More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, according to the Small Business Administration, and each business is experiencing unique challenges in the current environment. It’s essential that advisers who work with small-business owner clients help them navigate the short- and long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and market volatility with empathy and compassion.
Now more than ever, advisers should work to deliver greater value to their clients, going beyond money management to help them reach their goals and achieve peace of mind. Here are five important things advisers can consider doing to support small-business owners in these challenging times.
Offer easily accessible CARES Act resources. Supporting employees is top of mind for many small-business owners right now, so helping them understand the aspects of the CARES Act that relate to their business is key. More than half of advisers (56%) said they think clients are at least somewhat confused about how CARES Act payouts for small businesses and taxpayers will work, according to a Fidelity CARES Act poll conducted in early April, so now is the time for firms to think about positioning themselves as information hubs. Consider teaming up with other curated subject matter experts, such as accounting firms and pension consultants, to host webinars or answer questions in a live chat. Leverage all the resources the firm has available, which might include frequently asked questions, white papers and more.
Help clients manage their cash flow. This is a priority for many small-business owners as they juggle payroll, rent and other expenses while their business is operating at a reduced capacity or temporarily closed. Many are also carrying debt – Fidelity’s 2019 Investor Insights Study found that nearly three-quarters of small-business owners have debt, compared to 62% of other households. Advisers can help by contacting local banks to discuss things like COVID-19 support programs, renegotiating terms and debt consolidation on behalf of their clients, as well as assisting with filing tax extensions, determining when to stop vendor orders and more. They can also help clients think through staffing decisions, understand where adjustments can be made to discretionary expenses and brainstorm ways to create new revenue streams or convert fixed costs to variable costs to help manage margins.
Find ways to maintain the business virtually. Advisers can add value by helping clients navigate ways to make their business viable in the current environment, such as offering online karate lessons or at-home haircut tutorials via live or recorded videos, or delivering personalized gift packages with locally sourced products. If it goes well, the virtual distribution model could become an extension or permanent part of the business beyond the crisis, especially since there can be cost savings associated with going virtual.
Part of this involves helping clients understand customer needs and loyalty. What will their customers be willing to pay for, even if it has different value than the standard offering, because they want to support the business through tough times? For example, a restaurant could consider offering DIY meal kits or a pottery studio could sell pieces to paint at home.
Encourage clients to have a long-term strategic plan. With COVID-19 likely having an impact on short-term results and plans to invest in the business, it’s more important than ever to help business owners plan for the long-term. Advisers can help them understand all the elements of running their business: where they want to be in the future, what opportunities exist and where there are weaknesses that could prevent them from achieving their goals. For example, what are potential new revenue stream opportunities, particularly for recurring revenue, that could augment the current model? What capital, infrastructure, talent and investments are needed in the next six to 12 months to position the business for long-term success, especially taking things like fluctuations in customer demand and an unknown timeline for economic recovery into account?
Advisers should consider talking to clients about their personal goals too, not just business and professional ones. Our Investor Insights Study found that small-business owners are twice as likely as others to view their adviser as a life coach, not just a financial adviser, so there is a huge opportunity to add more value holistically.
Empower clients to learn from each other. Building communities is part of the value firms can deliver to their clients. Help clients make connections by bringing them together in a call or private group on social media to discuss challenges and share best practices. Firms can then deliver resources related to clients’ biggest concerns – for example, a social media specialist to help them make the most of their digital channels, a cybersecurity consultant to answer pressing questions, or legal experts who can help resolve real estate challenges.
While small-business owners all have their own unique challenges, what most have in common is a passion for their businesses and a close connection with their employees – something many advisers understand well if they’re small-business owners themselves. Advisers can offer value beyond the financial by helping these clients navigate all aspects of today’s environment.
Anand Sekhar is vice president of practice management and consulting at