- Up until March 2020, The Finance Business Partner focused on conducting large, face-to-face workshops.
- They switched to delivering online workshops after coronavirus lockdowns saw their forward bookings disappear.
- The online workshops are proving effective and have gained the firm new clients.
There is nothing like a black swan event and a global pandemic to make you reassess what your business does, how it does it and why you started it in the first place.
Especially when it wipes out your entire business within three days.
But that’s what happened to us at TheFinanceBusinessPartner.com when the pandemic hit.
We are a learning and development company that delivers training programs targeted to accountants in industry who want to be more influential in their organisations – or, put simply, better finance business partners.
Up until March 2020, we focused on in-house workshops and face-to-face public workshops and were growing at three times the pace of the previous year. It looked like the hard work of our first few years was now finally building to something of scale.
Then the pandemic hit.
A coronavirus wipe-out
I remember returning from a week doing client workshops in New Zealand. By the end of the next week, three months’ work was cancelled. Our entire pipeline of potential work and leads were cancelled. And our mechanism to deliver our product (face-to-face workshops) was unavailable.
We had lost all of our current customers, all our future customers and all of our products… within a week. All of that momentum of the previous four years was gone. Vanished.
At the same time, I was trying to get my in-laws back from Europe where they had been stuck on a cross-Atlantic cruise from South America. Stressful? That’s an understatement.
Some late-night discussions with my business partner in the UK were also stressful. What do we do? We quickly took the view “forget the past. If we started our business today what would it look like?”
That thought alone gave us two choices, give up or flip our business model completely. We focused on what we could do moving forward, not looking back or feeling sorry for ourselves or waiting for this pandemic to end.
“We focused on what we could do moving forward, not looking back or feeling sorry for ourselves.”
The decision to go online
So we turned everything online. We activated our video library. We started piloting virtual workshops – short, long, big, small, early, late – we tried it all.
And, most importantly, we focused on not what worked for us, but what would work for our clients.
How could we make an online experience better than a face-to-face one for them? How could we make their learning experience so good, that reliance on one mechanism to deliver it was no longer an issue?
After spending two to three months piloting and researching what worked and didn’t work online (and watching way too many webinars that sent us to sleep), we are now finding business in places we previously couldn’t access.
“We are now finding business in places we previously couldn’t access.”
Asian and Northern American clients who previously had to fly in all delegates (and us) and find time in their diaries months out, could turn on 90-minute workshops within a week if diaries permitted. Costs for our clients were significantly cheaper.
The learning experience has also improved. Instead of two or three days of learning, back to back, where everyone is exhausted and little of the content is retained, we do pre-video theory, then short sharp sessions, with tasking in between to embed the learning.
And we do small groups rather than big ones.
Big groups are needed for face-to-face workshops to make it economical for both us and our clients. Online, we can do small groups at home, wearing our pyjama bottoms, and have what we want for lunch and morning tea. And so can our clients. There are no bad feedback forms where clients rate the lunch menu 1 out of 5 and that’s what they remember.
And attendees seem to be more comfortable contributing. Rather than being in a room of strangers or having their manager next to them and not knowing if they should speak, they are at home and feel comfortable to contribute.
How business improved thanks to COVID
We are now winning more work than we were pre-COVID and have the flexibility to deliver to a global audience, reduce lead times and contribute to more accountants becoming influential in their organisations.
It has been the most intense business period of my four years of doing this. Stressful, but satisfying at the same time.
It has proven to myself and my business partner in the UK, Andy Shambrook, that if we focus on the client experience, provide content that is practical rather than theoretical and can bring alive our years of experience from finance and non finance, we will just get better and better at helping accountants be more influential in their organisations.
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