This article originally appeared in the Mid-September 2012 issue of The Bottom Line.
At some point in their careers, all professionals have been the butt of a joke that invokes a stereotype: lawyers are liars, dentists are scary, engineers are geeks, naturopaths are witch doctors (seriously, it’s listed as a synonym in the thesaurus), sales people are scammers, accountants are boring … the list goes on.
But who are these stereotypes about anyway? Nobody. They are inaccurate, ignorant descriptions that have nothing to do with the good people who do these jobs for the benefit of others.
If that’s the case, why do some accountants still freeze when required to introduce themselves? Rather than treating each encounter as full of promise, they’re tied up with worry about being pigeonholed through preconceived notions. As a result, opportunities to build the practice, connect with like-minded clients or allies and springboard from one success to the next are lost.
If accountants want to be perceived as something other than shy and boring, they need to dismiss the stereotype from their own minds first. Once that’s done, they will find that they are free to refocus their attention on developing an authentic understanding of themselves, what excites them about their careers, their clients and their very lives. If accountants don’t deeply believe that they are anything more than a stereotype, they won’t get anywhere convincing anyone else.
So, the question is, how do accountants go about articulating their genuine enthusiasm for their work and how does doing so impact their profession and their lives? Let’s take a lesson from some particularly liberated and vocal accountants on the web.
On Twitter, @ClarkHearsey’s introductory statement included (they have since deactivated their Twitter account): “No bowler hats and pinstripes here just ordinary people who happen to be accountants.” The background photo on her Twitter page is of a goat, and her tweets account for her personal interests, including wine, food and, well of course, the shearing of goats. No doubt she’s made herself accessible to like-minded clients.
A job posting (by an unnamed firm) that is promoted on Twitter as “accounting doesn’t have to be boring” goes on to build the case by presenting the firm as “dynamic, high growth, recession proof and paperless with state of the art facilities and technology.”
On YouTube, WS+B went viral with a free-spirited, flashmob video series (that borrows heavily from a hip video developed by communication students at the University of Quebec). It oozes with the individuality of each member of the team (from independent lip-synch styles to wacky clothing choices that range from boas and metallic beads to sports team jerseys, electric green shorts, tank tops
and tuxedo jackets). Beyond awareness and recruiting, which were huge, benefits included the shoot itself being an enduring team-building exercise.
On Facebook, Accounting Today conducted an accountant of the month contest entitled: “Accountants are many things. Show us that boring isn’t one of them.” Responses ranged from dancers proud of their ability to use both sides of their brain, to a fearless warrior who claims he doesn’t shy away from business challenges thanks to his experiences re-enacting history in full contact
From the blogosphere, MarksACCjokes.blogspot.ca is devoted to sharing jokes about accountants. The twist? This blog is published by an accountant with the sole purpose of debunking myths about the profession.
The author of keenancharteredaccountants.co.uk/blog makes a point of not holding back in terms of expressing his pride in his professional accomplishments: “I’m proud to be a chartered accountant — I’ve worked hard to do so. It has taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to reach the position I am in today … ”
Craig Mckenna at thegrowthacademy.com writes about how Edward was fired from The Apprentice for counterproductive behaviour that communicated that he was ashamed of being an accountant, and how he did notice that Edward was worried about being stereotyped.
In the media, Forbes covered the story behind the rebranding of MGO that included a new tagline poking fun at themselves — “Proud to be Boring Accountants.” The new site is littered with serious yet lighthearted phrases focused on enlisting trust for professional excellence and nothing more: “We take our profession seriously, not ourselves,” and “Quality that withstands scrutiny and might induce
Why is such a proud and vocal approach conducive to practice development? Unconcerned with the ill-effects of any stereotypes, these accountants have given themselves permission to jump onto that soapbox and say what they have to say. It’s a given that the courage to entrench themselves online is in itself a terrific contributor to awareness and the overt messages that they share (about their professional and personal views and interests) facilitate connection with like-minded clients and allies.
But what may not be immediately evident is the power of the underlying messages of confidence and passion that course through all of these examples. It’s simply contagious.
So, can accountants quietly hibernate, put out their marketing and avoid dealing with this pride issue? Truthfully? No. Marketing isn’t enough (and that’s coming from a marketer).
Without the real confidence and pride to back it up, marketing doesn’t work. Whether they understand it or not, prospective clients, referrers and clients will always pick up on something that doesn’t gel for them, if there’s a disconnect between a firm’s marketing materials and the experience of meeting with the team for the very first time.
The opposite is also true. Learning to express pride and confidence is enormous but it needs to be carried through with the packaging that says you mean it, including professional marketing materials. This isn’t any less important than the care you would take in choosing the right clothing and making your office presentable.
When accountants learn to express pride in a big way, they are subliminally telling the world they wouldn’t trade what they do for anything else. They are building their practices and giving themselves permission to enjoy the process. However, what they may not realize is that, in doing so, they’re not just helping themselves. They’re helping the entire profession.
About Sandra Bekhor
Consultant to law, accounting, architecture, medical and consulting practices. Connect with me on LinkedIn.
Marketing and Management for Professional Services Firms