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The phrase ‘crisis response’ invokes images of corporations scrambling to assess damage control, companies issuing public statements and press conferences in front of media and most recently, the myriad of organizations devastated by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Some small business owners interpret crises to involve large corporations that spark a high volume of media coverage, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
A crisis can be an event or series of events that can lead to operational failures, financial issues or even damage to the small business’s reputation. For the small business owner, effective crisis planning and response can help companies protect reputation, maintain continuity, improve employee morale, while mitigating the overall impact of the crisis.
Timeline and stages for effective crisis management
Pre-Crisis: Preparation: Success in a crisis is proportionate to the amount of preparation. To ensure that your small business is prepared to handle crises that arise, the first step is to establish a crisis response team to equip the company with information and tools needed to respond quickly and effectively. Whether your company has five or 50 employees, the team should include the founder or president and then at least one other employee who helps drive and manage the day-to-day operations.
Crisis Identified: First 6-8 Hours: As a crisis begins to emerge, your business must move quickly to determine all it can about the situation, including what exactly happened, who is impacted, the extent of the problem and who is responsible. You should assign a spokesperson to address any potential media inquires and develop key messages and talking points to guide potential interviews.
Rapid Response: The Next 24 Hours: The first 24 hours of a crisis are critical to your company’s success in managing it. If an organization does not actively provide its point of view during this period, it can be forced to play catch- up throughout the crisis.
Crisis Subsides: 2-4 Weeks Following End of Crisis: As the crisis begins to recede, it is important that the crisis response team captures what happened and evaluates how the team and company responded. This provides an opportunity to identify areas for future improvement and provide feedback on areas that still need to be addressed.
Don’t Wait; Act Now!
There is no silver bullet guide for small business crisis response and management; however, the first crucial step small business owners should take is mapping out a clear pre-crisis plan that is action-oriented against a clear timeline with a professionally trained crisis manager.
Some other key tips for crisis management and response can include:
- Business as usual: Although your resources are diverted to the issue at hand, make an effort to continue normal business operations, while communicating with your customers honestly and ethically.
- Own up: If you are responsible for the crisis or issue, take accountability and apologize to your customers and employees as quickly as possible.
- Assume nothing: Over-communicate with your employees so they are aware of what exactly is going. Instruct employees how to document any inbound customer complaints, while addressing these complaints and questions clearly, honestly and head-on.
- Legal Ropes: Understand the legal ramifications and consult with an attorney who can help you navigate through tricky circumstances.
- Media tips: Ensure your spokesperson has prepared messages and talking points if interviewed by reporters following a crisis. Don’t point the finger, don’t ramble and remain honest.