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Lessons from lockdown: Stories of innovation and collaboration with Pam Phillips and Darryl Swift

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John Coldicutt

Sep 15, 2020

Accountants aren’t just number-crunchers – they’re essential business partners. That means they’ve not only been working hard helping clients get to grips with their finances and government schemes like CBILs and furlough, but also helping them to get through the pandemic by sharing vital information every step of the way. 

Earlier this week, I hosted a Xero On Air episode entitled ‘Lessons from lockdown’ in which we heard stories of resilience and creativity from two businesses and their accountants. One such accountant is Pam Phillips. Along with the rest of the team at de Jong Phillips, Pam has been working tirelessly during the lockdown and beyond to help clients like Darryl Swift, Founder of market research agency, Impact Research. As projects were put on hold and fieldwork moved online, Pam and the team were able to help Darryl interpret lower sales in a different way.

de Jong Phillips has been working with Darryl every step of the way to help him assess finances and rethink the longer-term business model beyond COVID. By having up-to-date data in Xero, de Jong Phillips have been able to plug in other tools to accurately forecast cash flow and help clients stay afloat. 

Read on to find out how Pam and Darryl have worked together, and what they’ve learnt along the way. You can also watch the full episode here.

Time was of the essence

The speed at which companies went from business-as-usual to lockdown was rapid. Being on top of changes from the get-go has been vital for both Pam and Darryl. 

Pam’s first newsletter, Coronavirus and our cash flow, was published on 12 March, “before anyone had a clue what furlough was!” Pam and her team made plenty of videos, blogs, and newsletters to clients interpreting the ever-changing rules around furlough and the introduction of the various government support initiatives. “By that time, we had called every client to walk them through what we knew about furlough, CBILs and the grants available at the time,” explains Pam. 

Darryl found these newsletters hugely beneficial, saying that Pam and her team were “very hot on interpreting Rishi Sunak’s Friday announcements to make it a lot clearer for the business. This helped us to make quick decisions on what to do next as a business.”

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

Scenario planning was crucial for Darryl’s business, and Pam and the team played a vital role. Darryl says that with cash flow forecast software Float, and with Pam’s help, they were able to “plan for various scenarios – best being that we’d go back to normal, ok being if cash flow dropped but stabilised, and worst deciding what to do when cash ran out. From there, we were able to reduce budgets and targets.” 

Pam says that scenario planning was particularly helpful for furlough decisions. “We were able to pull in staff utilisation data from Harvest, and look at it in conjunction with live forecasts in Futrli and cash flow forecasts in Float to work out what the most sensible furlough choices were. By having the additional data available from Harvest, it was possible to make furlough decisions not just on cost savings, but also on how the remaining work would best be spread across the team that was not furloughed.”

All in this together

Collaboration throughout the crisis has been vital in making sure that every aspect of the business was financially tight. Pam made the decision early on to partner with an HR agency to help clients like Impact Research have every base covered. “As a firm, we look at our clients’ whole business, not just their numbers. By partnering with an HR agency, we were able to, between us, answer the most pressing questions our clients had. Specifically, we could be confident in our advice around holiday, training and redundancies for staff on furlough. We were also able to provide all our clients with free template furlough contracts.”

Darryl says that collaborating with Pam has brought the teams even closer together. “We were already working closely with de Jong Phillips as they run our whole finance function, but we’ve got even tighter during the pandemic. They really are embedded in our business. We needed someone who could interpret the figures in black and white to help us make tough business decisions. There is much trust there, and Pam and her team have really supported us during the ups and downs. They’re now training our internal business units to become more commercial in their thinking and learning how their decisions impact the accounts and budget.”

Keeping finances at the heart of everything  

Access to up-to-date finances has never been more critical for Pam and Darryl, and both have been using technology to access the right data. Pam says her team has been able to switch on cash flow forecasts in Float quickly for each client. “Impact Research’s records were already bang up-to-date as we do daily bookkeeping with Xero, so we know their data is good.”

Darryl explains that introducing new technology has saved his team time and given them more confidence. “Previously, our CFO was spending a lot of time in spreadsheets, and there would still be errors, which were very frustrating for him. He now spends less time on the accounts, and we have more confidence in the numbers.” The team at Impact Research  focussed on digitising processes like moving time tracking and timesheets from spreadsheets to Harvest, which improves project profitability tracking and staff utilisation reporting. 

For Pam, these are the changes that have had the most significant impact on the business. “It means that they can better understand their gross profit margin and make commercial changes to improve this where it had narrowed over time.”

As both government and small business continues to adapt to the pandemic, the collaboration between business owners and accountants will need to continue to go from strength to strength. By working closely together and adopting the right digital technologies, accountants can help business leaders weather this storm. 

Check out our business recovery centre to uncover free tools, resources and webinars to help you and your clients rebuild.  

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