I think any firm, however busy they are, if they decide we're too busy, turn the tap off, we're going to find it takes a long time to switch it back on again. Even if you don't want to have the tap running at full pelt, and be a bit more selective about where you spend your marketing budget and what type of audiences you, you target and how you continue to raise your brand, going dark on any of this is, is never a good idea because it just doesn't switch back on that easily. Uh,Rob Brown 1:
We're here on the Accounting Influencer Podcast. We're talking to Joe Edwards, 35 years experience working with big, small practices in the accounting world, amplifying their brand in the marketplace. focusing on the personal brand of you. I did a TED talk on this a few years ago. It's a fascinating topic. And Joe Edwards, you are in the weeds with personal brand. Why should accountants care about a personal brand rather than the corporate brand?Jo Edwards:
well, I think. Accountancy individuals, accountancy firms as a whole are working in an incredibly competitive space and you've got to find a way to stand out from the world. a sea of gurus effectively. and part of that is the importance of building a watertight personal image for your experts within your practice. if you don't do that, you'll just be a Me Too flag waver with every other firm that's out there. You've got to be able to highlight. Individuals and individual expertise. And I think, um, can take a lesson from the big brands. They do it really well. And it's very easy to think of an accountant as a very logical, analytical individual spending a lot of their time crunching numbers for their clients. But when you, when you really look at it with a very open mind, the accountancy role just goes so far beyond that. Their work is impactful and in a lot of cases, incredibly impactful. They're responsible for their client's financial success. You're helping your clients live their best lives. You're giving them peace of mind that their personal business finances are working hard for them behind the scenes. And many accountants become that business owner's confident. somebody they can turn to when they need solid advice, both on and off the record. So the personal brand aspect is important because when an individual is hunting for an accountant, they're not looking just for a person who can make them the most money. They want to find somebody who can prove, that They share their ethos, they appreciate their values, um, sets them at ease, and without developing a personal brand, you can't do that because the firm as a whole can't do it on your behalf. So that's why I think it's important.Rob Brown 1:
Are we saying that the corporate brand of an accounting firm, all the stuff they put on their website and their social and all the things that comes out from the marketing channel or even external agencies like you, that plays its part, but the individual brands of the The personnel, the professionals themselves, they contribute to a brand. Is that what we're saying?Jo Edwards:
Yes, they do. They do. So you've, um, your firm, done well, will present its brand and its messaging and its positioning very clearly.Rob Brown 1:
but it's got ambassadors, hasn't it Joe? It's got people that represent that out there in the marketplace, conversation by conversation, person to person.Jo Edwards:
Yeah. And accountancy is, you know, this archetypal people by people and without those brand ambassadors, um, being showcased and presented to the community that you want to engage with makes that incredibly difficult.Rob Brown 1:
I used to do business development for accounting firms back in the day, and I was encouraging the individual accountants to build their own professional networks, build their own relationships, so they could leverage that for referrals and open doors for one another. And I would ask the question, whose job is it? To div to win business for the firm. And they would come up with where maybe some of the partners, maybe one or two of the hungry associates and people below partner level. But the ultimate answer is everyone, because everyone is an ambassador, a representative of that firm. And even if they're having dinner with friends or going to a wedding or something like that, the question always comes up, what do you do? So not quite that. It's always on and it's always purposeful. All professionals are required to have a good answer to that elevator pitch, aren't they? And I guess that's where personal brand starts.Jo Edwards:
It does. I think, um, I always put it down, um, what's the three R's of personal brand.Rob Brown 1:
Okay. We've got a formula now. Accountants love that. It's prescriptive.Jo Edwards:
