Seven ways to stay effective and support clients as they reopen
With shopper numbers surging and pubs selling out of beer, the future is looking brighter for small businesses. But whether its existing cashflow issues or those further down the line, reopening sectors still face plenty of unknowns.
The phasing out of government support is a big factor here. The furlough scheme finishes in autumn and many businesses who took out CBILS or Bounce Back loans last year are already starting to pay them back. Where businesses have reduced costs or headcount, reopening may simply mean having to do more with less.
Either way, the help you provide as an accountant remains crucial. But to provide the best level of support, your practice also has its own challenges to overcome. From saving time to looking after your team, we’ve pulled together seven tips to help – so you can get reopening businesses back on their feet.
1. Make sure clients know you’re available
Speaking to clients more often is never a bad thing. In fact, responsiveness is a common reason businesses leave their accountant – so even if your relationships are already in good shape, it’s worth reviewing the way you interact with clients.
Email is the simplest way to show clients you’re thinking about them. If you’re not using a platform like MailChimp or Hubspot already, it’s worth investing in a way to easily get advice in front of your entire client base. Plus, by seeing who’s clicking and opening you can see which clients are most engaged.
Picking up the phone can be even more powerful, especially if you know which clients are most in-need. So whether it’s something targeted or more broad brush, being even more proactive will prompt reopening clients to turn to you for advice.
2. Government schemes: Look for the quick-wins
Remember when it was only the occasional government announcement you had to worry about? Over the last year or so, countless new grants and schemes have been launched at a sometimes overwhelming rate. For the first time, clients are listening to the Chancellor’s Budget speech too.
Helping clients make sense of all the jargon doesn’t have to be a big investment of time. Sometimes all it takes is a one-line banner on your website or a short explainer on your blog, like this one from Armstrong Watson.
Whatever approach you take, it’s worth ensuring your website has the basic guidance and answers the commonly asked questions. This way you can have one place to send clients, so you don’t have to keep on repeating the same advice.
3. Speak to multiple clients at once
Although a return to normality is in sight, the way we work has changed forever. So as clients reopen, continue to make use of pandemic discoveries like Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups and webinars over Zoom.
Of course, webinars in particular can be difficult to plan, promote and deliver. So you might prefer to record videos in advance rather than running a live session. Take Ascentis, a Xero practice in Leeds, which publishes videos on its YouTube channel each month with advice and explainers.
You’ll know what works for you, but even as things reopen, it may make sense to reserve one-to-one support for your most important clients.
4. Look after your team
Accountants have gone above and beyond over the last year or so, often without the recognition they deserve or the time to recharge. In fact, almost half of accountants admit that their mental health has suffered due to excessive coronavirus workload (AccountingWEB).
As you help clients through the challenges of the coming months, it’s important to look after your staff too. Employee wellbeing is like company culture – it starts at the top. So make sure managers are properly trained, doing regular 1:1s with direct reports and in a position to catch issues before they get worse.
Health benefits platforms like Vitality can play a big part here, by providing discounted access to mindfulness apps and online mental health support services. Doing something simple to say thank you too, like a free food delivery from Deliveroo or Uber Eats, can really make staff feel appreciated.
5. Get smarter and more efficient with accounting apps
Like the wellbeing of your team, the success of your practice increasingly relies on the accounting tools you use with clients. Too many systems doing too many different things adds cost and inefficiency to your business, which in the long-term may affect the services you deliver.
By streamlining the tools your practice uses, you can free up your team from the drudgery of constantly learning new software. A simpler set-up also creates something more replicable and lightweight, that’s easier to grow.
With a tool like Fluidly, which gives you everything cashflow in one place, your entire team can provide advice, rather than just a select group of specialists.
6. Help clients plan for the unknown
To make the most of the looser restrictions clients might consider hiring more staff, expanding their space or financing new equipment. But with so much uncertainty still ahead, making big financial decisions is that much harder.
Ensuring clients have their numbers in order can have a big impact here, which in turn will make cashflow forecasting easier and more accurate. But you can provide even more value by using scenario planning tools to help clients plan for different eventualities.
Once clients have a plan or business goal in place, it creates an incentive for them to use and maintain a piece of software themselves. As a result, you can save time and effort, while encouraging clients to hire you for additional services.
7. Assess your clients cashflow situation
The months ahead will ultimately hinge on the amount of cash moving through clients’ businesses – whether it’s the money coming in, the money going out or the investments they make to grow their business.
From covering a tax bill to leasing a vehicle, helping clients with funding is a great way to ensure businesses can capitalise on the new rules. Plus, as clients overcome challenges or expand their business, they’re likely to return to you for more advice. Funding also offers a way to bolster your existing services, so your practice can reach more businesses.
What’s more, without the help of an adviser, businesses tend to turn to their existing bank for loan and may well miss out on the best deal. They could even do damage to their credit rating. Fluidly helps you find funding for your clients with ease. We uncover who needs finance, guide your clients through their application and deal with the lenders and paperwork.
Caroline is Founder and CEO of Fluidly, an all-in-one cashflow tool. From forecasting to funding, Fluidly helps accountants keep clients happy and launch new services.Caroline previously co-founded recruiting and consulting business FreshMinds. Caroline also serves as a non-executive director of Mercia Asset Management, an early-stage technology investor, is a former Prime Minister’s Business Ambassador and received an OBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours list.
This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.