Modern business needs advisors to perform a valuable role: honestly advising businesses on matters that concern them. Often, the transition from being seen as a person or company performing a specific task to that of becoming integral the company’s entire operation, is not only difficult but also quite time-consuming. The task is always to excel and deliver more than was required.
Accountants have always been on the “outside looking in” when it comes to making business decisions. This is by design. Seemingly, accountants are considered part of the business and are beholden to its success and profitability without actually having a seat at the table.
Most business owners see their accountants as sources of financial information, and nothing more. They may be paid little attention for a job well done. Their responsibilities cannot in any way be extended to the management. And why should it be?
Many accountants want to move up the corporate ladder in the firms they work in and become trusted advisors to the big business bosses. But how can an accountant reach there? How do you become a trusted advisor to your biggest clients?
Let’s see how you can quickly move into the advisory role if you wanted to:
Education is the first step up the ladder
An accountant is more than just a bean counter (someone who cuts expenditures) — they are strategic thinkers who can help plan and drive a company’s future success. Modern accountants must be business partners and trusted advisors to the senior executives.
To get to that level, you need to speak the language of the bosses. With the right credentials, you can make your climb to the top easier. Accountants should be credentialed in an accountancy degree, preferably an online master of accountancy, which will set them off at the right pace in the beginning of their careers.
CPAs are valued more than ordinary accountants, and those with the certification can easily make their way into the meetings behind closed doors that influence a company’s success trajectory. CPAs are licensed leaders, who have the wherewithal and potential to influence business decision-making, instead of crunching numbers.
Ask for opportunities
When you become aware of a problem at your organization or when meeting a client, suggest possible solutions instead of bringing up the problem flat out. This problem-solving should lead you toward gathering more information through additional discussions with others in your department or organization.
As an accountant, you are well-positioned to give business advice to business owners or managers. You know the numbers that determine the health of a business, and you have the analytical skills and training to evaluate them. You can also see behind the numbers on to the story that lies beyond, if you search and ask the right questions.
Get involved in projects
Whether they are company-wide initiatives or departmental efforts, volunteering is a good way to gain more exposure within your organization, while acquiring new skills. Often, people participate not of their own volition but because their boss asks them to.
Participating in these activities will help you gain exposure to the hidden aspects of business, something that you might never have worked on if you had stuck to your own role and its responsibilities. Usually, volunteer activities are latent opportunities for branching out into other roles within the organization.
Seek out mentors
Talk with people who have been where you would like to go professionally and ask for their guidance on how to get there.
Improve your business acumen
Here are things you can do to improve your business acumen — from the technical side of accounting to the broader business skills:
Understand the different areas of your business. Accounting touches every part of the business, and a good accountant understands how each area functions in relation to the whole. For example, an accountant should know how sales teams generate revenue, how managers evaluate performance, and how operations can be made smoother. A client who operates in multiple locations may require help from auditors on-site.
Earn trust as an auditor. As an auditor, you need to understand what’s going on with your client’s finances, and why they’re doing things the way they are doing them. How the business manages its budgeting has bearing on how you go about your auditing.
Steps to develop Business Acumen
1. Listen – You cannot develop business acumen cooped up inside your own office. You have to get out there and get out of the comfort zone. Listen to the business owners talk about their business. Listen to their challenges and frustrations. Paying attention to detail will help you identify the possible pain points of the business.
2. Value – Add value to every conversation or meeting that you have with your clients or prospect. Don’t just ask questions, give them something of value in return. Provide an idea, make a suggestion, or offer an opinion, but always make sure it adds value for the client or prospect.
3. Become an Expert in Your Industry – Become an expert in the industry you serve or the industry that you want to serve. Read articles from trade publications, websites or blogs, go to trade shows, join industry associations, attend seminars, etc.
Try these tips for delivering what is promised:
- Determine what exactly is needed for the project
- Establish a timeline for when you will deliver what was promised. It might be as soon as possible, or it might be by a specific date or event.
- Focus on one project at a time, if possible, so you can give each aspect of the business your full attention.
- Ask questions if you do not understand what is needed or are uncertain about how to proceed.
5. Provide updates on your progress or any problems you encounter along the way. Communication goes both ways; if something comes up that changes your deadline, let your manager know right away rather than waiting until the last minute to share bad news.
When you want to build a rock-solid reputation as a trusted advisor, show them the value you can offer through your acquired skills or degree and certification credentials. Accounting is a stepping stone for becoming a business advisor with savviness and acumen.