Accountants love certainty. That’s why many of us got into this business. There’s something very comforting about a spreadsheet that ties out perfectly.
Accounting is a system that finds order in the midst of chaos.
You probably know where this is going. In the past month, accounting firms and their clients have suddenly been tossed into a world of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Yet for some outstanding firms, the coronavirus pandemic has become an opportunity to step up to the plate and hit home runs for their clients.
Here are some examples of what firms have done to advise their clients during this unprecedented season. Keep reading to learn what great advisory services look like and to give tactical tools and steps you can take to lead your own firm in this difficult time.
What it means to be a “trusted advisor” in a pandemic
The term “trusted advisor” has been thrown around in the world of public accounting for years now. To many, it’s a cliche. But it does describe a real trend in the profession. Cutting edge firms have altered their business model to go beyond compliance and form a more consultative relationship with their clients.
Now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every accounting professional is being asked to act as a trusted advisor in some way, whether they want to or not.
‘A lot of questions’
“Our phones started ringing as restrictions were coming out,” said Dan Gertrudes of GrowthLab Financial. “There was confusion, anxiety, and questions...a lot of questions.”
Scott Orn of Kruze Consulting said their team had a similar experience. “There has been an underlying sense of anxiety. With questions about potential furloughs, cash planning, and then as the CARES Act kicked in, it added layers of complexity,” said Orn.
The phones were ringing and the client questions were pouring in. These accountants were left with a choice. They could choose to sit back and wait to see how things would play out. That would be easy — after all, it was still the middle of tax season. Plenty of accountants were pushing back on these requests. Or they could jump into the unknown with their clients to help them get some answers.
For the team at Kruze Consulting, the decision to proactively engage was easy.
“First of all, we put our core values front and center every week. This has provided the chance to live out those values,” said Orn. “Secondly, our team truly enjoys helping startups. Helping founders. This has been an opportunity to help them prepare and plan in a tough time and our team has stepped up to the plate.”
Accounting professionals are being relied on in a variety of ways as businesses try to make the most of a difficult, if not the most difficult tax season ever. For one, their expertise is needed to navigate the various stimulus options, and secondly, for cashflow management for businesses experiencing losses in revenue.
Jennifer Deroin of Click & Mortar Accounting, a division of The Nichols Accounting Group, said many of her clients are looking to pivot their businesses and need guidance. When it came to the new SBA programs, her team jumped in, even when many of the regulations remained ambiguous.
“We helped them pivot when needed, and were aggressive in getting financing right from the start,” Deroin said. “We engaged right away and asked them, ‘How are you doing? What are you thinking about doing?’ Consulting has always been our approach so we knew during this time it was our role to proactively engage and have them thinking about all the potential scenarios and plan accordingly.”
The right toolkit for troubling times
It’s also worth mentioning that these accounting advisors are helping their clients even as their own firms are going through major changes.
Fortunately, in the case of Kruze, Click & Mortar, and GrowthLab, these firms have already prioritized virtual technology and a consultative approach.
The technology side of advising clients, even as shelter in place restrictions came down, required little adjustment as these firms have already put cloud technology in place.
Some of the tools these firms have leaned on heavily through COVID-19 include:
“I have to give credit to Gusto and Rippling who have been excellent partners,” Orn said. “For the loan requirements, we’ve needed a lot of support and they have been extremely responsive.”
Financial Planning and Modeling:
Dave and Jon Wilson, of ProvenCFO, have also been proactive in understanding the stimulus bills available for their clients. They specifically mentioned using Jirav to help get loans for clients.
The SBA’s EIDL program requires a cash forecast to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19. For ProvenCFO, Jirav has made it simple to provide two years of projections needed for the loans, and also to give clients a plan for maintaining positive cashflow through the economic downturn.
‘Built for this moment’
One thing each of these firms has in common was having had cloud technology in place before disaster struck. This allowed them to stay focused on client needs, rather than spending their time figuring out how to operate remotely.
“In a way, I feel like we’re built for this moment,” Orn said of Kruze Consulting. “We are already remote. Our team and culture are built for advising clients. And it’s been really freaking special to work together with banks and partners to come through for clients during this challenge.”
A trusted advisor to the masses
Proactive client engagement was an important step for these advisory firms, but not enough on its own. To offer the right advice, these firms had to take a deep dive into resources provided by the government and develop an expert-level understanding of the options available.
Rather than hoarding this information for themselves and their clients, these firms also made it available to the world through articles, webinars, podcasts, and more.
GrowthLab Financial got to work right away on creating resources for business owners. They developed a PPP loan calculator, a Financial Survival Guide, and hosted regular office hours open to clients and the publicOffice for Q&A via videoconference.
The response has been overwhelming.
“We were doing all this research, and don’t have time to explain it to every single client. So we thought we’d make everything available,” Gertrudes said, “And the response has been unbelievable. I actually just opened an email where a business owner I have never met said the email we sent out today was like a message from God.”
Using expertise to convert anxiety into clarity
Similarly, Kruze and Click & Mortar dove deep into understanding all available options for financing. Each of these firms leaned on their network to bring experts to the table.
Deroin and her team conducted interviews with an SBA lender and an attorney to gain clarity on the details of the laws. They’ve provided a rich library of resources on their website to learn about the variety of lending options.
Scott Orn used his podcast as an opportunity to learn the latest about the loan programs and share the information with startups. He interviewed experts including the CEO of Lendio and several others.
Rather than just advising clients individually, these firms are sharing their expertise with the world to help bring order in days of chaos. As a result, many businesses are feeling less anxiety and have gained clarity that will help them navigate through this recession.
“We’ve gone for the kitchen sink approach because we feel like more information is power,” Orn said of the interviews. “I think by bringing in experts and key information, people are less stressed out because they can better understand what’s happening.”