How firms around the world are handling the coronavirus crisis

The world as we know it has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Every business is being forced to adapt.

Accounting firms across the globe are facing the same challenges. Which is why now more than ever, we need to bring our community together.

To provide you with some advice, ideas and a reminder that we are all in this together, we spoke to five leaders from firms of all shapes and sizes, from different parts of the world. They shared how they are coping, what changes they have made, and tips for everyone to take on board in this challenging time.

Jamie from Sky Accountants (Ballarat, Australia)

Jamie Johns is CEO and Co-Founder of Sky Accountants, and also a Co-Founder of WIZE Mentoring. He lives in Ballarat with his family.

What has your firm done to cope with the disruption?

The full team is now working from home and only going into the office if it is absolutely necessary. Our client appointments are now via Zoom or another video conferencing platform. Team meetings are continuing as normal, including our daily huddles and weekly and monthly meetings.

What tools are most useful right now?

All our tools (shown below) are cloud-based and organized in SkyHub, driven by Microsoft SharePoint.

What habit is proving to be helpful?

As leaders of our firms, it’s critical that a we stay mentality and physically fit during any isolation. I am a different person if I exercise. I have mental clarity, am more logical, more motivated, think clearer, and have greater persistence and patience.

I have a gym at home right next to my office. I run around 40 kilometres a week and also play the drums between work breaks.

When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused or fearful, what do you do?

I look at my goals and think about the actions I can take to achieve them. I also make a solid conscious decision to avoid negative thinking people.

My best mates and I also formed a WhatsApp group to stay in contact. We keep each other accountable to fitness and send funny stuff to each other—something which is sorely needed right now.

What advice do you have to help other firms survive and thrive in this crisis?

  • There are no quick fixes in life or business. At least there hasn’t been for me.

  • Think big, think long term, don’t think small, don’t think short term.

  • Think progress, not perfection. Don’t get paralysis by analysis.

  • Take massive action, but planned out action.

  • Ask questions all the time and predict things as best you can.

  • Plan to be ahead of the curve especially with your career and business. The world changes and if you don’t, you will be left behind.

  • Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

  • Avoid too much debt and always have a war chest.

  • Cut costs aggressively.

  • Help others whenever, wherever you can. if you do, your firm will always grow and so will you.

  • Get a mentor. Find someone who has achieved what you want.'Look after yourself first so you can look after your family. Be humble, drop the ego and take advice from those who have done it.

Jeremy from System Six Bookkeeping (Seattle, WA, United States)

Jeremy Allen founded System Six Bookkeeping 11 years ago with a vision to be a completely remote firm. His team of 20 is scattered across 8 states, including many highly affected areas like Seattle and Chicago.

📖 Read the exact email Jeremy sent to all clients amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

What has your firm done to cope with the disruption?

We consider ourselves fortunate to have already established mature work-from-home rhythms and technologies.

Soon we'll have a better sense of what the new normal will be. Several clients are closing doors for a short period of time and almost certainly some will not be able to reopen. We’re communicating to our team that nothing need change for the time being. We have savings in the bank and are willing to chip away at that if needed so that our team doesn’t lose hours or health insurance benefits.

We are staying flexible. All of of our workforce works from home, but many now have their children home from school, which changes their availability and focus.

How are you maintaining communication with your clients?

We have created a master list of high-value and highly impacted clients, and have been in touch a number of times with them since last week. We are proactively suggesting ways we can help like reviewing cash flow forecasting and thinking through immediate next-steps.

Many clients in Seattle are shutting their doors and we are helping them navigate how to handle layoffs, unemployment, seeking rent reductions, and solving questions like whether they can provide healthcare to employees who they have temporarily let go.

We are also proactively offering fee reductions to our clients as needed, and then building a list of responsibilities the client might need to take on themselves if they need to reduce our fee and services even further as they hunker down and wait to re-open and re-establish.

What tools are most useful for you right now?

We already relied heavily on Karbon, Microsoft Teams, Office 365, Sharefile, and QuickBooks Online as our daily tools. We are thankful that as more and more of the workforce shifts to a new work from home paradigm, we were already well established with these tools, rhythms, and habits.

