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  • Writer's pictureClaire Elbrow

Are you ready? Helping your business survive a crisis.

If there ever was a time for companies to be agile and flexible, it is now. Shifting customer demands are going to have a significant impact on small and large businesses alike, as are the logistics of keeping your business running. Small businesses are, by nature, more about to able to adjust to changing times quickly, but often they do not have either the processes or cash reserves of a larger business to help them through, so although positions differ we are all struggling with the same issues.

So, what first steps should you take to keep things moving as smoothing as you can?

Your communication strategy can have one of the most significant impacts on the success of your business to come out the other side intact. If you run a small or growing business and manage your marketing either with freelance or agency support or via your own team, you should be considering.

Your Communication Strategy

Employee communication strategy

Work with your employees first as if they are not well informed and all moving in the same direction, you are going to get into difficulties from the get-go. Take care of them first and take care of them well by:

Communicate often, and clearly

Staff will want to know the truth. If they don’t get it from you, they will fill the gaps with their own conjecture. Once rumours start or mistruths go around, they are hard to manage.

Be transparent

The more transparent you can be the better. Surprises and lack of information make people very nervous. This does not mean you have to disclose any confidential information or make off-the-cuff statements about situations you are not sure about. Some staff will always want more information and others, happy with less. The key is to find your own space where you believe you are giving enough information and be consistent.

Be honest

You don’t know the details yet, it is fine to say you don’t. In the case of the current coronavirus pandemic, things are changing fast, and none of us knows all the details. Keep updated with the latest guidance and act immediately if any changes are needed. Work out what works best - holding more regular staff meetings or increasing staff newsletters, or intranet updates will most definitely be on the list.

Take care of your staff

All you can to provide the support and services your employees need to manage through the crisis. If you do find you need to let staff go, focus on communicating with respect and offer as many sign-posting services as you can reasonably afford to do or can find.

When the crisis is over, your staff will remember exactly how they have been treated and can be your greatest advocates as your firm starts to rebuild.

Customer Communications

After your employees, your customers should come next. Similar rules apply, and it’s never too late to start your planning!

Communicate clearly and often, be honest and transparent. Speak early and often!

If you have to make an announcement which affects your customer base, try and include achievable milestones in your communications. This is not always easy with a crisis which is out of your control, but do your best.

With a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, your overall business message to your customers is quite likely to change from ‘buy from us’ or ‘visit us’ to ‘how can we help?’ As this crisis evolves, think about the opportunities you have to ‘help’ your customers. Think about providing relief where you can. That can be everything from offering different ways of accessing your services, to providing instant refunds for cancelled events or trips.

By communicating clearly and showing you are carefully thinking about each stage often mitigates any negative impressions and keeps your brand strong.

Crisis Communication Plans

There are plenty of crisis communication plans around which can be a great help, but if your crisis is fast-moving, it is not always possible to stick with them. I certainly advocate having a plan but keep it simple, create a framework which works for you and drop in the details as you go.

Here are my pointers:

Work out how you are going to manage your communications process.

Decide what works for your team. This might be via daily calls, regular meetings or intranet updates.

Define your objectives in dealing with your crisis.

For instance, currently, main objectives will be communicating and supporting staff and communicating with your clients in a way which works for them.

Define who oversees what!

Identify who is in charge of communications for each audience, and who is leading the overall plan. Make sure you have the complete contact details for everyone you need to contact.

  • Staff

  • Customers

  • Suppliers

  • Stakeholders

  • Volunteers

  • Investors and funders

  • Your local community

Identify the communications channels for each audience.

By this, I mean how you will communicate with each audience, so a meeting might work for your staff, a letter for your suppliers or an email newsletter for your customers.

Create your own Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) outline.

This is difficult to complete if you don’t quite know what you are dealing with, but you can try and anticipate questions for what you believe will be the most asked questions.

Create your key messages outline.

You’ll have to flesh out the details when you are actually dealing with a crisis. Recently, for instance, you will have seen emails or social media posts from venues, stating how they are dealing with sanitising and cleaning their areas. They have identified that this one key message is essential for their customers, have reacted to it and are aiming to instil confidence that they are aware of what is needed and are doing it.

Work out how you are going to measure progress.

When it’s out of your control...

What happens when something occurs beyond your business’s control that impacts how you sell your product, acquire new customers or communicate with existing customers? This is what we are seeing right now with the coronavirus. It is certainly going to test our agility and flexibility!

Your first tendency is going to be to cut or reallocate budgets to focus on what you already have in place. Will bombarding your customers with more Google ads or emails based on product sales work? I think not! They may start to ignore you or worse become annoyed by you.

You have to add creativity and innovation to the mix quickly. First steps are to go back to your business and marketing objectives and assess how well you can achieve your goals with the fast-changing circumstances and possibly without the channels you have been using. Find and fill in the gaps! Why not brainstorm with your team to see how you can find new ways to fill these gaps.

Innovating is not easy. In fact, is it really, really hard! So, bring together as many people as you can from your business and beyond – marketing, sales, customer service, etc. If this is not possible or your business still small, why not get together with other local businesses who and create some working groups to help you all come up with ideas. If you do not want to meet face-to-face, try ZOOM or Skype.

Get your group to list all that they have seen and heard from customers, what would help them, how and why. Think about what they like, what they don’t. Think about which marketing channels can be eliminated and which need increasing. Are there any new technologies which could be useful for you?

Create a list of possibilities or sparks to explore. You might need to conduct some quick customer surveys or interviews to give you more information to find out what works for your buyers and to ask what keeps them engaged and what drives them mad!

Finally, embrace your challenge with enthusiasm! This is not an easy time but if you can, at the very least, get through it and at best, exceed your objectives it will be incredibly satisfying.

Takeaway tips!

None of us knows what lies ahead of us, but we can all improve our chances of coming out the other side by:

  • Having a clearly defined communications strategy and crisis plan

  • Having control and oversight of your marketing environment and being aware of where you can easily make changes and a difference

  • Being prepared to innovate.

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