As I write this from my own quarantine, I can confidently say we are in uncharted waters. In a profession that is pretty predictable, suddenly we are all trying to figure out how to work remotely, what it means to be flexible and just what communication needs to be provided and to whom. As the marketing and communications professionals at your accounting firm, your skills – and your leadership – are needed now more than ever.
Create a Crisis Communications Team at your Accounting Firm
Even the smallest accounting firm will need someone officially in charge of all communications, even if it is only two of you: a marketing professional and an accountant. This ensures the messages you create are technically accurate (accountant) and written clearly, with empathy and in layman’s terms (marketer). When news is changing rapidly, you should meet at least daily to discuss what needs to be said and to which audience.
Tell your entire firm about this team and create a protocol for sharing information, making it clear that any mass communication needs to be filtered through this team to ensure consistent, accurate and compassionate firm messaging.
Keep Clients Informed as Much as Possible
Yes, you are not the only business or group sending emails, writing blog posts, distributing newsletters and populating social media with COVID-19 related information. But just because others are sending information doesn’t mean you get a pass.
Those in our profession are among the most respected service providers with which individuals, business and other organizations work. An absence of communication is likely to be noticed more than you expect. Clients look to their firm as their own personal experts, and they look to their accountants to clear up confusion regarding shifting deadlines, the availability of financial assistance for small businesses – really anything related to their finances and money.
Be that resource for them by sharing as much information as you can, as often as necessary.
Don’t Forget to Communicate with Employees
We are all concerned right now, including everyone at your firm. Not only should accounting firms encourage employees to share information with your communications team to pass on to clients, but remember to send any external communications to them too, ideally in advance of dissemination.
Along with the actual post, give them talking points, reference articles and let them know it is okay to tell clients they don’t know something. Coach them, though, to remind them to tell the client they will get back to them with an answer. There is no reason for everyone at your firm to Google for answers; be the resource they need so they can focus on their work and know that if questions arise, they have an internal resource finding accurate answers.
Remain Flexible and Empathetic
Now is not the time for stoicism or to worry about what people will think if you are dressed casually for that Zoom call (though please wear pants!). People who are forced to stay at home all of a sudden are looking for human connection and a sense of “we are all in this together.”
At some firms, you may need to coach your accountants and advisors on dropping their guards and simply connecting on a personal level as well as a professional one. People are scared, and many of them, including your clients, may be facing drastically reduced income or making some difficult decisions about layoffs. Client phone calls may be able to serve as a form of therapy, and we all must remain flexible to have these difficult conversations.
Your audiences – your clients, internal and external – will appreciate anything you and your accountants can do to help them remain informed, reduce confusion and provide comfort. Do your part and share your own tips in the comments!
About Bonnie Ruszczyk
With 25 years of marketing experience, Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk helps professional services firms develop unique strategic marketing that will help them reach their growth and awareness goals. This can take many forms including serving as a fractional or part-time CMO, creating strategic marketing plans for the firm as a whole and the niches it serves, helping hire and manage internal marketing teams and much more.
She has been recognized as one of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People (2012, 2013, 2016) and One to Watch (2011), Volunteer of the Year by the Association for Accounting Marketing and one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting (2015, 2016). She is also an AAM board member, a former president of its Atlanta chapter and marketing committee chair for CPA Consultants’ Alliance. Bonnie quite literally wrote the book on online marketing for accounting firms, Take Your Marketing Online: Proven Ways to Grow Your Firm in the Digital Age, at the request of the AICPA. She also contributed a chapter to Bridging the Gap: Strengthening the Connection Between Current and Emerging Leaders in the CPA Profession and is a regular contributor and quote source for Accounting Today, Entrepreneur, US News & World Report, CPA Practice Advisor and other industry-related publications and websites.