Do you feel like you’re a hamster running on a wheel right now? Just trying to keep pace as news pours in day after day with no end in sight? If you’re like many small business owners right now, the rational part of your brain recognizes that this is a storm you need to weather. You know it will pass, eventually. Right now, your mission is to weatherproof your business to minimize the damages. You’ve got this.

Unfortunately, the emotional part of your brain, the one that has taken big risks to bring your business to life and understands the personal sacrifices you’ve made just to create your business, that part of your brain is likely in panic mode.

What should you do next?

In my previous post Is Your Crisis Communications Response Ready for COVID-19? I shared 7 steps you can take now to create an effective crisis communications strategy to get you through COVID-19, and beyond. Today I want to dive deeper into one of the most important steps in crisis management, scenario planning. The absolute worst place you can be in during a crisis like this as a business leader is reactive mode. Reactive mode is when something happens to you or your business and you respond with no prior plan in place. You might respond well and be patting yourself on the back or you might be scrambling to get things right. It doesn’t matter, if you are waiting until something happens to put together a plan, including writing and scheduling your communications, then you are still in reactive mode. This is dangerous territory because you will be under more stress, you will likely be sleep deprived, and you will be forced to communicate and strategize while faced with escalated deadlines. No one does their best work under these circumstances. Not even professionals!

Beginning today, I want you to commit to running your business in proactive mode. This will take extra effort as you get started, but I promise you it is worth it. Make some time today to think through various scenarios that could affect you and your business this year.

Here are some strategies to get you started.

Start with a brainstorm session. The easiest way to begin is to just start writing down anything that comes to mind. Unlike other parts of your day where you are likely willing your mind not to wander into all of the difficult things that could happen because of the pandemic, you want to give yourself permission to do this now. The key is to create some boundaries around this exercise to protect your own mental health. Remember that you are going through the exercise of dreaming up worst case scenarios so that you can prepare for them and confidently navigate your business through unchartered territory. It’s important that you protect yourself so that you are not overwhelmed or paralyzed by fear.

Ask for some input. Once you’ve created your list, ask for additional input. If you have employees, their input will be valuable for this exercise. If you’re a solopreneur, ask someone who is familiar with your business for their ideas. This will help you minimize potential blind spots and ensure that you’re as prepared as possible.

Analyze your scenarios one by one. This step can be time consuming, but it is worthwhile. You can begin with the scenarios that seem the most likely to occur, and then work down from there. Once you’ve completed this exercise for a few scenarios, you’ll likely see patterns in the actions you’ll need to take and can replicate your strategy for many of the scenarios.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself for each situation:

  1. Who will I need to communicate with? Be sure to list out each stakeholder group (clients, employees, friends/family you’ve been in contact with, etc.)
  2. How do I need to communicate with them? Are there any extra steps I should take so that I can be certain they receive my communications? (For example, do I need to call my clients instead of emailing them as usual?)
  3. Who are the local authorities I need to speak to for this scenario?
  4. How will I track and monitor relevant information for this situation?
  5. How often will I communicate with each stakeholder group?
  6. Are there any legal concerns I should be thinking about in my communications or planning?
  7. What are the financial ramifications to my business for this scenario? To my employees?
  8. Are there any opportunities to pivot my business/services if this scenario were to occur? What would I need to do to put those plans in place? How long would it take?
  9. Do I have any regular marketing activities planned on any of my channels that should be paused if this scenario occurs?
  10. Is there anyone I need to train to be prepared for this scenario?

Create a plan for each scenario now. Your plan doesn’t need to be fancy or pretty right now, but it does need to be thorough. Write down every step that you and anyone else who works on or in your business will need to take to manage your business and communications throughout the given scenario. Once you feel comfortable with your plan, make sure you discuss the plan with everyone who needs to be informed. Be sure to give them their own copy as well.

Write your communications. Begin with the scenarios you’re most concerned with and work down your list from there. For each scenario you’re planning you should have final messages, talking points or scripts written and approved (if needed.) If you use an email management system you should create a campaign for each scenario and include at least one templated message to get you started. If you’re active on a social media channel you should have at least a few posts finalized and uploaded into a scheduler (if you use one) or at the ready in a moment’s notice.

Evaluate your current messaging. Once you’ve gone through these various scenarios, I recommend reviewing your current messaging on your website, in your email campaigns, and anywhere else where you regularly engage with your audience. Did you schedule a month’s worth of posts on LinkedIn to promote your business as a great place to work by showcasing events that were supposed to happen but now your office is closed? Now is the time to give some thought to what you’re putting into the marketplace. It might be worth pausing some communications and instead considering how you can offer your audience value to navigate their lives during this difficult time.

Keep your eyes glued to the news. You are a business owner which means you cannot act like an ostrich with your head stuck in the sand. No matter how tempting it might be to distract yourself with Netflix instead of the news. You don’t have to be glued to the news 24/7, but it is imperative that you stay informed by reliable news sources with the latest data.

It’s also important to think globally at a time like this. Even if your small business only serves your local market, at times like these we are truly a global economy. Educate yourself on what is happening in other countries and other parts of the United States. Train yourself to think macro and micro, even if you’re not trained in economics and finance. The long-term health of your business depends on how you educate and conduct yourself now.

Protect yourself. I mean this in every way. Being a small business owner is stressful during the good times, I’m not sure if there is an adjective for it right now. Make sure you take time to care for yourself, not just everyone else. You and your business will weather this storm, even if things look dire right now. It’s possible that you will have an entirely different business a year from now. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to find a healthy balance of contingency planning, financial forecasting, and optimism. Yes, above all else I want you to think positively right now. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves, and for others.  

I know that this process will feel overwhelming to many business owners, especially when our economic futures are tenuous. Taking a lot of time to work on hypothetical scenarios might seem like wasted effort to some, but I promise you it is not. If something does occur, then you’ll have a sound plan in place. Even if the event that occurs is not one that you had prepared for, if you’ve done your due diligence in thinking through a variety of scenarios, you will have thought of one that was at least close enough to help you navigate the situation more confidently. Best case scenario, nothing out of the ordinary happens to you or your business and you’ll be sleeping a little better knowing that you’re protecting your business from the unknown. This reassurance will go a long way in boosting your self-confidence and strengthening your business management skills.

You don’t have to be trained in crisis management to think like a professional. I hope these tips have been helpful. For anyone looking for more, I’m offering free consultations to help you confidently navigate your business during this challenging time. Contact me to schedule yours today.

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