Ep. 240: Paul McManus - Elevating Your Expertise Through Personal Branding

Join host Adam Larson and special guest Paul McManus, as they discuss the importance of personal branding in today's accounting and finance industry, and how it can help you stand out from the crowd. Paul is a podcast host, the author of the book “The Short Book Formula” and the co-founder and CEO of More Clients More Fun.  Discover the power of writing and publishing a book as a means to enhance your personal brand and become a thought leader in your field. Explore practical tips and insights on how to effectively communicate your expertise, simplify complex concepts, and engage with both experts and non-experts alike. Don't miss this episode that will empower you to create expert status and level up your career as a financial professional.

Full Episode Transcript:

Adam:            Welcome back to Count Me In. In today's episode, we have a special guest joining us, Paul McManus. To discuss the power of personal branding for accounting and finance professionals. Paul is a podcast host, the author of the book The Short Formula, and the co-founder and CEO of More Clients More Fun. 
We'll explore why personal branding is crucial in today's competitive landscape, and how it can elevate your status as an expert in your field. Paul, an accomplished author, with multiple bestsellers on Amazon, will share his insights on how creating a book can enhance your personal brand and establish you as a thought leader. We'll also touch upon the challenges professionals face when approaching the idea of writing a book and how to overcome them. Let's get started.
Paul, I want to thank you so much for coming on the podcast, today. We're really excited to talk about personal branding and becoming better versions of ourselves through that type of work. And, maybe, we can start off by talking about why things like personal branding are, especially, important for today's accounting and finance professionals.
Paul:               Definitely. Thank you for having me, I appreciate being here. I think personal branding is one of the things, whether you're a small business owner, or whether you work at a firm, as a professional. 
At the end of the day, when you're growing your business, or whether you're looking for promotions and to make a bigger impact in your world. Nothing, well, not nothing, but personal branding can be one of those things that help you differentiate yourself from everybody else. 
One of the ways that I, primarily, focus on to help professionals with their personal branding is to help them write and publish a book. Which I know is something, again, I talk to a lot of financial professionals and I ask them if they've considered it, and many have. But it just seems like one of those daunting tasks that it's on someone's bucket list, but they never quite get to. 
So, as part of the personal branding question that you asked, I'd love to deep dive, as appropriate, into how a book can really help accountants, and other finance professionals really take their personal brand to the next level.
Adam:            Yes, definitely, when you think about writing a book, some people think, "Oh, no, I have to write this thousand-page book, and it's going to take six years, ten years of my life. But if anybody has looked at the show notes for this event, if they've looked at what you do. They've seen you written multiple books and they've been on Amazon bestseller. So how does creating that book really enhance your personal brand and elevate your status?
Paul:               Yes, writing a book is one of those things that has a long history that people respect. I think there's really two things that help professionals stand out. 
One is writing a book, another is public speaking. There is the old quip from Jerry Seinfeld on the public speaking side that if you're at a funeral; would you rather be giving the eulogy or be in the casket? And the joke was, well, most people would rather be in the casket because they're terrified of public speaking. 
But I think just the act of getting up and speaking in front of people, is just one of those things that most people are afraid of, and so they respect. It's the same thing for writing a book. It's something that just in our culture, there's a tremendous respect for someone who's put in the work, done the work, and who has written and published a book. 
Because it's one of those things that really differentiate yourself from everybody else in the field. It's one of those things that people think about, talk about, and more often than not, never do. And there's a variety of benefits to doing it, personal branding be one of them, which we can go deeper on. And, then, there's also a variety of reasons why people never take that action. So, on the plus side, we want to be clear about why do it. 
There's a great Simon Sinek talk about begin with why, and when your why is clear, then, you get that much more clear on the motivation and the how. And, so, let's talk about the why, from multiple ways to think about it. 
So, again, if you are one of those professionals that does any work in the capacity, as a business owner. So let's say maybe you're a fractional CFO and you're looking to attract clients. Let's say that you work with clients themselves and, maybe, what you do is more difficult to understand. The ability to articulate your core knowledge through a book, way that is interesting and simplifies it to an outside audience. Especially an outside audience of non-experts, is a very powerful way simply to communicate. 
