Still in lockdown, now what? How firms can thrive post-virus
As the profession has risen to the challenge of Covid-19, Lucy Cohen encourages accountants to use this golden opportunity to demonstrate their worth to current and future clients.
As the news of the lockdown was announced, small businesses all over the UK panicked. Totally understandable: a large percentage of them had just had all of their income taken away from them practically overnight.
But accountants stepped up and became the conduit for the measures the government announced to help businesses. Indeed, outside of food and the direct NHS supply chain, if there was an industry that has really proved their worth over the last few weeks, it’s accountancy.
I personally have never written so many updates so quickly. Or had to amend that content so frequently as I have over the last few weeks. I’ve had messages from friends, and friends of friends, and an old school friend’s third cousin who I met once on a night out, begging me for information about what sort of support is available to them during this time.
I may have missed the delivery, or maybe I forgot to register for one, but I don’t have a crystal ball or a bat phone direct to the government. People seemed shocked that accountants were hearing the announcements at the same time as everyone else.
That said, one thing I have noticed in the accounting community since the pandemic intensified is the profession’s willingness to go above and beyond for our clients. Most of us have not been keeping track of the hours spent providing extra advice, or reviewing work to help our clients out. Why? Because we care about them and we don’t want them to fail.
Maybe finally, out of all this, people will place a value on what we bean counters do.
But sceptics will say that if our clients fail we lose their fees - that’s true. But be that as it may, ultimately we are small business owners too. We know the stress involved and we can empathise with what our clients are going through.
How to thrive despite the virus?
With all that in mind, now might seem like the perfect time to sell your services. After all, plenty of other industries have been quick to point out how valuable they are right now. You can’t buy a piece of home gym equipment for love nor money any more.
And yet, selling now just feels a bit, well, icky. Even for me who has always been very comfortable in the sales side of the business, it just doesn’t feel right. So what do we do as a profession? People can have short memories. How do we, once we start returning to normal, keep in people’s minds and remind small businesses how useful accountants are?
But instead of seeing this as an opportunity to sell, I think this is an opportunity to educate. And educate in a way that sticks.
In times of stress, it’s clear that people have been clamouring for clear, understandable information. We can all use this to learn how best to communicate with our clients to prove our added value.
If we have gone above and beyond for clients during this period and they come out the other side, it’s the perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. It’s not a hard sell, just a case of saying that if they appreciated your advice throughout this then perhaps they have a friend who could also benefit from your help?
As the initial frenzy of information simmers down and we have to start implementing each step for clients, keep in touch with them and tell them what you’re doing. Over the years, we noticed that many clients didn’t understand exactly what went into doing their work. So we started sending them checklists of all the activities we had undertaken. There have been many more than a handful of clients who reported back that they hadn’t realised just how much we did for them - don’t be afraid to make a bit of a show of what you’re doing.
I really doubled down on that tactic a couple of years ago after I decided to paint my kitchen cabinets. I had been quoted £2500 by a company to do it for me. “Extortionate!” I thought. I can do that myself. My husband and I took a week off work and got all the supplies we need to do the job. Good grief. It took two of us over a week to get it all done - it was terrible and I would never do it again. That £2500 looks like incredible value for money after I’d done the work myself. Lesson well and truly learned. At least my husband and I didn’t split up over it, the kitchen actually looks quite nice, and I took a valuable teachable moment into my business.
I don’t need to tell you all that we’re in unprecedented times. We’re told that 25 times a day at the moment (can we ban that phrase soon please?). But we do have a golden opportunity to easily demonstrate our worth to current and future clients with a bit of clever messaging.
Hopefully, when this all ends, accountants will get some mini superhero badges to wear? And a bat phone. That would still be handy.
Lucy Cohen will be discussing more on how accountants have responded to the impact of Covid-19 in April’s Accounting Excellence Talks webcast. Register to watch the session here.