Well, let’s hope it’s not the actual apocalypse just yet. But as stay-home orders come down from on high and businesses shutter their doors on account of COVID-19, it sure feels a lot like the end-times for a lot of accounting firms.
But if there’s one thing that accountants are good at, it’s taking the emotions out of the equation and getting the numbers crunched. And the numbers can look good for companies that keep their heads when everyone around them is losing it. As Entrepreneur Magazine pointed out recently, some of today’s most valuable companies either originated or saw their growth accelerate in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
The message is pretty clear; if you keep your cool and run the numbers, your practice can come out the other side of the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever. As fun as it might be to turn that pencil sharpener into an improvised buzzsaw Ash Williams style and battle mutant biker gangs on deserted roadways, you’ll probably end up being too busy to even leave the office.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t big and serious changes coming to the post-pandemic world. Your accounting practice needs to get ahead of them, and here are 5 ways you can seize the day during COVID-19 to come out the other side stronger and better.
If your practice is in one of the metro areas or states that has already been hit hard by the virus, chances are your staff are already primarily working from home. If you aren’t, it’s probably coming soon.
So now is the time to double-down in your investments into online accounting solutions. If you are already one of those firms that has integrated your practice with a flexible online system like Quickbooks or Xero, you’re enjoying the benefits right now of being able to collaborate seamlessly with both your staff and clients without leaving your house.
If you haven’t been moving clients in that direction, now may be the time to do it. You won’t find a more clear-cut case for moving accounting operations to the cloud. And, let’s be honest, there are some clients you aren’t going to miss seeing in person anyway.
Online accounting tools are only part of your day-to-day toolset, however. If you are running an accounting office, you also have plenty of regular, internal office work that needs to be handled—phones have to be answered, documents need to be passed around, staff meetings have to be held.
All of that is going to require an investment in systems and training before your staff is going to be able to handle them all remotely. Whether you go for an all-in-one inclusive platform like Office 365 or piece together solutions with inexpensive tools like Slack and Google Docs, now is the time for a real-world test of the solutions designed to keep your team running smoothly, even while the world is crashing down around you.
By this stage in the pandemic, you’re probably noticing that some of the wheels are coming off your contingency plans… that’s if you actually had any contingency plans in the first place.
If you didn’t, at least now you know why you need them.
If you did, though, you’re probably finding out right about now that there were a few things you forgot about when you were drawing up those plans. Maybe a key person in the office got sick and is unavailable or perhaps you didn’t think about the office phone system being inaccessible when no one is actually physically in the office.
Although we can always hope that this pandemic is the last one in our lifetimes, the fact is there are less severe disasters that happen all the time… buildings burn, floods happen, people pass away. Taking the opportunity to review and revise your contingency plans now will leave you in a better place for dealing with the next disaster, large or small.
You may be focusing primarily on the work right now and how to cover payroll. Let’s face it, you’re an accountant, the numbers are the thing you think about first.
But the employees at your company are real people, with real fears, and real needs. We have already been seeing too many tone-deaf pronouncements from major American companies that appear utterly unconcerned about the health and well-being of employees and their families at the expense of the bottom line.
Don’t be one of those insensitive businesses. Take the time to ask your employees how they are doing, and what you can do to help them out. If cutbacks are required—and they may be—try to be as compassionate and generous as you can.
Remember that your business will go forward, and the economy will recover. You can go into that phase with employees who remember your warmth … or those who are going to start pounding the pavement in search of a new firm because you left them feeling like you couldn’t care less about them.
Accounting firms are only as strong as their customer base, and your customer base is probably hurting right now.
They may be looking to cut back on services, and even if they aren’t, you may find that checks start rolling in a little more slowly than they used to.
But you can take this opportunity to support and encourage them, too. Helping them move to flexible, remote accounting solutions (see step 1!) may be a part of that. Working with them to make your own services flexible enough to meet their needs is another. They won’t forget vendors who continued to function smoothly and help keep the lights on during this period. You can build in loyalty for life with the right responses in this crisis.
And, if it does turn into the apocalypse, you’ll need allies to help build your empire in the wastelands. Don’t fail to cultivate those important relationships now!
Don’t just support your current customers—get aggressive in pursuing new business. As macabre as it is, the possibility is there that revenue streams from certain clients disappear entirely.
As we emerge in the post COVID-19 world, more and more clients are going to be out looking for companies that can support them in every kind of disaster. If you can prove your firm is up to the task, there will be plenty of business lined up for you by the time it’s all over.
This also extends to looking for new classes of clients. Although the long-term impact of the pandemic is uncertain, the intermediate period of dealing with it is opening a lot of eyes to the importance of firms that can offer services remotely.
The isolation effort has been causing late-adapters by the millions to get looped in on using online service. And some segment of the population will continue to be wary of large gatherings for quite a while after all this is wrapped up.
Those realities suggest that massive waves of online business are on the horizon when the economy shifts back into gear. If you’re not taking that into account and looking in those places to build your customer base, you’re missing an opportunity.
There’s no reason you can’t use your rational accounting brain to find realistic, helpful, useful solutions to the challenges that are emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. What you’ll likely discover is that not only will those solutions become the new standard practices for conducting business in the post-COVID era, but they will also prove to be better for your bottom line.