Businesses need your entrepreneurialism

DULL, DRAB AND AWFUL? Boring, tedious and unimaginative? Life has never been quite the same since John Cleese created the stereotype for accountants, describing these qualities as a drawback in most professions, but as a positive boon for accountants! Some forty years on, it’s worth a look at the status of what some people call the ‘noble profession’ and where it seems to be heading.

Certainly, life is much more complicated than it was forty years ago. Burgeoning regulation means that accountants are increasingly seen as policemen, providing a necessary, but often unappreciated, service.

Increased specialisation has narrowed our commercial capabilities and cost pressures have restricted the time available to add value to our clients’ affairs. Combine these with a painful recession and the emergence of an increasingly entrepreneurial culture in the business environment and there’s a danger we’re proving the rule.

Accepting this stereotype can only be bad for the profession. The last thing we need is to be pigeonholed. If accountants are all the same, there’s nothing to differentiate us from the crowd and no way of avoiding a race to the bottom. Ultimately, that affects quality, service and price. With margins constantly under pressure, something needs to be done.

So how can we throw off the mantle and re-establish our credentials and true worth? At the end of the day, clients are not interested in what we do, but in what’s in it for them. In order to excel, we need the rise of the entrepreneurial accountant – skilled professionals with the enthusiasm, expertise and experience to engage with their clients in a broader and more meaningful way. People who understand the vagaries of business rather than just one or two narrow disciplines. In other words, more ‘trusted business advisers’.

It’s easier said than done. More variety in training and less early stage specialisation might add to the trusted adviser cause, whilst secondments can also give valuable experience of life on the other side of the fence. On the other hand, moving out of the profession into the commercial world has traditionally been a one way street, so perhaps we could encourage some more traffic the other way.

Of course, we need the specialists too, but it’s commercial charisma combined with technical expertise that will attract and retain the successful clients of the future. That means understanding the emerging landscape, thinking outside the box, pursuing global opportunities and embracing technological change, including the inexorable move towards increased connectivity and the emergence of ‘social commerce’.

John Cleese might not agree, but with the world and the banks in crisis, there’s never been a better time for accountants to take an entrepreneurial lead.

Guy Rigby is the head of entrepreneurs at Smith & Williamson. He has recently released the book: From Vision to Exit – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Building and Selling a Business

Image credit: Shutterstock


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