By Amina Hussain, Director – SME Outsourcing
In October 2012, after leaving, the Big Four, KPMG with 14 years’ corporate experience behind me, I took the leap of faith to set up my own accountancy practice in the heart of Birmingham as I wanted to make a difference in our SME community. With everything going in the right direction, my company, SME Outsourcing acquired a larger premise and increased the number of staff to meet the demand of our client services.
However, the real challenges in my business began on 16th March 2020, when Boris Johnson announced the upcoming potential lockdown. You can imagine as an accountant that my clients were in a state of disarray, wondering how this would affect them financially. As a firm, we received an unprecedented number of enquiries.
If this was not enough to contend with, I contracted the Coronavirus on the 18th March 2020 and with running my firm, I felt the pressure increased, as many people depended on my advice and support.
Within days of the national lockdown, I lost my taste, sense of smell and suffered severe headaches. My body temperature was reaching 41 degrees. By day three, I was gasping for breath. However, I continued to press on with work, as it was an exceedingly difficult time for businesses.
As soon as the Government announced what help and support was available, I was publishing real time data updates on social media platforms, through mail shots, and text messages, providing clients with guidance with regards to what they were going to be entitled to. As my health was worsening, I chose to ignore my symptoms and continued to speak to clients who needed instant support.
My staff at this point, were isolating at home, and my accountancy practice was under a lot of pressure along with the added IT issues.
I was returning calls every 20 minutes from 8.30am to 10pm at night, 7 days a week. My health severely deteriorated and I was hospitalised briefly but continued to battle through endless emails and messages. After 6 difficult weeks, I eventually recovered from being bed bound.
Customer Satisfaction Leads to Business Growth:
Despite my personal battle against the Coronavirus, I continued to ensure that my staff were managing the workload, and the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme (Furlough) service were offered to clients. At this crucial stage, I made the decision to not charge any additional accountancy fee for dealing with the processing of the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme.
Some clients required help with the initial grant application to the local authority as they had language barriers or were struggling to understand the application process. Again, whilst I was still struggling with ill health, I continued to help those businesses who needed that extra support to submit the application.
When bounce back loans were announced, our telephone lines were flooded with enquiries from clients as to whether they were entitled to the loan and what the process was to acquiring the loan.
Our larger clients in the retail industry were hit very hard. The closing of non-essential shops meant they needed instant cash flow to carry them through the rental period. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme (CBILS) were required, which meant cash flow forecasts, management accounts had to be prepared immediately. Still struggling with breathing problems and being fatigued, I managed to ensure my team were preparing these documents for clients with my support. Again, this service was free of charge.
By week three, the Government announced more support, phone lines were ringing continuously. Self Employed Income Support Scheme portals were open via the HM Revenue & Customs website.
None of us were prepared for the lockdown in advance, which meant we had to deliver a front-line service to clients and ensuring all understood what their entitlements were.
Providing a free Coronavirus Support here at SME Outsourcing has been my biggest achievement to date. I have provided superb customer services to my existing clients which has led to word-of-mouth referrals. I have been extremely busy meeting new clients’ demands.
Adapting to changes is mandatory in any line of work. Competitors will rise to any challenges faced and only the most consistent will be able to thrive in business. With hard work and determination, focus on what you want to achieve, changes need to be made when you are faced with obstacles. Having a positive mindset and being passionate in what you do, is a contributory factor of success.
From personal experience, in certain circumstances, compassion overrides income. Sacrifices are often needed to achieve the more sentimental things in life. As much as wealth is key in keeping your business thriving, sometimes, showing empathy can be more meaningful to those in need. During the pandemic, I have lost both friends and clients to Covid-19. This has taught me that the support of others is needed to keep ourselves motivated to push through the hurdles that we face in our lives.