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Communication during the coronavirus crisis

2 April 2020: Della Hudson outlines how to take control of your communications and free up your time to focus on key clients or areas of your business where you can really make a difference.

To slightly misquote the Chancellor, accountants are living in ‘unprecedented times’ where many of the old ways of processing and communicating financial information have abruptly become redundant. This raises many fundamental questions, perhaps the biggest of which is: as professionals, how should we be communicating with our clients or those inside our own businesses in these turbulent times?
 
The first hurdle for any accountant to overcome, young or old, in practice or in business, is to accept that information is incomplete and will be for some time. This is difficult, and in some ways goes against your training, but it’s a vital initial step.
 
Many accountants are cautiously waiting for full information while becoming overwhelmed by the volume of incoming calls from clients, customers or suppliers, while others may be feeling neglected because they’ve heard nothing at all from their accountant.

Daily briefings

If it’s good enough for the government, it’s good enough for you! Set up a daily webinar or email for your clients or key stakeholders to let them know that you haven’t forgotten them. Whilst information is being issued rapidly and in an incomplete form, it is quite acceptable to explain that “we don’t yet know” or “we haven’t had time to analyse”.
 Clients in particular often call because they think we know more than they do. Whilst this is historically true, this has not been the case over the last few weeks. I think it is worth including “we are waiting for further information on” lines, whether that is a tranche of additional business support or mechanisms for claiming. This will stop clients from chasing for information that we don’t have.

Create a repository of information

Share what you do know. This may just be a series of links to government briefings but, again, it will allow your clients to find the first level of information without having to disturb you.

Triage your clients

From a business point of view, there will be four main categories, which will depend on how their industry has been affected, how well things were going financially prior to March and what cash reserves the business and owners have.

  • Survivors: these will carry on business more or less as usual. Give them a quick call for now, just to make sure they’re ok and arrange a meeting later. These will be your bread and butter when we emerge on the other side, but they may not need too much of your time initially.
  • Pivoting: these are businesses like restaurants pivoting to provide takeaway services. Help them to think through the process and what they need such as the ability to receive orders online and perhaps a delivery facility. 
  • Mothballing: these are businesses like hairdressers and beauty salons that will effectively shut down for the duration of the lockdown. Their aim is to minimise their costs during this period. Can they sell off stock of some of their products to raise some cash now?
  • Palliative care: these are probably businesses which were only just surviving before the crisis, or perhaps the owner was preparing to retire and wind up anyway. They will need help getting whatever money they can out of the business. All costs can be eliminated, and directors furloughed as they will not trade again.

Contact your clients individually

Having bought yourself time by eliminating incoming calls, you now have the opportunity to contact each client to talk through a business plan which will get them through the next few weeks or months. 
 
This is our opportunity to really help our clients with cash flows, business plans, and business advice. This is our chance to be the business heroes that our clients deserve at this time.
 
Discover vital support available for businesses affected by coronavirus.