Follow the formula. Yeah. Um, so the three R's I believe of personal brand are recognition, reputation and respect. So recognition is where you want to be seen as the go to specialist in your niche, whatever that niche might be Now the niche. might be, you know, straightforward. good compliance, you know, straightforward, good tax saving advice, or it could be, you know, something very specialist, which it might be insolvency, it might be corporate finance, it might be, you know, a cross border tax. So whatever your specialist is, you want to be seen as the go to without having to convince anybody. The human brain likes what it knows and having a consistent personal brand has got to be vital to becoming recognized and trusted in what could be in your particular catchment area, a very cluttered space. Um, So, my advice on that first R of recognition is you need to be, you need to decide what you want to be instantly known and recognized for. Yeah, because it can't be, it can't be everything. You don't want to be a jack of all trades. You want that niche. You've then got reputation and Accountants will recognise that their best business comes from referrals. Word of mouth, without question, is the best form of marketing. Um, A, because it's free, yeah? Third party endorsement lasts, it spreads, yeah? But you've got to be clear about what you want people to say about you. Never rely on assumption. You always want to, you know, have your set of words that best describe yourself and can be easily repeated. And having given your raving fans the right words when they, when they want to talk about you it's important to think about what you want to be wanted for and what comes to mind first.Rob Brown 1:
I used to say in my talks that a good reputation, recognition, whatever it is, a good personal brand gets you paid. It's the reason people pay. And when people ask, well, what do you mean get paid? There are three things, three currencies that you want people to pay you. You want them to pay your attention because it's noisy out there and people have choice. of professional advisors in all areas. So you want them to pay your attention and notice you. You want them to pay you respect, which means they pay you what you're worth. They don't quibble on fees. They refer you. They're an advocate for you and they're easy to work with. So that's the respect thing. They don't move the goalposts. There's no scope creep. That's respect. And you want them to pay you money. So when your brand is strong, you can command premium fees. you can set the expectations for the engagement. So it's no idle thing to say, build a personal brand, is it? It's got to be intentional. And there are commercial reasons for doing it as well as vanity reasons.Jo Edwards:
Absolutely. I mean, a personal brand. I mean, you mentioned, um, currency, you know, the personal brand when you've got that level of respect is your trust currency. You know, the level of respect people have for your expertise correlates directly with how much they're prepared to pay for your services.Rob Brown 1:
What do you say to managing partners, leaders of firms that say, I can't get all my people to engage in personal brand. I've just got some people that want to be locked in a dark room and they want to churn out the work. They want to do their hours. They want to do the technical stuff, but they've got no interest in being out there, in being a public face, in being an ambassador. Now that may well preclude them from being a partner, but even a lot of partners get to partner stage and say, well, I don't want any of that external stuff. I've done all my networking. I just want to hunker down now and make money. So. how do you respond to that kind of approach?Jo Edwards:
I think you you've got individuals who are raid makers naturally. You've got individuals that are rainmakers because they've taught, taught themselves to be rainmakers. It hasn't come naturally to them, but they've, they've got outside of their comfort zone. And you've got those that really don't want to get out of their comfort zone and that's all okay. You have to decide where you sit on that kind of. staircase of personal branding. So for example, um, if you've got somebody that wants to remain what I would call a resident expert, so they're respected within their firm, they're respected by their clients, they have little visibility outside of those audiences, and they're comfortable in that zone, and there's nothing wrong with a personal brand that says I'm a resident expert. You then start looking at those that So I would call those people local heroes. And those are individuals, um, beginning to become known outside of their firm, probably more active in their local business community, speaker functions, their blog perhaps, and, and start to bring in new, new business. And you can keep climbing that staircase as high as you, as, as you wish, youRob Brown 1:
does it go, Joe?Jo Edwards:
