PLENTY of people have had advice from Nick Hixson recently, even if they have never paid his business a penny.

When the coronavirus crisis struck, he made it his mission to get on top of the deluge of official information on furlough, loans and grants, and publish his guidance for free.

A lot of policy was published on Friday afternoons. He spent Friday nights and Saturdays producing his digested versions so people would not have to worry for the whole weekend.

This approach has helped earn the business adviser a shortlisting for the Excellence in Challenging Times Award from the accountancy association AVN.

Nick Hixson’s business is Charminster-based Hixsons. “We are described as business enablers, which means we have a back office function which does what accountants do, but what we’re really about is trying to give SMEs business advice to get the best that life can bring for them,” he says.

“We try and find out what the personal angles are to the business model and give them a better work-life balance, which I describe as a life-work balance because life comes first if you want to work.”

Nick Hixson is one of only four Drucker Associates in the UK and around 20 worldwide. They take their title from Peter Drucker, the management writer and educator who died in 2009. “He wrote 39 books on management, all of which are still relevant because it’s all about people,” says Nick.

He qualified as an accountant with Grant Thornton, after which he says says he had “two lucky breaks”.

The first was that “I started reading the right people” – primarily Drucker and the organisational behaviour expert Charles Handy. The second was that the Handy Management Centre started a distance learning course on management models. “They wanted people in the local area who would look after the students,” he says.

His approach to advice is to find out why his client is in business in the first place. “We sit down properly for a serious amount of time. We spend two to three hours going through what the person’s business journey really means. It’s a lot of detail,” he says.

It is necessary to follow up these meetings with a “nagging list”, he says.

“People come and say 'I’ve got this issue'. We find a resolution, they go off and agree it. Six months later they come back and say ‘I’ve got the same issue’. They haven’t implemented it because the they’re overwhelmed by a pile of Post-It notes. It’s not time management, it’s too much to do.”

While few businesses could have been fully prepared for a pandemic, he says Hixsons has encouraged resilient “flexible and resilient” business plans.

“We’ve encouraged clients over the years to build a balance sheet because that produces resilience by itself it also produces the ability to take opportunities,” he says.

When the virus struck, he designed a free webinar for a sector group and wrote blog posts on how to save a business and what banks were really looking for when lending. He personally delivered equipment to his staff for comfortable home working, sent them care packages over Easter and has a meal from local business Lunch’d delivered to staff and their families once a month.

None of his clients has gone out of business and few have made redundancies.

“We’ve also won clients over the past months, to my slight surprise,” he says.

“One of them was certainly because we were pushing this stuff out so regularly and not just looking at the government website but saying what it means. We got a client because we gave them a little bit of advice.

“They emailed their accountant four times to say ‘What should we do?’ and got an email back saying ‘Look at the government website’. By the time they had something back, they’d had eight newsletters from me.”

The 66-year-old has dealt with around 1,000 businesses in 40 years and says that gives him the ability to apply lessons from one to another.

Governments tend to like businesses with high growth potential, but Mr Hixson says this is an easy approach. “We don’t go for growth as a priority. We go for better rather than bigger,” he says.

That means getting to know each business well. “We need to be a critical friend, but first you’ve got to be a friend and that takes some time,” he says.

He says he has seen the "greed is good" philosophy, espoused by the character Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street, decline over the years, although "there are certain industries where it's alive more than others".

“If you judge it on the last century’s model, I haven’t achieved wonderful things,” he says.

“If you judge it on this century’s model, I’ve got four happy children and a supportive, good relationship. The house is paid for and some if it will pay for a pension. I’m not retiring and I’m having a ball – and I’m living here.”