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How to define your firm’s tone of voice – and why you need to review it

Jul 28, 2016

tone of voice

Here at the Profitable Firm we work with a huge cross-section of different accountancy firms. Some are big, and some are small. Some are traditional, and some are very cutting edge. But the more accountants we work with, the more we’ve started to realise how different and diverse you all are.

And one of the crucial things that sets one firm apart from another is their ‘tone of voice’ – the sound, personality and style of their content and communications.

In content marketing, understanding a business’s tone of voice is as important as understanding their strategic objectives. But we’ve noticed that many firms have never stopped to consider what their tone is – or sat down to formalise that tone of voice in any way.

So, here’s a short guide to understanding your firm’s tone of voice – and how it will help you produce content, blogs, emails and communications that have a real stamp of personality on them.

Why’s my tone of voice important?

Here are a few reasons your tone of voice is critical to consider:

  • Every time you send an email to a target or client, you’re creating an impression in that business’ mind
  • Every time you write a new blog post or newsletter, you’re forming an overview of what your firm is like as a group of people
  • And every time you sit down for a client catch-up, you’re making a decision about how your persona will come across in that conversation.

Your choice of words, the kind of vocabulary you use and how approachable you appear can have a significant impact.

Your tone is one of the first things that a prospective client will make a judgment on. And if your tone isn’t the right fit, they may well go elsewhere.

So your tone of voice is actually a critical element in how people perceive your firm. And putting some consideration into how you come across in content, communications and conversation will pay dividends in the long run.

How do I find out what my tone is?

So, how do you find out what your firm’s tone of voice actually is?

Sometimes trying to describe yourself can be a tricky process – it’s hard to step outside your own interactions and see them from an objective perspective. But to give you a head start, here are a few areas to think about.

  • How old is the firm? Are you an established accountancy firm with two hundred years’ of history behind you? If you are, you’re likely to be quite traditional in your style – or you may want a complete change to bring you bang up to date.
  • What’s the average age of your team? Think about how old the majority of the firm are. Are you a bunch of ambitious twenty-somethings looking to make a mark in the industry? Or are you a team of experienced partners in your fifties, with a wealth of knowledge and advice to impart?
  • How diverse is the firm? A firm with a real mixture of ages, sexes, races and cultural backgrounds has a very different outlook to a practice that’s less diverse. Think how that diversity affects the way you interact with clients.
  • How modern and tech-savvy are you? Is your firm jumping on cloud accounting and every available piece of FinTech? Or are you still working from paper files and doing it the old-school way? The more techy you are, the more likely it is your language will reflect the hip end of the software industry.
  • What constitutes ‘being professional’ in your eyes? Everyone has their own ideas of what ‘professional’ means. For some, it means a certain detachment and coolness when dealing with clients. For others, it means the exact opposite – being friendly, approachable and building a real rapport.
  • What kind of humour are you comfortable with? Depending on your personality, style, and the clients you work with, there are certain types of humour you may be willing to share – on social media, in blog posts, on website landing pages. Defining this is critical.
  • Do you see yourself as traditional? For long-established practices, there is plenty of history for you to take pride in. So you may view the traditional values and professional interactions of accountancy as being essential to your firm and it’s brand.
  • Do you view your firm as cutting edge? For new start-up firms, you’re probably keen to ditch the traditional tone and present yourself as progressive, helpful and focused on great client relationships. (Remember, it’s critical to actually BE cutting edge – not just talk like it.)
  • What are your clients like? The people and companies you like doing business with are usually a great indication of your own firm’s personality. If most of your clients are young, cloud-based start-ups, your tone will need to reflect that client niche.

pencils and brainstorming page

Getting your tone written down

Once you’ve run through those questions, you’ll be in good shape to start refining your own tone of voice into something a bit more tangible. Collect your thoughts and think how you’d like the firm to be perceived by your ideal client.

For example, you might write down your tone as:

“We’re a young, diverse start-up firm with a niche focus on helping tech start-ups to get funding. We cut to the chase and use plain language to get our advice across. We hate accounting terminology and talk to our clients like we’re having a chat over a cappuccino. Our tone is cool, friendly and always focused on practical advice.”

Or, conversely, you might sum up your firm’s tone as:

“We are an established accountancy practice with 150 years of advising the UK’s leading banks and financial institutions. We take great pride in the professionalism and discretion of our staff and believe in always putting the client first. We use language that reflects our knowledge of finance, and believe in being business-like at all times.”

These are both short sketches – snapshots of your firm’s personality. But they give you a very clear idea of who you are and what it’s like to do business with you.

And that’s incredibly helpful if you want your content, emails and client-facing communications to be consistent and presenting the right persona.

Isn’t this just this my brand?

Your tone of voice is one part of your firm’s brand. But it’s not your whole brand.

Tone of voice goes a long way to explaining the personality and style of the people in your firm. But your overreaching brand is more than just your tone. It’s a combination of your vision, your logo, your colours, your people, your products and your services.

So being able to nail your tone of voice is a GREAT help if you’re looking to also create a clearer definition of the firm’s brand. But you’ll also need to consider all these other elements of the business before you can pin down a true brand identity.

Why should I review my tone of voice?

Like the people you employ, and the clients you work for, the elements that make up your tone will evolve and change over time. So regular reviews of your tone-of-voice are vital.

When that example start-up practice is first setting up shop, its tone is likely to be more pushy, more ambitious and more devil-may-care than when it’s ten years old and a more established firm in the industry.

And if a traditional practice has a change in partners, and decides to upgrade and modernise it’s business model, it will need a new tone of voice to match it’s new way of working with and relating to its clients.

Every year or so, take the time to step back and think ‘Are we still the same firm we once were?’. And if your tone needs to change, make sure you update it pronto.

Talk to us about putting personality into your content

If you’re interested in learning more about your firm’s tone of voice, and the impact of great content marketing, now’s the time to sign up for our Content Marketer online content course.

In 12 online group sessions, as well as homework and action items, you’ll not only learn the importance of tone of voice, but also finding a niche market and writing content that truly resonates with your clients.

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