What people skills do you need to thrive in the competitive accounting game?
Accounting is less about numbers than it is about people. That was the key point that Peter Roebuck, outgoing head of accounting at the University of NSW, made in a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review.
“Accounting is also a people-based activity,” Roebuck said. “If you can’t work in teams or prefer to work alone, pick another career.”
Whether you are a newcomer to the profession or an established accountant, honing your communication and people skills will help you assist your clients and grow your business. But just what are these “people skills” and why are they important in the accounting and auditing profession? Here are four of the most important.
To provide the best service to clients, you need to have a solid understanding of their business. That involves research and asking questions:
- What are the hallmarks of the industry in which they operate?
- How does their business compare with competitors?
- What are their ‘pain points’ or barriers to growth?
- How does their growth strategy fit within the current financial and tax framework?
Understanding exactly how the client’s business works on a day-to-day basis, and why the company operates the way it does, will help you work with them to strengthen their business for the long term, and in turn cement your place as a valued strategic partner. But the only way to do this is to ask questions of your client, combined with a bit of background research on their company and their broader industry.
Asking questions is one thing, but if you don’t fully listen to your client’s responses then you might as well call it a day. And by listening, we mean understanding what your client is telling you.
So when meeting with your clients, by all means have questions prepared, but listen carefully to what they say – take notes, ask follow-up questions and repeat their statements to ensure you have correctly heard and understood everything.
Also, pay attention to what they don’t say. A client may be embarrassed to share certain information or not volunteer it if they don’t think it’s relevant, but these gaps in your knowledge could prevent you from getting to the root of a problem or identifying options for improving efficiencies in their operations.
Knowing what a problem is isn’t the same as being able to solve it. Problem-solving is a critical skill in most professions nowadays, and accountants are no exception.
It’s important to be able to break down a problem into specific components in order to identify its root cause, determine solutions and communicate the situation to your client. You should also consider how the problem and its potential solution could impact your client and the flow-on effects for their company.
Being able to recommend other business-support service providers from your network of contacts is a great way of demonstrating your commitment to your clients. By going beyond the call of duty, you’ll save them considerable time and effort researching providers.
It also has benefits for your own firm in terms of lead swaps for new business opportunities. By recommending another professional’s services to your clients, you’ll often find new clients coming your way thanks to professional reciprocity.
It really is a win-win, and the only investment it takes on your part is a little time to network with professionals capable of assisting your clients in ways that you can’t.
Do the right thing by yourself and those you work for and take a look at how your communication skills measure up with our free ebook.
If you would like to gain further insights into how to better communicate with your clients (and gain CPD points), Thomson Reuters will be conducting training sessions on Soft Skills for Accounting Professionals in October and November 2015, with James Evangelidis as presenter.