Don’t “Express Yourself.” Define Yourself.

It’s May, and “the season” is hopefully receding into memory. Was it a good one? Or are you not quite “there” yet?

I want to talk today about one of the biggest mistakes that keeps tax and finance professionals from realizing their potential, and that’s failing to define yourself to your markets.

Why is that such a mistake? Well, if you fail to define yourself, your prospects and clients will do it for you. That would be fine, if you could count on them to define you and your value exactly as you would define it yourself. Unfortunately, they won’t – and you’ll find yourself spending way too much energy correcting their mistake, if that’s even possible.

Let’s say someone asks you what you do for a living, and you say “I’m a CPA.” Sounds impressive, right? You need a college degree, experience, and enough smarts to pass a test that’s even harder than a bar exam.

Here’s the problem, though. If you say “I’m a CPA” to 10 different people, they’ll have 10 different ideas of what you do. One listener, whose Uncle Murray did taxes for 40 years out of a shabby strip-mall storefront, will think you fill out government forms. Another listener, whose sister made partner at a Big Four firm, will be impressed. Another listener, whose nephew hates his job as an auditor for a regional firm, will think your work is a miserable grind. And yet another listener, whose father was the beloved controller for a successful family-owned firm, will think it’s a cushy gig with lots of rewards.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself! Go to the nearest park, or mall, or place where people gather, and ask 10 people what they think when they hear the term “CPA.” I guarantee you’ll get 10 different answers. And I guarantee none of them will be exactly what you want them to think when you tell them that’s what you are! Certainly none of them will pick up on the real value you deliver to your clients.

When you tell them you’re a CPA, you’re giving them a set of initials… a credential that tells them what test you passed and maybe what you “are.” But you aren’t defining yourself. You aren’t saying anything about what you do or what you’re worth, or why anyone should even care.

In the end, nobody really cares if you’re a CPA. The CIA actually trains its clandestine agents to tell questioners they’re CPAs because they know it’s so boring it stops the conversation.

(Okay, okay, that’s not true… but it’s plausible enough, right?)

Now take a typical TaxCoach member. Ask them what they do, and they’ll say something like, “I help business owners stop wasting thousands of dollars in taxes they don’t have to pay.”

Now that’s something! Say something like that and you’ll start a conversation. Your listener will ask, “Really? How do you do that?” They’ll want to know who you do it for, and whether you can do it for them. Not every time. But a lot more often than if you just say “I’m a CPA.”

The playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “There are only three cities in America: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everyplace else is Cleveland.” If you don’t define yourself, you’re probably going to wind up letting your clients define you as Cleveland. Is that really what you want to be?