The Path to Greater Opportunity…8 Entrepreneurial Skills Every Accounting Professional Should Embrace – Part I
For decades, accountants have accepted the habits and expectations handed down from generation to generation as part of their job—including long hours, billable hours, manual processes and one-way product delivery and communication (from accountant to client).
Today, we live in an era of great opportunity, where technology has leveled the competitive playing field, geography is no longer a barrier and higher-value client advisory opportunities are endless.
Accountants can now make the transition from living the dogma of the past to working like a true entrepreneur—no matter where you are on your career path. You can forge your path to greater opportunity when you embrace the mindset of the accountant entrepreneur and put focus on building the eight essential skills that will help set you on the path you choose, not the path that was inherited.
These might not be comfortable at first. However, you can start to build the to-do list that will help you envision your day to day differently, look beyond it and plan for the future.
As part of our Accountant Entrepreneur series, we welcomed Garrett Wagner, CPA.CITP and CEO of C3 Evolution Group to the webinar stage with The 8 Entrepreneurial Skills as an Accountant. (Watch the webinar ondemand here.) In Part I of this blog series, we’ll introduce you to the first four of these eight skills, including:
- Problem Solving
In Part II, you will learn about the final four essential entrepreneurial skills for today’s accountant, including:
- Love to learn (dedication to life-long learning)
- Tax and Accounting knowledge (leveraging your experience)
Let’s dig in…
Skill 1 – Fail(ure) is Not a Four-lettered Word
Fearing failure is a natural reaction in the accounting space. And, of course, when one fears failure, it often leads to avoidance of adopting anything that is new and unfamiliar.
Wagner advocates for the “fail fast, fail forward” concept, which in simplest terms is a strategy of trying something, getting fast feedback, and then rapidly adapting to correct mistakes
The goal is not to shoot for failure, but rather to embrace it as a possible opportunity to learn from initial mistakes. Most accountants lean heavily toward “cautious,“ so embracing failure can be a tough concept to sell. But when you look at successful entrepreneurs, failure is part of the process.
“A lot of successful companies have embodied the notion of fail fast, fail forward…It's a major cornerstone of successful companies. Amazon is a great example,” Wagner stated. “The company is a tremendous success. But behind all that success, they fail a lot, but they're always learning as they go…improving, and getting better because of their mistakes.”
So where do you start? Action item: Take that step forward and identify a new technology to implement that will improve your processes. Or, if you’ve been evaluating a solution for more than a year, pull the trigger.
Remember, this is not about assuming failure upfront, but, rather, is about not fearing change. It’s about building a process of change that you can learn to be comfortable with and learn from. As you consider this challenge, be sure to:
- Have an implementation plan in place.
- Identify a champion to lead your implementation.
- Get complete buy-in from your entire team.
- Do not allow implementation to be dragged out longer than three months.
Key takeaways: To master failure you must:
- Embrace change.
- Adapt quickly.
- Keep moving forward.
Skill 2 – (en)Vision the Future for Your Clients
Vision is an integral skill for any entrepreneur. It’s the ability to take current trends and knowledge and effectively assess effect. As a true advisor to clients, it’s the accountant’s job to provide insight into possible future challenges or opportunities. Entrepreneurs push themselves to think about the cause and effect relationship in order to make smart, informed decisions and move a business forward.
Wagner explained: “In the practical business sense, having vision means the ability to conceive an idea, understand and evaluate that idea, and forecast how it can impact a business.”
“In the practical business sense, having vision means the ability to conceive an idea, understand and evaluate that idea, and forecast how it can impact a business.”
When we refer to vision, we are talking about assessing future outcomes. Understandably, this can be an uncomfortable place for accountants who have long been part of a profession where exactness and compliance-driven work reign. Today, however, clients want support beyond basic compliance. They want advice and coaching…they want insight into the future to help ensure their success and sustainability.
“Our clients are busy running their business and they struggle to take a step back and look at what's going on. We can help them by framing this information in a way that’s understandable, and by providing them with a proactive vision,” said Wagner.
