What’s next: accounting for the next stage of COVID-19

You don’t need yet another article that talks about how things have changed over the last few weeks. About these ‘uncertain times’. Or how businesses everywhere are adapting to ‘the new normal’.

The coronavirus crisis has tested everyone. But now that you have adapted to the initial disruption, you need to shift your gaze—away from just getting through each day, to thinking longer-term.

Back to building your accounting firm, developing your staff, honoring your values, and continuing to provide clients with the vital assistance they need.

In reality, no one knows what is going to happen next. You don't know what the economy is going to be like. You don’t know what restrictions and contingencies will be in place, and for how long. And you don’t know how your clients will fare. 

Which is why it is understandable if you are unsure how to get ready for the next phase without a reliable projection of what is going to happen.

Strategic planning even in uncertain times

While things are uncertain, you can still put a strategic plan in place. The right place to start is to evaluate your plan for 2020. By analyzing what has changed, you’ll have a good sense of the adjustments needed in your plan going forward. 

As a leader in your accounting firm, you’ll be simultaneously handling the direct issues stemming from COVID-19 and planning for the future. 

If you developed a plan for 2020, you don’t need to abandon it. A goal of a plan in the first place is to set targets, but you always maintain the ability to adjust it.

Revising your plan involves two elements. First, you need to ensure survival under the worst-case scenario circumstances. Second, you need to plan for growth while maintaining consistency with your values.

Planning for survival

In order to build a strategic plan, you’ll need to run multiple scenarios. Entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban said recently that he advises businesses to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Your strategic plan will include your financial picture, as well as your team infrastructure and client growth strategy. As you plan for survival, it’s useful to take a pessimistic approach. Think through what-if scenarios like losing clients or stalling in growth. 

This is hopefully not what is going to happen, but gives you the ability to make decisions if the economic recovery is slow. 

Planning for what’s next

As you plan for survival, you also want to create a plan that includes preparing for the future. While a lot has changed in the world, there is also much that is still the same. 

Why did you start the firm? Where do you want to be in 10 years? 

Use these clarifying questions to help you think about short-term decisions. Most likely your big-picture goals are still attainable, even if you’ve had a setback. 

The mistake you don’t want to make is to lose discipline in marketing or operations. If you stop communicating with potential clients or make deals with unprofitable clients, you will not be set up well for growth when times are more favorable.

Use reliable data to gauge your current situation

Since the coronavirus crisis began,  it has dominated the news. The challenge whenever there is a torrent of information coming from different sources, is knowing what information is accurate. 

But in any situation, you can trust your own data. 

Again, you can’t predict what’s going to happen but it is totally practical to know the current state of your business. Having this knowledge ready and updated is the key to making good decisions. 

You should have an operational and financial dashboard. This can come in different formats, from the complex and high-tech to something that you develop and track yourself. Whatever you do, keep the following in mind:

Have the right systems and infrastructure in place 

How long this new normal will remain is not known. With many believing that the coronavirus will change the way businesses operate forever, things may never go back to ‘how they were’.

So now is the time to make sure you have systems in place that will keep your work moving forward. 

Look back into the main challenges you had during these past months and figure out what gaps you had to deal with and then fix them. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you have the right systems in place:

  • Technology: Can everyone in your team work remotely? Does everyone have access to all the files they need to keep on working? And do these things work together and give the team necessary context?

  • Communication: Are you practicing communication habits that suit the new way your team is working? Does your team communicate effectively with the tools you use? Are you focussing on fewer tools, no siloing of communication, and better team behavior?

  • Bottleneck elimination: Who or what creates bottlenecks in your operation? If it’s a person, find ways to have an option in case they need to stop working for whatever reason. If it’s a tool or software, invest and train other people in your team to use them. And most importantly, ask yourself: to what processes am I a bottleneck? 

Keep marketing your firm

It’s common for most businesses to cut back on their marketing when in times of crisis. But just because you are cutting back on expenses doesn't mean you should stop marketing. Quite the contrary is true. Let your market and potential customer know you’re still around and when everything starts getting better, you’ll be on their radar. 

Here are some low-cost marketing ideas:

Social media networking: since “face-to-face” networking is not possible in most places, the next best thing is networking through social media

Get referrals from your clients: If your clients love you they’ll be happy to refer their friends to you. 

Create content: whether it’s a blog, email newsletter, video or any combination of these, creating content educates your current clients and lets your potential clients know that you are alive and well going through this pandemic. 

It’s crucial to maintain context as you pursue marketing efforts. Nobody wants a pitch during these times, but there are many businesses out there who need help from financial professionals. Making connections, in proper context, with value to offer can be extremely effective. 

Take the extra time for planning

The fact that you don’t know what things will look like next year, next month, or even tomorrow, is exactly the reason why you need to put more effort into planning. The firms that think forward and prepare are the firms that will grow stronger and more successful.

Maybe you need to stay the course right now, maybe you need to make a big change in how you run your business. Whatever the case, the best thing you can do is to make sure you are prepared.