4 career pivots for accountants

Being an accountant is a lucrative and frequently rewarding career for many people. But as time passes, you can find yourself restless in your work. Thankfully, training and practice in accountancy is a solid foundation from which to transfer into a new and exciting career path. Having a talent for numbers and finances, a close attention to detail, and an understanding of how to develop a sensible approach to a given situation are all skills that are valued in other fields.

Here are some career pivots to consider if you’re looking to make a move away from accountancy:

1. The pivot within the accounting profession

Most accountants work for a large corporation, whether it’s auditing for a Big 4, or working for a company’s finance department. If you’ve had enough of these environments, consider becoming a freelance accountant, for small business or for private individuals.

The freelance accountant performs a very different role to that of an accountant in a large firm – they need to learn how to acquire clients, how to be the leading voice in their client’s financial direction, and how to organise their own work schedule.

2. Get into the start-up world

As an accountant, you’re perfectly qualified to act as a head of finance for a start-up. Being a part of a newly-minted business is a risk – but as an accountant, you are better qualified than most to calculate that risk.

You may have your own business idea but need a partner to implement it, or you may have found a small team that shows promise that you could help succeed. Start-ups will test your ability to work within a team, and how to work through instability in order to achieve business growth.

3. Delve into data science

If it was your love of numbers that drove you to the accounting profession, you may find a new lease of life pursuing a career in the nascent data science industry.

We live in a world rich in data, and it is the data scientist’s role to collect, collate, and interpret the numbers. You’ll need to develop your programming skills – most data scientists use R or Python to tackle data – but once you’ve achieved a level of mastery, a host of opportunities will be open to you. Data scientists can slip between industries with greater ease than any other profession. From organisations devoted to the public interest, such as Code for South Africa, to top finance houses, data science is one of the top modern professions.

4. Do something with your hands

Why not move from pivot tables to making tables? If you want to move away from accounting because you feel that putting your productive energy into a computer screen is a waste of life, then moving into a trade such as carpentry might be the best resolution.

You’ll not lose the fiscal discipline instilled in you by your accounting training; though your income may be diminished, you’ll be in total control of your productive powers.

Four things to keep in mind when starting your accounting practice

1. Have you got the experience?


You may be freshly qualified as an accountant, with a strong independent streak coursing through your veins, and eager to break into the working life as your own boss. But this may be an error. It is recommended to accrue a good deal of varied experience as an accountant if your dream is to start your own practice.


Working for a large firm (one of the so-called Big 4 of PricewaterhouseCoopers, EY, Deloitte and KPMG, for instance) provides you with knowledge of best practice and niche accounting. Transitioning from a role in one of these firms to a smaller accounting firm, specialising in local clients, will give you experience in the dynamics involved in smaller clients, and a good sense of the variety of tasks that you can expect to do when you decide to open your own firm. Collecting experience will serve you well, and the time spent in these kinds of firms can serve to fire up the passion needed to strike out on your own.


2. Have you got the passion?


As a freelance or small business accountant, your clients will typically be small business owners or private individuals. This means that, unlike working at a large firm in which clients can seem more like faceless entities than collections of human beings, one of your primary skills is going to be managing personal relationships. There must be a strong empathetic streak running through you. Your work is likely going to have a large effect on the successes of those for whom you work. Passion for this kind of work – intimate, specialised, with a view to long-term connection – is indispensable, and will be the difference between failure and flourishing.


3. Have you got the financial position?


You may have the know-how, and the desire, but if you cannot afford to eat when you’re starting out on your own, success will never come. Starting your own accounting practice will require planning and prudence. You need to be confident that you can have some time to secure your first clients, and that you can afford the outlays on the equipment that you will need to do your job – a laptop, internet, accounting software, stationery, and so on.


4. Have you got the time?


For many, a great benefit of being employed as an accountant is the regularity and stability of the demands on your time – work hours are set, and everything outside of this is your own. This won’t be the case as you start out on your own as an accountant. Working odd-hours, late into the evenings, is likely to characterise the first chapter of this phase in your life, as you work to establish a reputation as a reliable and hard-working accountant for your clients. For some, this irregularity will be opposed to the life that they want to live – but if it’s not, then starting your own accounting practice might be for you.

