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When the going gets rough the rough get tough

Same song from Lionel. it reminds me of the team here in these last few months. When the going was tough, they got going.

Last week we spoke about our experience as a small business in the first few weeks of lockdown. In case you missed it Read here. This week we will look over the last few months to see how things panned out.

As mentioned in the earliest weeks of the pandemic there was a sense of fear for the future. There was uncertainty about the business and a concern for the welfare of our team. After the first 4 to 6 weeks people were a bit more optimistic. It was May when some businesses could open again. Others were being inventive and those who had a good online presence were able to trade and get some money in.

The TWSS gave us the breathing space to get organised and help clients. But we had to get jobs completed for clients, so our sales would increase.

Resilience

For two team members, it was very difficult to continue working as they were juggling a lot. They couldn’t commit to their usual working week. We placed them on temporary leave to give them some breathing space. The plan was to get them back as we would need them.

We purchased desks, chairs, monitors, and cabling to get everyone set-up at home. People left the kitchen table and now had a home office. I had a super view of the prom from my apartment and could see a bit more activity in Tramore. Moods were more upbeat as restrictions were easing. We went from 2kms to 5kms to anywhere in your county. People were happy to be out and local businesses benefitted. There were no foreign holidays and no pubs, so people were spending money and there was a drive to support local. The focus changed for us. Now we had to get back to getting accounts done and getting fees out the door. And getting paid.

Ever since the start of the pandemic the attitude and ability of the team here has been exceptional. Some of the examples that come to mind

  • Despite a slow start, the team filed all the corporation tax returns on time where we had accounts. We don't miss deadlines when we have the information on time. Income Tax returns are next!
  • Two team members went above and beyond to secure pension payments for two clients. This was a huge boost for these individuals
  • One new client was very worried about tax issues he didn't realise he had in his company. A team member did super work to minimise these and put a plan in place for payment
  • The team embraced all the training that we were doing. They got stuck into Receipt Bank, Sharefile, and Adobe to make things easier for clients and us.
  • They embraced the drive to become a paperless office. They started using second screens, scanners, and paperless files.
  • We lost two team members so now we had 5 staff doing the work of 7. And we had lost our payroll lady, but our payroll service continued.

There have been no complaints. They know what they have to do, and the attitude is to get on with it and let's get it done. We are very lucky to have them and they have shown their true colours.

Not all plain sailing

While the above might sound like these guys have it easy that hasn't always been the case. There were many bumps in the road.

We had planned to do a practice acquisition that we had been working on since December 2019. We had put a lot of time into meetings with the seller and had secured finance for the purchase. Covid-19 put an end to that.

We had done a lot of work to host a seminar in Worklabs with AIB and NFG. The theme was on business sales and succession as this is a niche area for us. We worked on some successful business sales in 2019 and the focus was on growing this side of the business. We had to cancel this but will do it when we can.

Not all clients were happy. We track our turnaround time in the business. This is a good measurement for us to see how long it takes us from the time we start a job to the time we finish it. It is also good for the client as they get all the services they need in as short a time as possible. We got clients’ records in the early months of the year that didn't get done until late summer. This would never have happened before. While we didn't miss deadlines for those clients the jobs took too long to complete. This was annoying for those few clients and we will have to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We lost another team member. One of the ladies that went on temporary leave wasn't able to return to work. With young kids and no childminding option available it was very difficult for her. We were very disappointed to lose her. She had been working with us for over 5 years and was a very valuable member of the team here.

Keeping team morale going is very difficult when everyone is working at home. We crave the social side of work. I was so happy to be back in the office for a few days a week when we opened in September. It was great to see people again and have one to one conversations, and not on Zoom or Teams. We would usually have a Summer night out, Seagull cakes, and even sausage rolls now and again. We couldn't even say goodbye properly to the two team members that left us. The one classic and hilarious highlight when it came to team morale was when we all dressed up for "Dress up Friday". Not a bad looking bunch when you take the writer out of it!

Cash is King!

A vital lesson for any business in a downturn is to manage their cashflow. Download our cash flow forecast on our supporting you page. Click here.If sales are not increasing, then you have to look at your costs and ensure you have enough cash to pay your bills. And have enough to pay you too! This was a focus area for us. Our office manager and the team did trojan work to ensure we got paid, but in a nice way. Some of the things that we did included

  • New clients are on direct debit and that is a policy of the business
  • Calls and engaging with clients who owed us money but whose businesses closed. This ensured a commitment to pay us when they opened again.
  • Client managers having honest conversations with clients about payment. Were clients in a position to pay us when we finished the work? If not, would they be later in the year and we could delay it
  • Ensuring quality service and good conversations with clients so they were happy to pay us. We must show value to our clients so there is no issue around payment
  • Not surprising clients. If we have to do an extra piece of work, we price this before we start the work so clients have an option to say yes or no
  • Use of technology that sends out reminders of before due dates, after due dates, and payment links.
  • Methods of payment. Make it easy for clients to pay you through Stripe, direct debit, bank transfer, and fee finance

Getting paid and getting paid on time has been vital to us over the last 7 months or so. Clients have been excellent in this regard and we are very lucky to have so many great clients. Clients that don't pay or are very slow payers are a pain and we won't work with them in the future.

Summary

It's been a heck of an interesting journey for these last 7 months. A complete mix bag of emotions and challenges. We are very lucky as we all stayed healthy. What looked like a disaster business wise in March and April has turned out ok. We are very fortunate to have the team we have but disappointed to lose two also. We need to make sure they are happy and motivated. The way we do things has changed. Paper will disappear and e-signing, Zoom, and Teams will become the norm. Outsourcing will help when we have capacity issues. But you need to make sure you have the cash to survive, so keep an eye on it. We have a lot of areas to improve in and we will dedicate more time to that when we hire again. While there has been huge change the constant is still the delivery of quality service to our clients. We want to be part of their successful business journey.

Interested to find out more about how we can help your business? Give Deirdre a call on 051396703 or contact us and you will be pointed in the right direction



 

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