Five Skills You Need to Get Ahead in Accounting

We’ve worked super-hard on gaining our accounting, tax, and auditing skills.  Those skills alone will keep us working as employees for someone else, but what if we want to go out on our own or grow our business beyond what we have now?  Here are five skills to consider adding to your toolbox so you can get ahead faster.

1. Marketing

When you are first starting your business, it can take up to three years to fill your practice up with referrals.  The problem is that just relying on referrals is no longer enough to make the numbers you want to.

For the first time ever, small accounting firms must step beyond referrals to fill their practices.  This trend is driven in part by competition, but also because there are more options and more “noise” out there than ever before.   Another factor is the decline in the trust level in the last five years.  Lastly, the recession has increased the number of people who are price-sensitive (however, there are still far fewer than what most accountants believe).  For all these reasons we need more marketing skills than we did ten years ago.

The good news is that marketing does not have to be distasteful, only an extrovert’s game, or require a lot of time.   Marketing can be learned just as any business skill can, and it’s now become essential to do so for those who want to grow their practices.    Marketing includes many sub-skills, such as pricing, putting together service packages for clients, understanding your value in your clients’ eyes, metrics analysis, and even confidence-building.

In order to gain skills in marketing, look for a program or course that is specific to accounting services, allows you to learn it on your terms (with lots of spreadsheets and numbers), and is practical so you can implement ideas in your practice right away.  (And feel free to check out Accountant’s Accelerator where we attempt to do all those things.)

2. Technology

Clients want options today.  They want their data entered quickly and cheaply, which means we need to look at tools to speed up that task.  They want to do accounting on their tablets, which means we need anywhere/anytime solutions.  They want more than compliance, which means we need more tools to slice and dice the data for them.  We even need to consider learning more than one accounting system so we can give clients a choice.  It can be easy to get overwhelmed in this area with all the choices we have to learn about.

In order to gain new technology skills, listen closely to your client’s pain points.  Are they all in inventory?  Then look for solutions in that area.  Are there mobile needs?  Focus on those apps.  Let the clients’ needs drive your education program, and set some time aside once a quarter to learn about new opportunities within those areas.  That will help to keep any “overwhelm” down and your profitability up.  Plus, you’ll be able to implement what you learn immediately with a client.

3. Project Management

As we move up the value ladder with our clients, we may find ourselves taking on larger projects.  Project management skills include not only being able to track and run large projects, but also being able to plan and estimate them up front.  We need to be able to break our projects down into manageable tasks that we can assess our time and costs on so we can provide the right kind of pricing information to the client.

When you can get a year’s worth of data entered in a day using the new slick technology toy, hourly billing should go out the window.  Instead, you need to account for the new technology costs, your research and development costs to get up and running on the new technology, the value to the client, and a reasonable profit for you.  This takes new skills.

In order to gain new project management skills, look for a course in the topic, and if possible, find one that is specific to accounting.

4. Customer Service

Customer service is one of the more important skills on this list, and most of us do not have any formal training in this area.  I’ve seen spectacular receptionists hold together entire CPA firms single-handedly just because they were personable (more so than the partners).

There are numerous customer service courses that you or your team can take to improve in this area.

5. Staffing

One of the most common ways to grow your business is by taking on staff to help you do more client work.  This provides you with leverage, extending your expertise to more clients while increasing your bottom line and providing jobs for people.

One of the reasons why many people prefer to remain on solo practices is they do not want or have the skills to hire or supervise people.  It’s definitely a skill that must be learned:  It’s painful when the hire is bad, but it’s heaven when the hire is good.

There are plenty of courses available that can help you with hiring and supervising people.

Your New Skills

How do you rate in each of these areas?  These five areas can provide you with some new ideas for training in 2013 that can get your business growing and get you where you want to be.