“I’ll never forget the day I lost my first client to COVID-19. She couldn’t afford my services anymore and when I did her final report that month, I understood why. Her revenue had dropped 62% and her margins were so low that she could not pay salaries that month.”
“The effects of COVID-19 were hitting businesses hard. And now it was hitting us, too.”
TJ Ledwaba, founder of accounting firm Bright Path Business Consultants, says his initial reaction to losing business was disappointment and concern for the future. But a few hours later, the phone rang. It was a new client, wanting to sign up for the same services the business just lost.
“That’s when I came to terms with the situation. COVID-19 is going to be around for a long time. I can either cry about my losses, or I can remind myself about why I started this business in the first place: to help SMEs to navigate their growth journey. Our clients need us now more than ever. With our new client, we had an opportunity to deliver our best service.”
Bright Path’s customers were confused by the many COVID-19 funding schemes and business relief options.
“They didn’t know which option was right for them. Everything was happening so quickly with some funds already drying up, new ones becoming available – often with short application windows,” says Ledwaba.
“We did a lot of consulting work during this time, advising clients on the right option for them, helping with compliance and applications, and getting their books in order. Some of our clients didn’t think they qualified for relief or didn’t have faith in the system, so it took some convincing to get them to apply. Our mission was to future-proof our clients’ businesses, because their success is our success.”
In clearly communicating changes in legislation, tax considerations, and funding options, Bright Path added massive value.
“Our clients were receptive to our advice, on everything from HR and payroll matters, to the best business management solutions and applications. If we identified a synergy between two clients, we’d connect them, so they could explore collaboration opportunities. Nobody knew what to do and I think having us as a sounding board added immense value to our clients in a difficult time.”
“Ironically, this has been the best season for our business, and I believe it’s because we stayed true to our values and our level of service. It was clear that the only way to stay relevant in this time was to build trust and add value.”
COVID-19 Business Advice
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Advice on staying relevant in challenging times
So, what advice does Ledwaba gives his clients?
- Be open to change: “The world has changed, people are changing. Allow your business model to change, too. Do you really need an office? Or can you maintain – or improve – your service levels by making everything and everyone easily accessible in the cloud? We’ve never seen a need for an office because Sage empowers us to work from anywhere, on any device.”
- Review your pricing and services: “Before COVID-19, we’d charge separately for services like business registration, tax clearance, and B-BBEE certification. Now, we’ve bundled those services into a more affordable package that will helps SMEs to hit the ground running. What products or services can you combine to create more value, for less, for your customers?
- Remember this cash flow secret: “Yes, we lost business, but we also attracted new business because clients are willing to pay for value – often upfront and in full. Focus on helping your customers with their biggest challenges and the cash flow will sort itself out.”
- Interrogate your systems and processes: “Whenever we consult with clients, we ask: ‘Is this your best, or is there a new and better way of doing things?’ Then we ask deeper questions, like: ‘How do you realise your vision? How can you grow your revenue? How do you build and engage a team?’ We often find these answers in the data.”
- Invest in your brand: “If business is slow, use the time to market yourself. We hired a designer to refresh our brand. We also engaged with the media and our partners to position ourselves as champions of small business.”
- Help each other out: “COVID-19 impacted all businesses in different ways, but we can support each other through this. Learn from others in the industry, attend webinars, listen to your people and customers. The lockdown made us stronger as a business and we can share our learning with clients, especially on topics like remote working and using the right tools to enhance business efficiency.”
In any season, there will always be challenges and opportunities, says Ledwaba, but it’s in how you approach the challenges and the smart decisions you make about the opportunities that will keep you relevant.
“Remember, tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Stay true to yourself and stay authentic. If you’re a leader, be present and visible to your teams and customers. Connect often, show empathy, and help them to build resilience,” Ledwaba concludes.