I find that writing a book, it's a personal growth endeavor. Oftentimes you start with a blank page and you think, "Okay, what do I know about this topic?" And after a few minutes, you're like, "Oh, that's it." And, so, you have to say, "Wait a minute, I know more than this." And it really challenges you to think about what you know, and why is that important, and who's interested in that. How can you communicate that in a way that's effective? How can you use stories? 
Oftentimes, especially, with accountants and other finance professionals, what I find is that there's a lot of jargon. There's a lot of technical terms. There's a lot of things that they understand implicitly through experience and study, but for a non-expert, they get lost. And, so, it's how do you communicate ideas in such a way that is relatable to whomever you're speaking to? 
And, so, throughout that process, and we talked about personal branding a little bit, but it really helps you create leadership skills, communication skills, and those things all come together. And, so, whether you're looking to sell more, get a promotion, or simply be more effective at your job. The act of writing and publishing a book is an amazing vehicle to help supercharge those efforts.
Adam:            Mm, yes, it's interesting because when you think about it, if you don't know how to explain what you're doing. If you don't know how to articulate it in a very good way. 
How can you be that storyteller, be that business partner? Whether you're in a firm and you're trying to go alongside the C-suite and make sure you're telling the story right, of what's happening financially. 
But, also, if you're trying to build your own business, you got to be that. And there's that word that comes up, thought leader, and I think that word is thrown around a little too much. But, maybe, you can explain what does it mean to be a thought leader and how does that boost your brand, as you're building up this idea of writing a book?
Paul:               Yes, I like that question. So before I get into thought leader, I want to talk about one of the opposites, almost. And it's an idea that you, probably, heard of and is known as Impostor Syndrome. And there are so many people that I talk to, come to me in one of two ways when we start talking about writing a book. On the one side, it's either "I have so much knowledge that I want to share with the world." And then, of course, they run into the challenge of "Where do I start?"
On the other side, it's, "Who am I to talk about these ideas? What I do is very average and ordinary. Would people be interested in what I know?" And that's a form of Impostor Syndrome. And, so, as a starting point, in either case, what I love to be able to help people do. 
On the one side, if they have a lot of knowledge and ideas that they want to share, is how do you simplify and focus that to a core message. That you have a core audience for and it resonates with them, and they're motivated to learn more about, ultimately, how you can help solve a problem, in most cases. Help them create that transformation from where they are to where they want to be, and do so in a compelling way that engages them and interests them.
Then on the other side, if someone is stuck and thinking, "What do I have to share?" What I love doing with them, is really showing them it's like almost falling in love again, with all the amazing knowledge that you've learned. I mean, all of us, we've put years into our craft, into our profession. We've learned really cool things and, over time, because it becomes so routine and we don't actively think about it, let's say we get bored of it. Or it's just so routine that we forget how amazing it was the first time that we, actually, learned how to do something. 
The first time I learned how to do something, I'm like, "This is the best thing ever." And, then, a week later, or a month later, it's like "I do that all the time." So I wanted to establish that first. Because, now, when you think about a thought leader- what is a thought leader? And there's a progression of what's considered a thought leader. 
But, I think, first and foremost, it's someone who's perceived to be an expert on a subject. I think a lot of people go to university, get degrees, have some initials after their name, but I don't think they're perceived as thought leaders. I think that's considered pretty standard, pretty average. 
But someone that's willing to go publicly and put their ideas out in public in the form of a book, or speaking and talking about a book. And when people listen to them or read their work, they see that they have a point of view, a cohesive set of ideas, 
and they can explain that in such a way that's informative or persuasive. That becomes the basis, in my mind, at least, of becoming a thought leader. 
Now, the more exposure you get, the more media you do, the more you write, the more people are aware of you. I think that, then, grows your influence and, by definition, your thought leadership, and that's just really a factor of awareness of what you do. And, so, the more people you talk to, the more people know your work, the bigger your, quote-unquote, "Thought leadership" becomes. 
I think at the end of the day, though, and what I do, I attract a lot of my clients through LinkedIn, and these are people that I don't know who they are. I've reached out to them in some form, or I've created awareness in some form because I work with financial professionals. 
