September was the month of conferences. There were a few in Australia but I chose to travel to a conference in the US. Accountex USA held in Boston was my conference of choice. Back in 2013 I realized that our world of finance was changing. I also realized that I needed to learn more about what was happening so that I could confidently introduce these changes into my business. Since 2013 I have attended at least one overseas conference each year. This is not an optional participation but one that I set as a priority in my work calendar.
Benefits of Software-Agnostic Approach
This year was my first attendance at Accountex USA (formerly SleeterCon). It was SleeterCon that first drew me over to the US in 2013 and again in 2014. Other conferences I have attended are QuickBooks Connect in San Jose (2014, 2015) and Scaling New Heights in The Bahamas (2016). I will be attending QB Connect again this November as a guest of Intuit and have plans to attend Accountex UK in London, May 23-24, 2018.
What makes the overseas events so attractive? Apart from the obvious benefit of getting to see the world, these are typically events of a size and scale that have only recently been seen in Australia on a similar level. I remember calling my first SleeterCon event “a conference on steroids” because it was so overwhelming in comparison to other local conferences I had attended. Another drawcard, especially of the Accountex conference formats, is the software-agnostic approach.
By contrast, Australia typically has accounting software vendor conferences. A vendor neutral conference truly lends an unbiased approach to the conference content and speaker presentations. We tend to become comfortable with what we know, so attending presentations from a different perspective forces us to re-examine our current thinking. At Accountex 2017, for example, L.Gary Boomer spoke about the requirement of a Changing Mindset for today’s professionals. To keep up, we need to up-skill and refocus. Something we should already be aware of but still great to hear it reinforced by such a visionary.
Forming Relationships with Exhibitors
Building new relationships and re-kindling old ones is probably one of the strongest benefits to these conferences. For a start, everyone is always impressed that I made the special effort to attend and engage – Australia is such a long, long way away.
One of my preferences is to hang out in the Exhibition Hall. The relationships formed with these vendors can result in an immediate benefit (for example, a new software option for that client who just can’t find the right thing – at Accountex USA 2017, Plooto and Recur360 both struck a chord with me).
Or it could result in a more long-term benefit, usually after time has been taken to digest the offering/learning. For example, another Accountex 2017 exhibitor, Gravity Software, has an interesting product and I’ll be keeping tabs on them as they expand into the Australian market. I first met my friends at Hubdoc at a US conference, and when they entered the Australian market in 2016, I was one of the first advisors they sought out. Other relationships are long-term and ongoing – it seems that I generally see the Receipt Bank, TSheets and Practice Ignition teams when overseas. These are all vendors I first learned about when attending my first US conference and they are now integral to my own business processes.
This year there was more attendance than ever by Australians at Accountex USA – from less than a handful 5 years ago to nearly 20 attendees in 2017. Of those making the journey, over 80% were women, and many were first time overseas conference attendees. Our occupations were a mixture of Accountant, Bookkeeper, and Consultant, dominated by bookkeepers. What each attendee had in common was a desire to broaden their mind to new ways of doing things and to learn different approaches to the ways we currently do things.
As a Consultant Bookkeeper I have experienced firsthand the dramatic changes affecting our industry today. I definitely don’t have all the solutions but I am very pleased that in 2013 I bit the bullet to look beyond Australian shores for inspiration. To now be able, in turn, to inspire others to realize the value of attending these conferences is very fulfilling.
Bookkeeper Profile Rising
The bookkeeping industry has long been viewed as a secondary and minor role to accounting. However, we’re now seeing the professionalism of bookkeepers being recognised. Bookkeepers provide a level of service to our clients and to the accountants that we engage with that enables a mutual interchange of services. The complementary nature of our professions means that our clients are better serviced overall and we are respected by them as an integral part of their business.
In Australia, our industry is recognising the importance of the bookkeeping profession, even if there are still some laggards in both the accounting and business sectors. The inaugural ‘Women In Finance’ awards was held in September, and as the first recipient of the ‘Bookkeeper of the Year’ award I feel very honored to be flying the flag for all bookkeepers – and especially for the women in our profession. This recognition of our industry is compounded when coupled with my having also won the Australian Accounting Awards ‘Bookkeeper of the Year’ award earlier this year.
Inspiring the Next Generation of Our Profession
When I reflect on where I was in 2013, both personally and professionally, I am very proud of how far I have come and how far my business has developed. To be able to motivate others to be a part of the journey of change is very humbling. This year, one of my own team, Karen, decided to come travelling with me – of her own accord. Her wide-eyed absorption of all she experienced at Accountex USA in Boston put everything back in perspective for me. We never stop learning, and to think we have means that we are stagnating. We can have bountiful knowledge, but experience is what differentiates us from our peers and adds value to our services.
Experiences are made when we learn new things and engage with new and inspiring people, as Karen did. As a bookkeeper working her way up my career model, she realises that there is only so much that can be taught by a mentor – the rest has to come from within. Participating at an event such as Accountex, she was able to listen to world-class speakers and select from a multitude of topic options. Accountex 2017 sessions that Karen loved included Inspector Gadget (don’t we all), Randy Johnson’s Fraud in the Cloud, the panel discussions, the keynote speakers, and much more. She is already planning 2019 as her next attendance, and this time, knowing what to expect, she can plan a more targeted approach to her learning experience. I couldn’t be more proud.
The world is a now so clearly a global arena. Why wouldn’t we want to extend our playing field beyond the shores of Australia, or any one country? Attend conferences with an open mind and an objective of learning and networking. Don’t think that you will automatically engage with new business or that your business will grow dramatically as a result, but do expect that your new mojo will have a lasting impact – both personally and professionally.
This article first appeared in the AccountEx Report November 9, 2017