There is a natural human desire to get better at what we do professionally. Whether the reason is the the desire to earn more money, a firm promotion, peer recognition, or the satisfaction that we are operating at a high level for our clients, most of us want to improve our skills to be the best we can be.

Since professional goals may be at conflict with personal goals, the answer is not just simply to work more hours. The question is then: How do I become better at what I do? How do I become a better CPA?

How do you become better at anything? One approach is to hire a coach, find a mentor, be coachable, and practice new behaviors until they become habits. Another way is to do research, talk to other people, and take a class or a course. A third way is to define what you want to become better at, set the objectives and strategies to achieve the objectives, and hold yourself accountable, or better yet, enlist someone else to hold you accountable. If you are really serious about your profession and fast-tracking to partner, you'll combine elements of all three approaches.

The simple fact is that you bear the responsibility for your own professional development. You initiate the conversation with a firm partner about getting on the path to partner. You inquire about getting a mentor at the firm. You select the continuing education courses you need to be more technically proficient, as well as courses that will help you hone certain "soft skills." Invariably, becoming a better CPA means creating an annual plan for professional growth.

 

A PROFESSIONAL GROWTH PLAN

If you're serious about developing a plan for becoming a better CPA, consider the following elements:

  • Industry expertise. A CPA can add much more value to a client if they become an expert in that client industry. To become an expert, talk to industry leaders, read what they read, join industry associations and attend local chapter meetings. You just may have an association member walk up to you and say, "You know, my CPA never attends these meetings; perhaps I have the wrong CPA."
  • Service niche or tax specialty areas. Attorneys and doctors both specialize - so should you. You don't want to be a tax generalist -- select an area of tax law and "make your mark." Similarly, identify a service niche you would like to pursue -- forensic accounting, business succession, merger and acquisition -- and develop expertise.
  • Soft skills development. Soft skills are typically identified as leadership, management, communication and business development. Read books on leadership and management and/or plan to take courses in these areas even if there are no continuing education credits available. Write blogs or articles and attach them to your firm's Web site. Plan to do a presentation to a group. Learn to be a good storyteller.
  • Build your referral pipeline. With the advent of social media, it is no longer necessary to ask for a referral with the question, "Who do you know ...?" Once you are connected to a client on LinkedIn, you can now ask for introductions to specific people by name. Set a goal for new additions to your referral pipeline in the next 12 months.
  • Organizations to join or attend. Consider joining an industry association that you want to focus on. Also consider professional associations of referral partners like estate planning attorneys or bankers. And nonprofit associations give you exposure to community leaders.
  • Mentoring. Ask a partner of the firm to mentor you. Schedule regular meetings (not just an annual review). Ask to be included in client lunches, and meetings with prospects and referral partners. Be a sponge every time you are invited.
  • Eat out. Plan to have coffee, breakfast or lunch once a day (200 times a year) with a client, prospect or referral partner. This will build a solid referral pipeline and enable you to know your client on a deeper level.
  • Hire a trainer/coach. The best athletes in the world have personal coaches. Executives hire coaches and take management courses on how to be better leaders. A coach can give you a different perspective, advice, and help you get the most out of your efforts.
  • If you are serious about becoming a better CPA, make an annual plan for professional growth. Do not limit expenditures to what might be reimbursable by your employer - invest in yourself, and in your career. Take personal responsibility for your career development. It just may get noticed and fast track you to partner.

Bill Tsotsos is a business development strategist at Encinitas, Calif.-based BD Consultants, which provides value-added strategies for CPAs and advisors. Reach him at billtsotsos@gmail.com or (951) 834-2023.

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