It can be all too easy to let the day-to-day consume your time. But thinking about your career long-term is essential if you want to make sure it’s varied, interesting and satisfying to you.
So what do you want your personal growth to look like over the coming decades? Is your prime focus mainly on growing an accountancy business? Are you thinking enough about work-life balance?
Mark Blayney Stuart spoke to three accountants at pivotal stages of their careers, with a variety of goals and approaches.
Shape your career around your personal goals
- Richard Sockett is an accountant at NJP Accountancy
- Personal Goals: To travel, get married, and have a family
- Strategy: To make enough money in his career to secure his ideal future
“I’ve been with the company about eight months, and it’s been a fast learning curve. I’ve come to the profession relatively late in life – I used to be a computer programmer.”
That technological background has been extremely useful in his accountancy career and means Sockett has been able to become proficient quickly on Xero, Quickbooks and Sage.
“It can be rather like playing computer games,” he observes wryly, “in the sense that if you get into the rhythm of it, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Sockett’s long-term goal is to use his accountancy skills to reach the position of financial advisor.
“My future thinking is not necessarily accountancy-related. I want to get to a position where I’m confident enough to impart knowledge to anyone who comes in with different needs and wants – to buy a piece of land, or sell a house, or buy shares. The face of accountancy is changing dramatically, and sometimes I think parts of the sector are not sustainable. I would like, eventually, to be doing something on a national basis.”
Having a clear idea of future plans means setting goals that are practical, reasonable and time-bound: don’t try to do things too quickly, but do give yourself targets.
“At the moment we have so much work on, I could work 24 hours [a day] from now until Sunday – but it’s important to set aside time to think about your long-term future.”
And his leadership tips for younger people at similar crossroads in their lives?
“To be interested in accountancy, you have to be interested in business. It’s about solving problems.”
You have to take it seriously, he adds, “but you also have to recognise that as you get older, your priorities change.”
Nowadays, “the main focus on my career is not financial growth. It’s about making enough to be secure, but to shape my career to personal ends – to travel, to get married and to have a family.”
For Sockett, “it’s about building a career in a way that enables me to do that. The job I have now is making me feel good and putting me in the place where I can achieve those aims.”
Key point: Take charge of your career and make sure it’s getting you closer to your goals day-by-day.
Determine your goals and work backwards
- Mark Telford is a Director at Telfords Chartered Accountants
- Strategy for personal goals: Work out your goals first, then create a plan to get there
Thinking about your own personal goals can also help you become a better accountant, because it helps you see things from your client’s point of view.
“I do focus a lot on personal goals for the business owner,” says Mark Telford, Director at Telfords Chartered Accountants. “If you’re self-employed, you haven’t got a job – you’ve got a business.”
“There’s lots of terminology around lifestyle and work-life balance and clients often say the words without thinking about what they really mean,” Telford says. “I like to turn it round and say – what do you want to achieve? This might be things like: I don’t want a 40-hour week; I want a 2-week holiday three times a year; I want to get my mortgage out of the way in ten years’ time.”
Then, says Telford, “having decided what your own goals are, you figure out how to get your business to work on those lines. This really flips things round. A lot of business owners I speak to haven’t thought about it like this before. What exactly do I want, and how can the business get me there?”
To help you in working out your own goals, Telford advises that there is in fact a triangle of goals you can focus on.
“There’s time freedom, financial freedom and comfort freedom. The third normally comes as a result of the first two being achieved – if you’re not overworked and you’re not stretched for money, you’ll be less stressed and more relaxed.”
Key point: Determine your personal goals first; are you aiming for time freedom, financial freedom, or comfort freedom?
Continuous improvement and growth
- Hannah Williams is CFO at Tiny Rebel, an award-winning brewing company
- Personal goals: Continuous growth and improvement for her company
- Strategy: Forecasting and working towards achievable mini-goals
“The focus for me is on continuous improvement,” she says, “and this applies just as much to the company as my own career.”
Tiny Rebel is family-run and growth has been impressive – from a standing start to £10 million turnover in the space of seven years, and from zero to 126 employees in the same time.
“I love my job because this is not a traditional business – we try to be different, brave and make big decisions strategically.”
That naturally leads to a long-term view, with the team constantly “thinking about forecasting, costs, and then making business decisions on the strength of those insights.” Learn how to get started with data analytics and forecasting here.
Being a Finance Director brings huge responsibilities but this makes it a highly satisfying – not to mention essential – career.
“Finance can make or break any business. If you have a strong, differentiated team and you focus on constant improvement, you can introduce change and propel the business forward.”
Williams’s particular challenges at Tiny Rebel are not just about being a fast-growth organisation. “The business is multi-faceted: we have an online shop, a brewery, and bars. So we’re working across sectors – retail, manufacturing, and service.”
Finding the synergies between them is exciting. “It means you have cost-saving advantages, but on the other hand you have overheads that are hard to absorb.”
And looking at your next five, ten, fifteen years?
“In five years’ time I hope we will still be innovative, but also bigger. That’s complex to achieve; when you are small, you can be flexible. I want to ensure our increasing size doesn’t compromise that.”
And as she explains, “it is really difficult to forecast even for five years because our growth has been so fast and the industry changes so quickly. Plus of course there are external factors.” Williams says she wants “to avoid mentioning the ‘B’ word, but it isn’t making us panic.”
Forecasts are something to handle pragmatically. “When we started up I did a three-year forecast with the plan of breaking even, but we achieved that in nine months. I only put together forecasts that are achievable – and anything above that is a win-win.”
Key point: When planning towards your goals, one possible strategy is to set achievable goals.
Top tips for long-term career growth
- How do you see your career developing? Will you specialise? Work in industry, practice, or start-up? You don’t have to know all the answers, but evaluating the options may show where you want to go.
- Do you have the requisite skills? As well as finance skills, technological understanding is essential nowadays: you need familiarity with the range of accounting software your clients might be using.
- What is your five-year, ten-year, twenty-year plan? It can be illuminating to think long-term. Don’t let this be restrictive; this is your chance to envision your goals so you can put a plan into action to achieve them.
- What does success look like for you? It may not necessarily be about growth at all costs. What are you trying to make the business do for you? Does success mean a large house and car, or is it about freeing up time for holidays, for spending time with family, or for retiring early?
We’ve seen a range of personal goals from just three accountants above. Richard is harnessing his career and keeping his personal future goals of travel, family and security firmly in mind.
Meanwhile, Mark is helping his clients to determine their own personal goals. He believes working backwards from this point is the best way to map out a path towards achieving them.
And finally, we met Hannah, who’s long-term goals are further business growth and improvement for her brewing company, and she’s working towards this through setting achievable mini-goals.
There is no wrong answer when it comes to your goals. Everyone has their own idea of happiness.
So be brave, and look up from the day-to-day this week to decide what success looks like for you.
Then create a plan to get there.
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.