A single well-meaning message that comes off wrong can derail an already fragile organization.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Businesses are being hit hard as the nation attempts to battle against COVID-19. Revenue has halted for non-essential businesses that have done the right thing and closed their doors. Businesses that are able to continue operating remotely are losing clients, customers or subscribers left and right, contracts are being “paused,” and services are being canceled without notice.
Everyone’s emotions are running high, and there’s naturally going to be a lot of knee-jerk responses to the things happening around us. However, you must carefully consider the repercussions of what you say or don’t say. Heightened emotions are directly linked to long-term memory retention, so everything we say or do will be ingrained in the minds of those we do business with.
We must take the time to pause and create a plan outlining what needs to be communicated, and how we’re going to communicate it both internally and externally. As Entrepreneur Editor in Chief Jason Feifer recently encouraged, “Coronavirus will make us all stronger.”
Consistency, frequency and precision are going to be key objectives to keep in mind. Coming across as vague or non-communicative will only add to any feelings of uncertainty the receiver might already be experiencing. Consider these best practices for your brand during this difficult time, and hopefully they’ll help you stay afloat so you can continue to heed them in the future.
Communicate in Real Time
Instantaneous communication is paramount as breaking news causes rapid shifts. Be on the lookout for updates that directly affect your business and your consumers’s access to it. Communication with your audience should be near-instantaneous if certain news interrupts your ability to conduct business, so be proactive with prepared messaging.
Have communication drafted and readily available to deploy at the drop of a hat. It’s a lot easier to make a few edits than trying to draft an entire email when you’re in reactive mode. Take the time now to organize contact info, create boilerplate messaging and communication guidelines for your team.
Avoid Vague Statements
Always address any evident predicaments, no matter how difficult it might be, even if you don’t have any concrete answers. Transparency is key here, so void vague statements like, “We’re working diligently to find a solution.” Spell out the specific steps your team is taking and what preparations are under way.
Create Structure and Procedures
Organize contacts, communication schedules and contingency plans and prepare pre-packaged messaging. Start by creating a list of all stakeholders you need to communicate with during this time. Then segment your stakeholders into separate lists for customers, partners, employees, consumers, vendors, trade organizations, supply chains, etc. Next, utilize simple communication tools to streamline and organize your efforts (e.g. Propel, Hubspot and Constant Contact et al). If you’re not already familiar with CRMs, Constant Contact is probably the easiest to get started with.
From there, document your communication procedures and guidelines, clearly outlining the who, what, where and how. This should be widely available within your organization. Clearly state to all staff exactly what they should and should not be communicating externally, as well as how they should respond to any questions or concerns they might get asked. Have a well-thought-out FAQ handy to help your team navigate tough questions.
Lastly, seek guidance from a communications or change-management expert, even if it’s just for a quick proofread, and then decide on a communication schedule and stick to it.
There’s no doubt about the tremendous amount of economic uncertainty ahead, and it’s natural to want to cut corners anywhere and everywhere you can. There is, however, a difference between initiating fiscal responsibility and prematurely slashing expenses, particularly by cutting ties with contractors and services providers. These people are your tribe, and to survive this type of crisis, you’re going to need a tribe that is willing to take on the battle with you.
Before deciding to pause or cancel services, have an open and honest conversation with your partners about how to mitigate current challenges together. Doing so communicates that you value the relationship and that you want to do everything you can to get through hard times together. You never know the resources they might have or unexpected skill sets they possess that could help keep your business afloat.
Stay Focused on Positive Solutions
Shift focus from what you can’t do to what you can do. Instill a healthy mental practice of training your brain to immediately think of the possibilities as opposed to worst-case scenarios. Panicked thoughts like, “I don’t know how we’re going to be able to stay in business” won’t create the type of strategic and creative thinking that is needed right now.
Start by listing all the ways you can give value or be of assistance given your current capabilities and expertise. Are there additional services or solutions you could offer? Look for strategic or affiliate relationships that allow you to white-label or resell complementary products or services. By going through this exercise, it not only helps you identify additional revenue opportunities, but also helps you keep your energy focused on positive, forward-thinking solutions when times get tough.
Be Sensitive and Genuine in Your Marketing
I recently received an email from a very well-known marketer whose products I’ve purchased and benefited from over the years. He had just given access to his digital programs for free for the remainder of the month and wrote me with the subject line, “HOLY CRAP…21,601?!?!” Apparently, he had no idea the demand would be that high (*eye roll*).
I immediately unsubscribed from his list. I’m just not in the mood.
Offering your courses or services for free can be generous. However, remind yourself of the real-life situation that’s happening out there. Think of all the restaurants, hair salons and other non-essential brick-and-mortar businesses that have had to close their doors in order to help the greater good.
Invest in High-Level Strategy
I do think it’s important we focus on the possibilities and put forth the kind of creative effort that will help us emerge stronger than ever. Encourage positive dialogue and open the door for creative suggestions from your team on ways your business can adapt to what’s happening. Think of this time as a blessing to devote the time to our business that before we could never seem to find.
Adaptability, communication, service and transparency are the critical areas that, as business owners, we need to master right now. Let’s put into action the things we always say we want to do but never have time to fully plan out.