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The Path to Greater Opportunity: 8 Entrepreneurial Skills Every Accounting Professional Should Embrace – Part II

Jeannie Ruesch
BILL, Director, Marketing

Let’s start today’s post with a quiz.  

When I say Failure, Vision, Problem Solving and Flexibility, What am I Referring to?

If your answer was the first four essential entrepreneurial skills today’s accounting professionals should embrace, then you get an A for the day!

Our first blog post brought you this far, and the sequel (this blog) offers the next 4 skills that will set you on the path to greater opportunity, according to Garrett Wagner, CPA.CITP, CEO of C3 Evolution Group and an industry leader in building today’s accountant entrepreneurs. Those skills:

  • Motivation

  • Collaboration

  • Love to learn (dedication to life-long learning)

  • Tax and accounting knowledge (leveraging your experience)

In Part I, we discussed the need for the accounting profession to think differently about how they’ve worked for decades. The need to move away from outmoded processes that weigh you down with manual processes and billable hours and toward a future where progressive thinking, automated processes and inspiration are integral to your business. And hopefully, you’re already working on how to incorporate these skills into your day to day.  

So, let’s add in the final four skills you need to transform your firm. And yes, don’t worry, we’ll provide suggested action steps along the way.

Skill 5 – Motivation Powers Positive Action

Let’s talk Steve Jobs.  (No series on entrepreneurs and motivation would be truly complete without him.) Early in his career it was his motivation that drove him to completely reconfigure Apple and ultimately change the trajectory of the company. Years later, he continued to serve as a mentor to millions and became one of the most sought after motivational presenters in history.

How does that translate to you? Honing this skill means crafting the ability to motivate one’s self and to motivate others.  And just like on flights, airline attendants tell parents to put their own oxygen mask on first, you have to start with you. Ask yourself: “How can I push myself to improve every day…to be better than the day before?”

By pushing yourself to learn from mistakes (which you’ve been free to make because you’re embracing failure) and continually improving day to day, you better position yourself to motivate and inspire those around you to do the same.

As firm leaders, you know what it means to dedicate your life to getting better every day…to build a successful business.

And as advisors to your clients, you’ve lived a life of motivating others to achieve set goals. The ability to motivate is inherent; the challenge is putting that ability into action.

It’s clear that effective entrepreneurs possess the ability to motivate and inspire those around them to proactively set and achieve higher goals. This is important because when people are motivated to do so, they feel more like an integral part of the business—part of a larger team. And motivated, integral employees feel empowered to make positive change as dedicated stakeholders in the business and stewards of its success. So, how well do you motivate?

Action item: Conduct an all-staff survey and encourage respondents to be completely honest. You can conduct an anonymous survey to help encourage full disclosure. Offer Likert-scale like questions and/or open- and close-ended questions. Questions may include:

  • Who or what most motivates you to higher levels of excellence in the firm?

  • Do you feel comfortable mentoring others around you to motivate them to excellence?

  • Do you feel that you are mentored and motivated to reach higher goals?

  • On a scale from 1-5 (1 being the lowest possible score and 5 the highest), rate the firm on its overall ability to motivate you to higher levels of excellence.

  • To the best of your knowledge, can you explain the firm’s mission? If so, offer a short write-up or a bulleted list.

  • When dealing with clients, do you feel motivated to go above and beyond their expectations? If so, why?

Key takeaways: To master motivation you must:

  • Cascade key information across staff (such as the firm’s mission).

  • Deeply understand both your staff’s and clients’ needs.

Skill 6 – Collaboration for All

Living in an on-demand, anytime-access world, collaboration is a critical part of any organization’s business model. From a broad perspective, collaboration must take place both inside the firm as well as beyond its four walls to support effortless, streamlined collaboration among firm staff, clients, vendors, peer firms and any other party crucial to firm operations.

Wagner stated: “We [firms] no longer need to produce 99% of the work in house…collaboration is happening across the board to support processes. This includes working with clients, outsourcing work to other firms when needed and collaborating with vendors.”

The fact is, there are so many options available that support collaboration, firms have to think through how to build processes vastly different from those of the past. They have to think differently and build ecosystems that meet the demands of today’s live-on-the-go stakeholders—it’s what they expect and demand.

Narrowing the focus to clients, the ability to conveniently and effectively collaborate is a key differentiator and will set your firm apart from the competitor pack. Trust that your clients want to work this way—online, on-demand and with the freedom to communicate when needed. Collaboration is the glue that keeps the client-accountant relationship together—supporting convenient exchange of communications, data and documents at a pace that satisfies the craving of a tech-savvy client base.

Trust that your clients want to work this way—online, on-demand and with the freedom to communicate when needed.

Action item: To ensure that your firm is operating in a way that supports profound collaboration, you must have the proper solutions and practices in place. Conduct a thorough evaluation of all firm processes that support operations. Identify process starts, stops and breaks. Identify where there is an overreliance on manual work and where software and/or standardization can help improve processes.

