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The ultimate guide to dealing with overwhelm caused by constant client calls due to the Coronavirus Crisis

by Apr 8, 2020Leading yourself and your staff

It’s now a few weeks since most small accountancy firms moved their employees to working from home. And for many of us the real hard work is starting now. Many of our members are reporting that they are feeling overwhelmed by what is happening right now as a result of the Coronavirus Crisis. So in this article I am going to share the help and advice we gave to our members on Friday’s group accountability call to help with dealing with overwhelm. 

Included in this article are:

Dealing with overwhelm: Is this your reality at the moment?

You have clients calling you on the landline, mobile and via whatsapp or facetime? Add into the mix you have multiple pings coming at you from all the communication channels you have set up to keep in touch with your team, clients and wider community? Then you find yourself on back-to-back phone calls or ‘zoom’ calls with clients reassuring them and helping them think through their options in regards to their business. And when you are on the phone to clients they are really struggling, highly emotional and need more than just a quick 5-10 min chat. That’s what many of our members are finding that their day job has become. Of course in the background the day-to-day compliance machine still needs to roll on.

If this is you right now, the first thing you need to do is just stop. And I mean stop for a moment. If you are going to get through this crisis with your health and accountancy firm intact, then you need to put yourself back into control. This means taking a break to think through how you need to personally make adjustments to how you are working in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Cut down the communication channels

If you are to focus or do any work at all, and particularly when clients and team members are crying out for your attention, the way you use your communication channels has to become more disciplined. Successfully dealing with overwhelm is often about being disciplined about what you will do and where you will focus your time.

These are the tips we gave our members on the call:

  • Set expectations with clients for how they can get in touch with you and stick to this. For example, if they are not ringing the office landline (as instructed) to call you then don’t take their Whatsapp or call via the mobile. If you need to educate clients then send out an email reminding them for how best to get in contact with you and the team. You may find it helpful to add this information to the team’s email footers.
  • Educate your team about how they can get hold of you and the best times for doing this. This means leaving time in your diary where it is free for you and your team members to talk.
  • When you want time to really focus, turn off notifications about new messages, in particular Whatsapp or any team communication channels.
  • If you need more help with your willpower, use a technology solution like Freedom (affiliate link) to set times to block access to the most distracting sources on your phone, tablet and computer such as Email, Whatsapp, Slack, Social Media etc

Delegate like your life depended on it

Hopefully we will never have to live through another time like this again in our life times. Now is not the time to hang onto things thinking only you can deal with it. Your aim as an accountancy firm owner is to delegate as much as you can down to your team. This is one of the best ways to successfully be dealing with overwhelm right now. This will then free you up with the important things such as:

  1. Keeping an eye on the workflow to make sure everything gets done
  2. Speaking and communicating with clients
  3. Ensuring that your team remains positive and upbeat

Our blog post “5 ways small accountancy firm owners survive and thrive the tsunami of work brought by COVID-19” gives you more ideas and tactics on how to delegate more to your team and others.

Run daily or even twice daily operational huddles

Our members have reported that one of the sources of overwhelm is balancing the requirements of their team and their clients. If it is not a client wanting an urgent answer then it is a staff member with a query about one thing or another.

Before the crisis really hit we always recommended to our members that they have a Daily Operational Huddle with their team members. Our members have told us many, many times – particularly when they were dealing with overwhelm during busy season, that these Daily Operational Huddles were a life saver. The Daily Operational Huddle is an essential part of the Rhythm Team Meetings. The Rhythm Team Meetings are standard meetings run at standard times in order for you and your firm to focus on what really matters, including working ON the business and IN the business. Click here to download the agendas for holding these meetings. (Email address required)

The Daily Operational Huddle should be held by an intact team, e.g. if you are a 3 person practice, all of you together. If your firm is big enough to have an accounts team and a bookkeeping team, then probably each team will hold its own Daily Operational Huddle. In the huddle everyone get 1-2 mins to talk through the answers to these questions or similar type questions:

  • What am I happy/grateful or positive about?
  • What am I going to complete today?
  • What help or support do I need to complete this?

The important part of these questions are to keep the first question as this helps boost people’s mood and stops them getting defensive. The second part of the questions is about helping your team become outcome driven (essential if they are to be a great virtual team), but also helps you identify who needs what help to get things done. You can then proactively get the team members the help they need, without getting interrupted at random times during the day.

This template really saved us time when communicating with our smallest clients so we had more time for everyone else

Jessica Pillow

Pillow May

What an amazing job, you and the rest of the AMC guys are doing”

Worth your weight in gold and you are part of our team in every shape and form and when this time passes we will celebrate together.

Graeme Tennick

Graeme Tennick & Co

Add in a structure to your day

You are probably never going to be able to spend enough time with your clients and team right now. One way of dealing with overwhelm is actually accepting your reality and being aware of what you can or can not control. And this is just the reality of the moment. What can help you make sure the time you do spend is productive is by adding in a structure to your day.

