By Paul Weber, Society of Professional Accountants board member

Knowledge is power, or so they say. It’s certainly true that, as an accountant, being in the habit of staying one step ahead of your clients and peers when it comes to the news does your career no harm at all.

Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who always seems to have read the guidance and digested it by the time most of us are only just seeing the headline on the BBC for the first time?

In the past six months in particular, clients have been looking to their accountants for the latest news on government support and how to access it.

Howard Gross, SPA’s resident news obsessive, made it his mission to find out about every new development and to summarise it for our members – even if the Government has got into the unfortunate habit of making important announcements at bedtime, on Saturday afternoons and via Twitter.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how you can stay on top of breaking news and keep your clients informed.

Sometimes, fast beats perfect

First, though, it’s worth saying that when it comes to ‘interesting times’, being first with the news is sometimes more important than being perfect.

You might have noticed professional journalists from the BBC and respectable broadsheets hammering out typo-laden Tweets as they battle to be first with the news out of Number 10 or Treasury.

It might make some people cringe but they know their audience will forgive a bit of roughness round the edges in exchange for speed.

Now, accountants can’t afford to be too sloppy – ours is a profession built on precision and attention to detail – but it is important to remind yourself that an imperfect social media post today probably beats a perfectly-formed 2,000-word article in November.

Tools, software and apps

When it comes to getting raw information into a format you can easily digest, there are a couple of tools we’d recommend.

First, there’s Feedly, designed to replace the now defunct Google Reader, which makes it easy to combine multiple news sources in one place.

Within the Feedly app or via the website, you can subscribe to feeds of content from blogs, online magazines and news sources. It then presents them all in a single, easy-to-digest stream so you can quickly see what’s new and interesting.

You can then organise the information however you like – for example, you might have folders for accounting news, government press releases and trade publications covering any sectors in which you specialise, such as construction or charities.

In a similar vein, there’s Pocket, which allows you to save longer articles to read later. This is handy if you have a long commute – less applicable right now, obviously – or like to use your lunch-break to peruse the news.

Finally, there are a couple of tools from Google itself.

Google News has become a remarkably capable aggregator and it’s quite easy to set up and bookmark personalised searches. For example, you might want to see UK news stories mentioning pensions from the past 24 hours.

With Google Alerts, you can go one step further, getting notifications to your inbox when stories are published mentioning certain words of phrases – IR35, for example, or Making Tax Digital.

Pick your sources with care

As a general rule, the closer to the root of the story, the better.

The official UK Government press release feed is full of noise but buried among the announcements about salmon breeding regulations and minor changes to local recycling, you will find the big announcements first.

Another good tip is to follow the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on LinkedIn. He has an active PR team which goes out of its way to share breaking stories at all hours of the day.

When it comes to secondary sources, AccountingWEB has a knack of providing insightful commentary on breaking news stories, digging up stuff from the small print that might not otherwise be obvious and that your clients will want to know about.

We’d also suggest loosening the purse strings to pay for a digital subscription to a decent newspaper such as the Times or Financial Times for instant access to breaking news behind the paywall. They are often first with the most important stories and go deeper than BBC news – although, of course, that’s worth following too.

Of course social media is where news really breaks these days. Follow those in the know on LinkedIn or Twitter – journalists, industry experts and politicians.

These days, you don’t just need to follow people, either – you can also follow hashtags such as #tax or #vat which means you’ll see relevant stuff from outside your immediate circle.

Build your network, too

As well as connecting with interesting people on LinkedIn and Twitter, get involved in working groups and networking events.

This will often put you in direct contact with useful people and also mean you get advance notice of upcoming policy changes through consultations.

Do what works for you

The above is what works for us but you need to tweak and customise to build your own setup.

Focus on the end goal – to be well-informed – and use whichever tools, media and connections best enable you to achieve it.

In fact, if any SPA members have tips or advice of their own, we’d love to hear it – although, of course, if knowledge is power, you might well want to protect those precious trade secrets.

Become an SPA member for updates, advice and professional networking for accountants.