Action item: If you offer advisory services, take the time to conduct an honest evaluation. Ask such questions as:
- How in-depth are our advisory services?
- Do we support clients with deeper insight into the future of their businesses?
- How can we take our services to the next level?
Key takeaways: To master vision you must:
- Push your limits.
- Understand cause and effect.
Skill 3 – Problem Solving for Common Client Pain Points
Accountants are innately good problem solvers; it’s what they’re trained to do. In this context, however, problem solving goes beyond traditional problems…beyond basic math.
Today’s entrepreneurial accountants are helping clients resolve questions and issues at all levels of business—from entity selection, purchasing decisions and healthcare selection through to succession planning. The days of basic quarterly reporting are over. Clients seek a much deeper relationship with their advisors, and accountants must be prepared to fill this role.
Clients seek a much deeper relationship with their advisors, and accountants must be prepared to fill this role.
Wagner contends that: “Accounting professionals have to challenge themselves to stop thinking about debits and credits and start thinking about how to help clients in a much more impactful way. They must dig in to understand the problem, the pain points and the opportunities, and then look to identify the best solutions for clients.”
Firm leaders must also look deeper into their organizations and leverage staff to help devise solutions for clients. Problem solving is not solely the responsibility of firm leaders. It must be a team effort, because you never know from where a solution will emerge.
Action item: Evaluate your firm’s ability to problem solve for clients. Conduct a client survey to solicit detailed feedback. Then analyze this data to see where you can improve. Be sure to involve your entire team when creating the survey. Ask questions such as:
- How can our team better serve your needs?
- What added services would you like us to offer?
- What was the most valuable service we provided to you in the last year?
- What is one service we didn’t provide that would help you?
- On a scale from 1-5 (1 being the lowest possible score and 5 the highest), how would you rate our team on solving issues for you?
Key takeaways: To master problem solving you must:
- Think inside and outside the box.
- Maintain a dedication to innovate.
Skill 4 – It’s About Flexibility…Not Perfection
Accountants are a precision bunch. They like to offer exact answers—no gray area allowed. However, because clients look to their trusted advisor to offer “a vision of their future,” accountants must be flexible in how they approach problem solving for the challenges that face their clients.
Wager stated: “Accountants have to be flexible in how they approach these non-traditional client issues. They have to get free of the notion that they have to be right…that everything is black and white…if they are to take on a more entrepreneurial advisor role.”
To be a true entrepreneur accountant, professionals have to move past their natural pull toward perfection.
Action item: Conduct an exercise among your leadership and professional staff to help evaluate the firm’s ability to be flexible. Here are a few guidelines:
- Choose a moderator to lead the exercise and subsequent discussions.
- Offer an example of a non-traditional client challenge, ask each team member to come up with a solution, and then compare solutions and discuss in a round-table fashion.
- Use a real-world example of a client challenge or make one up. For example: Client A, a veterinarian’s office, is having cash flow issues. The data shows that after each check-up visit, the patient’s owner purchases medication 90% of the time. How would you advise this client to correct the issue with cash flow?
Key takeaways: To master flexibility you must:
- Think strategically.
- Be okay with not having an exact answer every time.
You Are on Your Way to Greater Opportunity…
There have never been so many opportunities for growth in the accounting profession. Progressive firms are thinking well past compliance work and basic delivery of products. They are looking to the future and applying an entrepreneurial approach to firm operations.
To help accountants get there, we offer the first four essential skills of the entrepreneurial-minded accountant—all geared to get you to:
- Embrace the risk of failing and adopt new ideas, technologies and practices to improve operations, enhance the client experience and stimulate firm growth.
- Offer a vision of the future to clients who crave deeper, more impactful advisory support.
- Problem solve at a deeper level to support non-traditional services.
- Embrace flexibility to build a more agile firm.
Be sure to read Part II of this blog series and learn about all eight skills that entrepreneur accountants are embracing to lead them down the path to greater opportunity.