BUSINESSES will be judged on their conduct during the coronavirus crisis and will have to plan accordingly, according to a tax expert.

Ross Prince, a partner with national audit, tax, advisory and risk firm Crowe, said: “SME owners tend to leave talk of brand equity and reputation management to the bigger corporations, but many are starting to realise the impact these issues can have on profitability.

“It is important to cut through the noise around lockdown and ask, ‘How will your business be judged in hindsight?’”

He stressed that SMEs and owner-managed businesses need to be aware of how their suppliers and customers have perceived their handling of lockdown, in order to safeguard future relationships.

“The much-publicised trial by press and social media of companies like Boohoo, who were criticised after allegations of poor working conditions in their Leicester factories, may seem like extreme examples to most SME owners.

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“But, with social media being so instant, you are never more than a heartbeat away from praise – or condemnation,” he pointed out.

He added that other firms’ use of ‘performance reviews’ in order to cull staff, without considering options under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme such as furloughing, had brought swift condemnation.

“Big companies have teams monitoring how their brand is perceived and working constantly to manage their reputations, but smaller companies equally need to find time and resource to think through their actions and how they will be received in their marketplace,” he said.

"Most company owners have just been concerned with keeping the lights on, working through the lockdown safely, or waiting until a safe return to working is possible.

"They should also consider how the decisions they have taken, are being, and will be perceived in the coming months.”

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Businesses that are seen to be doing the “right thing”, and who work on maintaining strong customer and supplier relationships, are better placed to weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic.

Mr Prince added: “Those that come across poorly or are criticised in the media, risk suffering reputational damage and seeing their revenues plunge.

"It is better to pause, review the actions you are taking to secure your company’s future and put those actions under the microscope.

"In these days of cost cutting measures, is your pound spend a sunk cost or an investment in brand and loyalty value, whether that is in your people, your customers or your supply chain.”