PracticeAccounting FirmsGiving it away for free

Giving it away for free

There are benefits to working unpaid for industry bodies, but you have to receive enough in return to justify your time

A senior manager at a mid-tier accountancy firm asked my advice the other
day. She’d been asked by a small trade association to become their treasurer in
her spare time. While she was keen to grow her network, she was concerned about
the time commitment this role would command.

Many accountants, because of their expertise and standing in the business
community, are approached by professional bodies and groups to give free support
and guidance.

There are obvious benefits. If the group is from an industry sector or
geographic territory they specialise in, there’ll be opportunities to expand
their contact and client base. It can also enhance a CV and give further
credibility to an individual’s professional standing. In some cases, it can lead
to them being crowned the ‘go to’ professional in a certain field.

Saying that, pro bono work can eat into precious spare time and, as I
suggested to the senior manager, you need to be very clear why you’re doing this
– what are you hoping it will bring to you in the long-run – and retain control
of your involvement. Ask yourself several key questions. How can I best help
this group with my skills and experience? How much time do I need to invest to
achieve my personal aims, and how can I manage this given my current priorities?
What support do I really want to give to be seen to contribute? Who do I need to
get close to in the group to ensure I can give this support in a way that is
most effective?

Ultimately you want to give help that plays to your strengths and interests,
so be clear about what those are. If this isn’t possible in the short-term, what
do you need to do to get to this point further down the line and who are the
people you need to impress along the way? Is the journey actually going to be
worth it?

And, if you choose to support a professional group, it’s wise to check
periodically that all your efforts are justified from the return you’re getting
– other than the important sense of satisfaction that you are making a di
fference. Your time is precious, so use it well, for the benefit of the group
and yourself.

John Timperley is managing director at The Results Consultancy.

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