4th May, 2020

6 things business clients must focus on in a crisis

There are few businesses that aren’t somehow impacted by COVID-19. In this article, Caren Hendrie, director of The Hendrie Group, offers six core areas of focus for business owners in crisis.

The COVID-19 emergency has presented us all with an unprecedented set of challenges to overcome. This is particularly true of accountants and bookkeepers, tasked as we are with maintaining our own businesses and supporting our clients through potentially the most trying time in their professional lives.

But it’s this unique situation that also places accountants and bookkeepers at the forefront of business advisory at this time. And, time and again, we see these professionals rising to the challenge in order to share their knowledge, training and skillsets to do whatever they can to help business owners deal with the crisis.

While they may not be magicians, these advisors have been known to pull their fair share of rabbits out of hats. Sometimes life-changing solutions can come from very simple, perspective-shifting conversations and practical advice.

As for that advice, the first thing that comes to mind is my firm’s motto: ‘Plan for the worst and expect the best’. This is not the time for operators to bury their heads in the sand and hope for positive change.

Instead, sound planning will make the difference between gaining a competitive edge, or potential failure.

According to the conversations we’ve had most with our business clients of late, here are the top six areas to focus on in your planning.

1. Cash flow

Everyone has heard the phrase ‘cash is king’, well in a crisis cash is your business’ oxygen and its vital your clients are getting enough of it through their system.

Government stimulus entitlements are great, but you need to know what they mean for you and your clients. A lot of business owners will pocket the entitlements then just hope that it lasts longer than the virus – when it doesn’t decisions become hasty and reactive instead of smart.

Business owners need to know:

  • What will the money mean for their business?
  • How long will it last?
  • How long can they keep the doors open?
  • What decisions can they make now to make the money last longer?
  • How can they make it last if the situation lasts longer than expected?

They also need a good handle on their break even point and the minimum sales needed to cover overheads. They need to be able to understand what they need to focus on to ensure that if sales don’t go as expected, they can keep the doors open.

READ: How advisors can help retailers go multichannel

2. Production

This is a time for closely monitoring sales and the sales pipeline then comparing it with the forecast. If there’s not enough in the pipeline, clients need to decide what they can do and create a plan for getting more work in the door.

It might be worthwhile advising them to focus on core products or services that will stimulate the most business.

If your clients have team members, get them to plan and roster staff according to production needs. In particular, minimise overtime or double time and look for other ways to minimise costs. They may need to review all staffing requirements based on updated sales forecasts.

Unfortunately, your clients may also have to make some really tough decisions around staffing. If they do, its advisable for them to engage a HR specialist as there are different rules at play in the current situation.

3. Staff

This is really a time for your clients to be working with a HR expert, whether that’s in house or outsourced. There are a lot of complex employment rules and its critical your clients understand them.

Whether its reducing hours, standing team members down, even working from home – your clients need to be aware of their rights, their obligations and their continued workplace liability.

Communication is critical right now.

Employees are as scared as business owners. When an announcement is made, encourage your clients to take the time to explain how it will affect their staff. Encourage them to be open and honest, strong leadership through this crisis could be a game changer for their business on the other side.

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4. Existing clients or customers

This is a time for you to be looking after your clients, and for your clients to be looking after theirs. We feel that it’s probably past the time to be communicating regularly about the coronavirus itself – most people have the info they need or can easily find it.

What your clients and theirs need now, is to know what specific help is being offered for them.

Your clients need to know what measures you’re taking to continue to support them, how they’re going to continue to communicate with you and how their work is progressing. Their clients are no different – communication is again critical to ensuring clients feel supported but also to identifying where opportunities may be created to offer additional support or services.

This is a time for positivity. Keep in mind, clients will remember how you made them feel more than they’ll remember anything else.

Think about why your clients need you more than ever right now and encourage them to do the same about theirs. Chances are, if you don’t know, neither will they.

5. Be proactive!

There’s a saying ‘dynasties are made from tough times’. As much as your clients may feel the urge to sit around watching Netflix — they can’t.

They need to get active and creative. People still need problems to be solved and probably need more help than ever. Many business owners will be going to ground, bunkering down and blaming the situation for the condition of their business.

That makes it the perfect time for your clients to be getting out in front of potential new clients and making themselves known.

Being careful with their spend doesn’t mean businesses should be cutting marketing budgets entirely, it means being smart and considered rather than making knee-jerk decisions. Cutting all marketing activity now might be the worst thing your clients do.

Encourage clients to think carefully about who they are targeting, what their pain points are, and what your client can do to relieve them. Prepare them for the need to do things differently.

We’re living in different times, so it’s time to think differently and innovate.

6. Personal state and mindset

We can’t control coronavirus (outside of following government guidelines), but we can control what we choose to focus on and how we feel. It’s about preparing for the worst and expecting the best.

Keep things in perspective, be mindful of what you read, watch and listen to. This crisis will pass.

Your clients’ role as a business owner and leader is to create a plan and have the courage to execute it. With your help they will.

The Hendrie Group have created a purpose-built business hub to help business owners through the COVID-19 crisis. It contains webinars, email updates, Q&As. Best of all it’s free to join and open to businesses of all size, shape and industry – so join for yourself and sample content for you clients.