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Are Small Businesses Ready for Big Crises?

We’ve been at this communications thing for quite some time, and this coronavirus isn’t the first time we’ve been on the crisis management train. And even though every crisis won’t be on such a grand scale, we would be remiss to not use this opportunity to educate our friends on the importance of a crisis management plan. 

While crisis management isn’t sexy, it is critical that every organization is prepared. Small businesses are not exempt. Sometimes how we deal with a crises is a matter of the heart. But more often than not, crises can affect the dollars we make as it’s both a branding issue and a sales issue.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A CRISIS?

In layman’s terms, a crisis can be anything that has the potential to get someone hot and flustered. This can be anything from a bug in the food to a major pandemic – like (ahem) the coronavirus. Organizational crises also include customers being asked to move seats due to the color of their skin, an endorsed athlete refusing to stand in the name of what many consider patriotic, a medical outbreak, or even the leader of an organization caught at a questionable night club. If it’s something that can get someone’s panties in a tizzy, then, friends, we have the potential for a crises on our hands.

Yet, it’s not always the situation that causes mass hysteria. Instead, it’s the way in which small and large businesses responds to the situation that can have long lasting effects.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT PLAN

In order to effectively deal with potentially hazardous situations that arise, organizations should have a well-documented crisis management plan. We’ve outlined a few tips on how to approach managing a crisis.

1) Identify the potential for crises. While no one wants to be a Negative Nancy, operating a business isn’t all fun and games. Wisdom tells us to be aware of things such as the potential for mistakes, the political climate, etc. Have a grasp on where things can and will go wrong. Additionally, don’t brush off items that seem trivial to you.

2) Be proactive. One of the best ways to manage a crisis is to prevent one from happening. Therefore, after you’ve identified potential areas in which a crisis may arise, do as much as possible to prevent it from happening. This includes training programs, well-documented standard operating procedures and and more. 

3) Develop a crisis management plan. While there are several articles about crisis management plans, here’s a list of questions you can use to get your cylinders firing:

-How do you respond if your product is contaminated? Do you issue a refund to all who purchased? Do you issue a public apology? Do you pull the products off the shelf? Most importantly, what is the response mandated by government?
-How do you respond to an illness outbreak? Do you close shop? Do you clean and sanitize even more? How will you treat customers who present symptoms?
-How should employees respond in the event they’re contacted by customers or news media?
-What is your communications plan to spread the word to your employees? What about to your customers? Do you use social media? Do you send a mass call or text message?
-What do you do if one of your ambassadors is going ham – either about you/your product…or just in their private life? Ignore it? Go ham with them? Create room for dialogue with that ambassador?
-Which team members need to be aware? When do they need to become aware? Why do they need to be aware? (Example: Social media managers may need to post an official statement, PR Specialists and publicists may help craft the response, etc.)

4) Make sure your employees understand how to respond in the event of a crisis. A crisis management plan is practically useless if those who help run your business on a day-to-day basis don’t know what to do in the time of crises. Whether you communicate the plan through email, a written handbook, formal training, etc., the most important that all employees who will help execute the crisis management plan are aware of their plan and their role in helping manage the crisis. 

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