For example:

  1. For the hours you are at your most productive, set these aside for your own client work, such as doing a cashflow forecast for a client. Do not allow yourself to get pulled into a client or staff meeting in these hours. Tell your team and any members of your household about these times, and that you are not to be disturbed.
  2. Use a meeting booking system such as Acuityscheduling (affiliate link) to set times when clients can book time in your diary. Allocate these times when you are not at your most productive and would welcome the distraction of a call with clients. Ensure that you use the ‘padding’ option so that for every meeting a client books via the automatic booking system you choose you have 5 – 10 mins between calls to write your notes, do any quick next steps, and get yourself in a position where you are mentally ready for the next call.
  3. Decide on the times when you will STOP working in the morning and the afternoon. When you are working from home it becomes all too easy to get welded into your desk chair and not get up for hours and hours. Your brain needs time to recharge to be at its best.

It is great to see the club stepping up with endless resources, daily zoom calls and whatsapp updates to assist us to help our amazing clients

Great to see you help us assist our client’s ensure they survive, navigate and thrive in one of most economically challenging times in recent history. Thank you Ashley, Heather and team.

Shahbaz Hussain

iHussain

How to deal with clients all being desperate for your time

Our members are telling us that unlike in January where most clients leave them alone to get the tax returns done in peace, that they are spending all their time on the phone or in a video call to scared, anxious and sometimes highly distressed clients. And as a result, they don’t feel able to keep the phone calls short. In this scenario you need to lead your clients, rather than be led by them or you will spend all your time on the phone to them. Our blog post “5 ways small accountancy firm owners survive and thrive the tsunami of work brought by COVID-19” talked about triaging your clients. This is an essential exercise if you are going to be able to cope with the sheer volume of clients needing your time.

You need to lead your clients, rather than be led by them

1. Call all your clients

It’s very much good practice now to phone all of your clients to see how they are doing. That way you and your team can validate who really needs the help of your firm and what help they need. Now, these phone calls need to be shared out between the team. For example, our members have personally called their top clients, but left the admin team or account managers to call the other clients to see how they are.

2. Set up virtual weekly question and answer sessions for your clients to join

Our members are having great success hosting virtual weekly sessions with their clients and local business owners. They suggest to their clients, particularly the smaller clients, to attend these sessions, to get all their questions answered. As many clients have exactly the same questions, these virtual surgery sessions are a great time saver. Many of our members are inviting non-clients to join these sessions. They are a great way of generating new business in this strange time. Some of our members are running these sessions more than weekly. For example, they may partner once a week with a client who is an employment lawyer to answer the many employment law questions their clients are having right now. In the club we’ve also made it easy for our members to host these sessions by providing a slide deck to cover off all the main points from the help announced by the government.

3. Send regular updates by email to your clients

One of the ways we have been helping our members is by writing email updates they can send to clients about the government announcements. Our members and their clients love these. These regular email updates can really help cut down the amount of queries your clients are sending you.

4. Tell your clients via email how they can help you

Many of our members were telling us that they were getting many clients ringing up and asking the same questions over and over again. Not particularly helpful as they were dealing with overwhelm as a result of their concerns about their own business, getting staff working efficiently from home etc… So, we wrote for them a polite email telling their clients to help us to help you by reading the following before getting in touch:

  • Official government ‘COVID-19’ website pages
  • The email updates that were sent out

The members who have used this email template have found it radically cut down on client calls and queries. If you would like this email template, click here to download (email address required).

If you want to send out a similar email, you also may like to consider setting up some dedicated email addresses for clients to use, e.g. grants@yourfirmname.co.uk to help you and your team effectively handle the number of client queries. With these dedicated email addresses you and your team can handle the load of client queries much easier.

5. At the start of a call with clients set expectations for the call

You are on a call to a desperate client, it’s only natural that you will want to spend as much time as they need in order to help them. However, if you did this now for every single client, you’d not have time to eat or sleep. In our fortnightly group accountability call our members shared how they are managing to keep their client calls to time. For example:

  • At the start of the call stating how long they have got for the call and why it needs to end on time, e.g. “I then have a call with another client in a similar difficult position to you”
  • Ask clients at the start of the call to prioritise what they really want from the call
  • Set an audible timer 5 mins before the end of the call to remind you to start to wind the call down

6. Aim to move the client to a logical and rational state quickly

There is a huge amount of emotion present right now. Most people are in a heightened state of fear and anxiety about the health of their family and friends, and also the health of their small business. This level of emotion doesn’t make it easy to quickly work out a plan of action for a client. In this scenario, with any client call, after you have understood the priorities for the call, it’s essential to check out their emotional state. Allow some time in the call to just listen and hear how they are feeling about things. The more you can allow someone to talk, rant or vent, the easier it will become to help them take rational and well-thought out decisions.

I’m am grateful that I found you at Accountex and made the decision to join the club

You always ask us each week what we are happy and grateful for each week: –

  1. happy about the support I get from AMC
  2. happy about the value I get from the AMC
  3. proactivity of AMC has gone through the roof when most would be curling up and saying not today
Gareth Burton

Progress UK