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Lessons from a Business Owner (Who Happens to be One of Our Partners) During a Crisis

Lessons from a Business Owner (Who Happens to be One of Our Partners) During a Crisis

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Given how so much in the world has changed in the last few months, we’ve been producing a lot of content for business owners that answers the question “What’s next for my business?” We know that the top can be a lonely place, and many business owners crave insights from other owners on how they deal with the same difficult challenges. In the spirit of sharing, this article is for business owners who are curious to know how other leaders are dealing with the pandemic.

I decided to chat with David Goldner, who just finished his tenure as Gross Mendelsohn’s managing partner, to hear first-hand what he has learned as a business owner as he navigates his way through the COVID-19 crisis.

Our socially distanced conversation, which took place via Teams, covered his candid thoughts on running a business during a pandemic, our mutual fondness for double-sided printing and quarantine eating habits.

David Goldner Susan Gorham Teams

Here are excerpts, minus the silliness of double-sided printing and eating habits, from our conversation.

The #1 Thing That Positioned the Firm to be OK

David: The first thing I did early on was look at the steps necessary for the firm to operate and stay in business no matter what. Financials were where I turned first.

We talked with our bank about the situation in early March — like all businesses, we didn’t know what would transpire with cash flow in the coming months. We needed more liquidity and drew on our line of credit. Around the same time, government relief programs came about and we took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program like so many other businesses.

All of the financial uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 came at the worst possible time of year for Gross Mendelsohn. As a CPA firm, we were in the midst of our busiest time of year when the pandemic became a reality in mid-March. With the bulk of our work normally getting done around the March 15 and April 15 tax deadlines, and usually getting paid for that work within 120 days, collections were suddenly uncertain. Would our clients be able to pay us for the work we performed? We weren’t sure.

The other critical financial action of our owners — the firm’s partners — was to take a reduction in their compensation. This prevented us from having to reduce our workforce or impose staff pay cuts.

I Would Have Done _____________ Differently

David: Looking back, I would have spent more time early on asking employees how they were doing with all of the changes brought on by the pandemic — changes with their kids suddenly at home, changes with working from home, and so on.

I’m proud of our early and frequent updates to our staff, but we could have talked with people more, and had more of a dialogue. We could have asked people earlier “How are you feeling about this?”

Everyone, me included, was running around like a chicken with their head cut off wondering what they were supposed to do next. For our firm, this all happened during the time of year when we are most profitable. Once the April 15 tax deadline was extended to July 15, we should have told our employees to take a breath. Normally they are working a lot of overtime to get work done by April 15. In hindsight, we could have reduced some stress earlier by telling them to breathe at a time of the year when they are normally working the most hours. It was unreasonable for us to think that employees — especially those working parents who were suddenly home full-time with school age children — could be as productive as they normally are leading up to the big tax deadline.

Talking one-on-one with more people would have allowed us to give people clarifications on expectations.

Biggest Thing Learned In the Last Four Months

David: What I learned is that, with 21 owners in our firm, we have quite a few differences of opinions on things like working from home and what’s expected of employees.

While none of their individual beliefs are wrong, it can be hard to manage those differences from a cultural standpoint. At the end of the day we all have to figure out how we’re going to get the work done given the way the world is today. Adaptation is the key. The reality is that expectations have changed. I choose to accept the way the world is, then decide what I’m going to do about it. It’s fine to look ahead to try to fix long term problems in the business, but I also have to deal with the world today.

Taking a business through a pandemic has taught me to focus more on what I can change and less on what I can’t.

Unexpected Positives

David: By nature I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so it’s easy for me to see the unexpected positives that are coming out of this.

The feedback I received from employees about our internal communication was very positive. That was rewarding and makes me want to do an even better job with employee communication. We are looking at regular town hall meetings, but most importantly, we’ve learned to ask our employees what kind of communication they want and need from the firm’s leadership.

The firm is more on board with remote work than it has ever been. Personally I’ve learned first-hand that I can “see” more clients in a day via Teams than I could sometimes see in a week under normal circumstances. I wish I would have figured that out before this started. It turns out that in a few months, this pandemic advanced us two or three years in technology, both with remote work as well as other systems and processes.

Finally, the resilience of most people has been a huge positive. I’ve watched our people work through difficult situations and that’s been rewarding and encouraging.

Top Priorities Moving Forward

David: The current work climate has prompted us to consider processes and operations that we had settled into for years. Now we’re asking things like:

  • Do we need an office for every single employee?
  • What kind of communication do employees want that they’re not already getting?
  • How can remote work be even more efficient and seamless?

We just had our annual strategic planning meeting, and we spent a good bit of time answering the question "What extra things do we need to do to keep moving the business forward in the world today?" We are looking at everyone’s job and how to get it done in the best way possible, which comes back to improving processes and working more efficiently and seamlessly than ever before.

Need Help?

We’re in the business of helping our business-owning clients survive and adapt to this crisis that we’re all facing, and we’re here to listen if you need an ear. Contact us online or call 800.899.4623 if you’d like to talk through your business’s challenges and next steps.

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Published on August 03, 2020