Key takeaways: To master collaboration you must:

  • Embrace relationship building.

  • Acknowledge and engage in the gig economy—where the majority of the world lives today.

Skill 7 – Lifelong Learning is the Goal

This is a skill that is innate in accounting professionals. By nature, most are prone to continuing education. But the time has come to move past this and adopt an attitude of life-long learning. That is, move past 40 hours of annual CPE and aspire to learn something new (and perhaps unexpected) every day. There is certainly enough information flow to keep our learning dance cards full.

“Accountants have to change their approach to learning. It’s not just about the 40 hours for compliance. It’s thinking about how you continually learn…which is how you improve each day,” Wagner stated.

“Accountants have to change their approach to learning. It’s not just about the 40 hours for compliance. It’s thinking about how you continually learn…which is how you improve each day.”

Garrett Wagner

Accountants also have to think about getting the right training at the right time.

Learning should be an intentional act…and it should be structured and organized. For example, grouping education into three main buckets: technical skills, GAAP and tax. Other areas of learning might also include communication and customer service skills, cybersecurity…and oh, perhaps, honing your entrepreneurial skills. The list goes on.

In short, there’s a lot to learn every day. So, for firms that wish to thrive in a rapidly changing landscape, education should be central to their business model.

Action item: Put a plan in place for life-long learning in your firm. As part of that plan:

  • Name an education champion to maintain the program and monitor available trainings, events, and other learning opportunities throughout the year.

  • Ensure that each employee is met with on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to discuss their education path and plan for proceeding months.

When you run a firm where education is a central focus, you will build a strong, highly qualified and empowered team.

Key takeaways: According to Wagner, to master the love-to-learn concept you must:

  • Think beyond 40 hours of CPE.

  • Take advantage of the right training at the right time.

  • Adopt a proactive approach to learning.

Skill 8 – Marrying Accounting Expertise and Entrepreneurial Thinking for the Win

And finally, we come to tax and accounting expertise. It’s time to breathe easy because this is where you shine!  But I’m sure by now, you’ve realized we’re going to stretch the definition you have in mind The goal here is to properly leverage this knowledge across team members to ensure you are providing clients with premium services and support.

“Our finance knowledge gives us a remarkable foundation to build upon and add entrepreneurial skills on top of. This places us way above other consultants and advisors in the industry,” stated Wagner.

When you couple your vast knowledge of tax and accounting with the entrepreneurial skills listed here, you set your firm up for immense success—moving you away from outmoded practices and the dogma of how it’s always been done and into the mindset of a true entrepreneur. In other words, it’s no longer just about a job title and the work performed.

The accounting profession today is no longer just about a job title and the work performed.  It’s about how you embrace change to consistently improve operations for all stakeholders. It’s everything that sets you apart from those who are simply handing over reports and financial statements.

It’s about how you embrace change to consistently improve operations for all stakeholders. It’s everything that sets you apart from those who are simply handing over reports and financial statements.

Action item: Take stock of where your staff falls on the tax and accounting skills spectrum. Conduct a detailed evaluation and note individual skill sets and unique talents. When you thoroughly understand your resources, you are in a better position to enable each staff member to be most effective in their role and for your firm to thrive.

Key takeaways: To make the most of your tax and accounting knowledge you must:

  • Leverage this knowledge across departments and staff.

  • Ensure you’ve placed employees on the right seat on the firm bus.

Completing the Roadmap to Greater Opportunity…

There have never been so many opportunities for growth in the accounting profession. Progressive firms today 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.

Today’s entrepreneurial-centric firms are leveraging decades of tax and accounting knowledge while also embracing an entrepreneurial mindset to:

  1. Embrace the risk of failing and adopt new ideas, technologies and practices to improve operations, the client experience and stimulate firm growth.

  2. Offer a vision of the future to clients who crave deeper, more impactful advisory support.

  3. Problem solve at a deeper level to support non-traditional services.

  4. Embrace flexibility to build a more agile firm.

  5. Motivate staff and clients to greatness.

  6. Build collaboration into the framework to better support a tech-savvy, on-demand client base.

  7. Support life-long learning to build a highly skilled and empowered team.

  8. Leverage tax and accounting expertise to blast past the competition.

Be part of the movement toward an entrepreneurial mindset. These skills are your roadmap to doing just that. Start with Skill 1 and evaluate where you can improve and make adjustments. Then move to Skill 2…and then Skill 3. Keep going until you begin to see the potential for greatness in yourself, your firm and those around you.

And remember, don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you learn (see Skill 1).  

Ready to take the journey? Follow our Accountant Entrepreneur webinar and content series to get insights directly from today’s industry thought leaders who have been there, done that and are sharing what they've learned along the way. Sign up so you don’t miss a thing.


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