It's trade show season again, and in the space of the next two weeks, I'll be attending five different events in five different cities. While I wouldn't wish that on anyone, I'm going to take this opportunity to recommend that you find time in your schedule over the next few months to get out to at least one accounting conference or other professional event.

It's not about the CPE you can get, though that's certainly useful. And it's not about the opportunity to stroll the show floor, though that's often a great opportunity to demo new tools, compare different offerings, and harass vendor staff in person for that glitch you discovered over tax season. And once you've finished complaining, you can start learning from them. Think about it: These vendors meet and work with a lot of accountants, so they're bound to have insights into some of the issues you're facing.

Our editors discover that anew every year at the big accounting show in New York that more or less kicks off trade show season. We gather representatives of some of the most important vendors in the field to pick their brains, and they're never less than insightful. Listening to Sage's Jennifer Warawa explain the need for accountants to recognize that "the way we've always done it" isn't the way firms should always do it is an education, as is listening to Erik Asgeirsson of CPA2Biz talk about how CPAs need to develop a brand-new learning strategy, or hearing Richard Allaway of ADP discuss the importance of getting away from relying on word of mouth and referrals. (We also record their answers -- you can see them on under the ATTV tab.)

But even learning from experts isn't the most valuable part of attending a live meeting. As useful as CPE and expert insights and exposure to new tools and technologies are, the real reason I strongly recommend that you get out to some kind of event with your fellow accountants is ... your fellow accountants. Any problem your firm faces has probably already been figured out by some other firm -- and the best way to find out how they solved it is to meet them and talk to them.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: At our Accounting Technology Forum last year, I gave a presentation on the new technologies that CPAs are using in their offices. My PowerPoint was fine, as far as it went -- but what really made it come alive were the 50 CPAs in the room. When I mentioned laptops, they shared their experiences with 20 different brands. When I talked about remote access, they were able to explain the workarounds they'd developed for Citrix. When I brought up VoIP and other new phone systems, they told each other about which worked best locally, and which service providers offered the most cost-effective combinations of mobile and hard-line service. They may have come to hear me talk, but they got the most out of listening to each other. (Blatant plug: This year's Accounting Technology Forum is being held June 24-25.)

So, figure out what your problems are, or what you're hoping to achieve for your practice or your firm in the next year or so, and find a show that'll be attended by CPAs with similar problems or goals. There are events of all shapes and sizes, from large AICPA and state society shows and broad events like (another blatant plug) our Growth & Profitability Summit in early November, to smaller gatherings held by credentialing groups, to say nothing of the host of MAP and other committee meetings being held regularly (monthly, in some cases) around the country.

Think of it this way: You spend all your time with your clients, who barely know anything about their own business, and certainly know nothing about yours. It's important to get out and spend some time with people who really know what it means to run an accounting practice, and how to run it well.

And who better for that than the people who do it everyday?

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