And, so, they are attracted by marketing in one way or the other. They read my book, they listen to a podcast, and then, at some point, they show up on my calendar, and it's that awareness through ideas, thought leadership, it could be described as, that can take someone who's a complete stranger, but attract them to you in a way that you want them to. And there's a lot of different applications there to do that. 
I don't want to overemphasize what thought leadership is and make it this grandiose thing, that only a certain few select people do. I think any of us can be a thought leader, and it just takes the willingness and desire to package some of our knowledge, and be willing to put it out there in the public sphere.
Adam:            Yes, I mean, the way you explained it, really makes a lot of sense because, I think, it's been a term that's been thrown around a little too much. But it's helpful to make it more applicable, saying, "Hey, anybody can be a thought leader because you have knowledge, you have experience, and it's just about sharing that knowledge." 
So how does one get over that Imposter Syndrome that you talked about? Because I feel like the first step would be to, "Hey, how do I overcome my Impostor Syndrome?" Because you may realize, listening to this podcast, "Hey, I do have a lot of things I can share, but I don't know if I'm able. I don't know if people want to listen to me." Right there, the definition of that Imposter Syndrome. So how does one start overcoming that to move to the next step?
Paul:               Yes, there's a quote that I learned from one of my mentors, maybe, 10 years or so, ago, his name is Michael Port, and he talked about learning in action. And what that means, to me, because I've really built up my current business from the ground up, over the past nine years. And when I started I didn't know a lot, and it was just I have to go out there and put up my shingle. And, then, as an entrepreneur, you have to figure stuff out. And it's just willing to take action, being willing to be uncomfortable. 
I think the two components that are important there is that, one, you have a desire. You have an end result that you want to achieve. I mean, if you don't have motivation, then, chances are you're not going to follow through on it. So you want to have that why clearly established. 
Why is this important to you? 
Why are you doing this? 
And once you're clear on that why, then, you have, ultimately, the fuel that's going to propel you forward. I think the second part of that is to not go it alone. I think in any endeavor, in life, having a coach in some capacity. Someone that you have as a sounding board, someone you can bounce ideas off. Someone who's gone before you and can make the path that much easier to trot. I think those things are all extremely helpful in overcoming the Impostor Syndrome. So much of the time, it's just this small voice in our head that says, "You can't do this."
Or "What are you doing?"
And what you need, what's beneficial is to have someone supportive around you. Whether it's a coach or a group that can challenge you and say, "No, you absolutely have every right to do this." I want to share a story of one of my earlier clients. She's not an accountant or a finance professional, but she was a world-class expert in helping to rescue penguins. And her name, I believe it was, Diane, Dylan or Diane, I think, it's been a few years.
But I was interviewing her on a podcast because I knew about her reputation, and she's written books, and she's one of like five people in the world, that can rescue penguins. When there's some global tragedy, the UN or whomever agency calls her. So that, I think, by definition, would be an expert. That would be a thought leader in the space. 
But when I interviewed her, on the podcast, it was just amazing, she's like, "Ah, who am I to do this?" I mean, it was just remarkable, considering that she's like one of five people. She's written books, she does this for a living. But it just goes to show you that this is very common. And, so, I think, another aspect of that is just being aware that it's okay. 
If you're having small thoughts, that's okay, we all go through it. And it's, ultimately, having that vision, that goal, that why that can help you say, "Okay, I'm willing to grow. I'm willing to stretch my comfort zone because there's a reason for me to do this." And, so, when you have those things in place, you can overcome Imposter Syndrome.
Adam:            Definitely. Well, I like the idea of getting a mentor, getting somebody that has walked the road before you because they've... And I want to preface this, too, is you're not going to get everything right the first time. You're going to fail, and you can't be afraid to fail, right?
Paul:               100%, myself, as an entrepreneur, one of the chief lessons I've learned is fail fast, fail forward, and we're going to get most things wrong. And the more you're comfortable failing, the faster you can become successful. It's not to say that you want to provide quality work and you want to do all these different things, but just being willing to fail is the fastest way to succeed.
As an aside, I've taken Improv classes, and one of the key lessons that I learned there, and it's really a mindset, is that fail and fail big, don't get scared by it but embrace it. 