Well, for me, there's an industry rock star or a global superstar. You choose how high you want to take it, you know, an industry rock star in the accounting profession for me is is known nationally for their niche area of expertise. They will attract premium clients, premium fees, their significant assets to their, to their firm. And a global superstar. that's that's you, Rob. Yeah. Broken out of their niche, you know, become recognized in their industry, command high fees, and other firms, other people immediately want to be associated with them. And you have to decide on that staircase, which level describes where you are today and what you'd like to achieve. And, you know, before you go saying, you know, I want to be a global superstar. You've got to keep in mind that every step on that staircase requires more effort and time than the step below it. Um, so it's easy to go from resident expert to a local hero, then go from resident expert to rock star, and you have to decide what's right for you and what you feel comfortable with.Rob Brown 1:
That totally makes sense. For the record, I am a former high school math teacher and part qualified accountant. so I am, I'm not a rock star accountant, but I take your point that a personal brand has to be intentional. It used to be that personal brand, you'd You got one by serving your time. You stayed in there 20, 30 years and you would eventually get known in your business community, in your locale and maybe online to an extent because you just hung around long enough. But these days it's really noisy out there, isn't it? There's loads of people claiming to be the world's best or the best in that locale. So we've got the three R's of personal branding. We've got recognition. We've got reputation. We've got respect. Are there any critical tools? Is there a toolbox? Is there a formula? How do we get started on it, Joe, if we want to be intentional,Jo Edwards:
So if you want to be intentional, you need a strategy. Um, andRob Brown 1:
a generalist anymore doesn't work, does it? You can't be good at everything for everyone. You've almost got to say no to some things. Is that part of itJo Edwards:
it is, I mean, as I said, just mentioned about the staircase, you know, determine where you are today. So before you kindRob Brown 1:
Okay, starting point.Jo Edwards:
get find a starting point, where am I? Yeah,Rob Brown 1:
What tools have I got to work with? What do I love doing? What am I? good at?Jo Edwards:
that's it. The next thing is, um, you. really need to define your audience. So who's going to be buying your services? Who will influence those buyers? What industries do you serve? WhatRob Brown 1:
do I want to be famous with?Jo Edwards:
Exactly. Yeah. And that's important because when you find your angle, yeah, that's going to impact everything that you, um, produce to support your personal brand. So understanding your audience means that you'll then decide. Which tools you're going to use to help develop your personal brand. Now, some of those tools might be something really simple as local business networking will deliver what I want for that. Um, that's probably not the case for most individuals. You've got to combine that with, um, Potentially speaking opportunities, uh, producing content, producing videos, producing podcasts, whatever tools are available to you to help present your brand effectively. And that's why I say the higher up that staircase you go, don't underestimate the amount of work that you or your marketing team around you are going to have to put in to help support that personal brand.Rob Brown 1:
I guess, yes, it is a team effort because you can Put yourself out there as an individual, but you still fall back on a corporate brand. And maybe an in house marketing function or an agency like Joe Edwards Consulting to do some of the legwork that supports that brand.Jo Edwards:
And you need to find. Influencers that will support your journey.Rob Brown 1:
Okay. Advocates and champions, that might be.Jo Edwards:
Packets and champions. Absolutely. Yeah.Rob Brown 1:
They will open the doors to the upper echelons of power if you've got some advocates that have your back and, and will advocate for you.Rob Brown 3:
Joe, What would you say to the people that are starting out? They're hungry, but they're lower down the food chain for want of a better phrase. They've not got a track record. They've not got any tools to play with. They've got an aspiration to be. Shall we say famous? It sounds a bit glamorous, but they want to be more well known. They want more influence. They want more of a voice. They want a reputation and they don't want to wait 20, 30 years to do it. What's the starting points? It's a blank slate, isn't it. In aJo Edwards:
It is a blank slate. I think the first thing I would say is in whatever, whatever you're doing to build your personal brand is be authentic because the most important aspect of a personal brand is the mere fact that It's personal and unique to you. if you try and craft a brand that isn't true to you it's Really hard to maintain that.Rob Brown 3:
It's not authentic, isJo Edwards:
