By Gina F. Rubel, Esq.
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel
A small business crisis or incident is often a time of uncertainty when a multitude of decisions must be made in a short order. The way you handle a small business crisis can be the difference between your company’s success and failure, with your company’s reputation hanging in the balance. When a situation arises, take a deep breath, step back and peel away the layers. Make a concerted effort to discover the opportunities within. Panic means just one thing—failure.
The possibility of a highly undesirable outcome means there are also other, desirable possible outcomes. Your job then is to lessen the negative possibilities by achieving a desirable (yes, even a positive) result.
Identify Opportunities in Every Business Crisis
Keeping a confident, decisive attitude means everything when it comes to the outcome of a small business incident or crisis. Take some time in moments of calm to think about your last few incidents and ask yourself, “What was the opportunity?”
Your opportunity now is to spend some time thinking about how you might have handled those incidents differently. You need a positive attitude to think about the silver lining.
Prepare for the Best Outcome in a Small Business Crisis
While it’s not easy to plan for every possible small business crisis, you can start to plan out scenarios that may be possible within your business. Typical scenarios that we deal with on behalf of clients of Furia Rubel Communications include:
- Bankruptcy, lost earning or profits, acquisitions
- Cybersecurity breaches
- Employee misconduct
- Family-owned business disputes
- High-profile litigation
- Intermittent closures of business due to power outages and natural disasters
- Loss or illness of key staff or owners
- Negative publicity
- Negative online reviews
- Public protests or demonstrations
- Website or telephone outages
- Workplace injuries or death
- Workplace violence such as robberies and active shooter situations
A relevant crisis response plan that addresses possible scenarios provides your business with the flexibility of a game plan in action when crises arise.
When a crisis happens outside of the realm of the more common possibilities, your preparedness will allow you to more easily handle issues on the fly.
Plug into Social Media to Manage Your Business Reputation
It is critical to address how you will respond to a social media crisis, as it is likely to happen at some point. In a social media crisis, the audience is those directly affected by the crisis and those whose attitudes about the company are influenced. Your job is to categorize your audience and provide them with appropriate responses.
It is important to note that most of the time, you don’t want to ignore a social media attack on your small business reputation. That said, this must be a case-by-case judgement call as there are people who have a lot of time and energy to persist with negativity and fuel their anger. Take heed that it is almost never worth directly responding to such people.
A good way to monitor your social reputation is to set up alerts on all of your social media platforms (and your company-sponsored posts) so that when a comment comes in, you can address it immediately (if warranted). And don’t just focus on the negative comments, take a minute to respond to positive comments with gratitude. For example, “We are glad you had a great experience with our customer service. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.”
Speak Effectively About Every Small Business Incident
The owner and key employees of a small business are constantly faced with situations that require the utmost skill, tact, diplomacy and positive attitude to succeed under adverse conditions. Whether you are responding to irate employees or to the media, your body language and facial expressions will display your cool confidence under pressure or show that you are breaking a sweat and not prepared to answer the tricky questions.
Have written talking points, but don’t read them.
Practice what you will say before you get in front of your audience and refer to the points when needed.
Don’t feel the need to keep talking after you have gone through what you prepared to say. That often will get you into trouble.
If possible, get some media training. Media training will expose you to many different situations and types of audiences to better prepare you for the spotlight.
Stop, Look, Listen and … Take Risks
There never is a convenient time for a small business crisis. Don’t make hasty choices or study the crisis for hours on end without making some strategic decisions.
Garner a network of advisors who can help you take decisive action.
Listen to your instincts and don’t lose perspective.
It is often the leader with pre-existing credibility whose judgment prevails. A leader can take calculated risks to which a series of principles apply:
- Play to your strengths. If you aren’t comfortable with something, don’t do it.
- Always lead with integrity.
- Don’t break rules for the sake of breaking them or accept traditions without question. Study how similar and dissimilar small business crises to yours have been handled.
- Cultivate intuition and judgment. Effective application of your intuition is going to require preparation, insight and consideration. Don’t rush ahead on a hunch. Listen to your instincts without filtering them to conform to your secret wishes, and they are likely to lead you well.
Take Advantage of the Opportunities in Every Small Business Crisis
Once you have handled your crisis effectively, then what?
Some things you can do to take advantage of the opportunities in a small business crisis include:
- Update your small business polices, processes and protocols
- Update your small business crisis response plan
- If the matter garnered media attention, issue a proactive statement to the media, update your website with your statement and share it on social media
- Create best practices and conduct training
It’s Not If But When a Small Business Crisis Will
A staggering number of small businesses are not prepared or are under-prepared for a crisis. If you own a small business or are a key business employee, you are sure to rest easier at night knowing that you have plans in place for a variety of crisis scenarios. A little preparation can go a long way when a crisis arises and you aren’t standing like a deer in the headlights wondering what to do next.
Gina Rubel is the professional that corporate and law firm leaders call upon for high-stakes public relations, media training, crisis planning, and incident-response support, including high profile litigation media relations. An attorney and public relations expert, Gina leads Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., an agency supporting business with their growth through integrated marketing, PR, reputation management, and content marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @GinaRubel.