What is holding you back?

Nov 30, 2021 | Accountants, Key Business skills, Sole practitioners

Most accountants are justly proud of their technical skills. No doubt you make time to keep your technical knowledge up to date. Most accountants I know focus a majority of their CPD efforts here. Equally most accountants seem to undervalue the importance of ensuring that they have all the business skills they require to be both profitable in the short-term and successful in the longer-term.

What’s your position? Are you one of those accountants who only pays lip-service to the idea of developing and enhancing your non-technical skills? You’re not alone even though there are few accountants whose success is solely dependent upon their technical skills.

I know that my own career success, when I was in practice, owed more to the development of my communication, presenting, coaching and business skills than it did to my technical knowledge and my ability to apply my knowledge of accounting practice and tax law.

How do we gain our technical skills?

No one is born a great accountant, so historically most of us gained our technical expertise by working alongside experienced colleagues, by studying to pass relevant exams and by learning what seemed to work well in practice. (Sadly, history is littered with plenty of accountants who struggled as they didn’t know what they didn’t know and so created all manner of problems by assuming things were fine when they were anything but!)

Why then should anyone imagine that the other key skills needed to be a profitable accountant can just be left to common sense or experience?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills can be developed merely through trial and error. And to an extent they can. In time. If we are willing to recognise what works and what doesn’t work and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. And we can avoid getting stuck in a rut.

Anyway, we know that many mature practitioners didn’t have any such training. Either it wasn’t available to them or they didn’t need it or didn’t want it.

But life was simpler back when they were younger. Accountants didn’t have to market themselves. There was less competition and clients had less idea as to what they could realistically expect from their accountant.

The world has changed. Clients are far more choosy now and can now much more easily find a new accountant whenever they choose.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog it won’t surprise you to read that I do not agree with the idea that it’s best to just learn from your mistakes.

Some people seem to assume that you can be naturally ‘good’ at things as though your experiences, background and training were irrelevant. In their world no more formal training is necessary as ‘Practice makes perfect’.

Hmm. That’s a very misleading old adage.

‘Practice’ alone doesn’t make ‘perfect’. ‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. And this is not always a good thing.

If you develop bad driving habits and practice your driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits.

Equally we have probably all experienced at least one senior professional who is an unpleasant selfish bully. They practiced their approach and ‘perfected’ it. But no one would suggest that such an approach is ideal.

And I have certainly met many sole practitioner accountants who haven’t achieved the success they deserve. Typically this seems to be because they have adopted the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy.

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something you need to be able to do well, do you give up or take more lessons?

The questions to consider are:

  • Could anything be better in your practice?
  • Are you as successful as you deserve to be?
  • Will things change by themselves or do YOU need to do something different to bring about that change? And
  • Can you do it all by yourself? If so, why haven’t you done it already? Not enough time? Or is it not a sufficient priority? Or maybe you would benefit from some outside stimulus to support your endeavours.

I have long been a believer in the importance of accountants developing what I now call ‘key business skills’. I think that’s much more accurate than ‘soft skills’.

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