How my practice is coping with COVID-19
Bristol-based adviser Zoe Whitman reflects on the damage the coronavirus crisis has inflicted on her clients and her practice.
When’s the last time you’ve had the opportunity to build a forecast to demonstrate the impact of breaking news on your clients’ businesses?
COVID-19 and social distancing have affected us and our clients. From the moment the announcement came that large gatherings would be cancelled, it was obvious that difficult times were ahead, and things have accelerated in just a few days.
It’s a strange and sombre time. I’m usually the upbeat optimist in the room, but I’ve found that in every conversation lately my tone has been flat and there’s a sense of sadness and hopelessness facing us all.
Some of our clients have already fallen victim to what COVID-19’s doing to the economy, and this has been a frantic week of scenario planning both for us and for our clients.
On the one hand, cash flow forecasting has never been so exciting. When was the last time you had to completely change everything you’d planned for, with news of cash grants and support for business unfolding over the course of just a few days?
The clients I’ve been talking to about budgeting are finally taking an interest. And it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve felt the need to do a full-on SWOT analysis for my own business, let alone speak to my clients about their own.
The practicalities of social distancing really haven’t caused us any problems. We’re used to working from home. I spent a lot of last year between the office and home as I had a young baby. I have a fantastic team who I trust to run the business as if it was their own, and I know our systems are robust and the team can cope without me by their sides. The way I see it, there are two challenges facing us right now.
We’ve already lost clients so we have to be realistic. This week’s events made us sit down as a team (albeit virtually) to consider each of our clients one by one. We’ve discussed the extent to which we think their businesses will be hit in the months ahead, what this means for the volume of bookkeeping work, whether they’ll need our support and what our assumptions mean for their ability to pay our fees. Our clients’ survival is fundamental to our own.
We can adapt our offering, we’ll find new clients. But ultimately, our survival depends on our retained monthly clients who are facing a difficult challenge right now.
I’m adept at getting things done around my kids. But with two small children and nurseries closed, I will effectively be a stay-at-home mum for the coming three months or for however long this lasts. That, of course, affects my ability to work.
Fortunately, my team shouldn’t be as restricted by childcare responsibilities and there isn’t too much bookkeeping I need to do myself on a daily basis but as business owner my duties cover all aspects of running a business and my time to do that has just gone out of the window.
As for my clients, I worry about how many will fare. We help some very small businesses, the startups, and the freelancers. Many of whom won’t qualify for the small business grant and even if they sell something people are still buying right now, or get to move their offering online (amongst the now highly competitive flooded marketplace), their ability to work to the extent they used to will be heavily compromised if they are parents.
I hope I can help my clients find the opportunities in the new world, to adapt, or at least to tread water through the inevitable cashflow crisis that many are facing. If they can get through that and find customers with money to spend in a few months’ time, everything should work out. But that’s a lot of ifs.
For years now, everyone’s been telling us we need to be ready to offer our clients more advisory services and there’s a huge opportunity right now to prove our value as trusted advisers. Now’s the time to make sure we’re really getting that message across. We’re just taking it a day at a time.
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Zoe runs But the Books, a bookkeeping practice in Bristol helping businesses owners who know how to do everything for their business... but the books to stay on top of their bookkeeping and to understand the story their numbers are trying to tell them.