They say hindsight is 20/20. Have you ever looked back and thought, “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done things differently”? Chances are you’ve said that to yourself on more than one occasion. We all have lists of things we wish we could tell our younger selves, but all we can do now is move on, and hope we can help someone else learn from our experience.
Your professional life is no different. When you enter the field of accounting, you do so with years of schooling and ample knowledge about accounting laws, practices, and processes. But there are just some things that you can’t learn from a book.
We were curious what lessons others might have learned along the way. So we spoke with several accounting professionals and we asked them one question: “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you entered the field of accounting?” The result? Great advice and important lessons that they’ve learned from years of experience.
We hope sharing this wisdom will help you improve your business and bolster your career.
Respect Yourself and Know Your Worth
“I’ve been doing accounting and bookkeeping for more than 30 years, and I’ve learned a lot about the accounting industry in that time. Of course, there have been a lot of changes in that time, but there are a lot of things that don’t change. The basics of accounting have been around since the Babylonians. I’m old school, so I think that if you know your debits and credits, you can adapt to any of the changes in policy and technology around the industry.
“But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my last 30 years doing accounting—something that I wish I’d known from the beginning—it’s that you need to really know what your experience and expertise is worth. That’s the one piece of advice I would give to anyone who’s just starting out in accounting: Respect yourself and know your worth.
“If you think you’re only worth $25 an hour, then you might want to consider a different line of work. You need to respect yourself and have enough confidence to charge commensurate to your expertise and the services you’re offering.”
– Jack Warrington
Start Networking Early
“When I first started my business, I had my handful of clients and I just sat on them. I lacked the confidence to go out and look for new clients, and I didn’t realize just how important doing that was. You really can’t get complacent. You have to go out and build your client base.
“Over time, I learned to go out and connect with more people. I joined a few organizations so that I could meet new people and build a network. Those people started referring new clients to me, and those new clients became referral sources, and my client base grew exponentially.
“I wish I’d had the confidence to do more networking from the beginning. I just didn’t realize back then how important it would be to my company’s future.”
– Angelo DiFusco
Be Patient and Flexible
“I became a CPA in 1978, and I was doing bookkeeping before that, so I’ve been in accounting for quite some time. Quite frankly, if I’d known when I entered accounting just how much patience and flexibility is required, I probably wouldn’t have become a public accountant! That has to be the biggest thing I wish I’d known, because I would have been more prepared for what I was getting into.
“The fact is, laws relating to accounting, taxes, and audits are constantly changing. You have to be flexible and quick on your feet so that you can stay on top of all of those changes every year. You have to be willing to periodically relearn your job.
“Your clients are going to require you to be patient and flexible as well. If you’re in public accounting, you’ll have a lot of different clients, and each one of them will be different, so you’ll have to approach each case differently. And of course, every client you have is going to think they’re your only client, and they’ll want all of your attention all of the time.
“Even processes surrounding the industry are always changing. For example, the word “paperless” wasn’t even in my vocabulary when I became a CPA in 1978, much less when I was doing bookkeeping before that. But now, it’s becoming accepted as the best, most efficient way to run an accounting firm. You have to be able to adapt to those kinds of changes too, to stay ahead of the game and stay competitive with other firms. You’ll have to be aware of the changes and decide which ones you’ll choose to embrace, and which ones are absolute necessities.”
– Carin D. Friedlander
Keep Your Computer Updated
“So much focus in accounting is on the paperwork—the tax forms, the spreadsheets, the debits and credits. I think a lot of people get caught up in that and neglect their computer systems and software. If there is one thing I wish I’d known when I first started out, it’s how important my computer is.
“A while back, I maxed out my RAM, and I had to upgrade to a dedicated server to continue doing what I was doing. I realize now that I couldn’t do anything if my computer wasn’t upgraded and efficient. In accounting, your computer is your business, so you can’t neglect it, no matter how important all the paperwork seems.
“I wish I’d known that all along, but that’s the price of being in business—you learn.”
– Kathy Holloway
Use the Cloud
“I started my career in 1967, and the differences in the industry between now and then are like night and day. I couldn’t even begin to tell you all of the changes that have happened. Even in just the last 5 years we’ve made big changes.
“The biggest recent change we’ve made is using the Cloud. We were paperless before that already, but going to the Cloud made a huge difference. We struggled for a while to find a solution that works for us, because we needed one that stored all of our data and also had a usable client portal. But even with those issues we experienced, I think that working in the Cloud is the absolute most important change we’ve made, and I’d advise anyone going into accounting to do the same thing.”
– Patrick D’Angelo
Ditch the Files
“When I started doing accounting in the ‘80s, paper was really the only option you had. Computers were just taking off, really, but I still wish I’d gotten on board with them sooner. I can’t even begin to explain how much easier my life has gotten since I’ve started going paperless with all of my accounting work.
“I travel between L.A. and Maui for my work. I used to bring four to six suitcases of paperwork and files with me on every trip. Flying that much paperwork back and forth across the Pacific every tax season was exhausting. But now that I’ve cut down on my files and started using a paperless system, I only take one suitcase on my trips.
“Being paperless has also made information more available to me. When a client calls with a question, I can quickly get the answer they need, instead of having to call them back after I’ve had a chance to sift through the paperwork. A lot of my clients say, ‘I don’t know how he does it!’ because they’re so impressed with how quickly I can get them information.
“It feels good to hear things like that, but even putting that kind of praise aside, being paperless has really been an invaluable tool for my business. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.”
– Angelo DiFusco