How to Develop Consulting Skills

Article excerpt

Sheldon Eveloff, CPA, a partner of Goldenberg/Rosenthal, Philadelphia, and former member of the American Institute of CPAs management advisory services executive committee and practice standards and administration committee, explains how CPAs can expand their professional competence to work in a new practice area.

The leopard cannot change its spots, but the CPA is capable of adding the right skills to become a management consultant. This step can be especially important to smaller CPA firms, since the addition of consulting skills gives them an additional competitive edge in a high-growth practice area.

PLANNED DEVELOPMENT

Consulting, in the broadest sense, is almost unavoidable. Advising management has been an integral part of CPA services since the very beginning of our profession. It's a natural by-product of performing tax, accounting and auditing services, but only up to a point.

When a firm or an individual CPA decides to offer formal consulting services, the depth of expertise and professional approach must be better defined and more finely tuned. Since consulting activities can take many forms, the firm must decide which types of activities are most suited to firm members' talents and client needs. Today, consulting includes a wide range of services, such as developing information systems, providing forecasts and projections, performing profitability studies, conducting organizational reviews and providing litigation support.

Consulting skills are acquired by design. The motivated CPA must undertake a three-point plan of skills development:

* Continuing education.

* Reading.

* Apprenticeship opportunities.

CONTINUING EDUCATION

Anyone who wants a successful consulting practice needs a significant amount of continuing education. Nothing substitutes for a solid base of knowledge. Fortunately, there are many fine sources of continuing education within easy reach of almost every CPA.

One obvious source is formal college education through, for example, a master's is business administration or an executive program on nights or weekends. Other possibilities are courses or advanced degrees in computer technology, public finance, information services or electronic data processing.

Some larger firms offer structured training programs that prepare CPAs in specific consulting areas and allow attendance by members of other firms. Another alternative for small firms is to hire a local business school professor to run an in-house training program that is conducted after hours.

Perhaps the most efficient, least costly and most productive sources of continuing education are courses sponsored by the AICPA and the state CPA societies. These condensed sessions heighten awareness and intensify analytical skills while giving attendees the advantage of working alongside peers with different insights. Courses available through the AICPA that might be helpful include those on small business consulting, basic cost systems, business valuation methods and forecasts and projections.

The AICPA certificate of educational achievement (CEA) programs are designed to give in-depth knowledge in specialized areas through an integrated series of courses. CEA programs are offered to AICPA and state society members who meet certain prerequisites.

Equally enlightening are programs sponsored by other professional organizations, such as the Electronic Data Processing Auditors Foundation, the Data-Tech Institute, the American Management Association and the Institute of Management Consultants. In addition, other courses focus more directly on specific interests or industries. Certain trade groups and professional organizations, such as the Family Firm Institute, for privately held family businesses, or the Data Processing Management Association, are good sources of more narrowly focused courses. …