Crisis control may seems like an issue that only affects big companies with a reputation to protect. But businesses of all sizes have growing pains, and learning to navigate through them sharpens your skills as a leader. Consider what’s at stake if you ignore a problem or wait too long to deal with it. A proactive response gives you a chance to minimize any negative impact from a crisis. You can’t always see a crisis coming, but you can usually take steps to keep your company running smoothly while you deal with the situation.
Prevent Crises with Planning
It goes without saying that preventing a crisis is the best business crisis-control strategy. For many situations, simply training your team to deal with conflict is enough to defuse common problems. Start by establishing guidelines for avoiding crisis situations. What type of crises are most likely to affect you or your business? While you don’t want a doomsday mentality, it’s beneficial to personalize your planning as much as possible.
If you made a business plan early on, you probably identified your company’s biggest weaknesses. Those starting disadvantages could turn into a full-blown crisis down the road. Reflect on the experiences of your competitors for crisis ideas as well. For example, customer service complaints, debt, social media backlash, and marketing faux pas are public problems that lead to bad press. Medical bills, mental health, and family obligations are common personal obstacles that spill over into your work life.
Outline Your Crisis-Control Plan
Use your guidelines to determine the most effective ways to avoid each type of problem. The middle of a crisis is hardly the best time to make decisions for your company. Try to have a comprehensive crisis plan before an emergency hits, so you and your employees know how to keep things running. For example, if your business faces a supply interruption that stalls your output, coach a specific staff member on how to manage inquiries and complaints. Assigning those communications to a knowledgeable team member is safer than letting less-informed employees field questions they don’t know how to answer.
Use your crisis control planning process to shape your ideas about how a crisis might impact the business. Establish processes and actions to enact in the worst-case scenario. Business owners sometimes have a hard time sharing ownership in the essential processes that keep your company running. If no one else knows what you do for the day-to-day operations, your business may struggle when you’re gone. Train at least one other trusted manager or employee on your daily responsibilities. Splitting up the responsibilities between multiple employees helps disperse the workload if you’re suddenly absent. Keep these key details in mind as you outline your strategy.
- Identify one or two staff members who should handle inquiries from news outlets. Provide those employees with information and training on how to communicate with reporters. You want everyone who represents your business to be on the same page. Make sure employees emphasize that your business is serious about customer satisfaction and safety.
- Instruct your staff on how to be polite with customers and vendors. Employees follow your lead when it comes to public interactions. Encourage them to ask questions to better understand a problem, instead of reacting out of emotion.
- Provide employees with a mandatory video or webinar about appropriate workplace conduct. Do you have a confidential way for employees to report potentially fraudulent conduct or workplace harassment?
- Prepare a telephone contact list for situations when the office is unexpectedly closed due to an emergency. As an alternative to distributing a list of employee phone numbers, you can address privacy concerns by designating a few team leaders your staff can contact.
Handle Bad News With Transparency
A public incident can attract a surprising amount of attention. Social media makes it possible for people to literally share news with a worldwide audience in seconds. Whether you’re facing a customer complaint or an employment-related claim, such as discrimination or workplace sexual harassment, the problem demands a well-reasoned, effective response. When you do nothing, other people take control of the narrative and make assumptions about your business. The last thing you want to do is allow a minor issue to escalate and cause lasting problems for your business. The goods news is speedy communication also works in your favor. You can assess the situation, reach out for feedback, and give updates to everyone involve in a timely fashion.
Are you dealing with personal rather than public crisis control? Problems behind the scenes make it difficult to focus, taking time and effort away from growing your business. Even when you think the issue is contained, employees may notice you’re frequently distracted or troubled. Try to look at a crisis from the perspective of each group or person with a personal stake in the matter. What information does each person need to make productive decisions and move forward? By being honest and asking for help, you’re more likely to come up with a solution that works.
Improve Your Online Presence
Overcoming a public crisis? Don’t forget to clean up your online reputation. You don’t want negative mentions of your business to be the first things that come up in a search. If you have a blog, publish new content to push down negative media stories in search results. While you can’t erase what happened, you can turn bad news into old news.
Use keyword searches of your business name to closely monitor what people are saying about you online. When you see complaints, try to contact the customer through a private message to resolve the issue. That way, you can post the outcome without having the full details of your conversation in full view. But avoid responding to customers in an angry or defensive mindset, even if the customer is at fault. Other consumers pay attention to your behavior when deciding whether to do business with you.
Get a Grip on Finances
Many crises begin and end with cash flow problems. Mounting debt can be so terrifying that many business owners feel finally incapacitated. Instead of letting a debt crisis overwhelm you, look for ways to lower your operating costs. Can you temporarily scale down your business to reduce your expenses? How about giving up a rented workspace and running your business from home?
Focus on getting your finances to a healthy place. Evaluate your expenses to figure out what’s eating up your budget. You may have to cancel nonessential services that cut into your profits. Or maybe you have to stop carrying an expensive product line in the short-term because it sells too slowly. Scaling down is typically better than closing your business altogether. It gives you time to regroup and restore your financial stability.
Bring a preventive mindset to financial planning as well. Getting a grip on your finances can help you survive large unplanned expenses. You should also review your finances on a regular basis, so you’re never blindsided by low account balances. Line up designated funds or backup coverage for specific purposes and avoid using it for anything else. For example:
- Do your best to pay employees on time, but be honest when you can’t. Payroll delays undermine morale and motivate disgruntled employees to discuss their job dissatisfaction with other team members. Automating payroll is a good way to make sure vital funds go to your employees before you pay less essential bills.
- Avoid trouble at tax time by having a line of credit or reserve funds available. Paying late leads to fees, increasing your debt liability.
- Be aware of the extent of your company’s insurance coverage, and consult an insurance broker. Do you have business interruption coverage for emergency situations, such as fire and weather-related events? Does your company have coverage for trade libel in the event that a staff member makes a disparaging statement about a competitor? What are the limits of your liability coverage for lawsuits brought by customers?
Prioritize and Outsource Tasks
Prioritizing your responsibilities is an important part of running a business, and it becomes especially helpful during a crisis. If you’re spending less time in the office to handle the emergency, you need to focus the time you do spend at work on crucial tasks. Think about the things you absolutely must to do keep the business afloat. Tasks like marketing and special events aren’t essential during times of crisis. If you can’t delegate those tasks to someone else, put them on hold for now.
Ease your workload during personal hardship. If you expect to be preoccupied for an extended period, you can outsource some of your work to an independent contractor. For instance, hire a social media manager to keep up with your Facebook posts and Tweets while you’re gone. Outsourcing your bookkeeping ensures your financials stay in order. Once the crisis passes, you can decide whether to resume these responsibilities.
Take a Leave of Absence
Depending on the emergency, you may need to take a leave of absence to handle the situation. You’re no good to your employees if you’re being pulled between a personal crisis and the office. The leave of absence also helps you focus on self-care, which is often forgotten during a crisis. If you have key people in place who can handle the business, step away so you can focus your attention completely on the personal situation. If you’re a freelancer, consider contacting your clients to let them know you’re taking a leave of absence. Try to provide a tentative timeline when you plan to return.
A crisis can be emotionally and physically draining, which makes running a business more difficult than normal. Reach out to others for support, and balance your need to keep your business running normally in the background while you meet the crisis at hand. Getting a grip on your finances is one way to prevent a future crisis. 4.3 million customers use QuickBooks. Join them today to help your business thrive for free.