This is a guest post by Alex Hoffman, Engagement Manager at Syft Analytics

The past few years have been times of enormous change – and not only thanks to the pandemic. One of the biggest developments in the accounting industry has been the advent of new technologies that automate previously time-consuming tasks. However, while many of the changes in recent years have been positive, they’re not without their challenges. For instance, the commoditization of services such as tax and bookkeeping as a result of automation means that clients are increasingly demanding lower prices for accounting services. But every challenge has its solution and the solution here is to focus on what always remains a human task that no robot can do – the communication of meaning. 

Translating numbers into understandable nuggets of information and actionable advice is of immense value. While this may not be what many accountants or bookkeepers have trained for, it is a great asset to your practice.

In 2019, Gartner estimated that by automating repetitive tasks, a team of 40 accountants could save as much as 25, 000 hours a year! And with all these extra hours, you can now work on advisory offerings, assisting clients in raising equity, expanding into new markets, planning estates and gifting strategies, working on mergers and acquisitions, and assisting in strategic and succession planning. 

How will upskilling grow your practice?

When it comes to expanding your accounting practice, there are many different areas to consider. One of the most important areas is skills development. The Journal of Accountancy found that data analytics offered many opportunities to accountants, such as “a technology-rich audit model that provides for greater thoroughness, efficiency, and accuracy, as well as new business opportunities to provide data analytics expertise to CPAs’ clients and organizations.” This is one of the key areas identified as an area in which accountants should develop their skills and knowledge if they would like to not only stay in the profession, but also grow their practices.

But beyond data analytics, there are a variety of skills that are expected of top accountants today, ranging from technical skills to skills of the “softer” variety. Soft skills, like the ability to actively listen, can be immensely beneficial when it comes to acquiring new clients, and maintaining current client relationships.

Skills that are in demand today

Today’s clients are no longer just looking for someone to sort out their books, file tax returns, and generate financial statements. They increasingly want professionals who can bring new creative solutions to bear on their business to help them reach their goals.

According to Accounting Web, “the ability to learn new skills fast, to be adaptable to change, to be able to solve problems and collaborate with others may be far more important” than whatever qualifications, accreditations, or past experience you may have. What firms today should be focusing on is growing the skillsets of their employees. 

Some of the top skills to build up as an accountant are:

  1. Adaptability – the industry is constantly changing, and changing fast. You need to be able to adapt quickly, both to client expectations and to new technology.
  2. IT expertise – this is key, especially when it comes to cloud accounting software, and financial reporting software, like Syft Analytics. While many of your clients may be quite tech savvy, they will still need you to step in and interpret the data for them. 
  3. Communication skills – one of the so-called “soft skills”, communication is vital when it comes to building and maintaining client relationships. And today’s communication skills are complex, ranging from email and phone etiquette to video conferencing and updating your social media. You need to know how to communicate difficult information in clear, concise language so as to truly help your clients understand their numbers. To build up trust, it also helps to release useful content on your website with a clear message.
  4. Creative problem solving – you need to be able to think outside the box to solve your clients’ problems. Today’s accounting firms are keen to recruit staff members who show initiative and have good ideas about how to continuously improve business performance.
  5. Industry knowledge – it goes without saying that being an expert in your field is invaluable. Keeping up to date with the latest developments in technology and legal requirements is essential to expanding your firm. There are many courses available to accountants to take to hone their skills, and you can also subscribe to various blogs and newsletters to keep abreast of the latest industry news.
  6. MarketingMaking the most of marketing opportunities enables you to generate quality leads, attract more website visitors, improve your brand reputation, better client engagement and loyalty, and share your value proposition in a more appealing way. Full Stadium simplifies your marketing, helping you connect better with your audience and grow your accounting practice. 

Ways to Develop your Team’s Skills

So, how do you go about improving your firm’s skill sets? One way is by enabling active learning. Active learning is all about learning on the job, engaging in discussions about the information you are learning, and diving deep into topics. By immersing yourself in new knowledge, you will have a far better understanding of the information than the surface level that may be provided by simply attending a class. 

How to incorporate active learning into daily work life:

  1. Job rotation 

One way to immerse yourself in a new subject is to take on a new role. Rotating positions can increase your employees’ business acumen, assisting with problem solving skills and “big-picture” thinking. This also prevents office boredom, improving job satisfaction and rates of retention. Learning on the job can be daunting but also incredibly rewarding.

  1. Mentorship programmes

The Daily CPA notes that having a mentor is an invaluable asset as mentors can offer excellent career support, providing both personal and professional development. Mentors can share vital resources and help mentees up the professional ladder. These are people you can trust and look up to – people you can confide in when things are difficult. Statistically, CPAs with mentors receive higher compensation, more promotions, and show greater feelings of satisfaction and commitment to their careers than CPAs without mentors. 

  1. Guest speakers

Inviting guest speakers to address members of your practice can be beneficial as it can inculcate a new perspective or reinforce suggestions you may have made yourself. It also helps to listen to accountants who have had different experiences from your own so that you can learn from them. You can easily find accounting guest speakers on platforms such as:

  1. Offer upskilling and reskilling opportunities

Promoting various workshops or courses to your team and offering to cover the costs can incentivize people to learn new things and upskill themselves. This will only be effective, however, if it goes hand in glove with flexible working hours which leave enough time for further study.

  1. Attend webinars and demos and encourage your team to do the same

When it comes to developing your skills, it’s worthwhile not trying to go it alone. A lot of software applications run webinars – or offer demos – on their latest features. Attending these empowers you to know how to make the most of the technology at your fingertips.

When it comes to expanding your accounting practice during – or soon after – a pandemic, it can be difficult to know what to focus on. Ultimately, what will differentiate your practice from the rest is up to you. A good place to start is with continual learning, making sure you have sufficient expertise in what you offer, and that what you offer suits your clients’ evolving needs.

About the Author:

Alex Hoffman, Engagement Manager at Syft Analytics. She writes the blog and works on various other aspects of content creation. Alex has a background in film and television, as well as English Literature. She enjoys writing helpful, educational, and entertaining articles for readers. Alex is also currently completing her Master’s in Creative Writing. She can be found in her natural habitat – a bookshop, café, or library – drinking tea and most likely reading. Alternatively, you can find her on LinkedIn.

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