How to prepare your accounting firm for the next storm

If a similarly shocking and disruptive event like COVID-19 happened again, would your firm be prepared?

Do you have the systems, processes and people in place that will help weather the next storm?

As a starting point, accepting the fact that storms do happen—and will happen—is a good place to be.

James Ashford from GoProposal explains it well:

“There's not a lot that we can predict in business, but one thing we can guarantee is that storms come."

Here are a few strategies you can use to ensure your practice is rooted firmly in its place, ready to battle any and all challenges that lie ahead.

1. Plan for the storm, even when the weather is clear

Planning for the worst-case scenario might be a daunting task. But not as daunting as not having a plan when the worst-case scenario eventuates.

Kathy Gregory from LivePlan explains that the firms that had already created contingency plans for their clients were better off in 2020:

“You can’t predict anything, but you can plan for just about anything and those firms that had planned best and worst-case scenarios for their clients were the most successful in 2020.”

On the other hand, 2020 was a harsh reminder for some firms that their role is to fight for their clients’ best interests, even when clients fight back.

James explains that some clients were able to convince their accountants they didn’t need certain systems and tools to perform important tasks, like visualize their workload, forecast and manage cash flows. And they were worse-off for it.

“We need to take responsibility as an industry and become more confident in communicating the value of those services.”

And it’s not just your clients that need to be prepared—your own firm needs its tent tethered to the ground—prepared to ride out the next wave, wind gust or hail storm.

Recommended reading: 5 lessons from 2020 that can transform your accounting firm in 2021

2. Open up communication channels

Storms bring anxiety. One proven strategy for minimizing anxiety for your clients and staff is clear communication.

Sometimes there won’t be much to say, but an email, Slack message or quick phone call to let them know there isn’t much news will be enough to calm them.

The firms that communicated as much as they knew often and early had much better experiences with their clients in 2020.

Jim Buffington, Advisory Services Leader at Intuit Accountants

Communicating with your clients even when there isn’t anything new to share will:

But remember not to leave it too long before reaching out to your clients to touch base during a storm. The quicker you communicate with them, the quicker you can calm them down.

3. Find the right tools to keep your firm moving forward

The overnight switch to remote working was a great test for firms’ abilities to adapt in trying circumstances. Many firms learned the value of cloud-based and flexible systems and tools, particularly around managing remote teams.

In 2020, resilience proved itself in dark and in mysterious places.

Ohran Gobrin, Partner & Chief Operating Officer, Fuller Landau LL

The successful firms currently riding the COVID-19 storm implemented tools like Karbon to help them transition into this new normal, helping them to:

  • Consolidate their communication channels

  • Collaborate remotely across various clients and jobs

  • Increase efficiency by automating manual tasks

  • Gain an overview of staff workloads, enabling them to balance incoming jobs, forecast accurately and prevent bottlenecks

Recommended reading: How to choose accounting practice management software

On top of managing workloads, collaboration and communication, successful firms implemented various tools to support their distributed teams, such as Zoom, Calendly, Evernote and Google Docs.

The ability to adapt and transition when a storm hits is key to how a business comes out the other side. By employing flexible tools that will work with and for your firm, you safeguard your ability to continue operating, despite disruption.

You need to be ready for anything. Being adaptive and having adaptive internal processes and systems will allow you to do that no matter what you face.

Eileen Adao, Head of Accountant Channel, Collbox

Don’t settle for safety only

During a storm, it’s important to batten down the hatches. But that doesn’t mean your business needs to stagnate.

If your firm is prepared with contingency plans, clear communication practices, and the right tools in place, a storm isn’t just a time to shelter.

For the best-prepared firms, a storm can be an excellent opportunity to grow—turning a crisis into an opportunity.

Shake off 2020, and put your accounting firm in the best position possible to weather the next storm and continue your growth journey.