In the wake of Coronavirus, and with feelings of greater economic uncertainty, your clients are in need of help more than ever before. Traditional practices, with too great a focus on compliance work, run the risk of not doing enough to help Small to Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) in the way that they need right now. Legacy accountants will not be able to support clients enough by fulfilling their pre-pandemic roles.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” thinking must be left in the past. Accountants operating under this mentality (and their clients) will actually get LESS in the new business and economic environment. Accountants need to support their clients in new and forward-thinking ways.
As an accountant myself, I feel that the industry has had it relatively easy up until now. In the past 20 years, we’ve had some challenges in business, but the economy has performed well for us, especially in comparison to other industries. Today, the industry faces a greater challenge. There will be a real test to see whether accountants will be able to provide guidance for their clients, as businesses see their plans begin to fall apart around them. In their time of greatest need, they need our help and support.
In the words of Robin Sharma - “Many can lead when the plan is working but the best lead when the plan is falling apart”. This quote is applicable to the accounting industry in 2020.
Healing the disconnect
There's a growing disconnect between small business owners and their accountants.
In the past few months, I've heard many stories from Gap members who are attracting new clients at this time, simply because they're working in a much more modern way. Legacy accountants are often unaware of their clients’ needs, focus on compliance, and have clients who perceive the services offered as a grudge purchase. Modern accountants (and their clients) are enjoying the successes of more innovative practices. They're providing better education and support for business development and advisory services, and are communicating effectively through the use of technology. Our members are running webinars, contributing to podcasts, and engaging more proactively with pandemic-friendly means of communication. These modern accountants are sensitive to the unique needs of their clients and are supporting them in a more empathetic way - they're walking in their clients' shoes and supporting them in their recovery journey.
New challenges to the industry
There are three core services that accountants can offer their clients:
- Traditional compliance work
- Wealth management
- Business development - planning, forecasting, reporting with accountability, core values development, marketing plan, organisational review, etc.
Under the current circumstances, there's a new range of factors that will challenge compliance services:
- Sadly, many SMBs will fail - if accountants are unable to support their more vulnerable clients, their own businesses will suffer, not to mention that they have failed their clients!
- Team members at all levels may be looking to work with more proactive and forward-thinking firms - attracting talent will become more difficult for those who do not adapt to the new accounting environment
- Many traditional/legacy accountants will call time in the face of harder economic times and will leave the industry altogether
Accountants must reduce their dependence on compliance work and extend their services into the world of business development. To support SMBs through this challenging time, they must heal the disconnect between the needs of their clients and the support they're actually providing. Recovery planning is the first step that accountants can take in this new journey.
I have never been, and will never be, a compliance doomsday-sayer. Compliance will not die. In fact, many accountants will be absolutely snowed under with compliance work. My point is that clients will want, and need, more help, so a shift in service mix is needed.
Business as unusual
In our recent Gap webinar, we spoke about the Business Recovery Continuum.
The chart moves as follows:
- First, we start with the Old Business As Usual (BAU) phase - this is simply the norms of business, including the accounting industry, before the onset of Covid-19.
- During the shock of the crisis, we moved into the Continuity Phase, where most businesses moved suddenly into crisis management, business hibernation (under lockdown), and the activation of government support.
- After the initial shock, we have the Recovery Phase. This involves careful planning on the road toward a new normal.
- Finally, we have the New Business As Usual. This new normal will consist of the innovative changes that took place under Recovery Planning in the previous phase. It will look very different from the Old BAU. Team members and clients may want to continue working from home or using online forms of communication such as webinars or meetings via zoom.
The Business Recovery Plan
Working toward the New BAU involves extensive recovery planning. Accountants can help their clients reinvent and innovate the ways they conduct their businesses. Using their financial expertise, they can help their SMB clients mitigate the risks and maximise the opportunities that are present in the current economic environment. They can assist with aspects of careful planning such as Organisational Reviews and Cashflow Forecasting. Accountants can help their clients implement necessary changes across all 10 departments of their businesses - Governance, Leadership, Product and Service Development, Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance, HR, Admin, and Technology.
The best ways to market, sell, and deliver the Business Recovery Plan
The Business Recovery Plan is a service that will help your clients’ businesses on a pathway toward a New BAU phase. The best way to provide this service is to:
- Create your own plan first!
- Free up your capacity in a way which allows you to be more proactive with your clients’ needs
- Educate your clients one to many - use webinars, Facebook Groups and social media posts
- Use deep one-on-one facilitation for clients who are most vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19 - those who are in their time of greatest need
At this time, the entire industry faces a strong call to action - doing nothing is simply not an option for you or your clients. I hope accountants will adapt to this new business as usual and play a major part in helping SMBs and the economy recover, by providing support, accountability, and expert planning services to their clients.
“Smooth seas do not make for skilful sailors.” - African proverb