You don’t need me to tell you that we are living through unimaginable and taxing times. The news about the troubled economy and the fight on the front lines leads every news broadcast and appears on the front page of every newspaper.
By nature, no one really wants to plan for a crisis. No one wants to dwell on the seemingly endless lists of crises that can befall a business — the current global pandemic, earthquakes, floods, man-made disasters like terrorist attacks or oil spills, or even internal catastrophes from a breakdown in leadership to intentional sabotage. After all, there is so much to do in the day-to-day running of a business without trying to second guess the future.
Unfortunately, disaster can strike any company, of any size, at any time. Even more difficult than actually planning for such a crisis is the task of determining what to plan for.
If you type “managing a business through a crisis” into any internet search engine, thousands of results will pull up. Honestly, it can be a bit overwhelming to try to get through them all. In reading many of these articles, however, some of the same advice appears universally. These are the nuggets that rose to the top, and I wanted to share.
Communicate regularly and consistently with employees, customers, and suppliers.
There’s no such thing as over-communication. In a time of crisis, employees value open, transparent leadership. Make sure you share your plan for guiding your organization through the crisis to help decrease anxiety and give your team a sense of direction.
Messaging consistently is also key. Differing messages damage credibility. With timeliness and consistency in mind, a communication plan should be developed as part of an overall crisis management plan. Within that plan, make sure there is a provision that includes updates to your corporate website. After all, your company’s website may be the only place you can provide a message to the local community and your customers.
Also, as part of your communication plan, make sure you’re providing reassurance. During a crisis — and especially one as far-reaching as this pandemic — everybody's life is being disrupted. Spread a message of optimism, about getting through this as a community. Leverage social media to spread the message.
Take the long view.
Leading through a crisis requires taking the long view, as opposed to managing the present. Business owners need to look ahead and try to anticipate what comes next — whether it’s next week, next month, or even next year — to prepare the business for the changes ahead. By taking this broad, holistic view, leaders can see both the challenges and the opportunities the crisis has brought to the fore.
See if you can get short term relief from your lenders.
Reach out to your lenders to negotiate short-term relief. This could either be in the form of deferred payments or extended credit lines. As a small business owner, you need to be proactive in reaching out before the situation snowballs into a bigger financial challenge.
It’s also suggested that you follow your state government Twitter feed for timely relief information announcements. If a new program for relief opens up locally, you want to make sure you are aware of it as quickly as possible.
Develop a detailed plan.
Without a doubt, the best time to develop a crisis management plan is when you’re not in the middle of a crisis. The objectives during any crisis are to protect any individual (employee or public) who may be endangered by the crisis, keep the key audiences informed, and ensure the organization survives.
Try to anticipate what crisis could impact your business, and then start developing your response plan, department by department. Get detailed. These plans should be developed to explain the exact response needed for each possible situation you could encounter. In fact, the more details you include, the less chaos will ensue when a catastrophe does occur, and the easier it will be for your company to be able to work through it — since everyone will be on the same page.
And make sure you update and add to these plans every year.
Another critical component of crisis management planning includes the establishment of a succession plan. If a business owner is suddenly unable to perform their duties, there needs to be a clearly outlined document that lists the steps that should be taken. This could include selling the company, or transferring ownership to family members or key employees.
Even though we might be going through a crisis now, business need to continue to look ahead to see how they can strategically position themselves for a post-crisis world. Several things every business should do now include:
- Evaluating whether you have the right people on your team, or if it’s time to attract talent.
- Picturing what things will look like in a post-crisis world. Do you need to reprioritize initiatives now in order to take advantage of new opportunities? How will your employees and customers be behaving differently post-crisis?
- Investing in technology that can help to strengthen your marketing and build your brand.
- Thinking about the new competitive landscape that might have fewer customers and/or higher inflation. What can you do now to change your pricing strategy or supply chain to succeed?
In the not too distant future, there will be a reboot. Business owners will be resetting their businesses in terms of employees, customers, and financials to a new, post-crisis level. From that point, we will begin to rebuild and grow through the recovery into a new reality. Now is the time to make sure your business is ready to succeed.