Why you should make time for professional development

Networking opportunities can benefit your practice, your career and you personally.

As a practising accountant, you know you’re short on time. You also know that it’s important to keep up-to-date with what is going on in your industry. Three CPAs explain why they think attending industry events is essential for practitioners’ continuing professional development – and how it will help you “sharpen your saw”.

Gavin Swan FCPA – Director, Absolute Accounting Services

It seems remarkable that Gavin Swan attended his first conference only three years ago, especially as he now sits on CPA Australia’s New South Wales public practice committee and is a member of the taskforce organising this year’s Public Practice Conference in the Hunter Valley.

“I guess I was frustrated by what was in the marketplace, but the Public Practice Conference just seemed to cover the gamut of what I was looking for in my development – networking, practice management, technical tax issues, financial and estate planning – and box it all up in one package,” Swan explains.

“I was inspired by the sessions, the presenters and the camaraderie, not only between delegates but CPA Australia representatives and software providers as well. It put a human face to it all. 

“Often, as practitioners, we feel isolated, and the more you put off going to these types of events, the more you will isolate yourself.

“In terms of personal development, in particular, I found it tremendously rewarding. At a bare minimum, you realise there are other practitioners going through the same thing as you and you are not fighting the fight alone. It helps you to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Swan suggests letting your staff run the show for a few days – “it could actually empower them” – and adds: “If you can’t step away from your practice you need to have a good look at how you are running it. When I’m away on a seminar, clients generally respect that.”

He is a big believer in the moral of the story cited by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Sharpen the Saw, which is essentially about continued development, rejuvenation and self-renewal.

“I think we as practitioners have to make time to stop and sharpen our saw,” Swan says. 

“We’re taught to be technically competent, but parts of our social and emotional development – in other words, our networking – really need a lot of attending to.”

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Josephine Haste CPA – Manager, Quality Review Education and Policy Advisor, Ethics and Professional Standards, CPA Australia

Josephine Haste recognises that the most important element of any professional designation is to remain relevant. 

“In the accounting profession, keeping up to date is a constant challenge,” she says. 

“The pace and complexity of changes to standards and regulations in finance, accounting and business is rapidly increasing, which can seem quite overwhelming.”

This is why CPA Australia members, in each triennium, must undertake at least 120 hours of continuing professional development (CPD). All CPA Australia members are now able to enrol in two leading professional development courses at no cost, allowing members to accrue up to 28.5 hours of complimentary professional development per year.

“Formal CPD not only assists members to remain at the forefront of current thinking and professional practices, it enables them to leverage off the combined intellectual capital of other accountants working in similar areas,” Haste says. 

While CPA Australia’s quality review program does not conduct audits of CPD requirements, the review will examine whether a member is maintaining a contemporaneous CPD record. Haste points out that all members in public practice are also required, under professional standards, to maintain a risk management framework.  

“This should address the risk to the practice of key personnel not keeping up to date and strategies to address that,” she explains. 

“Of course, this will only be possible if members have a good understanding of the training needs of themselves and their staff.”

Accordingly, she says the Public Practice Conference runs at a similar time in different Australian states, so all members can schedule it into their diary well in advance and avoid potential clashes with other commitments.

“The conference – as compared to a single CPD event – is important because it is an opportunity for everyone to immerse themselves in the different development activities that suit the specific needs of their practice, and to build professional networks via social functions. 

“A little bit of planning goes a long way towards obtaining the most benefits from the investment.”

Robyn Jacobson FCPA – Keynote conference presenter, Senior Tax Trainer, TaxBanter Pty Ltd and Deputy Chair, Victorian Public Practice Committee

It’s a cliché that conferences are “what you make of them”, but the key really is to get involved. To some extent, this will depend on the type of sessions you’re attending.

“If it’s a keynote, opportunity for questions can be limited,” Robyn Jacobson says. “Sometimes there will be time for questions at the end, but speakers will generally be available outside of their sessions if you want one-on-one time.”

In contrast, masterclasses and workshops are all about interaction.

“’Energised’ is a word I hear a lot,” Jacobson says. “The Public Practice Conference is a big brain dump, with so many ideas thrown around that practitioners feel energised and take it all back to their practices. 

“They can select from the tools they’ve learned, the ideas they’ve come across, and tailor what they have experienced to fit their own practices.”  

Making the time for all this may seem daunting, and perhaps a sole practitioner can control their schedule more readily than someone who runs a practice with lots of staff, “but regardless you need to make an investment in your career,” Jacobson emphasises.

So again, it comes back to a willingness and preparedness to get involved.

“If you’re sitting back and not asking questions, I think you’ll get more out of the sessions if you get engaged in the discussion,” Jacobson says. 

As Jacobson notes, conferences aren’t just about learning from technical sessions, but maximising opportunities.

“In 2015, I was invited to join the Victorian Public Practice Committee. I wasn’t particularly looking to do so, but I had been speaking to people at morning tea and the opportunity arose. Those are the sorts of professional doors which can open, and these networking opportunities can benefit your practice, your career and you personally”. 

5 ways to prepare to leave your office when you’re a sole practitioner

  • Notify your clients of the dates you’ll be away. If you plan to be unavailable during that time, say so upfront. 
  • If you have any staff, decide what you can delegate, then do it 
  • If you don’t have staff, decide what activities are non-critical, and let them slide
  • Update your voicemail and out-of-office email messages
  • Back up your data
Can you add to this list? Share your tips by emailing [email protected]

Read next: 5 tips to get best value from an industry conference

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October 2021
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