We’re all suffering from ‘COVID fatigue’. Thankfully, it looks like we are at the beginning of the end of a torrid and incredibly challenging couple of years, battling the pandemic.
So, the question I find myself pondering as both a small business owner, and as a person who believes passionately in the value of accountants is this… “What is the REAL impact that the last 2 years has had on businesses, and what must accountants do to help?”
I for one, now look back fondly on the “problems” I faced pre-pandemic. What at the time I thought were really difficult challenges, were by comparison, fairly mundane and run of the mill conundrums which most businesses face every day – It was a much simpler time.
The same is probably true for many (if not most) of your clients businesses. The ‘big scary problems’ they faced 2 years ago, most likely now pale into insignificance compared with the ones that keep them awake at night these days.
They’ve suffered long-term forced closures. They’ve had to take on substantial debt they never planned for, nor wanted, just to stay afloat. For many, customer footfall has all but disappeared. Their industries in some cases, have fundamentally changed. And all of this is before the emotional and mental stress, which has pushed them to the limit.
To compound it all further, the impact of Brexit hasn’t really bitten down on business yet as the economy has largely been on life support since it happened. And we are now faced with significant cost increases, skills shortages and inflation at a 30 year high!
All of this means that the real impact of this ‘perfect storm’ of pressure on your clients hasn’t as yet, truly hit home. As things open back up and return to normal, I believe that the real crunch is just around the corner and that it won’t be long before the challenging reality of the situation begins to present itself.
The uncomfortable truth is that there are 5 significant factors that many business owners are thinking about. However, more worryingly, I fear that a significant number of them haven’t even begun to contemplate how these things will impact their businesses.
So, what are the 5 concerns?
1) Repaying Debt – Repaying bounce back loans and other forms of borrowing undertaken during the pandemic that were never factored into the original plans.
2) Fewer customers – For a large proportion of businesses customer volumes have reduced making customer retention/ cross selling and loyalty of the remaining customers, more important than ever.
3) Building back turnover – Reduced turnover if a reality for most businesses and understanding how this recovers will heavily influence decisions.
4) Increased costs/ Squeezed margins – Margins are suffering across most industries and cashflow as a consequence.
5) Adapting their business model – All of the above has resulted in a lot of organisations looking for new lines of business or attempting to pivot direction.
This is why I believe the accountant can play a disproportionately valuable part, as the ‘trusted advisor’. Your clients have NEVER needed your help more. A lot of what they now face are things they have never experienced before. And navigating them needs to be done with diligence, caution and determination, all in equal measure.
Enter the ‘Trusted Advisor’ – The question I’d pose to accountants is “Do you really know what it is, that your clients need from you now and how significantly different that is from what they needed from you pre-pandemic?”
I would urge you to engage as many of your clients in conversation about this topic as you can urgently, to get under the skin of where they are, what they are planning/ not thinking about and work with them to create plans to ensure the path can be navigated as well as possible.
The benefit to you as the advisor is multifaceted. Firstly, you help the client to create the plans they need to ensure success. Secondly, many aspects of the additional work you may need to undertake will be billable and you create a customer experience fit for today, not continue to rely on something that worked in the simple pre-pandemic world.
Finally, and most importantly, it could highlight the need for YOU to evolve and change your business. If a substantial proportion of your customers need a different type of relationship with you as a consequence of changes, that could give you an early warning signal that your practice needs to adapt to provide those services or products in new ways to future proof your own business.
So, my recommendation (and call to arms) is for you to consider how you can connect with the your clients urgently to understand how they are impacted by the 5 concerns outlined above.
Open the dialogue now, to allow you to understand circumstances, build plans and advice and think carefully about the proposition you offer your existing and prospective clients to ensure you maintain and build on your position as the ‘trusted advisor’.