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How to (and not to) write an email about COVID-19 to your clients

Mar 18, 2020

coronavirus emails accountants

Okay, raise your hand (virtually and from a distance) if you’re already sick of all the COVID-19 emails. And the coronavirus emails. And the “we thought since times were tough you might want to look at OUR company” emails.

Fortunately I haven’t gotten too many of the latter, but I know some of you have. We had a “client check in” call on Zoom today, and so many of our clients showed up – and we talked about how accountants can communicate well with their clients right now.

Part of that is sending emails, and here’s a little summary of what we covered. Before I go into these, I do want to give the caveat that mass communications are good: but it’s the one to one contact which will be the most helpful, the most supportive, the most appreciated. Text your clients. Ring them. Send them a video. DM them on their preferred social. Whatever way you do it, stay in touch and make it personal. Even if you’re just asking how are they and how is their family and is anyone self isolating and how are they feeling? Be available for them to talk and be encouraged.

But when you do send out email summaries, here are some ways to make them not-boring and actually helpful:

  • Start positive. Do not, please please do not, start by telling them that there’s a global pandemic and a stock market crash and unprecedented dangers and a global recession. They already know that. Before you send this email, think about how you feel. Or how your favourite client feels right now, today, tonight. They’re already scared, worried, trying to figure out how much money they need to live. (Unless they’re an Amazon delivery person. In that case they’re not reading emails because they are too busy.) Maybe they’re worried about their gran or have lost all their customers. They don’t need panic from their accountant: they need to believe we will all come out the other side of this. We might look a little different and so might our businesses, but we will come out the other side and this too shall pass. I’ve seen a lot of emails sent (or drafts written) where all the positive is at the end. We will get through this, we’re here for you, here are our contact details. Put all that at the top.
  • Stay calm, but don’t be dull. Listing out the facts is helpful, and you absolutely want to stay on an even keel for their sake. But put a little humanity, a little care in there. Some of the emails I’m getting sound like they’re written by the Official Legal Global Coronavirus Email Writing Campaign Department, and besides sounding all exactly the same, they sound really depressing. There’s no hope, no strength. If you can put some joy or beauty in there – maybe a photograph or a video of how gorgeous Venice’s canals are right now or something – it will help ease the email from “boring facts” to “things that will help you survive right now”.
  • Make it clear what you’re giving them to do, if anything. It might just be an informational email, and there’s nothing they need to do right now but wait for you to send further details. (If that’s the case, say that.) But if there is something you’re giving them they can do – like arrange a call, or ask for a cash flow forecast, or have an online budgeting session – make it really obvious, really clear, and really easy for them to do it.
  • Make it easy for them to arrange an online meeting. I’m presuming you use Zoom or Google Hangouts for video meetings – those are going to be your best option (even better than a phone call, because you can see their face and connect with them like a human. You’re missing a lot on a phone call.) If you use Calendly or a similar online appointment booking system, include a button or a link to that so they can book in when suits them. I would strongly suggest you don’t leave it up to them to book the meeting – say “you can arrange your meeting here, but we’ll be contacting as many of you as we can directly as well.”
  • Include as much information as you need to, and no more. In order to figure out how much information that is, first decide what kind of email this is going to be. Your three options include: 1) A big long detailed email with lots of information; 2) A short simple personal email to encourage them and give them hope; 3) A short focused email with links to longer detailed info elsewhere. You can write a blog post or create a website page, and put all the detailed info there, and keep updating it regularly. Although, please don’t call the page “Coronavirus” – keep it positive, like help or support or cash flow or funding. PF’s page is simply called “helping”.
  • It’s okay to send multiple emails. I’ve seen some accountants sending out an email a day right now, and some have only sent one so far. There’s no rules for this – and as long as your emails are helpful, specific, and encouraging, no one is going to mind. Use your judgment, and email when it’s relevant and when it’s going to help those who read them.
  • Create industry sub groups. Allow people to opt in to emails particularly related to their industry – so if you need to send an update to those in the hospitality or leisure industry, or those in the creative industry, with information specific to them, you can. This is an amazing opportunity to build your email list the way you want it for when you come out the other side of this. The more personally applicable the emails are to their situation, the better.

Most importantly, send personal emails. One by one. It will take a little longer but you will always be glad you did it. On our call today, every accountant who had sent out personal emails or otherwise contacted their clients said the feedback was either “Oh my, this is so kind of you” or “I’m so worried, I’m so glad you called”. (Or both.)

If you’re drafting an email and would like some input from the PF team or other accountants, share it in the PF Marketing Community Facebook group. See you in there!