Accountants. Bookkeepers. Business owners. In times of difficulty, they all have one thing in common: a desire to keep business going.
Business continuity plans are always prepared, but rarely prioritised. After all, it’s only natural for day-to-day tasks to take precedence over potential pandemics. For Michele Grisdale, however, establishing a sense of security and stability has always been integral to her operations as an accountant and long-time Receipt Bank partner.
We pencilled in a Zoom call to understand how she’s approached the issue with her clients, and how firms and businesses alike can optimise their ways of working to ensure minimal disruption.
1. Reaffirm trust.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 could have easily knocked many of my clients for six. I work with tradespeople – plumbers, electricians, builders – and they have all found themselves in potentially precarious working situations over the past few weeks and months.
“For me, it was all about acting quickly. I run my practice from home, and I haven’t touched paper in years. My clients know this, and respond to it. I called them to say that, as far as our working relationships go, there’s no difference. We keep working towards getting your business to as comfortable a position as possible, as we’ve always done.
“Instead of panicking, they all said: ‘Michele, you’ve got this, so I’ll back off. Let me know what I need to do, and we’ll go from there’. It’s all about reaffirming the sense of trust you’ve worked hard to establish over the years.”
2. Identify inefficiencies
“When I meet clients for the first time, I get them to outline their financial processes. If there are 15 steps they need to take to complete certain tasks, we dive in a little deeper to ask whether it’s all necessary. This way, it’s easy to identify where to ‘trim the fat’.
“In testing times like these, it’s crucial to act fast. Once these inefficiencies are identified, you can go straight in and cut them out. The outcome is great for both parties: less admin, and a more straightforward way to work.”
3. Cash flow is king
“Before we even knew who was going to be able to operate and who wasn’t, the first call to my clients was regarding cash flow. In the same way I’d identify inefficiencies, we’d go through all outgoings and cut back on everything but the bare necessities.
“As government legislation was constantly evolving, we held back on tax to ensure the businesses would pay the right amount at the right time. Look at all your outgoing orders and ask: ‘Which of these could I live without?’ None of us know how this is going to play out, so you need to be assessing and reassessing every week.
“The message I am relaying to clients is simple. Cash flow is king; now, it’s the critical factor in planning any next step.”
4. Provide digital walkthroughs
“This new way of working has forced everyone to communicate in the digital space. It’s easy to think that technology can just be adopted instantly, but not every business is necessarily equipped for it.
“One small business I look after is a bottle shop, or an off license, run by three Croatian brothers. When I met them, they were writing out 250 cheques a month. Now, having taken the time to go through the benefits of going digital, they do everything online – from banking to bookkeeping.
“It showed me that everyone is ready to move online, but some need a bit more guidance than others. I’ve started recording video walkthroughs of certain admin tasks and sharing them, meaning that my clients now have a resource they can use over and over again if they need. Conversations, like this one we’re having now, are done on Zoom. Maintaining that face-to-face feel is important.”
5. Diversify your offering
“This isn’t something particularly applicable to my clients, but it’s something we’re seeing more and more of: small businesses utilising their skills, resources and networks to problem solve, or provide different services to their traditional offerings.
“From a business continuity perspective, it’s obviously a great sense of initiative, but it’s often even more important than that. Business owners that felt they had no avenues of trade are suddenly exploring paths they’d never have managed to before the crisis. We’re seeing a new breath of life within the small business community, and it’s so inspiring.
“As accountants or bookkeepers, helping our clients on this journey will go a long way. I don’t think people are going to go back to exactly how it was before.”