10 ways to immunize your firm during a crisis like the coronavirus

Managing your CPA firm through any crisis requires thoughtfulness, sensitivity and patience — qualities that may not seem practical or even possible during this time of the COVID-19 global pandemic. After all, our social, business and regulatory landscapes seem to change daily if not hourly.

These are certainly challenging times for us all. While we don’t know when or how this crisis will end, it is crucial that we don’t veer away from making good, solid business decisions.

Budgets still need to be used and complied with. People making great contributions still need to be rewarded and recognized. Good ideas should still be applauded. Maintaining firm culture and team inspiration is more important than ever, especially since few if any people will be together physically. Host virtual staff meetings, lunches and happy hours to keep team members engaged.

While fear and anxiety are common in a crisis, it’s important to remain the clear-headed firm leader you’ve always been. Put plans in place now that will help your clients, your staff and your firm be as well-positioned as possible for the future.

While the effects of the pandemic will be felt — and continue to evolve — for some time to come, it’s crucial for accounting leaders to think through their firms’ actions and to have a process in place to evaluate and redirect as necessary. Here are 10 suggestions to help firms think through near-term needs and create a plan to help shore up business continuity and mitigate some risks during this sensitive time.

Stay in touch with your clients, especially “A” clients
Find ways to work with them if they are committed to continuing operations. Develop criteria with your partners or a trusted advisor to determine how and whether you will continue to work with certain clients. You may be considering cutting a client off. Running a successful business requires taking some risk. Putting in place criteria that will facilitate sound decisions now may become a great investment in the future.
Adapt to your clients' levels of accessibility
Clients will be working remotely from home and some of their accessibility — like yours — will be challenging. Try to schedule communications for specific times and expand the flexibility of options to connect, such as early hours, late hours and new ways to connect electronically.
Quickly determine which clients will be filed on time
Don’t assume clients have thought this through. They’re dazed. Drive the process.
How are you going to get paid?
Develop payment programs and engagement trade-offs that help you and the clients. If necessary, engage a communications expert to help. Empathy and sensitivity are crucial in a crisis.
Take the lead with your firm’s lender
Keep them advised of your plans. Right after April 15, look ahead to the engagement queue for the next six months. Use it to manage personnel decisions and to update your cash flow projections and requirements. Be very transparent about collections and engagement priorities.
If you hold a leadership retreat in the summer, accelerate the timing.
An all-hands-on-deck meeting in May, whether electronically or in person, will be key to making smart practice engineering decisions for the future of your firm. If you don’t have partners, include upper level management and possibly a trusted adviser. If you don’t usually hold a post-tax season retreat, plan one this year.
Put your financial counseling skills and networking into high gear
Create a financial advisory board which would include lenders, attorneys and brokers who routinely serve the closely held business community. This is a giant learning experience for everyone — the more expertise you have, the better. Sometimes the solution for one client rests with the skills and resources of another. Consider all avenues.
Fine-tune your production schedule and set up check-ins three times a week
What is approved to be done? How much will be done? What’s the turnaround time? You should be setting weekly hours for ideally the next month based on production — and regulating pay accordingly.
Taking care of your staff is a priority
In a crisis, it’s even more important to pay special attention to those who are in line to be your internal successors or potential successors. If adjustments in compensation need to be made, soften the blow for your successor group. While that may seem callous, businesses all over are making tough decisions right now that will impact them for years to come. Take precautions with the people who are going to lead your firm into the future. It is tempting to think your pool of successors is going to grow in the future, but crises like the COVID-19 pandemic impact people’s mindsets. We can’t predict whether people will become more interested in owning or whether you will be able to hire the right people down the road. Taking care of your current successors is more reliable.
No firm will be immune to staffing adjustments
If you’re headed into that territory, develop a list and schedule now for layoffs and terminations. It would make sense to have a first drop before April 15 and a second around July 15 if necessary. Grouping them on certain dates is better than one at a time.