now, and your audience, you know, will, they, they'll recognize that you're not being genuine. They'll lose trust in you? very quickly. And distrust is detrimental to any personal brand. Um, people want to make genuine connections. So, you know, it, it, it's like when you taught, you know how to, how to write you you write best when you write what you know. Um, and the personal brand is the same. I think the second step is build your personal brand around things that really interest you because then you'll enjoy building that personal brand. So much like being authentic, if your brand is a true reflection of your interest, your lifestyle, then it's going to be much easier to build it and maintain it. and holding conversations in whatever format that is. and creating content about things that you enjoy is much simpler than trying to chase an audience that you believe to be more lucrative. Um, so align your personal brand with your interests and your lifestyle and be authentic. Uh, and that way you'll create more meaningful connections.Rob Brown 3:
It is totally about picking a lane or an audience. I was once asked if I could give you a million Twitter followers. Would You take them? and my first reaction was, yeah, that sounds great. Who wouldn't want a Twitter, a million Twitter followers, but what if they were totally the wrong audience for you? What if They were completely the wrong demographic? There was a lot of. vanity in numbers. So how do you go about measuring, tracking, showing improvement in a person, measuring progress, if you like?Jo Edwards:
Well, I guess ultimately it's when Your target audience come to you without asking is the delivery, isn't it, of a good personal brand, you know, if you're being invited to attend events without having to ask to attend them, whether you're being asked to speak events, because you're the go to person.Rob Brown 3:
You know, the phones ringing because they've been recommended to you. That's the ultimate, I guess, test of whether your personal brand is, is delivering. And, you know, for, for accountants and And anybody else for that matter, when it's in the in a business world, the, ultimate test is how many, you know, are you generating fees as a result of the time and effort that you're putting into building your personal brand?Rob Brown 3:
You mentioned time and effort. There's a price to pay for building a personal brand. There's a price to pay for anything worth attaining. Constantly accountants tell us, and there's no reason why this isn't true. They are super busy. They've got clients to look after. They've got tax regulations and changes to stay on top of. It's not an easy life. They put in their hours. Personal branding, networking. These are discretionary activities, aren't they? They're what accountants do after the work is done, after the chargeable hours have been met, after the clients have been looked after. Do you often get the pushback that, Hey, I haven't got the time to build a personal brand?Jo Edwards:
I do get that pushback. Um, my, my response to that is, do you want the, do you want the quality clients that don't argue about fees? Or do you want to be scrabbling around with everybody else? Because, uh, personal, working on your personal brand is, gives you that difference.Rob Brown 3:
And more than that, it's not just the clients. Do you want, in, your firm, do you want the interesting projects? Do you want the promotion opportunities? Do you want an influence and a voice in the firm? Do you want to be more respected by your peers? Do you want to fast track your career? Those kinds of questions, if they elicit a yes. Then you can't do this by staying in the ranks and doing a good job because everyone's doing a good job. It's got to take more than that.Jo Edwards:
Yeah, you've got to stand out. Um, somebody said to me once, in building your personal brand, you want to be the unicorn in a sea of donkeys.Rob Brown 3:
And I like that. I think yes. I'd like to be the unicorn in a sea of donkeys. And this is, you know, when you talk about a crowded space and there's lots of, um, you know, quote marks, gurus out there, experts, and they're building their brand through fake content. In a lot of cases, you know, you will done well and being authentic and being, consistent and being, um, interested. in what you're talking about sets you apart as that unicorn in that sphere of everybody else.Rob Brown 3:
Talk to us about micro niching. We know about niching, which is picking a lane to swim in, or a market that you, will address, or a sector that you're working in I was speaking to an accountant recently that works with furriers. Um, no, actually it wasn't an accountant, it. was a financial advisor. Furriers are people that shoe horses. Now, in The UK that might be a thing, in anywhere it might be a thing, but that's a very specific market. Another one I had does motocross. Another accountant I met just does audits for oil rigs. So you can go super micro and be a very expansive personality in that space, can't you? But you can't do it everywhere.Jo Edwards:
