Accounting is a profession that’s done by the book—and that’s not just referring to bookkeeping.
For the majority of your education and career, you’re dealing with concrete numbers, making inferences based on evidence and past experiences, constantly applying your work to the rigid structures of laws and reporting standards.
The main times you’re faced with ambiguity are when a client is adamant their wild night out in Vegas was definitely a business meal. To be fair, it could be an education expense given what they learned about going out with a business credit card in their wallet.
But these skills only take you so far. With the emergence of new bookkeeping and accounting tools tailored for busy business owners, what your clients want from their accounting services is constantly evolving. They want personalized service tailored to their needs with advice, tips, and support to guide them through the wealth of information in their reporting. While in the past, it was important to stay up to date on best practices and developing hard skills, you’re now falling behind if you don’t develop your soft skills.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are personal attributes that help somebody succeed in the workplace. They’re often the interpersonal skills, personality traits, or characteristics that make people effective at what they do beyond the technical skills that drive what they do. Some common examples of soft skills include negotiation, ability to work within a team, and communication.
Unlike hard skills, soft skills rarely show up in someone’s education or certifications. You might see someone put time management on their resume but it’s not like they’re certified in having killer to-do lists.
Instead, it’s something they’ve learned about themselves or worked to improve over time.
Your soft skills will most influence your client’s experience. They can affect how you approach conversations or shape how you’re delivering your work. So if you want to start improving your client’s experience, you have to start being critical about your soft skills.
How can I develop soft skills?
There are some courses online that promise you the opportunity to improve your soft skills. There’s time management, conflict resolution, and even finding the meaning of life. These types of courses can help you identify some tactics to bolster your ability in these areas or help your clients identify their “raison d’être.”
Most of the time, however, improving your soft skills is simply a matter of being mindful of these skills and repeating a practice until it becomes a habit.
If you want to start developing soft skills, here are some tips to get started:
- Make a clear list: If you go to the gym and do one rep of every exercise, you’re not going to make notable improvements. But if you define a specific goal for each trip to the gym, you will start to see big improvements. Treat developing soft skills the same way and pick a couple that will be a focus for you.
- Start with a specific tactic: After stating what you want to improve in, choose 1 to 2 ways you can implement it in your day-to-day. For example, if you want to improve time management, try planning your days with a template.
- Be open to feedback: Certain soft skills are difficult to determine when you finally “have them.” The best method of checking in on your progress is asking for feedback. Even better yet is finding an “accountabilibuddy” who can help you track your progress.
- Don’t make it just a work thing: Habits don’t begin and end in your office. No matter what it is you’re trying to develop, you’ll develop faster if you’re doing it at home, too. Trying to find small ways to continue working on your soft skills at home will make them more of an ingrained part of who you are.
What soft skills are important for accounting?
Once you’ve decided it’s time to work on your soft skills, it’s time to figure out where to focus that energy. It’s important to define a specific part of the client experience that a specific soft skill is going to help you with to make sure you’re focusing on the right thing. To get you started, here are 3 soft skills that can help you improve client experience.
- What it is: How you talk to your client about their business, finances, goals, and needs.
- Why it’s important: If you don’t have effective communication with your client, you can fall out of touch with what’s important to them and fail to deliver what they need.
How to develop communication:
Communication is a tricky skill to develop because of how much the person on the other side determines how effective you are at communicating with them. But as a quick rule of thumb, so much of strong communication comes from asking the right questions.
Try drafting out a set of questions that you can bring to each meeting with a client and ask them regularly.
Some good examples include:
- “What’s your biggest concern with your business finances right now?”
- “How can I help remove some of the stress coming from your business?”
- What it is: Not just how you work with people in your firm, but how you collaborate with clients and get them to buy into the process.
- Why it’s important: You need your client to trust you and you need to be able to trust your client in order for your partnership to work well.
How to accomplish team building:
Some of the best ways to develop team building stem from solid communication so if that’s another skill you’re working on, you’re in luck! In general, strong team building comes from being able to unify around a common goal and showing the successes that can come from some effort.
In particular, try digging into the goals of your clients and show them how you’ll work toward that goal. However, it’s also best to try to break into some personal conversation topics and build a connection that goes beyond the work.
- What it is: Understanding and relating to the experiences of your clients
- Why it’s important: Showing care and understanding can sometimes be just as important as delivering results
How to start developing:
Empathy starts with listening. Fortunately, humans are social beings so you have lots of opportunities to work on being a more active listener.
A great way to get started is to try to find something that you can connect to from your own personal experiences as a way to exhibit your understanding. For example, if your client is stressed about getting their taxes done or getting payments for some outstanding receivables, you probably have a lot of experience to draw from.
Make Time to Develop Your Soft Skill Game
In an industry where so much is determined by education and certifications, soft skills only become more important over time. Business owners no longer want someone to deliver the numbers monthly, they want a partner, ally, and advisor who understands their situations and helps them find the answers.
Soft skills may not change the work you deliver, but they will drastically improve how that work is delivered. They can help you better connect with your clients, create a more fundamental relationship, and in turn provide a top-tier experience.
Since soft skills show up most in your conversations and communication with clients, you’re going to want to open up time in your schedule to both develop and flex these new skills. After all, it’s tough to make the most of an appointment when you’re too preoccupied stressing about outstanding reconciliations and report generation.
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