How to grow your accounting firm during a crisis

A sense of fear and uncertainty permeates the current business environment. Amidst this, accounting firms have a critical role to play.

Just about every business needs help with their financials right now. And accountants are in a unique position to make the biggest impact on other businesses’ ability to weather the crisis.

The best firms will realize this opportunity, and actually come out on the other side of this crisis in a healthier position than they came in with.

Are you equipped to grow your firm

Why do so many businesses need accounting firms right now? 

Businesses are currently making pragmatic decisions to help survive in the short term and prepare for uncertain futures. 

Whether it's cutting back expenses, navigating debt or loan forgiveness, or a complete business pivot, any move has a money management aspect to it. 

So the first step to growing your firm is to get clarity on where your clients are on the decision-making spectrum of their pandemic survival strategy.

It is crucial to engage with your clients and understand their specific needs. If cash planning is their priority, help them make forward-looking projections. If they are committed to keeping 100% of their staff, help show where revenue needs to be and what other cuts could be available to achieve that goal. 

Make sure you have the right systems in place

You do not know what is going to happen in the future, but you can still prepare. Having the necessary systems in place can increase your chances of maintaining regular operations when the unexpected happens.

Technology and communication 

Do you have the software and hardware necessary to work effectively from anywhere? If not, this is one of the first areas you need to address. 

Being able to keep your operation running is of the highest priority, which makes these tools essential. Equally essential is making sure everyone in your team can use them effectively and deliver their best work. 

Well-defined deliverables

While you may be taking on more for clients in order to help them navigate the current crisis, you still have to set boundaries. Create guardrails for your team so you are providing the necessary guidance to clients, without overcommitting your time. 

To do this, you should provide well-defined deliverables so that you and the client can be on the same page. For example, you may agree to provide a cash flow forecast, plus a monthly meeting to discuss the variance to actuals. 

Don’t allow that promise to turn into weekly calls, or you’ll restrict your team’s ability to serve other clients.

Scalable processes

Defining your deliverables is one step, and the follow-up is documenting the processes for your services. 

Your clients are probably facing similar situations, and therefore asking similar questions. For example, you may be helping several clients submit applications for government loan programs. 

If so, take the extra time to document best practices, and turn the service into a repeatable, scalable process. Your documentation should include checklists, templates, and links to the various resources available on the subjects. 

If you take the time to fine-tune the most efficient process for your services, you’ll be able to quickly train additional team members and handle a steady stream of clients.

Forward-looking advisory services

The growth opportunity for accounting firms is when you are truly able to provide advisory services to give answers to your clients’ biggest questions. 

Right now, your clients want to know: 

  • How much cash do I have available? 

  • How much runway do I have? 

  • What’s my burn rate? 

  • Can I retain my staff? 

These are questions that go beyond typical tax compliance and bookkeeping. By providing guidance to these pressing questions, your firm can stand out to your client and truly create a lasting impression. 

The goal is not to make a massive change to your services. These are services your clients have always needed. The only difference is, now the needs are more urgent. 

Financial planning

Make sure your firm’s finances can handle the additional opportunities you’ll be creating. Oddly enough, many accounting firms admit that their own finances are often overlooked. This ends up keeping them from capitalizing on the opportunities that arise. 

Just as your clients will be asking about cash planning, don’t neglect to ensure your own firm is on a healthy foundation. 

Proactively engage your existing clients

Many firms are hesitant to proactively engage their clients. They’re under the misguided impression that this may be perceived as opportunistic. The opposite is true

Now is the best time to reach out to your existing clients and ask them how they’re doing. Because if you wait for next week, there’s a probability they won’t be around for you to help them. 

A best practice you can consider implementing is to reach out to your existing clients on a weekly basis. Not every client will need a lengthy call or meeting, a quick email will be enough for most. This will help you get conversations started and get a better understanding of how you’re positioned to help them. 

Make marketing your firm a priority

Now that you're helping your existing clients and getting great results for them it’s time to let the world know. 

During times of crisis, most businesses have the knee jerk reaction to shut down or cut back their marketing efforts. But your firm is not like most businesses. That means that now is the perfect time for you to amp up your marketing. 

Finding the bandwidth and budget to market your firm can certainly be challenging. The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can market your firm that do not involve talking to an agency or spending large amounts of cash. 

Here’s a brief list of marketing initiatives you can start as quickly as tomorrow.  

  • Ask for referrals from your existing clients. As you hear positive feedback from clients, don’t be afraid to ask if they know any similar businesses that may benefit from your financial guidance. 

  • Don’t ignore the context of the situation at hand. While you don’t want to stop marketing, you also don’t want to come across like everything is normal. Speak to the situation at hand, and give answers to how you can help.

  • Start an email list. Ever since social media became a staple of every marketing strategy, people have been claiming that email is dead. This is wrong. As a matter of fact, email has one of the highest ROI’s of any marketing strategy. 

  • Reach out to potential clients on social media. Today, in-person networking is almost completely out of the picture. But you still have the ability to engage with potential clients and referral partners. Try to build momentum on social media. Typically, LinkedIn is a strong option for accounting firms building a network. 

Is this an opportunity for your firm? 

Yes, we’re in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis. It’s likely the recovery will be slow. But there is an opportunity for accounting firms. First and foremost, you have an opportunity to be helpful.

You have the opportunity to provide key guidance that can help a business survived. 

On top of that, you have an opportunity to truly grow. By engaging with your clients and serving them well in this crisis, you’ll set yourself as a trusted advisory for the countless businesses looking for the same guidance.