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Accountancy Career Advice from... AAT Tutor and Freelance Bookkeeper Lisa Leonard

Highly successful AAT Tutor and Freelance Bookkeeper Lisa Leonard talks us through how to get ahead in your accountancy career by building reputation, using new software and more.

How to get ahead in your career in accounting

I can’t say that when I first started out in my career that I had a clear idea of where I wanted it to go, or what I wanted to do. 

The start of my career in accountancy began when I landed my first office job as an accounts clerk, and quickly found it was something I enjoyed. When I qualified as an Accounting Technician, although I naturally enjoyed the figure work I found that I also enjoyed working with people and progressed into a role where I was training people.

This shaped my career onwards to training and implementing finance software, which I did for a number of years working my way up to management level. As the AAT qualification has always been the fundamental platform on which to build my career, I decided to challenge myself to something different. This also allowed me to use my knowledge and experience to become an AAT tutor. 

When it came time to settle down and have a family, it was clear I needed something a bit more flexible. Now, I work as a freelance bookkeeper and tutor. As you progress through your studies - and indeed in your role in accountancy - look for your attributes and what you enjoy. That will lead you to find your ideal role.

When they start their course, many of my students tell me that they are studying so that they too can become a self-employed bookkeeper or accountant.

It is the ideal career that will fit around family life and also earn a decent income. A lot of students are also looking to start their career in accounting or already have a finance position working in an accounts department.

The massive step has been made! You have chosen to study a well-recognised and commended qualification, which will give you the knowledge and skills you require to become successful whichever path it may take you.

But what are the other things you could be doing to improve your chances of success, gain that promotion or build a reputation as a bookkeeper in your own right?

In an ever-evolving industry, it is important to stay ahead here are some areas to focus on alongside your studies that I think will help to boost your career success.

Actively seeking solutions with software

We are now in the age of technology. In the past, the accounting software system would sit in isolation and only accessed by accounting professionals to input the daily transactions.

Software revolutionised the age of accounting, saving not only space for storing huge ledger books but also efficiency. Cloud-based software, such as Xero and QuickBooks, offer clients the option of having their software available to them via apps on their tablets and phones.

This offers a visibility they never had before, and the ability to check the status of their accounts at a glance and even raise invoices on the go! 

But what does it mean for the bookkeepers and accounts staff? Will they become redundant? 

Quite the opposite, and it is time to grab this opportunity with both hands. Yes, the technology available means that some of the once manual tasks are now taken care of. However, it is still important to have the fundamental knowledge of bookkeeping and the debits and credits, as you will be needed to guide those not familiar in the right direction. 

It is your time to shine! You can find yourself assisting a business in the accounting process and seeking solutions that benefit their work flow; from the point of making a sale right through to reporting the profit of the business.

This could entail several systems, as most traders will have a front of house sales system that will integrate into their accounting software package.

It is a fact that cash is used less, so there are now more payment systems including PayPal, iZettle, Go Cardless (to name a few). These also integrate with the accounting software. Managing the work flow is the key role of the accounting professional, and this can certainly be enhanced by using the right systems and software. 

So, get researching! If you can attend networking events talking with other accounting professionals, this is one of the best ways to finding out about the latest or most liked finance systems.  

Invoice And Calculator

Stand out from the crowd

If your plan is to become a self-employed bookkeeper, then knowledge of the various software and their key benefits is crucial to the service you can provide to your clients. 

Yes, we still need to crunch the numbers. However, you can give yourself the edge by being able to guide and support your clients in implementing a smooth process. If you work within an accounts department already, then be inquisitive and evaluate. What software is already in place? Is it being used to its full potential? 

Show initiative by attending training or using the software online help to learn. Pass on knowledge to your colleagues and managers on how it can be better utilised. Are there areas for improvement? A bit of research into other similar software systems and how they integrate together could result in a massive time saver for the company. 

If you seek to or already work within an accountancy practice, then the knowledge of the various software will be a huge benefit to your clients. Assisting them with transitioning to more efficient software, or saving them time will all help to build your reputation and add value to the business.

Seek out improvements that could be made. Is there a manual process that could be automated? Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool and can be used in a multitude of ways to extract and present data. 

If your employer will pay for training, then grab it with both hands and think about areas the functionality could support your work or that of your department. Don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas even if an idea doesn’t turn out to be suitable it will show your initiative. It will also show your drive to get ahead and be considered for that promotion when it comes up.

Many managing directors are accountants… I wonder why!

Building your reputation

Accountants are given the stereotype that primarily, our role is to crunch the numbers and very often it is our job to tell people they can’t spend money.

However, this is only part of what we do. The delivery of information we provide is vital to how it is received and dealt with. Having the interpersonal skills to build a rapport with clients, customers, staff and managers will assist you in getting ahead.

This will make it easier when having to deal with a sensitive situation or deliver information which may not be that favourable to the recipient. Managing your customer or client’s expectations from the outset will reduce the risk of disappointments and possible conflict.

For example, if you will be waiting on information to complete their work, which could result in it taking longer, then prepare them for this so that they won’t become frustrated and angry if a deadline isn’t met.

Working in finance, it is inevitable on a day to day basis that you will need to be able to adapt your approach and deal with people from varying backgrounds. It is important to be able to explain and present information in a way that people from a non-financial background can understand.

If a customer or client feels at ease because you help them to understand something that would otherwise be daunting and complicated, then they will return to you. Conduct yourself with integrity and honesty and be transparent in what you do to build trust with your customers, employers and clients.

Giving all of these things your consideration as you approach your role will build a solid reputation on which to build your career.

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