In our Your Story series, we speak to business owners about the challenges they’re facing and the steps they’re taking to overcome them. Shayna Chapman, CPA, founder and chief strategist at Shaynaco, shares how her accounting firm is moving forward as the economy reopens and gives advice to small businesses during these unprecedented times. Shayna and her team use Sage 50cloud to help their clients’ businesses keep moving.
Our first day back in the office was Monday, June 1 and that week I posted on Twitter, “I need a change of scenery, I’m going to the office.” File that under things I never thought I would say.
When the economy started to shut down, we were in the height of tax season. From one day to the next, everything changed. I walked in that Monday and told my staff we were shutting down and they had to go home.
That previous day, I spent all of Sunday thinking about how I could tell my clients we were shutting down our office in the middle of our busy season. And for my staff, I stopped on March 15 to work on nothing but technology, getting my team organized on how they would work from home, and how they would interact with clients.
Our technology-enabled future
We live in a small town with a population of 3,500 in Ohio. My office building was built in the 1800’s. It’s a very “community is family” type of town; so, our local clients are used to dropping things off, meeting without an appointment, or shoving papers under the door. For our closure, I had to hang a sign outside that said due to COVID-19 and social distancing, we were closing our doors.
My local clients are active on social media, so in addition to the closure sign, I wrote a long post on Facebook explaining the way we were going to operate and that we were still there for them, just remotely. Because we are so small, we did not have a mass email communication system. I’ve learned through this experience to start researching and adopting one now for future purposes.
In the past, Microsoft Teams has been a game-changer for client onboardings. It’s even more important now with our client advisory services and the closure of our office. For example, when we’re bringing someone to adopt Sage50, it’s much easier to communicate a checklist of the items we need from them through a Teams channel that they can always refer back to. Additionally, in the last few weeks, we’ve changed how we’re scheduling client appointments by using Microsoft Bookings. During this time, we’ve really learned to make the most of the software we already own.
Even though we have a Voice Over IP phone system we love, we’ll keep using virtual ways of speaking to each other – Microsoft Teams makes it easy to speak to someone who is still in the same building but with which you have to keep practicing social distance measures.
Beyond all of the tech changes we’ve implemented, upon coming back, I took our office hours off the door and they are never coming back. The door may be open, but you now can’t just assume you can come in between 8:30 – 4 p.m. again. I have employees who are extremely busy and if they want to work from their homes, now they can.
Many challenges were presented during this time; but I chose to really focus on all the opportunities. For a long time, I’ve wanted to do many of these changes anyway, but other people’s fears of change played into my own fear of changing processes and procedures and that really holds you back. This was a time to move forward.
The CARES Act impact on small businesses
We have a dedicated tax team and dedicated client advisory services. I oversee all the business tax work. In preparation for the CARES Act, I spent all my time reading about the Act. The iterations of the bill constantly changed. It was (and still is) time consuming and never ending.
From the impact of coronavirus, I have two clients who have now shut down their businesses. These were two large, monthly advisory clients for whom we did all their internal work. This is going to be a large hit. Even now, I have clients who are in danger of losing their homes and businesses, so this Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is still very real and affecting many businesses across the country.
Those who have received their PPP, now may not know what to do with it. We are currently in the forgiveness phase. It’s only recently that the House passed a law to change forgiveness from eight weeks to 24 weeks.
Waiting on this change caused some anxiety because so many clients were already close to running out of their 8 weeks. Several were having a hard time spending the money appropriately due to limitations still existing on how certain businesses, like restaurants, can open and operate.
When the CARES Act was passed, I called each one of our business clients and explain what PPP was. It was at that point I realized I did not have a good mass communication system in place. I felt like it was my job to alert them to the possible loan assistance and explain to them how it worked. I also felt like the initial conversations and explanations were more about goodwill with my clients and didn’t charge for it.
While I am definitely glad I made the initial phone calls, it made me realize I needed an email system to distribute information regarding the relentless updates to these programs.
We are the frontline workers economically
The shutdown took place during the middle of our hardest part of the year, tax season. It wasn’t rare to sleep four-hours per night and stay up worrying about clients. Clients who don’t have these issues may not understand why their returns aren’t pushing through like a normal season. Even now, we really have not had much of a chance to breathe with our own families.
It’s after April 15th and even now I’m working at two o’clock in the morning to deliver a tax return to a bank to save someone’s home. Because of these very real threats, we keep moving forward. But all of that original, normal tax season work is still piled up on the backburner and I know people are running out of patience. Trust me, we are, too.
The term I use most to describe the situation is triage. People would say to us, you are the frontline workers economically. I shy away from that because we cannot compare ourselves to the true frontline workers, the doctors treating this disease.
It has been hard to listen to your clients worry about how they are trying to feed their families. This has taken and emotional and physical toll on us advisors. But we’ll get through it! I have been doing this long enough now to understand, we’ll get through anything. Maybe not completely unscathed, but we’ll be ok. The important thing is we are making a difference for our clients. And for these reasons, sometimes I have to remember to take my own advice.
Advice for small businesses during this time
- Be calm, think through a plan
Consider the opportunities you might have in front of you to do something differently so you can move forward. I am a big believer in vision boards, slowing down, and thinking rationally. If you are a restaurant and you have to scale back to take out, there’s nothing wrong with that. Right now, you have to keep the focus on how you are going to keep your team together and reach your ultimate goal.
- If you have financial issues, PPP is not the only solution
If you’re a small business with financial issues, PPP is not the only way to gain financing. Speak to your local banks and research opportunities your state may be giving out. Reach out to a financial advisor or lawyer, someone who can help you think logically about your next steps.
- There’s nothing wrong with going backwards to go forward
This happens in business, scaling back to grow. If you have to shut down your business at this time to go and work for someone else, gosh that’s hard. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you have to go small to go big again. You can absolutely start back up again in the future. Don’t let it break your spirit. Find the opportunities.
Through all of this, I have learned that my staff is resilient. I have also learned that some of them are stronger than even they think they are. Even I had to do things outside of my comfort zone and I learned to lead by example. In the end, it was all vital to keep us and our clients moving.
Shayna Chapman spoke with Sage Advice’s Lauren Pearson.
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