CPA INSIDER

8 ways to be more proactive

These tips will help you take charge of your work life and your career.
By Cheryl Meyer

Today's CPAs, like most professionals, face a plethora of challenges and pressures not only in their day-to-day work lives, but also in their careers as they strive to advance. The pace of life in general has accelerated, thanks in large part to technology, and accountants who want to progress and do well for their clients and themselves cannot be complacent. They need to plan, take control, analyze processes, be more interactive, and anticipate problems before they happen.

In other words, they need to be proactive.

"Proactive is looking out the windshield further, and reactive is looking out the rearview mirror," said Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, president and CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute in Baltimore. CPAs, he noted, either don't have enough time or are doing more with less, and if they fail to look ahead, they won't be prepared for crises or unexpected events, which can cause additional stress. And CPAs can lose clients if they are reactive or simply passive.

In addition, a proactive CPA may receive more promotions. "They will be more valuable to their organization or to their clients and thus get paid more," Hood added.

Those who are proactive also tend to be better organized and save time as a result, while those who are reactive are "putting out fires versus planning," said Donna Schilder, executive and career coach and president of Glacier Point Solutions, a coaching and training firm in Long Beach, Calif. In other words, CPAs who are unprepared for potential issues are often caught up trying to fix things, instead of being creative, in control, and forward-thinking.

So how do you become more proactive? How do you foresee issues that can arise, and be prepared? How do you and your fellow CPAs proactively work to advance your careers? Leaders in the profession offer the following tips:

  • Attempt to forecast potential issues. Every Monday morning, list three things that could go wrong that week and three ways you could prevent those problems from surfacing. For example, Schilder said, if a client is scheduled to bring you a box of receipts that are completely disorganized, ask him or her to organize the receipts into categories before bringing them to your office.
  • Stay on top of professional trends. Keep abreast of regulatory or standards changes or potential future events that might impact you or your clients so that you are prepared to deal with them. "Industry trends like the change in administration of [President Donald] Trump and the possibilities of major tax legislation, changes in health care, and changes in the regulatory environment like Dodd-Frank" are a great way to keep in touch with clients and offer to help them, Hood said. "Another example is for accountants to calculate the effect of new revenue recognition standards on their businesses (or clients' businesses) with changes in balance sheet ratios and loan covenants. Both of these point to proactive approaches accountants can take to create future-oriented conversations." In addition, he noted, read up on strategic thinking and foresight skills online, such as Daniel Burrus's Anticipatory Organization Model, to give you guidance.
  • Take time to be strategic. Despite your busy schedule, build time into your calendar each week to look strategically not only at your own business and career, but also your clients' businesses one by one, Schilder said. Don't just offer basic services—go above and beyond. Ask yourself questions: What more can you do for them? Should you meet with them more frequently? What trends are impacting their respective industries? "Then become a strategic partner and not someone who only solves problems when they arise," she said. And be mindful "that you are trying to help your clients succeed and be more profitable and grow their businesses," noted Randall Kuvin, CPA, managing partner of Flagel Huber Flagel in Cincinnati.
  • Create a "to-don't" list and get organized. While many people make a "to-do" list, it's also beneficial to create a "to-don't" list that eliminates tasks that are unnecessary. "Get rid of things you should not be doing or something that you should be delegating," Schilder said. "Don't do something just because it is a habit." In addition, by becoming organized and possibly reducing some of your workload, you have more time to be strategic and proactive.
  • Become tech-savvy. We live in an era where technology can help simplify—if you know how to use it and take the time to learn new functions and tools. Take advantage of existing technology and features and discover new ones. If CPAs took a little time to learn 10 technology tools, "they'd be 10 times more productive," Hood said. Also, consider using some of the new apps that help with personal productivity, such as Evernote, Slack, and Todoist, he added.
  • Market yourself. One of the best ways to be proactive is to actively promote your career. Build your network internally by interacting with people at a higher level in your organization, including mentors, advocates, and champions, Schilder said. Put a picture of yourself on your business card and in your emails so others remember you. "When I go out to a professional organization, people recognize me and come up to me. It may seem gimmicky, but people love it," she added. These steps can help you not only advance your career, but also possibly gain new clients as well.
  • Be a participant, not an idle observer. Don't be just a worker bee. It's important to step out of the box and interact. Join your state CPA society, become involved in charitable or community organizations, coach a soccer team. "Really anything that puts you out in an environment where you are involved with people of all shapes and sizes and who have had different experiences helps you understand the world a little bit better," Kuvin said. Community involvement can also introduce you to new clients and enhance your organization's business.
  • Continue to learn. Be proactive about your own career development and take time to progress beyond CPE. "Recognize what your personal deficiencies might be, what areas you might need to improve on—whether that's technical capabilities or networking or public speaking or leadership skills," Kuvin said. Then, he added, "develop a plan proactively to build on those capabilities, so you are in a position to act for the benefit of your clients and yourself."  

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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