Five tips to build trust and develop new business during COVID times

August 25, 2020

“Relationships are formed and strengthened or destroyed in moments of crisis.” - Jill Avery

Working from home, balancing children’s homeschooling and business operations from your kitchen table, keeping a full schedule of Zoom calls, dealing with employee and client concerns, fighting fears of, or worse, contracting COVID, some days can be overwhelming. Despite it all, you have pivoted your practice and completed another busy season thanks to sheer determination, flexibility and technology. You may start to feel a small sense of comfort in managing work and family life from your home office. Do you dare add business development to the mix?

While it would be easy to put your firm’s growth initiatives on hold until a return to normalcy, business owners and organizational leaders need your assistance now. Do you realize how important you are to them, their financial health and operational wellbeing during these difficult days? They want advisors they can trust to be there for them and help them weather the storm. While some are growing at a record pace, some are sustaining and others are struggling to keep the doors open. Whatever their specific situation, your clients and the business community are in search of answers.

Before you move on to other responsibilities in the months leading up to year end, zero in on how you can help your current and prospective clients move forward. Your actions will have an impact both in the short term and after the crisis has passed.

Not sure where to start? Here are five effective, practical steps you can take to strengthen client relationships and grow your practice. Purposeful actions are the key to success.  

1.       Shift your mindset from selling services to providing solutions

“Your customers want to hear from you. Don’t do a blackout. Tell them what you are doing to solve the problem and not sell to them.” advises Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Worldwide. Now is the time to focus on helping clients. Get clear on specific ways your firm can assist. One sound approach is to reimagine client solutions based on their current operational state. Organizations experiencing hyper growth, for example, may want your help with growth management, business modeling and restructuring, data analytics, supply chain and ecommerce. Sustaining businesses will look for services such as returning to work and reopening, cash management, mergers and acquisitions, cloud computing, fraud and data security. Businesses working to keep the doors open need assistance with relief programs such as PPP, business interruption and bankruptcy assistance.

  • What solutions can you offer to rapidly growing companies?
  • How can your firm help sustaining organizations?
  • What assistance can you give to businesses struggling to survive?

2.       Stay close to your clients

It is critical to show concern for those you serve. Create deeper client connections by engaging regularly with them. Stay current on their situation. Move past business as usual conversations, demonstrate empathy and understanding for them and what they are facing. Show them your human side so they can be comfortable sharing their concerns. Learn how their business is doing, understand their challenges, successes too. Put them at ease in asking for assistance. Where appropriate, talk about areas for savings and operational efficiency that you discovered during the recent busy season. Discuss how these solutions align with their current needs. Zero in on what they value most.

  • Where are you struggling?
  • What are your main priorities?
  • How can we best help you?

Consider using the PCPS Identify and Prioritize Tool to guide these conversations.

3.       Be a voice of reason  

In a recent Edelman survey to understand brand trust during the crisis, 70 percent of respondents indicated, if a brand does not participate in finding solutions and does not communicate during this time of crisis, they are not inclined to buy their brand anymore. While we do not have all the answers in our practices, it is essential to be actively involved and vocal. Position your firm as a voice of reason to businesses and their leaders searching for a clear path. Provide information, solutions and hope, while focusing on key areas of interest to them. Share stories that highlight how you and your colleagues are helping organizations navigate current challenges. Incorporate these themes into your communications, website, blog and social media. Set up and continuously update an online COVID resource center. Include a toolkit with checklists, how-to guides and tips. Host webinars and podcasts. Write solutions focused articles for your firm’s blog and newsletters. Reach out to community organizations, industry trade groups and business associations to offer your resources for their webinars, newsletters and websites.

  • What key messages do you want to communicate?
  • What resources do you want to add to your website?
  • What success stories do you want to share?

4.       Bring clients together in virtual business roundtables

Work from home (#WFH) has left many of us feeling isolated and alone. Those who are accustomed to regular collaboration with colleagues and peers, sense they currently operate in a vacuum. We are yearning for social interaction and insightful discussions once again. According to this recent Edelman survey, people want your help to be in a community with others who are isolated at home. Fill this void by becoming a connector. Focus on bringing together clients, even prospects, with similar needs and interests in virtual business roundtables. Host facilitated forums on Zoom or Microsoft Teams for them to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions with peers.

  • Which clients might want to participate in a business roundtable?
  • Who in the firm can lead these discussions?
  • What common topics will set the tone for your first gathering?

5.       Organize virtual networking events  

Remember the last time you shook hands with referral sources at a networking function? Hard to believe something so innate to us as practitioners has been on hold for months. Our need to connect with bankers, attorneys and other friends of the firm has strengthened because we are unable to see them at conferences, seminars and trade fairs. During this time of year when many events normally take place, why not create your own virtual networking functions? Consider online coffees, teas and happy hour themed get togethers. Reach out to your best referral sources and mark a date on the calendar. Identify a group of professionals you normally gather with for local networking or those you meet at a specific conference. Decide how you want to structure the event and what you want to accomplish. Be creative. Look to bring activities you enjoy from face-to-face networking into your virtual gatherings. Identify a professional in your firm to moderate, tap someone from each group to get things started. Let people know what to expect in advance.

  • What are the biggest trends you see with clients and prospects?
  • What goals and major initiatives are you working toward?
  • How can we best assist your business right now?

Business owners and organizational leaders are counting on you more than ever. Be the practitioner that helps them make sense of this difficult time. Provide them with the insight, assistance and courage to move forward. Your actions will yield deeper client relationships and a stronger, more trusted and robust practice.  

For more resources you and your firm can use, visit the AICPA Coronavirus Resource Center, the PCPS Firm Practice Management homepage and the PCPS resources for firms and small business clients.