How to give them the support they really need.

In June 2020, we set up the Excellence In Challenging Times Award to celebrate the accountants who have moved mountains to help their clients get through the Covid-19 crisis.

The five firms that made it to the final have been absolutely phenomenal in making sure that business owners have had someone to turn to for help.

Each firm tailored their support to their clients’ specific situations, but there are common themes across all of them, reflecting what business owners really want from their accountants right now.

Here’s how you can best help your clients (and even non-clients): right now

It’s all about the people

This is the time to show you care about your clients as people. When there’s so much fear and uncertainty, emotional support is as critical as financial advice.

Michael Hemme of MDH, winner of the Excellence In Challenging Times Award, recognised this straight away when lockdown hit.

“This is the time, from now and afterwards, where we put down the extra work orders and just show them love. Because we’ve all been scared, me included, and all of our clients have all been scared. And it’s how do we get through this together?”

As well doing everything he could to save businesses from going under, Michael and his team were there to talk, and crucially, to listen to their clients. This was particularly important when one business owner had to make an employee redundant.

“One area that very rarely gets mentioned is how it feels for the employer having to go through that process… Making someone redundant is one of the most emotionally tough experiences you can have as a business owner.”

“One thing that I was really proud of, one of my team members (who’s under 30) was actually giving a load of emotional advice to this client about how it feels, how to deal with it and how to let go.”

Michael put the business owner in touch with an HR consultant so that, even though it was difficult, the redundancy was handled as professionally as possible.

Share your knowledge and make it relevant

Business owners have struggled to understand how the constantly changing rules and regulations affect them. You can help them by not just sharing Government announcements, but interpreting what they mean. 

Nick Hixson of Hixsons in Bournemouth kept the entire local business community updated, whether they were clients or not. “SME owners needed a guiding hand and practical help to quickly interpret the government announcements in a way that was relevant to them and to take certain actions to protect their businesses, their employees and their families.”

As well as blogging on practical actions for business owners, he sent out daily newsletters with updates on the latest announcements, plus helpful tips on topics like how to cocoon a business and what the banks were looking for in a CBILS business plan. Nick also ran free one-to-one Zoom sessions for business owners, often lasting for more than three hours.

“We discussed protecting and positioning their business, pivoting, taking advantage of opportunities, countering threats, explaining what Government announcements actually mean for them and their business, all for no charge.”

Your input can be more than just financial

The Covid-19 crisis has made many of us re-evaluate what’s important, so look beyond the numbers to what clients really want from their business and their life. Asking the right questions will help you to find a way forward.

Dawn McLaughlin of Dawn McLaughlin & Co ran a goal setting exercise for one of her clients who was about to set up a new health and safety business.

“We took everybody back to basics and said, ‘For those that are starting, or for those that are in business, think back to the day that you were going to start your business and what was it all about and what did you want to achieve? And let’s start that process again, to see where we can go through COVID and into the future.’ And we took them through the process of goal setting, both personal and business goals.”

The next step was to discuss their goals with their teams or their families; this had a huge impact for the client. When he talked to his wife about what he wanted to do, it became clear that if he started his business right away he would be putting his marriage at risk. Instead he decided to focus on his family for now and will start up in a few months’ time with the full support of his wife.

Dawn’s input didn’t gain her any fees, but it saved a marriage. And because she helped him look at the bigger picture and see what was most important, the client will be back when he’s ready.

Connect to build a network

Making connections has always been one of the keys to success, for accountants as well as any other business owner. And it’s just as important in the current circumstances. New connections can mean new ideas and new opportunities, often in unexpected ways.

Val Wishart of Edinburgh-based Beyond The Numbers helped a client to adapt his urban garden centre business when it was forced to close overnight. She suggested he start a home delivery service and connected him with another of her clients, a cycle courier company. Within a week it was up and running and the client had his highest monthly turnover ever.

From the depths of despair at potentially losing his business, the client was fired up to do even more.

“He set up something off his own back, called the Shop Small Edinburgh Festival, where he got a lot of Edinburgh businesses together. So all of our clients signed up for it, where they could offer discounts to people that were their clients, to get them into their premises… So all of these other businesses have benefited by the fact that he has got his mojo back.”

Have confidence in your skills

What you do as an accountant matters more than ever. Helping your clients with furloughing employees or with loans and funding can mean the difference between survival and going under.

Phil Tarbun of Blend Accountants in Morecambe was already closely involved with one of his clients before lockdown hit. As an events company, their income vanished overnight.

“We applied for funding for them under the CBILS scheme and successfully got them £150,000. We did this under a no win, no fee basis to relieve any financial pressure for them. This also included preparing a cashflow forecast to plan for the coming months. We also advised them on bounce back loans for which they also applied for £50,000. Due to a different ownership structure, we were able to advise them to claim a further bounce back loan, again for £50,000 for another company. We also reviewed their R&D position and found yet more claims, resulting in a further £20,000 paid to them after our charges.”

Cashflow forecasting will be critical over the next few months to help business owners plan for the future. So give them the information they need, help them to understand it and be there for them.

There’s a long road ahead and your skills as an accountant are needed more than ever. So do the right thing; whatever your clients need, do the right thing.

You can see interviews with all five finalists on the AVN Know How Hub (in the Survive/Business Improvement Support section). The Know How Hub is packed with advice, insights and resources to help you and your clients thrive in a changing world. Find out more here.