Can you really teach yourself to be a progressive thinking or entrepreneurial accountant?

This is a question I get asked a lot, especially by accounting firms who think they should be doing something but can’t quite motivate themselves to step up to the next level.

But I don’t think this is the right question. The right question is not whether you can be taught the skills, but more importantly what are the key soft skills?

When it comes to the hard skills these can be learnt. You can learn how to be an accountant, to type, write and run software programmes. You can learn how to manage your time better, and how to price your services. You can learn how to market your firm better, or have sales meetings that get you more clients.

But soft skills are different. You can’t be taught them, you need to foster them. These soft skills are essential entrepreneurial skills. Whilst you find the hard skills easy, the soft skills may not come quite so naturally.

They may seem challenging, or darn right uncomfortable when you start to embrace them. You may feel resistance or denial that you even need them.

Maybe you haven’t needed them until now or never had to consider them.

But if you are willing to start looking at yourself as an Entrepreneur vs a Practitioner, then your firm will run like a business, rather than a “practice”.

In a moment I will share some of the soft skills that an Entrepreneur possess. These traits, when developed, can make the difference between running a progressive accounting business that grows…  or running a firm that keeps on doing what it has always done, and keeps on getting what it has always got.

Before I share some of the soft skills let me share the different stages you may go through as you develop them:

Conscious Competence Ladder designed by Noel Burch.

This ladder was developed to help us understand our thoughts and emotions during a learning process. The model highlights two factors that affect our thinking as we learn a new skill: consciousness (awareness) and skill level (competence).

According to the model, we move through the following levels as we build competence in a new skill:

No matter what new skill we decide to learn, there are four stages each of us goes through.

Being aware of these stages helps us accept that learning can be a frequently slow and uncomfortable process. As you move from Practice to Business Owner/ Entrepreneurial Accountant you may be learning new sets of skills. You may have to think in a different way and take action in ways you have never taken action before.

Let me talk you through the stages and how they relate to being an entrepreneur.

Stage 1 – Unconsciously Incompetent.

Some people will run an accounting firm and maintain an ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ state of existence. It will mean that their business will live in the land of uncertainty. It will be an illusion, and they’ll find it almost impossible to succeed.

It’s very dangerous for you to be unconsciously incompetent. You will not be able to take your practice to the next level.

Unfortunately, the reason many accounting practices fail to significantly grow is because the Partners don’t realise they need to know more than they do. They believe they know everything already.

The solution: avoid this by surrounding yourself with trustworthy and wise mentors, coaches and advisors. Look where you want your business to go and make sure that you have someone who can help guide the way. If you have the right advisory network, you can avoid being unconsciously incompetent.

Stage 2 – Consciously Incompetent.

This is only one step away from being unconsciously incompetent. I see many people using fear to keep them at this stage. Consciously incompetent is a Partner/Owner of an accounting firm who is struggling, knows why they are struggling, yet fails to do anything about it. I struggle the most when I see people in this stage.

I have trained many business owners, and it has been clear why they are not succeeding. Yet even knowing why they are struggling, they never do anything about it and therefore stay in the land of consciously incompetent.

Believe me, you do not want to dwell in the land of consciously incompetent for long. It can lead to depression, frustration and anger. This is when you need support and to find solutions to the questions you need answered.

Stage 3 – Consciously Competent.

\Becoming consciously competent is a highly rewarding time. This is where you start to celebrate the wins that you achieve as you have been building your weaknesses into strengths.

Being consciously competent is the mode that most moderately successful Accounting Firm Owners/Partners operate in. They know what they need to know, and know how to achieve it. They make an effort to focus on the goals they need to achieve. And they do a pretty good job of it too.

The solution: note I said moderately successful. This is the minimum level of competence you must be at to have some success. Because you have mentors and advisors around you, you will learn what you need to do to overcome your weaknesses as they arise. You will naturally move into this state for most things you strive to achieve, but if you want to go from moderate to mastery then you need to aspire to level four.

Stage 4 – Unconsciously Competent.

Some people are fortunate to be so good at what they do, they can do it in their sleep. This is mastery. You can call it the David Beckham stage – a star athlete who effortlessly excelled in his field of expertise.

Most successful business owners I know combine their passions with their natural talents and 10,000 hours of mastery. If you are at this stage then you are operating at an extremely high level of competence.

After understanding what it takes to be a business owner, people such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Warren Buffet became exceedingly successful. They were/are unconsciously competent. What you need to remember though, is that Richard doesn’t fly his planes, or drive his trains. Richard runs his business. If Richard ran an accounting business he would not be doing the books.

The solution: you don’t need a solution if you are unconsciously competent at running a business. However, if you disrupt the markets you are working in to innovate, then you will be able to ride the wave of change that is approaching the accounting profession.  Aim higher, act more boldly and never rest on your laurels (or on referrals).

Soft Skills Of An Entrepreneurial Accountant

Personal Characteristics

You have got to be a certain kind of person to tick the entrepreneurial box. The reason I see businesses dying is when personal skills are lacking or completely disregarded.

These personal skills include:


Are you an optimistic thinker? Optimism will get you through the hard times. When Making Tax Digital was announced did you decide that it was going to be doom and gloom or were you optimistic about the positive changes this could lead to if you just thought outside the box?


Can you easily see where things can be improved? Do you look at your accounting firm and see the big picture and where you will be in years to come? Can you articulate this and inspire your team?


Do you see a problem and, without much thought come up with a way to overcome it? Do you find yourself developing new projects and ideas?

Leadership Skills

Do you desire to be in control and motivate others… are you yearning to lead from the front and blaze a trail for others to follow?

Drive and Persistence

Are you self-motivating and hungry to succeed? Are you prepared to work hard now for what the future may hold?

Risk Tolerance

Are you able to take risks and try something new? Even when times are changing do you enjoy the challenge and thrive on the uncertainty?


Are you resilient? Even if things don’t go as planned do you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start all over again? Do you learn from your mistakes rather than blame yourself for your mistakes?

Creative Thinking

Are you able to see situations from a different angle? All too often Accountants are put into the left brained box. But outside of their day job they are creative and full of wonderful ideas. This creativity is an entrepreneurial/progressive accountant trait.

Problem Solver

Whilst this is a soft skill it can also be learnt. How good are you at overcoming problems that are put in your way? Cause and effect analysis is just one tool that you can use for this.

and finally this one is the most apt to the industry…

The capacity to embrace change…

If you don’t evolve with the world around you, specifically with your clients ever changing needs, your success will be short-lived.

Many accountants hit a ceiling with their growth and then get stuck in their ways. Nothing can be more detrimental to running a business and being entrepreneurial.

If this is something you struggle with then engage with activity that stretches you out of your comfort zone. Train your change muscle so that it can expand and give you more opportunities.

Opportunities are everywhere, and a progressive, entrepreneurial thinking accountant will thrive if these opportunities are grabbed.

P.S. When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you with marketing and growing your accounting practice:

1. Grab free copy of my book
It’s the roadmap to attracting better prospects, signing higher value clients and scaling your accounting firm. – Click Here

2. Take the test.
It will benchmark your firms ability to effortlessly attract, connect  with & convert high value clients using the Pioneering Practice Scorecard. – Click here

3. Join the tribe and connect with firms who are growing too.
It’s our new Facebook community where ambitious founders, owners, and partners learn to attract better prospects, sign higher value clients and scale their accounting firm. – Click here