And, of course, in the Improv setting it's funny, the more you fail, the funnier it can be. But it really just becomes a mindset. And, so, just in your day to day, there are so many things that we act small on and we're afraid to do. But if you just have this mindset, "Hey, I'm just going to try it. What's the worst that can happen?" And you just say, "It doesn't really matter." Then that is the fastest way forward.
Adam:            And it's interesting, when you were saying that. It made me think of a term that I've used a lot in my professional career, sometimes, like, "I'm just faking it till I make it." But, sometimes, I wonder if faking it till you make it is part of that Impostor Syndrome. Where "I'm just faking it till I make it." But you, actually, are doing a really good job and you're not faking it because you do know what you're doing. So I wonder if trying to getting over that mindset of "Faking it till you make it" and saying, "No, I'm just going to fail, fail hard, and keep going forward instead."
Paul:               Yes, I hear you because, I think, "Fake it till you make it" almost has like a negative connotation, that you're not really qualified to do something. But, yes, it's how you frame it in your mind, and, I think, it could be similar. But it's, definitely, the way that I mean it's in a positive way, it's that that's the way to success. 
But, again, that's where you can fake it till you make it on your own. And, maybe, that's where you don't tell anyone that you're uncomfortable, or you don't quite know what you're doing, or this or that and, maybe, there are some negative connotations there. 
But that's where when you just understand that being uncomfortable is part of it, and you can surround yourself by like-minded people, or a mentor, or a coach, and they can help guide you, and set those boundaries, so to speak. Where it's okay to not get it perfect. It's okay to, fail, is a strong word, but imperfection is okay. 
I think another analogy might be perfectionism. It's like, "Well, if I can't write a masterpiece, if it's not going on the New York Times bestselling list, then, why even bother? And another analogy or another metaphor is being willing to write something or step out and not be perfect. Because the act of doing something is inherently more valuable than staying small.
Adam:            Yes, I like that. I like that it's a kind of reframing that mindset of, "I'm not really faking it, but I'm learning as I grow, and things may not be perfect. But I'm putting myself out there and that helps me grow, as a professional."
Paul:               It is, and I think it's authenticity. Again, that's where you just reframe it from the "Fake it till you make it" which can be a little bit of a negative connotation, it's just being authentic. It's like, "Hey, I'm learning something new, I'm trying something new. It's not going to be perfect, bear with me, but this is my goal." And if you tell people that they'll appreciate your authenticity, when it comes to it. At the end of the day, part of Imposter Syndrome is the fear of being judged. 
So it's like, "I'm really good at staying in this lane. I'm really good at it, and people respect me, and I get praise, and I get rewarded. 
And if I come into this other lane that I'm not comfortable with, then, I haven't developed my competency, yet. And, so, suddenly people see that I'm not perfect."
And, so, again, it's all this mindset stuff that you need to grapple with. And, again, should you put yourself through the process and it goes back to your why. And we'll talk about personal branding or writing a book; what could it do for your career? 
What could it do for your personal brand? 
What could it do for your thought leadership? 
What could it do for your ability to communicate? 
What could it do for your confidence? 
I mean, I find that before I do anything now I want to start by writing a book. Because if I launch a service, or a company, or anything, I want to start by writing a book because I know that in doing so, I'm going to get my own thinking very clear. I'm going to be able to communicate my message that much better and, then, my path to success is that much shorter.
Adam:            Mh-hmm, I'm sure somebody's been listening to us chat about writing a book, and personal branding, and I'm sure somebody has thought of the term white paper. And when you think of professional writing, people think of white papers. Maybe we can help distinguish the difference between this book that we're talking about writing, and a white paper. Let's help differentiate that in people's minds, as we're talking through this.
Paul:               Yes, in my mind, from a strictly writing standpoint, they could have some similarities. I think from a status and impact level, though, there's a huge difference. One's author, what I love about the word, is that it's part of the word authority. And, so, people see someone who's an author and they have a completely different view of them, immediately, in terms of their competency, their expertise, all these different things. Rightly or wrongly, that's the immediate perception that people have. 
