How to keep up to date with training when you’re self-employed

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Being self-employed has many advantages. You can pick the hours you work, fitting around your home life, plus you can choose what kind of projects and clients you take on. And you can do it all from your spare bedroom in your pyjamas.

But if you’re working as a self-employed bookkeeper or accountant, you need to be able to motivate yourself to carry on training while you work. After all, you won’t have a boss or HR department to remind you that you have to keep your skills up to date. It is your responsibility alone to ensure you carry on training throughout your career.

Why Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is vital

You work hard all day running your own business. So why should you be making time for more learning? After all, you’ve got the qualifications.  Do you really need to worry about CPD?

Emphatically, the answer is yes. If you don’t keep abreast of changes in accountancy and bookkeeping rules then you could be endangering your business. CPD means your skills and knowledge are kept up to date. Remember, when you’re running your own business you need to make sure you have the same standards – or higher – than others in your profession: otherwise, you risk losing clients.

And not keeping up to date with your training could be potentially dangerous too. If you made a serious error because you didn’t know about legal changes you could end up being sued by a client.

Keeping track of legislation and regulation

Julie Hodgskin combines running her own practice, JLH Accounting Services, with working as a technical material author for the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals, lecturing on tax at her local university and also writing on payroll and study tips for the AAT. Why does she think CPD is vital? ‘Some bookkeepers have very complex duties and /or clients. Others don’t. And the same goes for an accountant.

In a nutshell, if a bookkeeper or accountant is dealing with tax in its many forms, for example, payroll, tax returns, letting agencies, public sector, charities, the private sector, then yes, they will need to keep up to date’.

Julie says keeping up with your CPD means staying abreast not only with changes to legislation ‘but if dealing with payroll, with all the consultations and regulations that result from them, and so on for each individual sector. As an accountant, I prepare client’s tax returns and submit said return on their behalf. The clients may also ask advice on the financial effect that various decisions may have on different areas of their business.

I, therefore, need to be completely up to date on all the relevant laws, regulations and accounting standards to give sound, ethical advice’.

How the AAT can help

Members of the AAT can access training resources on the website, via the magazine and through email alerts. There are webinars, podcasts and free branch networks, master classes and the annual conference, all of which can boost your CPD.

But what sort of training do you need to do – and how much? If you’re considering expanding what kind of services you offer, you will definitely need to update your training. ‘AAT approves activities that a licensed accountant or bookkeeper may perform’ advises Julie. ‘The member has to then ensure that all areas of that licence are covered by CPD.

If the member wants to extend their range of activities on offer, then the member must take the appropriate measures to prove competence in that area’.

Quality, not quantity

Keeping up to date with your CPD doesn’t mean hours of book work. Julie says: ‘It’s not the quantity, but the quality. CPD and updating knowledge can be done anytime, anywhere. Even listening to the radio in the morning can give insights and update knowledge – provided, that is, you are listening to one of the more informative programmes! Watching the news on television can be equally thought-provoking’.

One downside with being self-employed is the potential isolation. It’s a good idea to make use of the networking opportunities offered by AAT branches and conferences. You can learn so much from others doing the same kind of work as you. ‘Each person receives and analyses information differently. Discussing something with a knowledgeable peer can deepen the understanding that the individual has gained’ adds Julie.

And here’s another reason to make sure you keep up with your CPD: it can be both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable too. Adding to your knowledge could help you find renewed zeal for your work. And carrying on learning will also help your business: you’ll be more confident and thus find it easier to attract new clients. So it’s a win-win situation all around!

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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