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How to help your clients (and your firm) navigate a crisis

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There have been a number of times businesses around the world have faced challenges, but nothing has been quite like the current COVID-19 crisis. Health wise, it has already proved devastating, while the economy is showing signs of being one of the worst financial issues of our time.

Right now, your firm has a critical role to play. Accountants are a crucial part in lessening the economic effects of the coronavirus, and potentially staving off financial ruin.

You have to proceed forward on two separate, but equally important tracks: Helping your firm survive and thrive during this time, and advising your business clients to do the same.

Here are some best practices that will help you do both.

Work effectively from home

If you haven’t already been working from home, it’s very likely you have now been thrust into it due to the current environment. This is no reason to slow down or prevent any of your typical work.

It will be an adjustment period, but the tools exist to help your team continue to work effectively from their own devices.

To help you succeed, we’ve put together all of our remote working resources at this page.

Be a strong leader

Once you’ve made the move to remote work, you now have to assess the situation as a leader of your accounting firm. Your employees and clients have a lot of questions – and fears during this time.

It’s extremely important to stay poised and pragmatic during these uncertain circumstances. You won’t be able to predict the future, but you can look forward with an eye to worst-case scenarios so nothing blindsides you.

Don’t react emotionally. Take in the situation, build a plan of action, and move forward to the best of your abilities.

Focus on cash planning and cost reduction

Any business plan needs to be data driven. When you look ahead, you need to know your cash situation and determine how extreme any decisions need to be.

Regardless where you stand, the place to start is to review your expenses and see what cuts are possible. Are you spending on a marketing activity that’s not likely to convert during this time? Do you have subscriptions you don’t currently need?

Take a look at expenses and see where you can save without drastic measures. Then, with proper planning, you can take a measured look at some of the tougher decisions such as hour reductions or layoffs.

Don’t stop marketing

While it’s tempting during a stressful time to play it safe, your firm should still be playing offense. There will be firms that grow during this time.

If you can work well remotely, you are set up to serve your clients right away. With all the questions coming in about cash planning and loans for relief, accountants are going to be in demand.

Stay pragmatic and look for opportunities to share your expertise to help as many people as possible. Your marketing should be highly contextual right now, demonstrating your expertise in helping businesses survive and thrive during times of uncertainty.

Know your numbers

As you make your plan, you should be as data driven as possible. Just like you would advise your clients, you need to have your own financial forecast that projects cash flow.

Build out a scenario for the next 12 months and compare a best-case, likely-case, and even a worst-case situation.

This will allow you to be rational, rather than emotional when it comes to making decisions. Make your projections and stick to a plan. Your first priority is survival, but if you have cash reserves, this gives you more freedom to find ways to thrive in the midst of uncertainty.

Use the opportunity to drive positive change

As an accounting firm, you should already be striving to add as much value to your clients as possible. Today’s events bring to light that accountants have extreme value as trusted advisors who can help their clients manage a business by the numbers.

If you have traditionally been a compliance-based business, now is a great opportunity to listen to the needs of your clients and provide help. This will strengthen you for the future; accounting advisory services will always be in demand.

The same is true for remote work. When things get back to normal, you may bring everyone back to the office, but use this as an opportunity to learn effective remote work habits. Then, you’ll be able to have flexible options for work and more resilience in the event of a crisis.

Advise your clients

The first priority for your accounting firm is to do whatever you can to take care of your own firm. At the same time, your services are going to be put to the test because clients are going to likely have a lot of questions and urgency.

Here are five more tips for providing guidance to your clients during this time.

  1. Be a voice of clarity. Your clients will have to make their own tough decisions. The role of a trusted advisor, though, is to provide a lens through which to frame those decisions. Your client needs to know what their options are. Give them a view of their cash position, scenarios for what may be ahead, and some potential options for moving forward. While they may be nervous, you can be a voice of clarity, helping them to make the best decisions possible.
  2. Communication proactively. If you haven’t already, try to engage with all your clients. You may feel a resistance thinking they have other things to worry about, but it’s likely they need guidance. Make an effort to proactively engage, which will help establish you as a dependable voice during this time. If you sit and wait, they may be more likely to consider your services expendable.
  3. Provide data for decision making. Always bring decisions back to data. Provide a breakdown of expenses so they can evaluate what may be unnecessary. Break out revenue streams, so they can evaluate which ones may continue or suffer based on the current environment. Build out data-driven projections for the next six to 12 months so your client can take a high-level view of what may be coming ahead.
  4. Leverage technology. Don’t allow remote work to be a hindrance. Use the tools at your disposal to maintain engagement with your clients. Start here with these 10 tools for remote collaboration.
  5. Provide resources. Again, stay proactive in communication and provide resources to help as your clients navigate a new normal. If you can share a quick tip on a technology tool or the latest details of a stimulus bill, these are great ways to stay in connection.

Now more than ever, we need to collaborate and exchange ideas. Don’t be afraid to proactively communicate and engage in the conversation.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Karbon.

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