Helping your clients take their next steps in response to Covid-19
PracticeWeb’s new insight report offers practical advice based on engagement and discussions on UK Business Forums.
The past few weeks have felt in many ways like a turning point in the UK’s coronavirus response. As regional restrictions have increased and the new ‘three-tier’ alert system has been put into place, further financial support measures have been announced to support the economy.
But rather than the blanket support given to businesses and the self-employed when a full national lockdown was announced in March, the government’s economic focus is now on maintaining ‘viable’ jobs – those that can exist in the long-term outside of the furlough and SEISS schemes.
For many small business owners, this means making difficult decisions about whether or not their own business has a long-term future.
While putting together PracticeWeb’s new insight report based on engagement and discussions on UK Business Forums, there were several conversations among small business owners that stood out to me, because of the way they talked about that turning point.
Some were frustrated that their business would no longer get the same support through furlough or grants, while others had already started to make other plans.
In one thread, a user summed up the experience of many small business owners, and the difficulty of knowing when to take action:
‘So, early on you're thinking three weeks, probably more likely six weeks of lockdown, but the reality is nine weeks plus – and then reopening with limitations that mean you won't be seeing the same turnover as prior.
‘You've staff furloughed, not convinced you'll need them back... What do you do, and when? I can claim 80% of their earnings until October, but once one has realised the futility of things, when do you act?’
Guidance for start-ups
For several of the forum’s users, the answer was to start a new business altogether.
There were new threads about a wide variety of business ideas over the quarter, dealing with everything from property to herbal teas. In most cases, people were looking for specific, practical guidance. They wanted to know what their reporting responsibilities were, and whether their financial projections looked accurate.
Some were looking for a new business route to go down, while others were entering self-employment for the first time after being made redundant.
There are a lot of opportunities here for accountants to provide specific, targeted content that appears in search results for niche queries.
We know that start-ups are not ideal for every accountancy firm, however. Our clients often tell us that while new businesses are interesting to work with, they’re also highly time-consuming – and they come with a higher risk of business failure.
If you know that you don’t want to work with brand new start-ups, you could instead use your content and early conversations with prospects to lay the foundations for a working relationship in the future.
Helping your existing clients adapt
For business owners who don’t plan to start from scratch, but whose business is no longer able to function the way it did before the pandemic, the other option is to pivot to new products or services.
A worrying theme that emerged from the forums was that a number of people had been forced to take on risky, time-consuming, or unprofitable work, simply because they needed the cash. Others were carrying out additional work on the side, while waiting for their main business to pick up.
This is where accountants have a real opportunity to showcase their skills as business mentors and advisers, helping SME owners and operators to plan their recovery in a structured way rather than reacting to immediate financial pressures.
Communicate your value
Whether your clients and prospective clients are starting from scratch or changing their business direction, make sure they know that you can help them.
Our insights from UK Business Forums show us that small business owners are often reluctant to spend money on professional advice. In many cases, they struggle to see the value they’ll get for the fee.
For accountants to bridge that gap, effective branding, consistent communications, and relevant content are all essential.