Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards for AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), offers five top tips to keep your business in good shape over the holiday season
Five ways to keep your business ticking over despite a quieter workplace
With the school holidays comes the mass exodus for offices throughout the UK, as employees head to sunnier climes or partake in a staycation.
But a quiet August in terms of staffing numbers can put additional strains on those who are left in the office; and moreover can often be the direct cause of a heavy workload in September, where the back-to-work blues can be tempered further by business requirements to begin planning for the New Year.
Here Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards for AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), offers five top tips to keep your business in good shape over the holiday season – and hopefully help to facilitate a more reasonable workload when staffing levels get back to normal.
1. Careful diary management is required
It’s particularly important at this time of year that employees organise their schedules well, taking into account that, in some cases, they may be required to take on extra work.
Where possible, try to forecast how much work there may be coming in from customers over the summer holidays, and delegate accordingly across those staff who are available – to make for positive customer outcomes.
Lucy Cohen, 33, runs Bridgend-based accountancy firm Mazuma Money, a firm she set up ten years ago. She says: “Planning is key over the summer months; both for your clients and your staff. Make sure that clients know how long things will take and manage that expectation. If it will take two weeks, than be honest. Never over-promise and under-deliver!”
2. Use technology to your advantage
Imagine that your company’s marketing function is absent for a period of time over August. If that’s the case, why not consider automating your content output? Your social media channels, blogs and newsletters can all be set up well in advance to issue your messages publicly, meaning that you can maintain your external profile through these channels even if there’s no one in the office physically hitting the ’Go’ button.
But be warned – customers, prospects and other business stakeholders will still expect a response to their queries, however and wherever they raise them, so a back-up plan is needed.
3. Is outsourcing the answer?
Preferably prior to that key worker going away, if the company budget allows, you could consider appointing a short-term solution provided by an expert consultant or agency in their field – getting them in early so they can understand your business, its unique selling points, and your requirements.
If you do choose to go down this route why not take some time to think about whether you will need to use an outsourced solution in future. If, for example, you turned to an expert finance manager to look after the books while your key staff were away, should other members of the team be trained up for the future? According to AAT research conducted this year, one in two workers said that training would make them more productive, so equipping employees with additional skills may help both your future business needs and to improve their own productivity levels.
4. Think creatively about your Out of Office email
It’s all too easy for staff to put on a basic and generic out of office message informing their clients that they will be unavailable for the coming fortnight. But does this provide a good customer experience? And how will your suppliers know that their invoices will be paid in time during this period of absence?
Think about how they can instead get to another appropriate person in the office who might be able to help them get the response they are looking for. Include an alternate email address on out of office responses, and if that’s too complicated, why not direct customers and suppliers to your website where they can get the further information and alternative contact details they require.
Remember also that before you or any staff member leaves the office for the summer break, it may prove worthwhile from a customer service point of view to get in touch with all your key contacts to let them know of your forthcoming absence – and who they should liaise with in your absence.
Michelle Fox, 40, runs Fox Accountancy Services in Oldham – having always wanted to be her own boss. She says: “I always e-mail clients as soon as I know I am due to take some annual leave, and ask them to be early with their paperwork so I can ensure they won’t be late. Any backlog I have tends to be covered by my working late, whether before the holiday or after.”
5. Remember your business contacts may also be away!
Preparation is everything. When speaking with your key contacts, remember that there’s a fair chance they may be heading away themselves, or working more limited hours if their children are at home. Finding this out will mean that you’ll have more of an idea about which of your customers are more likely to get in touch over August.
Lucy Cohen reminds businesses to focus on their staff’s requirements first in order to produce positive customer outcomes. She adds: “Tell staff what is expected of them before they take their leave.
“It’s very easy for people to go into ‘holiday mode’ for a week before they have time off – let them know the tasks that they have to do and the level of concentration you expect. Make sure they understand that they need to focus hard before they go on holiday, not gradually taper off!”
Michelle Fox adds: “Getting rid of the guilt, that having a holiday can make you feel, can be the worst part. I don’t want to let clients down and can feel in the wrong if I’m not available to do what they pay me for…but we all need a couple of weeks to recharge!”
Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards, AAT
AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), the UK’s leading qualification and membership body for vocational accountants. www.aat.org.uk/