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5 Ways to Help Business Owners Make Smart Choices in a Crisis


When something arises that no one could predict – like the temporary but immediate closure of their business – even the most unflappable business owner can succumb to panic-driven decision making. Here are five tips to help your clients focus their energy on staying calm.

Apr 16th 2020
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Business owners are known for being risk-takers. They are more comfortable than most when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. However, when something arises that no one could predict – like the temporary but immediate closure of their business – even the most unflappable business owner can succumb to panic-driven decision making.

As a bookkeeper or an accountant, chances are you have been busier than usual recently. Clients are relying on you now more than ever, not only to provide the information they need to apply for the various loans available as part of the CARES Act, but also to help with vital strategy to ensure their businesses survive what could be a months-long slowdown. Because they’re scared about the uncertainty of their business’s future, though, it can be difficult for your clients to make wise decisions about what to do next.

Fortunately, you’re in an excellent position to help your clients make the best decisions for the future of their businesses. But first, you have to help them get past the panic they might currently be feeling. Following are five tips to help you do just that.

Tip 1: Communicate Frequently…and Calmly

Your clients are filtering through a lot of “noise” right now. In order to be heard, make sure you are reaching out to them frequently. Send two or three short emails to your clients every week. Create and share brief (2-5 minute) videos that give an action step within the first 30 seconds. Call to ask how they are doing…and actually have a response ready for if they answer and say they aren’t doing very well (see the EVOLVE Method in the next tip).

Keep your tone calm, and present yourself as a resource who is available to help. And be real: There’s no reason to overthink or over-edit your communication. The important thing is making contact with your clients.

Not every client will respond, and that’s okay. This is a time where the thought truly is what counts, and you will be at the top of their minds when they are ready to rely on your expertise.

Tip 2: Meet Your Clients Where They Are

Not physically, of course, but strive to understand where your clients are emotionally. Business author Mike Michalowicz has developed a Business Crisis Trend graphic to help with this. If your client is in a state of shock, desperation, or evaluation, work with them to move from “lizard brain” (survival) thinking to logical thought about what they need to do next to ensure the survival of their businesses.

You might be thinking, “But I’m not a therapist!” And you’re right. However, you might be the only person your clients have to talk with about what they are going through right now. If you’re feeling lost about how to help your clients move to logical thought, check out the EVOLVE Communication Method (also by Mike Michalowicz).

Tip 3: Help Your Clients Take the Next Right Action

Pivot, or stay the course? Apply for a loan, or furlough the team? Throw in the towel and play video games, or create a sales funnel? Decision fatigue is at an all-time high right now, and your clients are relying on you to help them take the next right action.

Again, you might be thinking, “I’m REALLY not a therapist!” But you CAN help your clients self-coach by using Suzi Welch’s 10-10-10 method.

First, help your client determine the next action they are considering in their business. It’s important to only focus on one thing at a time, so provide some guidance so they stay on track. Next, ask them how they will feel if they proceed – and if they don’t proceed – in 10 minutes, then 10 months, then 10 years.

This exercise helps your client move from taking a “Band-Aid” approach to fixing their business to really considering the best action to take to ensure its long-term survivability.

Tip 4: Provide the Right Guidance at the Right Time

Now is probably not the best time to educate your clients about the importance of obtaining W-9s from subcontractors (something I typically do at the end of each quarter). Although the typical accounting guidance is still important, your clients have more pressing matters on their minds. You want to focus on providing the guidance that is relevant to your clients at this particular moment.

Once you’ve gotten your clients past the panic they are feeling about their business, you’ll want to make sure they stay on track to ensure their businesses survive this economic downturn and thrive when they return to a new normal. And you’ll do this by staying in frequent communication with them, learning what they are currently facing, and then providing the correct guidance for that challenge.

I’ve referenced three resources already, but there are dozens more available – free of charge – on the AccountingWEB site. Use these resources to help you communicate with and guide your clients through what could be uncharted waters for many of them.

Tip 5: Don’t Take Things Personally

Anger and frustration are common responses to stress. You might find your most laid-back clients are becoming more demanding, or an already-intense client might raise their voice when speaking with you. Your attempts to communicate might not only be ignored; some clients could rebuff you.

It’s important to remember your clients aren’t frustrated with you – they’re frustrated with their situation. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to work yourself into exhaustion or illness or suffer verbal abuse, but remember to extend your clients some grace as you help them navigate their difficult situations. Don’t take it personally if they lash out at you, and don’t give up on trying to help them.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Although there is talk of “reopening” the country soon, everyone agrees things won’t go back to where they were in February. (Was that really only six weeks ago?) The sad reality is, some businesses won’t reopen. Others will reopen at a reduced capacity. It will likely take months – perhaps years – for the economy to return to where it was at the beginning of the decade.

This means business owners will be carefully weighing where and how they spend their money, and they are most likely to spend it with the providers who were true helpers during this event. If you stay in frequent communication with your clients and help them make wise decisions, you’re more likely to make the cut, ensuring the long-term survival of your business while feeling good knowing you are providing a critical service to your clients during this tough time.

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