With over 700 blog posts here I have revisited many topics and may well have repeated myself at times over the years. Today however I am revisiting a post that I shared just 2 months ago close to the start of the lockdown.
At the time I had already seen a number of generic messages from accountancy firms of all sizes. There were many more to come. Most seem intended to reassure clients that the firm would continue working and available to advise clients – all be it more by phone and video than face to face in the office for the time being. That’s fine. But was it enough?
I encouraged you to take two specific actions. Did you?
- Pro-actively contact clients individually to talk about business with those who may think of you as someone who simply prepares accounts and tax returns. I suggested this would stand you in good stead for that time in the future when you want to charge clients for delivering business advice.
- Be careful you don’t over commit to help the smallest clients who won’t be able to pay you vs those who can access funding to cover your fees for professional advice.
I also listed a series of actions which you might now use as a checklist to see how many you have done and which ones you might still want to consider:
- Free business advice by phone/video vs meetings. You might make a specific number of slots available each day/week to avoid being inundated and over committed – as I do. See below.
- Financial contingency planning and help with (revised) cash flow projections, to manage their finances and to secure funding (from banks or alternative lenders) – do you have links with any of the major players here yet?
- A reminder to your clients to communicate with their clients, customers, staff, workers and suppliers about what they are doing to protect their people and customers etc.
- Setting reduced fee rates for your specific advice (beyond the generic advice you give to all clients for free) – rather than offering to do real work for free. Whichever way you go, please ensure you set clear boundaries to avoid problems and disagreements down the line.
- Be wary of offering time to pay your fees. I would suggest it’s better to help clients secure access to finance than to become their bank/lender by default!
- Advice to help them survive short-term lock down and whether they can avoid making layoffs and reducing staff working hours.
- Advice to help them understand the consequences for themselves and their teams if they are not used to working remotely.
- Tips and advice they can share with their teams to help keep them motivated and connected while working from home.
- Advice as to the best ways to preserve value and keep the business running.
- Help them to appreciate all the risks they face, the need for a full business continuity plan and to focus on things that they can control.
- A listening ear for second opinions so that they don’t act out of fear and instead plan as best they can for all eventualities and remain agile.
- Advice on moving to more of a fluid work system that takes account of staff absences and accepts that other unknowns will have an impact.
- Advice for the more optimistic of clients who may see this as a time to innovate, review and act on opportunities as they arise.
- Tax advice for those telling staff to work from home. They may not think to ask so you could be proactive in telling them which expenses, reimbursements and allowances are tax free and those which will be subject to tax; and whether the employer or employee will be on the hook for the tax.
Beyond all that I would also remind you of a key business tip I shared in a separate blog post. “HOPE is not a business strategy”
. Ten weeks in and your clients cannot afford to continue running their business in the HOPE that things will return to normal any time soon. As their accountant and business adviser you need to help them appreciate that they cannot afford to simply hope things will get better.
We all hope we won’t get the virus and that if we do get it we hope we will get better. But we know we should practice social distancing too and go to hospital if need be. HOPING things will be ok is not enough to protect our health and it’s not enough to protect our businesses either.
If you would like to have a chat, to get my input on any of the new challenges you are now facing, without any obligation, please book one of the limited opportunities to seek my input using this facility that links to my diary >>>>
If I can help you it would be my pleasure to do so.