It is indeed very strange times out there. None of us could have dreamed, in our wildest imagination, what is currently going on and the changes this has made to the usual freedoms we take for granted. We have been fortunate enough that we are still working and rather than having an office base we now have two offices in Tramore, two offices in town and one in Ballyduff so if you looked at it in an obscure way you could say we have expanded during the lockdown!!
We have been trying to help clients as much as we can and the team have been working closely with them to get numbers up to date, looking at cashflows and break-even scenarios so that they are armed with good figures and information and can base business decisions on their numbers. A lot of our work has been focused on helping clients with the wage subsidy scheme. This is a very well intentioned scheme that is not perfect but is doing what it says on the tin, so to speak, in that it is helping employers retain staff rather than leave them go by giving them a cash payment which is passed on to the employee. The government and Revenue have to be commended in their efforts to get this up and running so quickly.
As we slowly get through the lockdown our thoughts will turn to the gradual easing of restrictions phase and how the world of small business could look in the future so that we could be more prepared, if this was to happen again.
Cash – is the King dead?
Cash is now seen as something dirty that could carry the virus and there has been a huge switch to using cards and this has been actively encouraged by supermarkets and shops that remain open. Paying by card or phone was becoming the more normal anyway and this has now gained further momentum. The €30 limit for tapping your card has increased to €50 and there are plenty of other options where your phone is your wallet such as android pay and apple pay etc. Cash can be inconvenient and expensive for business owners. It is expensive to lodge and it takes time and effort as it has to be counted and reconciled and brought to and from the bank. It is more awkward from an accounting point of view rather than a card payment which is reflected on your bank statement.
Paying by cash is poor practice for a business, in most cases, as you often don’t get a receipt and it is not reflected in your bank statement. Therefore it often results in a business not getting an allowable deduction for a legitimate business expense in their accounts. It won’t be eliminated but there certainly will be less of it about and as business owners we need to make sure that we have proper systems in place to take payments by card and by phone to make it easy for our customers.
Online – but!
Having a presence on-line is an absolute must for any business now. People are spending more and more time on line on their phones. A phone is effectively a mini laptop and it is where so many people find out about the products and services that they want and need. Many local businesses have been able to continue trading during the last month or so because of their on-line presence.
I met Martina who owns a super flower shop, Casia flowers, here in Tramore. She was telling me that her daughter got a basic website up and running for her the week before mother’s day. This meant that she was able to display the flower bouquets and take payment on-line which was vital for her business during the busiest week of the year for her. Business would have been way down otherwise.
Pubs, shops, restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, builders and service professionals like accountants, solicitors and many others have to have a good on-line presence. It’s vital for the future of the business so that you can protect and grow your own incomes and protect your staff too. People are craving information and they want to know about the products and services that you offer and the price of those products. They want to know about the people in the business so that they know the type of people they are dealing with so that they feel comfortable buying from you and can they relate to the people in your business. A one page website is a thing of the past as it reflects badly on the business. If you are on-line and have a retail presence too, online will drive people to your shop but the experience of both has to be superb. On-line increases your market so that anyone in the world can find out about what you sell. Why couldn’t a Spanish student who loves a clothing shop in Waterford buy again and again from that shop when he returns to Spain?
If the on-line experience is excellent then by the time people come into your business they have done their research and very often they know what they want and will buy. This brings a better quality customer into the business and is where the personal touch comes in. Are you more likely to buy from a shop assistant who is hungover, like a dog behind the counter and is sending messages on his phone rather than a person who welcomes you into the shop, makes conversation and is helpful, but not overpowering?
My girlfriend was telling me a great story yesterday evening where she ordered shoes for her kids from the Shoe Centre in town. She could see the products on the website but couldn’t pay via their website yet but could order over the phone. She ordered the shoes and the owner of the shop delivered them to her house yesterday evening. That’s a superb service and it’s fantastic to see so many local businesses like that keeping going during this period.
The inexorable rise of technology was happening anyway and will continue to happen and this is mainly a good thing. Look at the past few weeks where we have benefited from the use of Zoom, Skype, Facetime and other to stay in contact with clients, work colleagues, family and friends. If this happened 20 years ago we’d be self-isolating, quarantined and cocooned with just the telephone. I remember our old phone had a handle on the side which you turned 3 or 4 times to get through to the switch in the local village and he had then to get through to the switch in Carrick-on-Suir and so on. If you were making an international call it would take a while. This was back in the day when our old phone number was Windgap 32.
In our accountancy business we use a cloud server, autoentry, cloud bookkeeping packages like Surf & Xero and Sharefile and Right signature. We, like any other business, have to give our clients a great customer experience and makes things as easy as possible for them. We also have to give them value so that we can complete their work well and efficiently so that our clients are protected.
We are no longer being compared to other accountants but to every other business so we have to be efficient, flexible and organised and of course the quality of the work has to be good and value for money. Technology helps us to grow and scale our business and we have to invest the time and money to see what technologies are out there to help us to keep improving our offering. What the current crises has shown to us is that we need to ensure clients can get their information to us in a safe and reliable format that is easy for them to use so that we are in a position to continue business as usual. This is as much helping and educating them as much as ourselves so that we can use technology optimally for the benefit of all. Electronic signing of documents is the new normal and clients find this very useful as it saves them time, printing, scanning and posting and saves us time too.
As a business owner the key for our growth is that we all are proficient in the technology we use so that we understand it very well ourselves and therefore are in a position to teach clients so that they are comfortable using it too. We have to be careful here though as clients are not bookkeepers, accountants or tax advisers so they key is for us to come up with systems and processes that help them so they can spend less time on paperwork and more time on growing their businesses with our help.
As a business owner you have to think about what technologies can help your business. Could it be a new stock control system, a new method of accepting payments, a customer relationship management system that helps you keep in contact with clients and lets them know about offers and upcoming events you have on? It costs money, so the investment has to reap rewards for you and if you are not the person to implement it then why not pick a staff member who is and can be your technology champion. They will be interested and you can reward them when you start seeing the benefits.
Robots, artificial intelligence, drone deliveries and virtual reality are all on the way whether we like it or not. This is nothing to be frightened of but we have to be willing to embrace and adapt the technology so that we can deliver a product or service that people will want to buy from us. It is no surprise that the most technologically advanced companies in the world today like, Google, Apple and Amazon are the most successful companies in the world.
There are many other areas where business will change with social distancing and remote working set to continue and making Tax digital. We will touch on these topics in future blogs.
There are many supports out there, including vouchers for trading on-line, and we have set up a “Supporting You” page on our website where you will find the latest up to date information on the wages subsidy scheme and other banking and supports from the Local Enterprise office. Click https://www.comerfordfoley.ie/… to access that page
If you need any help please feel free to contact Deirdre or any of the team on 051 396703 or in**@co************.ie