No, you can't do everything. You are right. You have to, you have to pick a lane and this is where it comes down to what really interests you. So if you've got, you know, if you've got a hobby and an interest. you know, outside of work, is that of your interest, your micro niche? You know, you talk there about motocross or horses or whatever that might be, you know, there are lots of micro industries around lots of really interesting things that people do outside of outside of work. So if you're unsure where to go, I think, I think I'd start initially with something that I really enjoy. But then it might be that you've done a piece of work for a client that you. really enjoy doing that piece of work and hadn't really thought about that industry sector being one that you could develop an expertise in. So, but it is important that it interests you and you enjoy being in that space because otherwise you won't enjoy building your personal brand.Rob Brown 3:
I get that. You've got to have some longevity and some passion for it. The problem is a lot of passions are hobbies. Knitting, surfing, it's hard to make money, tennis, whatever it is. So, it's got to be commercially viable, but Micronesian would say hey, pharmaceutical might be a vertical or tech or industrial or even textiles or family businesses, but within those. There are certain slivers out there, or slices, that you can further define to say right within this. For instance, we do three accounting podcasts. One of them is Talent in Accounting. So we focus on the accounting vertical and then an area of expertise within that vertical, that would be a micro niche. So, as long as there's a viable number of people or businesses in there, it could work, couldn'tJo Edwards:
Yeah, it could. I mean, an interesting one we came across recently where we've been helping them is, um, and they've built a personal brand that I would always put them as an industry rock star now, where, you know, their interest was in the hospitality.Rob Brown 3:
so that they were dealing with a few clients that were, you know, nice high end restaurants. Yeah, but they've been, you know, they've built up their profile because they're interested in it to become the go to person on trunk work. Um, and obviously that, um, I say, obviously there are lots of new laws coming in around fair tipping and what, um. What this particular individual has managed to do is carve such an expert niche in there that he's now the go to person for the professional bodies associated with the hospitality sector. Um, he does, uh, webinars on their behalf. He speaks on, on the news for them. I mean, and, and that to me is, is, is, uh, an industry rockstar micro niche. Yeah. Um, and he's done extremely well, but it's, it's what interests him.Rob Brown 3:
What about people thinking, Oh, Joe's telling me I need to go out speaking, or I need to be writing blogs. When I did my networking training, I would say to people, look, building a network's important because your reputation is important. Your network is who you know, your reputation is who knows you, I put that. in my reputation book. So you do need people around you. You talked about advocates and champions, but there are many different ways to network. For instance, you can run your own events if you don't like the events out there. You can go to the big black tie dinners, or you can go to the small breakfast clubs. You can go to the conferences and events. You can even network in a dark room with an internet connection and work your LinkedIn. Or hit the phones and things like that. So there's many ways to build your network. Presumably, there, are many ways to build a personal brand. You don't have to be speaking, you don't have to be writing, but you have to be doing something.Jo Edwards:
Again, it's, it's where you're comfortable. So, um, there are people that might argue with me, but I'm probably the ultimate introvert. So you put me, you asked me, to walk into a room of a hundred people I don't know And network is my idea of hell,Rob Brown 3:
Yeah. I'm sure a lot of the audience identify with that. You'd have to be pretty strange to really enjoy that.Jo Edwards:
but because I'm very comfortable with What I know in, in this sector about marketing, put me on a stage with an audience of 3, 000 to talk about an aspect of marketing within professional services. I'm wholly comfortable and I would. jump at the chance to do that. So you might say, well, the ultimate introvert, not wanting to walk into a, into a, room of a hundred people that don't know how on earth could they get on a stage and talk to 3000 people. It's because you're doing where it's my comfort zone. And it's knowledgeable in, in that particular, in you know, in that environment. So this is why this doing what you know and what interests you is so important.Rob Brown 3:
Yeah. That's a great point. You're grounded on the stage there, aren't you?Jo Edwards:
