Unless you’re still doing manual ledgers, you won’t have missed the impact technology is having on your role as an Accountant.  As technology makes processes faster, business advisory services are in greater demand, and less quantifiable ‘soft skills’ are now essential for the success of Accounting firms. An in-depth study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics predicts that two-thirds of all jobs in Australia will rely on soft skills by 2030.

Hard skills like technical expertise are as important as ever, but they are expected and every accounting degree graduate will quickly pick up software processes, much faster than most seasoned professionals. Hard skills can be quantified which is why we value them so highly.  While the human traits or attributes that make up our interpersonal ‘soft skills’ aren’t so clearly quantifiable.

Modern business clients are more interested in strategic business alliances and the benefits of business advisory services, which require a higher degree of applying soft skills in client relationships.  Therefore, differentiating yourself with strong interpersonal skills to effectively engage, collaborate and communicate with clients is essential.  

You may not have considered this, but you already have the soft skills to work more closely with clients, though they may be underdeveloped because you’ve devoted your career to being a technician.  So the good news is when you develop soft skills you are more effective in your client relationships, and your ability to successfully deliver business advisory services increases exponentially.

So what are the most important soft skills to focus on developing with business advisory services?

1. Communication

Clients don’t understand accounting jargon.  Clearly communicate purposeful insights from behind the numbers in simple, plain English with both written and verbal communication.  Appreciate you don’t always have to have the answers right then.  How comfortable are you exploring with thorough questioning and listening for answers?  Do you jump in with answers before you’ve dug deeper into understanding what your client wants?  Success with business advisory services is underpinned by how well you understand your client’s circumstances, connect with them and confidently structure the information they share with you.

2. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

Every great Accountant has a knack for critical thinking and solving complex problems.  I even call this a superpower, I have an Accountant Superpowers ebook you can download here.  Clients want you to take a proactive and adaptable approach to solve complex problems to deliver future-focused plans, rather than always reporting on past activities.  Translating valuable insights from data trends into financially sound strategic plans that clients can implement, within a structured business advisory process for clients, all rely on critical thinking.

​​​​​​​​​​3. Client Engagement and Relationships

When business advisory services are delivered ad-hoc or on an as needs basis it fails to interest clients because there is no process for client engagement.  Clients want more value in their strategic relationships to give them an advantage in their business.  Without a systematic client engagement process that takes them on a journey of building a trusted, strategic partnership with you, they just won’t understand how much value you offer beyond compliance.  Your relationship with your client is more integrated within business advisory services and strengthening client relationships requires an effective range of soft skills.

4. Creativity

Would you say you’re creative?  You may not think you’re creative, but when you problem solve and create connections between the stories the data tells and present scenarios for your client you are accessing your creativity.  Technology may make processes faster and more efficient to complete but it will never replace your ability to extract creative insights and translate them into actionable strategies for your client.

5. Leadership

Accountants far underestimate the importance of leadership with business advisory.  Your client relationship requires leadership from you.  They trust you to guide them and keep them accountable to the agreed strategy.  Leadership in business advisory requires soft skills of negotiation, persuasion and influencing to positively build relationships with trust and confidence.  It can be as simple as being proactive in communication and responsiveness before issues arise.  If you have a team it means ensuring you have the right people in the right roles and effectively communicating across stakeholders.

Developing and applying interpersonal soft skills in your role will significantly elevate your value to your clients immediately.  Changes in technology and client demands are happening rapidly and differentiating yourself is vital for success with business advisory.  It does take time to develop these skills, but with practice and applied focus, you will have a more significant impact on your client’s success, as well as your own.

If you would like more information about the 4-Step Advisory Process for accountants and accounting teams watch this free CPD Advisor Masterclass for Accountants in public practice, 

“How to deliver more advisory solutions to compliance clients”

For resources to equip yourself with the necessary skills and structures for effective advisory, visit The Small Business Project’s Advisory Resources