Staying competitive in today’s business climate means evolving how you operate and hiring with that in mind.
Accounting firms are increasingly reporting that they just can’t find – and keep – good talent, especially outside of city centres. While the demand for skilled accountants is growing, the supply of suitable candidates is steadily dwindling as senior accountants age out of the industry, others go out on their own, and young graduates seek careers in other industries.
Why? Simply put, the accounting industry has an image problem: To the generation entering the workforce, accounting is perceived as monotonous, only moderately paid, and lacking in growth opportunities. Many of the best and brightest are lured by the commercial sector, including IT, marketing, and entrepreneurial start-ups, while those who stay in accounting are expected to work in a firm for four years – too long for some ambitious millennials, unless they’re being groomed for ownership.
Even then, many practices are unwilling to invest in hiring and training recent graduates. Most firms prefer someone with two or three years of experience – time enough to develop the core competencies and soft skills so many businesses require these days. They need well-rounded accountants who not only know tax law but can also communicate effectively with clients, sell value-added services, and use numbers to drive strategy. While poorly thought-out immigration policy has created a surplus of accountants in Australia, most of these imported workers are typically trained only in the number-crunching skills required for compliance and have no local experience.
So what can your accounting practice do to remain viable in a rapidly changing industry?
1. Redefine the client–accountant relationship.
Because of evolving technology, many clients see tax compliance work as the bare minimum, a basic utility – much like we expect electricity to always be there. Nowadays, they’re looking for added value, help with forecasting and future growth, rather than just document preparation and an account of past transactions.
They may need advice before making a big decision and seek your input on possible outcomes and their implications. To do this effectively, you’ll need to train your clients to provide their financial information in a timely manner, but becoming their trusted advisor is well worth the effort as it allows you to spend more time with clients, keep your billings high, and outsource time-consuming, less valuable compliance work offshore.
2. Nurture your existing superstars.
Mentor your best employees and make them want to stay by providing growth opportunities, challenges, and incentives. If you can’t offer the salary of a larger firm, get creative. Work-from-home flexibility is widely sought after in our post-COVID world, and perks like extra annual leave, health insurance, team lunches, gym discounts, company phones, social outings, and even a pet-friendly office can sweeten the pot.
On the professional side, develop leadership skills and reward initiative by giving exciting new roles and projects to top performers and letting them take ownership. Offer timely, regular feedback and show appreciation for a job well done. Most importantly, build trust and a positive workplace culture by always keeping your promises and getting to know your team on a personal level.
3. Invest in the future.
Create entry-level roles and provide ongoing training and development. While hiring someone with experience may be easier, it’s also costlier and may prove near impossible before too long: Xero is betting that in 20 years, 80 percent of accounting jobs will be automated. But human intervention will still be needed in other areas.
Ever-increasing access to data has highlighted a growing need for client advisory services – helping them make sense of what the numbers actually mean. Staff will also be needed to interpret and apply frequently changing regulations that affect reporting and tax obligations. Futureproof your business by planning for demand growth in these areas and mentoring new hires with an appetite for mastering forecasting, analysis, and presentation skills.
4. Hire for soft skills.
It should be a given that graduates have core accounting knowledge, so pay attention instead to their ability to see the big picture, adapt quickly to changing situations, and communicate empathically with clients. Problem-solving and social media skills are also highly valuable.
As the accounting industry moves toward the advisory model, demand for hard numbers alone will continue to fall, as compliance tasks can be farmed out overseas at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, talented employees tend to stick around when they feel valued and inspired by their work, which is far more likely when they are given opportunities to shine, as in client advisory and other work that capitalises on soft skills.
5. Get help to manage the workload.
If you don’t already have one, invest in a competent office administrator and leverage the services of an experienced outsourcing team. While you may be worried about getting a third party up to speed on your systems, if you outsource wisely and implement procedures, you’ll actually get time back – time you can devote to discretionary activities that grow your business.
When looking for an outsourcing provider, choose a company big enough to take on work at a moment’s notice and dedicate the same team to your firm for continuity. Where possible, assign one person, such as your office manager, as single the point of contact and use templates designed to your requirements to ensure consistency and clarity for your outsourcing team. Some outsourcing companies are willing to offer a free trial on a small job so you can verify the quality of their services before proceeding, so ask any providers you’re considering if that’s an option.
Greenlion accountancy used the services of Connect Outsourcing to help them merge with another practice and expand their overall profitability by shifting their focus to advisory. “We now have an opportunity to do more than simply price our services cheaper to be more competitive in a race to the bottom,” says director Felicity Hill. With the added bandwidth they now have, she recently completed a business evaluation that added $30,000 to a client’s bottom line: “In the old model, I would bill only for my time. Now, I can look at my advisory services and bill on the value it provided to the client.”
Connect Outsourcing knows Australian and New Zealand tax law and can set up the systems they need to get started in just a couple of hours, managing most aspects of the technical handover on your behalf. If you’re short-staffed, experiencing a seasonal spike in your workload, or looking to revamp your business model, a 10-minute discovery phone call is all it takes to get started. To learn more, Contact Connect Outsourcing today.