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By Rachel Sestini, managing director of Sestini & Co Group. We are primarily a tax consultancy focusing on internationally mobile clients, although we offer a full range of sub-audit accountancy and tax compliance services, alongside a SSAS and SIPP pension trustee and administration business.

Summarise how Covid-19 has affected you? 

The key change is the move from the majority of the team working together in one office to working in our own homes.  In addition, we have moved the focus with some clients to supporting them as they manage their way through the crisis.

What has been your plan to continue?  

We were very fortunate in that we had already moved from paper files to electronic filing some time ago and had laptops for the whole team as well as a VOIP phone system.  We’ve also always had at least one staff member working mainly from home and so had experience of the challenges of working apart.  

Overall, it was therefore a relatively straightforward process for everyone to move to working from home.  It meant we needed to review our processes to ensure the handoffs could be accomplished effectively and in some cases we had to shift responsibility for certain activities which had been shared to a specific member of staff to simplify matters.

How has business changed for you over the last few months? 

In a lot of ways it has been business as usual, albeit from a different location.  We initially needed to spend a lot of time understanding the proposed government reliefs and explaining to clients what was available and then assisting them in making the relevant applications. 

We’ve become more flexible with fee payment schedules where some clients haven’t had the cash available, particularly those who’ve had to close down or found their business income greatly reduced.

On a positive note, many of our clients have been keen to get their tax returns done early, so we’ve received information way ahead of schedule.  Also, as we work with internationally mobile clients, there’s a been a lot of activity in relation to relocation plans having to change because of the current situation.

As lockdown eases what measures have you put in place to get back to business? 

Now that the team can start working back in the office, we have implemented a booking in system so that no more than two people are in at any one time.  This ensures we can easily observe the 2-metre distancing in the office without anyone feeling constrained or awkward. 

During lockdown, we’ve introduced a new document storage system with an integral client portal to make it easier to send and receive information securely.

We’re also in the process of updating our website to provide more information and reference material for clients and prospects.

What has been the most challenging aspect of all of this? 

The speed with which we had to review and update our systems and processes to accommodate home working was a challenge, especially changing modes of behaviour to ensure that important information was communicated effectively across the team when we were no longer together.  As most of the team work part time with varying schedules, we need to take care to ensure everyone is in the loop especially when we are also geographically apart. 

What has been the most positive aspect? 

Seeing how well the team have adapted to change in a challenging situation and how they have all pulled together.

Has it made you consider how you feel about other businesses/suppliers/customers/clients for good or otherwise? 

Yes, on a personal level we have some excellent local businesses – farm shops, pubs, doorstep delivery services (not to mention my favourite wine shop) who have gone out of their way to source supplies and put new offerings in place to support the local community and they deserve our continuing support and custom into the future. 

Similarly, in a period when businesses have had to make very difficult decisions about their staff and suppliers, it’s been easier to see who is behaving ethically and with integrity.    

How important is this phrase to you – ‘buy local, supply local’? 

I believe very strongly in supporting independent businesses – business-wise, the majority of our suppliers (IT, web services, marketing) are independent local businesses and I feel this enables us to build closer relationships which enhances the service we receive.  That said, because of the cross-border element to our offering, at Sestini & Co whilst we are a small, independent firm, our customers are spread all over the world.  We offer something they can’t necessarily source locally.

What are your top tips at this time?  

1. Go back to basics – the level of uncertainty at the moment is hugely daunting, in some ways this is like starting a new business, so keep looking at where new clients will come from, how to improve cashflow, how to improve processes etc.

2. Keeping looking for improvements – in some ways the easiest time to make big changes is in a time of change, but small improvements also add up.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Your parting thought? 

Whilst this has been a challenging time, it has also opened up new opportunities and relationships and shown us how adaptable we can be. 

For more information visit https://www.sestiniandco.com   

Fiona Scott Media Consultancy Bath

Scott Media

Scott Media is run by a UK-based journalist with more than 20 years' experience in the media - print, radio and television.

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