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To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting

Nov 11, 2021 1:45:00 PM

To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

Accounting isn’t just about numbers. At its core, a career in accounting is a career in people and relationships.

So for accounting professionals to find success, they must go above and beyond day-to-day accounting services. The key to unlocking this next level of performance is developing soft skills.

While hard skills are technical skills like Excel or proficiency in an accounting software, soft skills in accounting are more like personal attributes. They’re the intangible aspects of people that impact every aspect of work implicitly, and not everyone has them—especially your staff who are entry-level. 

That said, building a team of accountants with both hard and soft skills is an important part of differentiating your firm. This also means they’re harder to teach. But by setting aside time to focus on developing accounting soft skills, your firm can flourish above the competition.

 
You might also want to grab a copy of this guide: How to Increase Accounting Firm Capacity—Without Hiring More People

 

7 Soft Skills Accounting Firms Need

To get you started, here’s a list of 7 soft skills your firm needs and how to develop them.

 

1. Effective Communication

When talking to a business owner, some financial lingo can sound like a whole other language. To effectively communicate with clients, you need to learn how to simplify concepts and present it in a way that makes sense to them.

Effective Communication | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

The best approach is to apply what you’re saying to real-life examples. They might not understand what a debt ratio is, but they’ll understand a story of a business accumulating an untenable amount of debt.

 

Tips for training:

  • Start a Google Sheet where you can collect the best explanations and rephrasing of complicated concepts. Groupthink helps people build off of each other’s ideas.
  • Teach others to set up blocks of time just for communication. Having dedicated time for something like emails will be more effective than occasionally dropping in or reacting to communication as it comes in.

 

 

2. Persuasion

Business owners look to accountants as advisors more than just the holder of financial records or the people who crunch numbers. They want guidance and tips from someone who can pull from their years of experience. 

Persuasion | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

But advice needs to be presented with authority to be taken into consideration. The truth is, your client won’t remember the advice you gave if they ignored it. What they want is results. 

To play more of the advisory role and boost client retention, accountants need to learn how to be persuasive. The good news is you don’t have to turn into a mafia don to persuade someone; you can instead focus on your past experiences to be authoritative.

 

Tips for training:

  • Set time aside to talk about recent client success stories. These stories share insight into the value an accountant provides and can be used as examples in conversations to prove points being made.
  • Challenge accountants to start with a client’s goal and provide advice that fits into it. Sometimes a client won’t take advice seriously due to the fact that they don’t see how it gets them to their desired end result.

 

 

3. Adaptability

In any profession that provides a service to clients, there will be different expectations of what the end result will be. For some, accounting is the necessary evil for the smallest possible tax bill. Others will see accounting for the valuable information it provides every other time of year.

Adaptability | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

Accountants must adapt their services to their clients now more than ever. Identifying the business owners who are eager to discuss finances and looking for expert guidance allows you to focus your efforts on your most receptive clients.

 

Tips for training:

  • Align everyone at your firm on the services you offer, especially related to high-revenue services like advisory. This will empower accountants to offer these services when the situation calls for it.
  • Use a tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams to set up channels of communication across your firm for different challenges you might encounter.
 

 

 

4. Dependability

Business owners need answers and reassurance when trying to understand the financial health of their business. While an accountant doesn’t serve peace of mind, it can be found in conversation with an accountant. This is where dependability is key. 

Dependability | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

You don’t need to provide every answer at a moment’s notice, but there’s an effective balance to find between being there for your clients and giving them the perspective they need to quell any anxieties.

 

Tips for training:

  • Making yourself available can still be done on your terms. Using a platform like Calendly helps your firm set boundaries that work for you while still being accessible to clients.

 

 

5. Problem Solving

Business owners have a sense of urgency when it comes to solving problems. After all, their business is their passion and their livelihood. But that urgency can cause them to make unfortunate mistakes, especially if they aren’t fluent in their own finances.

Problem Solving | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

An accountant can provide immense value by not just providing the reports, but also highlighting the key points that the business owner should know. Having conversations about what goals a client has will help you distinguish important information from the minor details. The insights that an accountant provides can ultimately bridge where a client is to where they want to be, minimizing the struggle and stress.

 

Tips for training:

  • Even if your client doesn’t request it, challenge yourself to collect all your thoughts and advice into an executive summary with at least one actionable piece of advice. Not only will this help you work on your problem solving skills, but it will help you work on keeping communication concise.
  • Begin any meetings by asking your client what their biggest challenge and success was since the last time you talked. This lets you identify areas where your client most needs help and gives you time to brainstorm solutions together. By talking about a recent success, you will keep the tone positive and optimistic.
 

 

 

6. Time Management

As accounting moves toward being more of an advising profession, it guarantees complexity in the way accountants fill their time. Advisory will require more time dedicated to making inference and forming opinions. Both of those tasks don’t exactly have a concrete ending point, especially compared to something like closing the books or completing an audit. Managing capacity is a big aspect of offering more services in your successful accounting practice.

Time Management | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

Time management is an easy skill to start working on, but it can be difficult to truly master. In some cases, the best time management tactic is leaning into automation to almost literally buy back time. 

 

Tips for training:

  • Software offers massive efficiency gains. Dedicating time to mastering a new technology can free up time by taking tasks off your plate.
  • Support your firm’s ability to block off time in their calendars for the important tasks that can be easy to procrastinate on. Setting time aside for answering emails, writing notes, and preparing for meetings can greatly improve work output.

 

 

7. Empathy

Business owners are constantly encountering new situations that challenge them. While they may not immediately think of their accountant as a source of reassurance (even though they should), the more they talk about their stresses and concerns, the more they see the emotional support provided.

Empathy | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

It’s also a difficult thing to teach. We all have different personality traits that dictate how we operate, but by focusing on how to show empathy through communication and service, every accountant can be a reliable support for their clients in their toughest times.

 

Tips for training:

  • There are tons of great, free resources on empathetic listening (like this one from Indeed). Adding similar resources like this in company updates or similar workplace correspondence can improve the amount of empathy team members bring to client relationships.

 

 

Prioritize People to Help Develop Soft Skills in Accounting

At the core of your job as an accountant is the recognition that your role is to help people. Developing soft skills will help your clients, and it will help set your firm apart from the competition. They elevate every aspect of your service and are key to getting and keeping clients.

Prioritize People to Help Develop Soft Skills in Accounting | To Better Serve Clients, Focus on These Soft Skills in Accounting | Botkeeper

There are plenty of resources available online to help you take your interpersonal and soft skills to the next level, like this great post from the Radical CPA Jody Padar that focuses on practicing accounting advisory with emotion. Click below to give it a read!

 

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Jessica Veiga

Written by Jessica Veiga

Jessica Veiga is an experienced B2B marketing expert with a history of working in software, SaaS, technology, accounting, and services spaces. Jessica's passion for social sciences and communication drew her to sales and marketing, where she has worked with clients across a range of industries, including retail, education, technology, and more. With real-world experience at top marketing and software companies in Boston, assisting hundreds of businesses across numerous stages of growth, and a BS in Psychology & Counseling, Jessica is uniquely qualified as a senior leader and team player to help lead businesses to maximize their reach, tell their stories, digitally evolve, and build mission-driven marketing strategies.

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