What has been the single biggest challenge?

Many of our team and clients are based out of Seattle, WA— ground zero for the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. This has given us a unique perspective on the unprecedented challenges facing small business owners and their employees.

We communicate often and remind our team that throughout this crisis, our strategy remains the same—stay true to our core values: Clients, Excellence, Culture, Profit, Stewardship, and Priorities.

We need the best from everyone right now—from being very responsive, calm, and complete in our communication, to delivering accurate work with a high level of attention to detail.

Jeremy Allen, System Six Bookkeeping

What habit is proving to be helpful?

Many of our team have been focused on health and fitness lately and have been using our "Health" Channel in Microsoft Teams to inspire and encourage one another to keep staying fit. It's great for everyone to burn off some of their overwhelm by staying active. Even if it's just a run outside pushing a stroller!

When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused or fearful, what do you do?

For me personally, as our founder and CEO, I'm feeling a heavy burden by the many decisions that we're facing about our own team, our clients, and our clients' families and employees. Not to mention the crater left in my almost decimated stock market account.

Prayer and keeping an eternal perspective has been a grounding force in my life. Not to mention lifting weights daily in my home gym, which I feel very fortunate to have access to!

What advice do you have to help other firms survive and thrive in this crisis?

I picked-up a phrase from a recent Verne Harnish email, which I have been sharing often: ”Leadership and compassion are just as contagious as panic and hopelessness”.

We are remaining hopeful that with some luck, all our years of preparation as a team will position us to say yes to a few new clients who might call and need our outsourced bookkeeping and accounting services due to losing in-house staff, and overall weather this storm and come out a much stronger firm (and individuals) on the other side.

Carol from Business Resource Center (Chehalis, WA, United States)

Carol Bézy is the Founder of Business Resource Center, which she has led for 25 years.

What has your firm done to cope with the disruption?

We have a company policy not to allow anyone to work remotely until they have been with the firm for one year, but that has been waived. All staff have the ability to work from home. We have two mothers with no daycare options, who are working as much as they can with small children about.

Over the last three years we have focused diligently on cloud accounting and related cloud-based products. Now when working from home, we find that we need our desktops very little. We are well-positioned for remote work, so we will continue this policy as long as our mothers have no childcare and as long as people need an alternate solution to their work environment.

How are you maintaining communication with your clients?

We sent an email out to all clients announcing a reduction of in-person meetings. We are still accepting paper documents, but only on a “drop and run” basis.

Thankfully, we already used Karbon Client Tasks to request information from clients. They are already comfortable with this and it is very efficient for us. We went out to all of our tax return clients asking them to answer the basic questions and upload documents to Karbon. We can also upload drafts of the tax return for the client to review.

What tools are most useful for you right now?

Karbon, Sharefile, ShareConnect and Right Signature are the key ones in interacting with our clients. We also rely heavily on Adobe Acrobat and their save to cloud option. Since we have focused so much on technology over the past few years, we do not require any new investments in this area right now.

What has been the single biggest challenge?

Everything is suddenly mixed up.

Some people who know how to do many easy daily tasks that need to be done in the office are now at home. We need to train new people and re-align certain duties. So we are spinning our wheels more than normal on these types of things.

What habit is proving to be helpful right now?

Yesterday I was very surprised how good it felt just to get outside, walk, breathe the fresh air, look at the daffodils in all of their glory, and enjoy spring. We replanted our rhubarb (I make the best rhubarb pie!), and it is now coming up. The promise of what we save, and the appreciation of each other is what makes the difference right now.

When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused or fearful, what do you do?

I call my husband, reach out to my daughter, go for a walk, think about my work problem that is driving me crazy, and let it cook in the background of my mind. I come up with a plan rather than try to beat through it.

Planning is key. If we plan for the contingency and set up systems that work, it lowers our stress. I learned years ago that stress comes from not being able to control the decisions and situation.

Carol Bézy, Business Resource Center

What advice do you have to help other firms survive and thrive in this crisis?

