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How firms can effectively respond to coronavirus

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As if tax season isn’t already stressful enough for accounting firms, the coronavirus pandemic is making things that much harder. With the tax filing deadline extended into July, numerous small-business loan and forgiveness programs being rolled out, businesses struggling with cash flow and payroll, and a myriad of other challenges, there’s no shortage of fires that accountants are being called on to put out.

With no clear end in sight, and the pandemic seemingly settling down into a long siege, accounting firms will need to find ways to effectively navigate these days ahead. It will be critical to develop processes and protocols that enable their employees to work safely and efficiently from home while ensuring that their clients receive the financial expertise and support they require.

Here at the Hinge Research Institute we recently conducted a study on employer branding that included a special breakout report on how employees perceive their firm’s response to COVID-19. Study respondents delivered a mixed bag of positive and negative results. Slightly over half of those who indicated some dissatisfaction with their firm’s response said they lacked a plan, while 25 percent of them cited poor communications as an area of concern.

On the positive side, almost a quarter (23 percent) of study respondents indicated that their firms took proactive and decisive measures to address the new reality and over one third (36 percent) were pleased with their ability to work from home.

Using your firm’s digital presence to counter COVID-19

The current pandemic happens to be a challenge ideally suited for a digital solution. As significant numbers of people shelter at home and turn to the web and social media as channels to the outside world, accounting firms have a unique opportunity to engage them when they are most accessible, initiate a dialog, and provide them with the information and support they need as they too struggle to function in an isolated world.

The first step is to make sure your firm has established clear and regular communications with remote workers so they can stay safe, informed and effective. Periodic and meaningful communications by management will go a long way in combating misinformation and minimizing stress. Use social media and video chats to enable employees to check in with colleagues as well as share best practices and tips about everything from work-related activities to easy meal recipes and home-schooling ideas.

Now is an excellent time to solidify relationships not only with employees but with existing clients, as well as to firmly establish new ones with prospects. Make valuable, appropriate content available through your website and social media platforms to individuals and organizations that have questions about tax returns, state and federal relief programs that offer financial assistance and tax relief, and provide steps they can take to minimize financial hardship for their businesses.

This is a time to provide aid, not a sales pitch. It’s a good idea to put your traditional sales and marketing program on hold and use this opportunity to “get caught doing good” by helping your current and potential clients weather the pandemic with sound advice and steady guidance. The support you give to clients and prospects now will yield positive results for your firm down the road, including boosting client loyalty, establishing industry thought leadership, and even increasing market share.

Perhaps the best piece of advice you can share with colleagues, employees and clients is to take a deep breath and realize that this too shall pass. With the help of friends, family and co-workers, things will be OK. It’s just going to take a little time.

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