There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted economies and individuals across the globe in a multitude of ways. For business owners, it means developing alternate strategies and adjusting to a “new normal” covering various elements and questions including: What stimulus packages are available to me? How can I look after my employees? What happens to my business loans and lease arrangements? Amidst the panic, the information is overwhelming, the list of questions is long (and getting longer) and the uncertainty levels are very high.
For professional service providers such as myself, it’s our job to not only stay abreast of the legislative changes, but to also act as a supportive and guiding influence for clients who rely on us to provide accurate, up to date information and advice around what to do next, ensuring life can continue as normally as possible and the client’s business adjusts with a minimal number of negative impacts.
When working with my clients since the pandemic took over the world and lockdowns became common place, I have relied on the following principles over the past few weeks:
- Address the short term demands but always keep the big picture in mind – I’ve been working closely with my business clients around immediate concerns such as cash flow management, accessing Government aid, managing debt, staffing issues, business advice around remote working, tax incentives and managing their stress levels amongst other things. These immediate concerns are a priority, however, knowing the client and their long-term goals remains on my mind, and I try to align the short term needs to reduce the impacts on the bigger picture.
- Increase availability – Keeping your mobile turned on and being available to clients whenever they need to speak is an obvious priority during a crisis. As a trusted guide, clients need to know that professional advisers are there for them and able to provide assistance and support at any time.
- Increase communication – Don’t wait for the client to contact you in a crisis – get on the phone and see how they are managing and determine which areas of their business and lives need addressing or are impacted by the current crisis. It’s also important to be one step ahead of the client and not wait for them to contact you once it’s too late. Measures can be put into place before it gets to that point.
- Stick to what’s “real” and what you can control – In a panic situation, over-thinking and “what if” thoughts can take priority over rational thinking and decision making. It’s important to discuss the facts of their business and financial situation with the client and provide an external, professional and clear view. When emotions are high and clients are feeling panicked and distressed about what to do, advisers are able to stick to the specifics and assist clients with making decisions around these facts.
- Rethink outside the box – identify new business opportunities and what could rise from the ashes–The pandemic has forced all of us to re-evaluate various aspects of our personal and professional lives. The majority of business owners have had to think on their feet, change their service strategy, and communicate changes to customers – all at lightning-fast speed with potentially long-term consequences. Knowing my clients and their businesses intimately, I’m able to act as a useful sounding board and guide them throughout this decision-making process.
- Update your team – Your people need to be kept in the loop to avoid assumptions or incorrect flow of information. Ensure members of your internal team who also work closely with the client are aware of the changes being made and are included in all client discussions so we can act together to implement changes as necessary.
- Learn from the experience – We are continually learning and adapting, and this is all new for us and clients should also take stock from that. There’s no doubt that the changes we are going through at the moment will reinforce the short-term nature of life itself and reminds us that things can change very quickly, and we need to be open to change at a moment’s notice. In business and in life, certainty isn’t guaranteed.
Litsa Christodulou is a Partner within the Business Advisory Services team at HLB Mann Judd Perth, and has won the national Client Choice Awards for “Most Client-Focused Accountant” (2018), “Best Accountant” (2020) and “Best Professional” (2020), as voted for by clients.