Be sensitive to your team, their needs, and their family needs. If they are not comfortable in the work environment, you have a problem. If they have family pressures, work around it.

Do not be afraid to let your clients know that you are running late because of reduced staffing or workflow challenges. Be honest and let them know when to expect the final product. They will appreciate your honesty. Let them know that they are valued, and the steps you are taking will protect them, our community, and of course the accounting team.

Ashley from Envolta Accounting (Ottawa, Canada)

Ashley Ryan is the Chief Innovation Officer at Envolta Cloud Accounting. They made Ottawa’s fastest-growing company list in 2018 and 2019.

📖 Learn how Envolta is building their ultimate tech stack.

What has your firm done to cope with the disruption?

It has been very important for us to make adjustments for our clients during this time, as many of them are having to downsize. Our heart goes out to them, so we are making service adjustments to their services with us, in order to support them.

We are also hosting webinars and providing updates and information on how COVID-19 affects tax and accounting.

How are you maintaining communication with your clients?

We have been reaching out to clients via phone and one-on-one. With any sensitive situation it is important to handle it with the utmost care and discretion.

What tools are most useful for you right now?

Because we are old hands at working remotely we continue to use Zoom, Slack, Google Drive and Karbon as some of our main communication and collaboration tools.

What has been the single biggest challenge?

Making tough business decisions. We always want to put our customers and team first, but in times of financial difficulty sometimes you have to make decisions about the business over individuals which is always hard.

What habit is proving to be helpful?

During quarantine and working from home, I'm finding it valuable to go out walking every day. One can socially see people at 6ft of distance, be in nature and get exercise.

When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused or fearful, what do you do?

As a leader it's very important to stay calm, cool and collected for your team. This is your job in a leadership role. It's not helpful to anyone getting caught up in fear and anxiety.

I focus on what I can do one step at a time, and I remind myself I need to keep it together for the team.

Ashley Ryan, Envolta Cloud Accounting

What advice do you have to help other firms survive and thrive in this crisis?

Diversify. If you serviced only events companies for example, you would be in trouble given the repercussions on the events industry. Niching is great, but have a few different niches on your client list.

Also, save, save, save. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, times like this would be exceedingly difficult. Now is the time to shave expenses and save.

Ed from Chan & Naylor (Sydney, Australia)

Ed Chan is the Non-Executive Chairman of Chan & Naylor, which he co-founded in 1990 and helped grow into one of Australia's leading accounting firms. He also lends his expertise and experience to other accountants through WIZE Mentoring.

📺 Watch Ed provide his advice on how to survive and thrive during a crisis.

What has your firm done to cope with the disruption?

First, we took steps to remove the risk of our office needing to shut down. If a single person gets diagnosed with coronavirus, then the whole office would close for 14 days. So early on, we asked staff to work from home.

We also asked all staff in contact with anyone considered high-risk to self-isolate for 14 days. We handled this via written policy, plus verbal directive and answered any questions they had.

How are you maintaining communication with your clients?

We contacted clients advising them not to come into the office and to instead send their work in via email or post. If they need to see someone they will be asked to sign a declaration that they do not have any symptoms, avoid any hand-shaking and keep a distance of more than one meter.

We look for opportunities amongst your clients and talk to them about how we can help them during this time.

Ed Chan, Chan & Naylor

What tools are most useful for you right now?

Karbon, Ignition, Slack and Xero help us maintain the same environment for staff to work from home.

What has been the single biggest challenge?

The confusion created and the panic from the clients has resulted in an increase in emails, phone calls and meeting requests. We have increased our communication, run webinars and taken their calls in this period of hysteria.

What habit is proving to be helpful right now?

I try not to listen to the hysteria and to keep calm by getting stuck into work.

When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused or fearful, what do you do?

I recall the last few times when we have been in other periods of disruption and confusion. Eventually the storm passes.

What advice do you have to help other firms survive and thrive in this crisis?

The difference between firms that survive and thrive in a crisis, and those that don’t, is time. The more time we have, the better position we are in to ride out the storm. So you need to work out ways to buy time. This means doing everything you can to create the cash buffers to be able to pay for expenses and ride out the storm.