But also, I think, um, ask for help, you know, um, in the same way that, um, You know, I guess starting, follow the footsteps of the role models that you look up to. So look at what they do well and apply that to your, to your own brand. So if there's someone that you, you know, have a lot of respect for and admire about the way that their, their, their brand is presented, um, have a look at how they've done it. Um, and seek advice from other people that can help you. so if, if you've got individuals within your firm that have gone from Resident Expert to Local Hero or Industry Rockstar, get their advice, get them to help you, or can they be your mentor and help you build your, your personal brand? Can they help you, you know, improve your content production skills? Can they help you on video? Can they help you presenting? You know, there's always people who will be willing. and able to give advice and help. Don't try and do it all on your own.Rob Brown 3:
That's such great advice. I got friendly at one point with a guy called Ivan Meisner, who was the founder of BNI, Business Network International. A lot of people listening might recognize the BNI groups, the breakfast clubs, the referral network. And he went around the world doing lots of talks to business people about the power of networking, and he claimed he was a situational extrovert. So accountants will identify by the introvert. We're not labeling them all, But where do you go to for your energy and to recharge your batteries? I'm the same as You I like to. be on my own. reading a book or watching something, playing a bit of chess or whatever it is. And many professionals are like that but situationally, I can be put into situations like a room full of people or a stage where, because I've got some skills to handle that situation, I would look like an extrovert. in those situations. So, you've got that and accounting professionals listening, they will need to develop that side to themselves because you can't be a shy expert in a way, can you? Unless you get so good that you, can become a hermit and super exclusive.Jo Edwards:
Yeah. And it all comes with time and experience and exposure to those things as well. I mean, nobody, I don't believe anybody is, is, is. You know, born to, to, to get up and do public speaking. It's the greatest fear, isn't it? You know, but you,Rob Brown 3:
you start small and, and, and then, you know, open yourselves up to, to other more, um, I say stressful situations, but you, you, you, you know, you'll take one step doing something very small and then you'll take another step and you'll have a bigger audience and a bigger audience, but you've got to. Each time just take that little step a little bit further out of your comfort zone and when you've done it you feel great and you think right I'm ready to take take the next step on that but it's not a natural human trait to want to do public speaking for sure.Rob Brown 3:
Joe, we'll put your contact details in the show notes so people can reach out. Uh, you help professional firms to amplify their brand and, and vendors as well, suppliers to those accounting firms. I asked you at the beginning, is marketing dead for accounting firms? They're too busy. They don't need to, market a brand. Work is coming to them. Let me just flip that slightly and say to you, personal branding for accounting professionals. Is it really needed? What's going to happen if they're not intentional about growing a personal brand?Jo Edwards:
It is needed. Um, and it's needed because you have to be able to I'll just refine that actually, Bob. What I'm going to say is any accountancy firm that isn't winning more than 80 percent of their new work from referrals is doing something wrong. Either their service levels are not, not, good. Yeah. Or that the personal brand of their partners, the earners within that firm is not good enough. And you want. 80 percent of your work to come for you, come to you for, for free, effectively, good recommendations, good referral, and if you switch that tap off of continually building your firm's brand awareness and building the awareness of the individuals within it, you'll be, as I said at the start, you'll be scrabbling around for the, for, for, for, for the, the low end of the market and not the audience that you want, where you can command the right fees and they're willing to pay it.Rob Brown 3:
It's a, it's a premium way to fast track your career is to be good at winning work and getting those referrals. Just final question, Joe. From a talent perspective, The leaders in accounting firms, how do they nurture, encourage, inspire their people to build a personal brand beyond just being good at their job technically?Jo Edwards:
Because they need to nurture and mentor those that are following them. And if you look at anyone that's got to, you know, local hero, industry rock star, global superstar, however they want to describe themselves, I guarantee that individual will have been inspired by somebody else who has helped them along the way. Now that might be. more than one person, um, inspiration and that mentorship that you give to the people coming behind you rather than being protective, yeah, towards your own portfolio is so important.Rob Brown 3:
Joe Edwards. Thank you. That's beenJo Edwards: