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Your firm and the pandemic: Better after broken

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During stressful times like these, it’s natural to feel like everything around you is broken. Everyone is out of sorts. The economy seems frozen. Your clients’ personal and business finances are in disarray. The headlines are nothing but doom and gloom. But at times like these, when it seems like we’re in a war zone, it’s a great opportunity to rebuild.

Did you ever wonder why museums and people with extensive art collections put broken pottery on display? It’s because many times, the artisan who painstakingly repaired the broken pottery by using gold, rather than cheap glue, made the piece even stronger, more beautiful and more valuable than it was originally. For about 500 years, the Japanese have called this technique “Kintsugi” (joining with gold) or “wabi-sabi,” which essentially means “embracing the imperfect.”

The same philosophy can be applied to your clients. The crisis has caused all kinds of damage to people’s business and personal finances. Sure, you can help clients apply for PPP and EIDL loans and other types of disaster relief. But those are just Band-Aid solutions — cheap (but necessary) economic glue.

You can really demonstrate your value by helping clients rethink all the ways they do things and by showing them how to put the pieces back together so they’re even stronger than they were before the crisis.

Stronger through adversity

If you’re able to become an anti-fragile CPA, shocks and disruptions won’t stop you; they’ll just make you stronger, more creative and better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. I know it’s not easy to make yourself or your clients anti-fragile. It’s a lot like starting a new fitness routine. Your muscles will only get stronger by continually stressing the tissue. You want to tax your muscles just enough to cause slight damage — slightly tearing them — so they can repair themselves naturally to get ready for the next level of stress. If you’re consistent about following your workouts, you’ll be able to handle more and more stress with each session as your muscles get stronger and more pliable.

Same goes for your practice.

As any Navy Seal will tell you, you have to put people through trauma together in order to build close-knit teams. This pandemic is a great acid test. Yes, we’re all in this together, but not everyone is handling it the same way. Your trusted relationship with clients isn’t built when times are good. It’s about the decisions you help them make — or not make — during times of crisis.

Owning your mistakes

At the end of the day, we’re all flawed individuals. When you work closely with clients on a tight deadline, mistakes can happen. Even more so during stressful and unpredictable times like these. When mistakes happen, don’t make excuses or try to rationalize them. Be accountable and do whatever it takes to make the situation better. That’s what clients remember.

As I explained in Adopting a Ritz Carlton mentality, what sets great firms apart is how they react when “breakage” occurs. They own their mistakes. They apologize to clients and go above and beyond to fix them ASAP. By establishing a great client service reputation for your firm, there’s another big benefit — you’ll have some leeway when your next mistake inevitably happens.

When working with your clients during times of duress, always think about ways you can put “gold in their seams” after their business or personal finances have taken some hits. How do you help them put everything back together so it’s even better than before?

Think about your best clients. How many times have you helped them through a real crisis or trauma? Not many, I bet. But now is one of those times when they’re really counting on you and you can add great value. There’s no one in a better position to help them repair the damaged pieces of their financial circumstances and make them stronger than before.

People’s stress levels are through the roof today. We have economic stress. We have policy stress. We have personal stress. People really can’t control any of these stressors so they’re going to need a lot of guidance. These aren’t things they’ve had to deal with before. Make sure you’re filling the seams and helping to rebuild with gold, not glue.

You don’t get a lot of credit for taking care of things when everything’s going well. You get the credit when you go to battle for your clients. Right now, we’re in a war. As legendary philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Keep fighting for your clients.

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