Five ways to take your clients’ business to the next level

One of the great advantages of being an accountant specialising in small business is the close contact that you can have with your clients. Your influence can be instrumental in pushing your client’s business to new heights.


Small business owners often have to wear many hats, and can be stretched thin. Providing services that cater to your client’s unique circumstance is not only a great way to get good word out about your business, but could also be the difference between your client’s venture succeeding or failing.


1. Know the business beyond the balance sheet


Your primary business as an accountant for small business is to ensure that your client’s books are in good order. But financial good standing isn’t all about the credit and debit columns. Talk to your clients about how they structure their business, and investigate whether their current state of organisation is the best fit. If not, suggest more suitable structures, and suggest relevant changes to the business’s operations, where appropriate.


2. Talk about the future


A small business owner can be vulnerable to sudden shocks in the economy, and cash flow forecasts can be a crucial tool for a business to evaluate their position. Expanding a business during unfavourable times can be ruinous, and failing to invest when conditions are favourable can be folly – knowing your client’s growth plans will put you on sound footing when they are faced with growth-oriented decisions.


3. Use the best tools at your disposal


Sage One’s accounting software provides the best in cloud-based accounts management. You can update your client’s books anywhere you can connect to the internet; having client data wherever you go will let you accommodate problems as they arise, and help their business run smoothly. Great software can illuminate complex issues clearly, and give you the edge in dealing with your client’s financial needs.


4. Make tax less taxing


Small businesses are often hit hard by tax and bureaucratic red-tape, and ensuring that your client’s are not being over-burdened with tax should be an essential feature of your service. Government may also provide subsidies to small businesses, so keeping up-to-date on the latest developments can be a great boon to your client’s business.


5. Manage change for your clients


If your client is trying to raise capital to grow their operations, your input as an accountant will be crucial in guaranteeing that your client manages to secure the funding that they need to accomplish their goals. Help with business plans, dealing with banks, finding investors, expanding payroll – your financial knowledge will be key to bringing your client’s plans to reality.

Growing your client list like a pro

Growing your client-base is an integral part of life as a freelance accountant. The process can be frustrating, with many promising leads resulting in dead-ends. But expanding your client list need not be a negative experience – follow these tips and make expanding your business a less strenuous process.


Establish an online presence


A digital presence is essential for any business in this day-and-age. A simple website is a great means by which potential client can get hold of you, and can be built relatively simply by using free or paid website development services. Ensure that people can contact you directly through your sites, and use social media to reach out to possible new clients. If you can, look to writing blog posts; this will not only show off your expertise in your field, but will also make your website more likely to rank on organic searches.


Provide dedicated client service


One of the most powerful ways to stand out from the crowd is to integrate great service into your operations. Making each client feel as if they are important fosters goodwill towards your business, and will make it more likely that you will be recommended to others by your current clients. Take time to know your prospective clients, and craft custom solutions to their needs. Good word-of-mouth is key to growing your business, and this begins with providing a great experience of your services. Consider offering discounts on your services in exchange for referrals from existing clients, but make sure that you are confident that you’ve provided the best service to enhance their recommendation.


Focus your services


Attracting the best kind of client requires experience, and proof that you can offer them exactly what they require. Consider specialising in a particular field or industry. A narrowed focus can lead to great results; if you can be confident that you can provide exactly what a prospective client needs, it makes it all the more likely that you will secure their business. When choosing a specialisation, look at industries that you feel particularly knowledgeable and passionate about, and develop your skills accordingly.


Target desired clients


Create a client wishlist spreadsheet with a list of 20 companies that you’d love to have as a client. Focus on local clients initially – you’ll want to be able to meet the decision-makers in these organisations face-to-face. Do research on the companies on your list – how big are they, what are their verticals, what issues might they face. Once you feel like you have a grasp of the facts, engage with your targets. Call them up, email them, and get them to sit down with you for a coffee. Be engaging, concise, and honest about what you can offer them. Aim to organise at least one potential client meeting per week – and when you’ve gone through your original list of targets, repeat the process. Before long, you’ll have a thriving client list.