As we all sit back and stare down the barrel of yet another nationwide lockdown, many accounts are asking themselves how they can best assist their clients through these tough times.
Perhaps they’re also asking how they themselves can survive.
A business that goes under “needeth not an accountant any longer”. Helping our existing clients survive is the easiest way to keep our own bank accounts looking healthy. (Someone famous once said that it’s far more expensive to get a new client than it is to keep one, although I don’t recall who it was.)
Here are some tips on how you can best advise your small and medium-size business clients through these extremely challenging times.
1. The usual advice — understand ongoing schemes
We’ll tackle the obvious first: Informing your clients of the many financial-assistance schemes announced by the Chancellor over the course of the last six months. Here’s a quick list of all of them:
- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
- Kickstart Scheme Grant (job placements)
- Statutory Sick Pay claims available for employees sick with COVID
- Deferring Self-Assessment payments
- Business Rates Relief for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses
- Business Rates Relief for Nurseries
- SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme)
- Business Interruption Loan Scheme
- Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme
- Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan
- Coronavirus Future Fund
- Local Restrictions Support Grant
- COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility
Goodness me, that’s a lot of schemes. How do the blokes on Downing Street keep track?
Well, Downing Street might or might not have lost track (one must wonder, in these crazy times…) but, as your client’s account, you cannot!
You need to know each of these schemes like the back of your hand and be able to recommend (or not recommend, as the case may be) their use for any of your clients who need assistance. Info on all of them can be found here.
2. Improving efficiency to lower costs
Never has it been more important to lower costs while still operating at a high level of efficiency.
To this end, it is crucial that your clients adopt ways to reduce their workload. We have a free guide written for accountants on precisely how to do this, but many of the tenets in that guide are equally applicable to any business.
If you, as an accountant, are thoroughly familiar with the solutions the book provides, you will be able to advise your clients on their use.
Sure, such a duty isn’t entirely within the bailiwick of an accountant’s daily chores. But these are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures.
Besides, in this extremely tight-margin industry of ours, it is imperative that accountants find any way possible to increase their value proposition. If that means you become your client’s tech advisor, so be it!
3. Help with late payments
As the UK hits its deepest recession in a hundred years, it is understandable that a certain percentage of people will be defaulting on debts to small businesses.
These defaulters or late-payers will generally fall into two categories:
- Have fallen on extremely tough times and are unlikely to pay without the assistance of a debt collection agency because they simply don’t have the money anymore.
- Are simply “holding onto their cash in case things get worse”.
The first is one of those ugly truths the world must face. Everyone is facing difficulties; some more than others. But even for those, there are solutions.
The easiest solution to this type of defaulter is to offer an “instalments” option so that their debt is paid off bit by bit.
The second, however, is more difficult to deal with. “Uncertainty” is no excuse for defaulting on one’s debts. A business offers services sincerely and should be compensated for those services.
For the latter, a number of remedies can be applied:
- Assist your clients in setting up automated reminders and emails in their accounting systems to chase up late payers.
- Advise them on an appropriate debt collection agency that might take some of the burden off while those outstanding debts are collected.
4. “Zoom Rules”
Zoom has gone from being the latest novelty to feeling like a bit of a grind. The internet is rife with comments of Zoom meetings going over time.
As humanity grows hungrier for human contact as a result of perpetual lockdowns, Zoom and video conferencing have been the goto solutions for chit-chat, even if the call is supposed to be “for business”.
You, dear accountant, should also implement some “Zoom Rules”.
Minimise Zoom meetings to no more than 15 minutes and set an alarm to make it so! Tell the person you’re on a call with that you’re “taking care of my mental health” and trying to reduce your time online (perfectly valid reasoning) and, hence, cannot be longer than 15 minutes.
Allow for no more than one hour for business Zoom calls every day. Again, be strict on this.
Your clients will be grateful to you for your assistance and thereby think twice before throwing you out the door if they do happen to fall on tough times.
It’s all about increasing your value to them, and offering genuine assistance because you sincerely care about their welfare.