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5 Things About Accounting that They Don’t Teach You in School

May 12th 2016
Pro Accountancy
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If you’re anything like me, you were probably up and running in the wide world of accounting before the ink was even dry on your qualification. I remember being thoroughly excited about entering the realm of small business, where I could use numbers and the latest technologies to help my clients’ companies perform better. After all, when you come from a family of accountants, why wouldn’t you expect things to be a cinch?

It wasn’t until later that I began to realize just how many unique situations arise in business that they don’t necessarily teach you about while qualifying. Some things simply have to be learned by experiencing them, whether directly, or through things that happen with your clients.

I want to provide a brief overview of some of the things I’ve discovered since qualifying as a chartered accountant, and I would be surprised if you don’t find yourself nodding along with at least two or three of them.


We’re all very familiar with the notion that networking is vital when it comes to running acompany, accounting or otherwise. After all, it’s one of the best ways for a firm of any size to bring in new business.

But there are two things I’ve observed about this particular marketing activity that always seem to involve having to learn the hard way:

  • The activity itself is quite difficult to get right.
  • It is not selling.

If you’re not a natural people person, or aren’t particularly skilled at making small talk, networking can be awkward, if not fully frightening. It’s just not something you can learn from a book, but one of those things thatmust be practiced regularly if you ever want to get better at it.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in their networking approach is to confuse a social interaction with an opportunity to sell oneself. Networking should be all about building quality relationships, and this often means helping others out, first.

Making Difficult Decisions

The decision to keep accurate accounts is one thing, but those in business for themselves face challenging decisions of a far more abstract nature every day. Deciding who to hire and who to fire is a perfect example. Did you learn how to sack someone while you were training?

Trial and error is often the only way to figure out who’s going to perform effectively in a given environment - but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to dismiss someone who doesn’t measure up, when the time comes to do so.

Scaling a Business

Numbers never lie, and we accountants have a distinct advantage when it comes to measuring and monitoring business growth. Still, finances are only one side of the story in terms of what goes into scaling a business. Growth that’s sustainable and realistic relies on a number of factors, including keeping a watchful eye on the markets, your competitors, and the economy as a whole.

Accounting and various other departments may be what make a business tick, but learning how the parts of the system work together to best accommodate business expansion is another matter entirely. Most owners find out somewhere along the way that learning how to start their business wasn’t the hard part: scaling it is.

How to Fail

If only they offered Failing 101 as a regular part of every educational curriculum. While I’m not advocating going into business with the expectation of failure, the reality is that thousands of small businesses go under every year in the UK.

That’s a lot of entrepreneurs who could probably have benefitted from a betterunderstanding of how to fail with grace and aplomb, and more importantly, what they should do about it afterwards.Consecutive failures are common in the business world. Knowing how to analyse mistakes and learn from them, less so.

Exit Strategies

Did you go into business with an exit strategy in place? Highly unlikely. Who bothers to think about the best way to get out of a business when we’re completely immersed in the process of getting into one? To the best of my knowledge, nobody teaches about that in school.

But the fact is that at some point in our lives, we all make the decision to move on, whether that means selling our company, or passing it to someone else.So it only makes sense that knowing where you want to end up is the best way to determine how you’re going to get there.Like everything else in business, your exit plan may change along the way, but having a plan in the first place is what counts.

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