Unless you're still doing manual ledgers, you've heard that business advisory is the future for the Accounting industry. Technology makes processes more efficient so capacity is available to expand business advisory services.
Advisory is an obvious solution for Accountants who want to differentiate themselves and be known as more than compliance experts. What most Accountants underestimate is how essential their 'soft skills' are for successfully engaging clients with business advisory. I've listed 5 soft skills Accountants overlook but they aren't a complete list by any means.
An eye-opening in-depth study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics predicts that two-thirds of all jobs in Australia will rely on soft skills by 2030.
Hard skills like technical expertise are as important as ever, but they're expected and every accounting degree graduate will quickly pick up software processes, much faster than most seasoned professionals.
Hard skills are easy to quantify which is why we value them so highly. While the human traits or attributes that make up our interpersonal 'soft skills' are difficult to quantify, at least in the immediate short term.
You've devoted your career to being a technician, a specialist in your field and brilliant with numbers. You might think you're not a people person and client conversations make you want to run the other way.
So it might surprise you to learn that you already have the soft skills required to grow your business with strong client relationships. Though they may be underdeveloped because you've devoted your career to being a technician.
The good news is when you know how to apply soft skills you're more effective in your client relationships, and your ability to successfully deliver business advisory services increases exponentially.
When these 5 soft skills, in particular, are utilised you turn yourself into a powerhouse of value when you deliver business advisory to clients.
No Jargon Communication
Clients don't understand accounting jargon. Clearly communicate purposeful insights from behind the numbers in simple, plain English with both written and verbal communication.
Appreciate you don't always have to have the answers right then. How comfortable are you exploring with thorough questioning and listening for answers? Do you jump in with answers before you've dug deeper into understanding what your client wants?
Success with business advisory services is underpinned by how well you understand your client's circumstances, connect with them and confidently structure the information they share with you.
Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Clients want you to take a proactive and adaptable approach to solve complex problems to deliver future-focused plans, rather than always reporting on past activities.
Translation of valuable insights from data trends into financially sound strategic plans that clients can implement, within a structured business advisory process for clients, relies on critical thinking.
Every great Accountant has a knack for critical thinking and solving complex problems. I call this one of your superpowers, I have an Accountant Superpowers ebook you can download here.
What might be obvious to you through the numbers is obscure to your client. Your talent for extracting insights and solving complex problems is a skill when combined with good communication delivered timely, has the potential to significantly influence business results.
Client Engagement and Relationships
In the past clients have needed Accountants to provide expertise for compliance. Today, technology continuously creates efficiency around compliance and it highlights a gap in the way Accountants manage client relationships.
Accountants are technicians and brilliant with numbers so the soft skills required to develop strong client relationships haven't been necessary in the past. This is changing rapidly as client needs are changing.
Clients have access to enough technology to be self-sufficient with record-keeping, but they lack the knowledge and perspective an Accountant can provide with insight into their business.
Clients want more value with strategic relationships to give them an advantage in their business. Accountants try to bridge this gap with ad-hoc advisory services, but this doesn't change your relationship with your client in a way that significantly differentiates you from another Accountant who offers the same type of service.
Smart Accountants recognise they need a structured client engagement process with the skills to closely manage their client relationships, develop trust and loyalty because they differentiate themselves and their business.
A client relationship based on compliance is vastly different to a relationship that is nurtured and centred around helping a client achieve their goals . A shift to future-focused client relationships is a very different approach for Accountants who've never had to consider client engagement or develop strategic client relationships to grow their business.
It isn't a new approach. Accountants can learn a lot from businesses that rely on sales and have an account management approach to serving their clients.
Would you describe yourself as creative? You may not think you're creative, but when you problem solve you're creating connections between the stories the data tells. When you construct and present scenarios for your client, you're accessing your creativity.
Technology may make processes faster and more efficient to complete, but it will never replace your expert knowledge or ability to extract creative insights and formulate strategies for clients.
Story-telling is an effective way to communicate ideas or scenarios with clients in a way they can understand. We all love a good story and being creative with how we express ideas makes a strong impression vs telling someone what you think they should do.
Accountants far underestimate the importance of leadership with business advisory. Your client relationship requires leadership from you. They trust you to guide them and keep them accountable.
Leadership in business advisory is an umbrella for soft skills like negotiation, persuasion and influencing to positively build relationships with trust and confidence. It can be as simple as taking the lead in communication or responding in a timely manner. If you have a team, ensure you have the right people in the right roles, and communicate effectively across stakeholders.
Modern business clients are savvier than ever with technology so they're more interested in strategic business alliances. The benefits of business advisory services align well to their needs, but success with advisory requires a technique of using soft skills in client relationships.
It's no longer optional but essential to differentiate yourself with strong interpersonal skills to effectively engage, collaborate and communicate with valued clients, so they stay with you long term.
It takes time to develop these skills, but with practice and focused application, you'll have a significantly greater impact on your client's success, as well as your own.
Lynda Steffens is the founder of the Small Business Project, author of Accounting Revolution, an Accounting industry advocate, self-confessed introvert, quintessential speaker and Accountant coach. With 25+ years experience in the accounting industry as an Accountant, Practice Manager and business owner, Lynda coaches Accountants to have the confidence and know-how to successfully transition their business into a future-focused client-centric business advisory services model.
Lynda created The Small Business Project advanced workshops to help Accountants gain the skills and knowledge to deliver profitable, rewarding business advisory services the right way with a trusted client advisory engagement model. After just one workshop you have a repeatable, proven system and processes to implement for creating client interest and ongoing commitment to your advisory services. Complete The Small Business Project certification and you transform your business completely from a functional service into a vital business advisory resource that clients value.