I think with a white paper you might have the same level of knowledge or skill set, but there isn't any status or additional credibility that is associated with it. There's no personal branding. Largely speaking, you don't go and tell people, "Hey, I wrote a white paper, no."  And it's like, "What?" Whereas when you say you're an author everyone, suddenly, steps back and says, "Wow, that's really cool." 
So my recent book, it's called The Short Book Formula. And I think that one of the reasons everyone is afraid to write a book is that if you think about a 40,000-page business book, that could be a daunting task. And, then, conversely, if you actually want people to read your book, people have limited attention spans. 
And, so, the idea of reading six, 10, 12, 15-hour book is a bigger task for the reader. And, so, what I've devised is what I call the Short Book Formula, which is based on writing a roughly 12,000-word book.
Now, why is that important? 12,000 words and the way we format it, is roughly 100 pages, and 12,000 words can be read or, in audio form, listened to in about 60 to 90 minutes. With 12,000 words you have the ability to, in our case, we help people write and publish a book within six to 12 weeks. And, so, it's not this year-long thing that they have to do, it's a lot more manageable.
And, on the flip side, when you give your book or when people read your book, they're that much more likely to, actually, not just get the book and put on their bookshelf. They're that much more likely to actually read, listen to, and consume the message. Which, especially, if you're in the role of selling, is extremely important. Short books have a strong pedigree. I have a list right here that. I talk about, so I'm going to name out a couple of titles that you may have heard of before.
●       The Art of War by Sun Tzu, 96 pages. 
●       The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, 94 pages.
●       This next one, have you heard of The Communist Manifesto? For better or worse?
Adam:            I have, yes.
Paul:               40 pages. And, so, I share those examples because you can see the impact that short books have had throughout history. What I really love about short books is when someone reads it, if the message resonates, not only do they get through it and actually read the whole message, they're more likely to read it again. 
I mean, there's books that I've read multiple times because I really enjoyed it and I can get through it, relatively, quick. And, this also helps to answer the question of the person who has too many ideas, so to speak, knows a lot of things, and is trying to focus in on what should my book be about?
My answer would be, well, let's start with one book and get it really focused, in terms of your audience, what the message is, why they should read it, and write a book around that topic. But, then, from that point, you could start another book, 12,000 words. Maybe it's a new audience or it's a different topic.
And, so, you have the ability to create, over time, a series of books. I mean, I've found that I've gone from publishing a book once a year. To, now, where I'm starting to hit two books a year just because I see the value of it and just the process of doing it, is that much more quick and effective.
Adam:            Mh-hmm, wow, and from somebody who's read your Short Formula Book. It, probably, took me about two hours, just because I'm a slower reader, and I was thinking more about it. 
But it is a very quick read and it's an easy read. And it's not like you have to write at a collegiate level, but you want to write at a level that people can understand, and get through it quickly, and understand what you're talking about. 
And, so, I think that's a huge difference, too, is that don't think that you have to write in this crazy way. Obviously, I mean, something like The Art of War, may not be easy for everybody to understand because of the way he wrote it. But other ones that went far like the communist one you mentioned, that one went far and wide to many different people because of the plain language, as an example of plain language, and how well that can affect people.
Paul:               Yes, I mean, that's one of the things that a book well-written or well-read is, probably, the better way to say that, uses accessible language. It uses language that an average person, a non-specialist, can read, absorb, and learn from. And that might be another difference between a white paper and a book. I think, a white paper is more technical, in nature and it's geared more towards a technician. 
Whereas a book, fundamentally, you have a specific audience in mind. But you want to expand who that audience is and, actually, get them to read it because it's interesting and engaging, uses stories to make points, but the language should be accessible. I mean, when you're trying to impress people through fancy language, oftentimes, it's actually the opposite. You want to make them understand it better.
Adam:            Yes, you want to make them understand it better. I've always heard that "If you could explain what you do to an eight-year-old, you can explain it to anybody." And I think it's having that mindset when you're writing.
Paul:               Well, and, then, from there it goes back to the benefits of writing a book is that it helps you to clarify your thoughts, it helps you to communicate your ideas better. And, then, aside from the actual book, it translates into your ability to communicate with people. Whether it's internal, in the company, whether it's external, you're able to express your ideas that much more clearly to a wider audience and be understood.
