Imagine your business is going along fine, and then, unexpectedly, a crisis hits. A business crisis can cripple a company for a period of time or even cause it to go under.
The key is to be prepared. Have a plan in place before disaster happens. “Create a crisis management plan. Include scenarios that might impact the business (product recall, employee death, crime) and then develop responses in the event these scenarios become realities,” says David Brimm, of corporate media and marketing firm BrimmComm Inc. Then, just as you go through emergency drill, do the same with your plan. “Practice the crisis plan. The plan should include an off-site location in the event the primary business is not usable,” he says.
Have an emergency fund available. “Be prepared to meet emergency cash-flow needs. Make sure your bank accounts include emergency funds, and keep enough cash on hand to handle immediate needs. Issue commercial credit cards to essential personnel to cover emergency business expenses,” advises Pete Appello, Small Business Banking, National Sales Manager, Capital One.
You will need to have tools to ensure the business can continue to operate during the crisis. “Identify tools needed for business to continue. Prioritize critical business functions and how quickly these must be recovered,” says Appello.
Make sure everyone knows who’s in charge. “Create a crisis team (owner, VP, plant manager) and make sure you include 24/7 contact information (crises occur during holidays and weekends often),” says Brimm.
Contact clients and shareholders immediately. “Key spokespeople need to have contact information for suppliers and vendors. Business to business messaging and communication is critical. Your partners, suppliers and vendors should not be learning about your situation from the general media,” Joanne Cleaver of strategic communications firm Wilson-Taylor Associates points out. Appello agrees, and adds, “Once your business is up and running, appoint a spokesperson to tell customers and creditors that your business is still open. Reassure stakeholders that you are taking the necessary steps to stay in business.”
Be ready to talk to the press and public/customers. “Decide who will be the primary spokesperson in the event of a crisis. Make sure they are comfortable with public speaking,” explains Brimm. “Don’t let your receptionist or employees talk to any media or anyone else and forward all calls to the contact person. One point of view means one story is being told. Multiple stories arouse negative perceptions.” Clear and concise communication is important. “Don’t panic.
Communicate and respond fast and with the information you have. A void in information creates speculation and will make a crisis worse. Never lie. Continue to communicate until the crisis is over,” notes Brimm.
Just as millions of people did during Hurricane Sandy, turn to social media. “Monitor social media. This is an early warning system of a crisis that might be brewing. Make sure you have an updated website – it’s the first place media and others will turn to for information,” says Brimm.
Post crisis follow-up is equally as important. “Announce how the crisis was resolved and what plans are in the works in the future to reassure audiences,” suggests Brimm. “Do a post mortem. What worked? What didn’t? Adjust the crisis plan accordingly. Also, thank employees, customers and vendors for their understanding.