2017 – the year everything changes

In a few years’ time we may look back to 2017 as the year everything changed for accountants.

After a decade or more of threats that cloud accounting is going to change the world, this is now closer to reality than ever before. And a combination of Auto-Enrolment and the imminent prospect of HMRC’s Making Tax Digital project mean that life may never be the same again.

More than ever, clients are now looking for their accountants to provide them with peace of mind. Simply completing the compliance paperwork is not enough.

Your existing clients may already trust you to keep them informed and up-to-date. Do you know this for a fact or do you simply hope it to be so? Too often this assumption is disproven when clients move to a new accountant who has been more pro-active in the provision of advice.

In 2017 you will need a range of skills that will ensure clients have confidence that you will guide them accurately into the brave new world of accounting and tax compliance. Do you have the confidence to do this and are you prepared to admit what you don’t know? Most clients value honesty and will trust you more if you advise that they (or you) speak with someone more experienced in specialist topics when the need arises.

The media will continue to be obsessed with digital solutions and some new clients may seek these. Most of your existing clients however will continue to be interested in whether you can continue to provide the solutions they need to their issues, challenges and problems. If your clients are getting all they need they won’t be looking to move to a new accountant. This is yet another reason to keep in touch with clients and to do more than simply complete their annual compliance paperwork. Most clients want advice, support and advance warning of changes that will impact how they operate. Keeping in touch with relevant and valuable updates will remain key to the retention of clients.

The hype around social media will no doubt continue into 2017. However, informed accountants don’t just jump on the bandwagon. Much better to consider first which, if any social media platforms, are suited to you finding prospective clients and engaging with existing clients. Despite my own extensive use of social media I still don’t see it as a mainstream route to secure new clients for many accountants. But it can be fun and a source of up-to-date knowledge, insights and news.

Networking is also often seen, incorrectly, as a short cut route to winning new clients. In 2017 I expect more accountants to identify which local business networking groups they want to attend on a regular basis to build profitable business relationships. In time these may lead to referrals and recommendations to new clients. This is one of the reasons I encourage accountants to practice talking about what they do in ways that ensure they are better remembered, referred and recommended.

Effective communication skills have never been more important. I am sure that my own career owes much to my ability to communicate complex concepts in terms that non-accountants could follow.

Many accountants also need to develop the requisite skills to deal with conflict in the workplace, to delegate work effectively and to encourage and develop their less experienced colleagues. Good management, leadership and collaboration are all a function of effective communication skills.

All too often firms and accountants focus their attention and CPD only on boosting technical skills. This has only ever been part of the story. How can you expect to be promoted, to start and build your own practice or to lead a team if you do not develop the requisite skills.

I have never accepted the assertion that personal and business skills are simply a matter of common sense. Nor that practice makes perfect. Practice makes permanent (a bad driver who practices simply becomes a more experienced bad driver). Few people are lucky enough to learn all they could from their own experiences. At best there will be plenty of mistakes along the way. Noting these and doing better next time is a start but it’s not very efficient.

Consider what (non-technical) skills you will need to develop in order to move forwards in your career in 2017. Set yourself targets. Look out for opportunities to build those skills in practice and take short cuts by attending relevant courses so that you can learn from others and avoid making all their mistakes yourself.

AAT Comment images_Resources to keep you ahead at work

Mark Lee is a professional speaker and mentor for accountants.

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