So for someone who is looking for, say, more speaking opportunities. I mean, at a corporation or a company, oftentimes, the higher you go up the ladder, the more it requires your leadership and your communication abilities. And, so, it's just a great way to hone in on those skills, develop those skills, and then be recognized for it.
Someone who has a book is much more easily given an opportunity to speak, whether it's at a conference, whether it's at a podcast, for example, whatever it is because it's trust in advance. People trust that you have a message that can help inform and teach people.
Adam:            Yes, and it allows you, and it grows your name, as you get out there and get those opportunities.
Paul:               It does. 
Adam:            Yes, so as we wrap up the conversation, this has been a really great conversation. Thinking about the accounting and finance professional, and the people that you've worked with. Are there any examples you can give or any stories you can tell? That are success stories, that our audience can hear as they imagine how they could take this route?
Paul:               Yes, definitely. One person that comes to mind, his name is Michael Poisson, and I met him, I want to say, a year or two ago. And Michael is, I think, he's really the epitome of everything that we've been talking about. 
He's a ESG data specialist, and he works for a smaller company who, essentially, sells ESG data to, primarily, service-based companies, as well as to asset managers. And in his journey of it, part of what he was doing from a marketing and sales perspective, was that he was going to conferences, really as an attendee, and listening in, networking, doing all those things.
And part of the value that he saw of writing and publishing the book, even though he was an employee for a company, not a business owner or an entrepreneur, was that it would elevate his personal brand. And it would give him more status to generate more speaking opportunities, to create more visibility, and credibility for what he does.
So he published his book, I want to say, six months to a year ago. And I've spoken to him since then, and since then he's reported that, at these conferences, he's invited much more often to, actually, be a panelist or a speaker, which massively increases his awareness inside of his community. He's also gone on a number of podcasts, both as a guest. He hosts, now, his own podcast, and he invites thought leaders on. 
But, essentially, having the book has allowed him to elevate his game, meaning that he can create a lot more visibility for himself. He can much more effectively network with more influential people in the process. And it allows him to go from this person at a small company, and because of that elevated personal branded awareness, he can more effectively compete with the larger companies out there in the marketplace.
What's interesting about his story, and it ties back to what we've been talking about, is that he's a really smart guy. And I knew this from day one, working with him, ton of knowledge, all these things. 
But to go back to the Impostor Syndrome, throughout our work together, continuously, he would not refer to himself as the expert. He would refer to, "Oh, these people they're the experts, I'm just gathering data. I'm just presenting the information." And I had to tell him over and over again, "You are the expert. In doing this process and demonstrating what you know and all these things, you are an expert."
So it just goes back to that whole personal journey. I think it was also rewarding because, again, we've been talking about, and I could see this during the time that we worked together and afterwards. But it really helped him deep dive in terms of ESG, and its value, and the stories, 
and why it's important, and he, obviously, knew this stuff beforehand. But just in going through the process, it really deepened his knowledge and his ability to communicate with others. He even had a college professor, who is pretty prominent in his field, come to him and say, "Hey, I want to use your book as part of my course." Which was pretty cool.
Adam:            Yes, that's pretty awesome. And I like that you told the story about how even during the process, as he was going through it and learning more, he was still struggling with that Imposter Syndrome, and that's a big thing for a lot of us to overcome. Because you don't realize, "I am an expert."
Paul:               Yes, a 100%, and that goes back to why you don't want to go it alone, you want a sounding board. But you also want someone who can give you positive encouragement and challenge some of, perhaps, the limiting thoughts that you might have on your own.
Adam:            Definitely, well, Paul, we could probably talk about this for another half hour. But I really appreciate the insight you've given us, you've given our audience, and I really think that they're going to really benefit from this. I encourage everybody to look at the show notes. You'll see links to Paul's website, if you want to check out his books and the stuff he's written, and if you want to get in touch with him, there'll be ways to get in touch with him, as well. And just thank you, again, for coming on.
Paul:               All right, thank you, I appreciate it. I enjoyed the conversation.

Announcer:    This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives, of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

Creators and Guests

Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
Paul G. McManus
Paul G. McManus
Author and Co-Founder & CEO of More Clients More Fun
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