An expert’s guide to planning for crisis communications once an event has occurred.
Are you one of the many business owners who wasn’t worried about a crisis communications strategy until COVID-19 came knocking? If so, don’t worry, many business owners think they’re too small, specialized, or “unknown” to need a crisis communications strategy. Until they do…
Like many business owners, I’ve been glued to the news over the past week. It seems like every day, hour even, brings some new update that can make managing this crisis, and communicating to your customers and employees, nearly impossible.
There is also a lot of advice out there. I have managed countless crisis communications situations and I’m here to tell you that no matter how new and different, overwhelming, or unexpected the event might be – the same principles and methodologies always apply.
Regardless of the size of your business or the types of products or services you offer, if you haven’t had to communicate to your customers about COVID-19 yet, you will. Here are a few of my tried and true strategies to help you plan effectively.
Stay calm. You’ve already heard this, I’m sure. But how calm are you really? Are your kids home from school and driving you crazy? Are you worried about an upcoming trip you have planned? Your parents in another state? Did you see half your service bookings disappear in the last week? Staying calm means more than keeping yourself from running around like Chicken Little. Make sure that you take a few moments for yourself first thing in the morning, and at intervals throughout the day. Take some deep breaths, stay hydrated and make sure you’re eating healthy foods that keep you feeling your best.
More than once I have found myself stuck in a situation room out of water, hours past lunch time, hungry and exhausted. This is not how you want to be feeling for optimal mental performance. You need to be present and focused.
Be sure to keep a few healthy snacks and a water bottle near your workstation. This advice might seem overly simplistic, but I promise you, you’ll thank me if you find yourself in crisis communications response mode.
Educate yourself. Gather as much information as possible and please make sure the information you’re using to make your decisions and communicate with others is accurate. I recommend visiting the CDC website directly to get the latest, and most reliable information.
When you share information, either informally in conversations or in written communications with customers and employees, be sure to site your source. Letting everyone know where your information came from builds trust with others and empowers them to communicate effectively as well.
Don’t forget to double check those posts on social media that you might be inclined to like or share. It’s easy to make information look reliable, that doesn’t mean that it is the best information out there. We are all responsible for our own due diligence. Especially as business owners.
Map your scenarios. If you haven’t already done so, you need to take the time now to write out each possible scenario you could face in your business while we weather the COVID-19 storm. It’s not enough to think about it or chat about it, you need to have a full crisis event plan. If you have employees, make sure they are all familiar with the plan and the scenarios.
Here are a few questions to help you get started:
What happens if I get sick? What if I’m critically sick? Does the business run without me? Should I do any training or share any information now with employees, friends, or family members in case I’m critically ill and need help?
What happens if an employee is diagnosed? Do they interact with clients?
What authorities do I need to contact to notify them if someone is sick? (Bonus tip – find this contact information now and include it in your plan.)
How am I supporting my employees during this time? Do they have what they need to effectively work from home? What am I doing to address any morale issues that will arise?
How am I supporting my customers? Can I offer any new or additional product or service to make their lives easier during this difficult time?
How can I build customer loyalty now to help my business in the long term?
Am I properly insured? Do I have the right professionals on-board to help me with financial, legal, or HR complexities that could arise this year?
Who are my key stakeholders? Have you outlined everyone you might need to communicate with based on the events above? Be sure to do that now. Think beyond customers and employees and make sure you have updated contact information for anyone who might be affected or whose help you might need to call on when time is of the essence.
Write your messages. For every scenario you outline, take the time now to write final messages for all of your key stakeholders. You might need to write different messages for different audiences. Keep a vault of these critical messages and update them as needed. If you need expert advice or approvals from other sources, secure those now. If you need imagery or templates for your communications, gather those as well now. You’re essentially preparing for your biggest marketing campaign yet, although in this case your best case is that you never have to use the materials you’ve prepared.
Update your email lists and other channels. Make sure you have a complete email list for all key stakeholder groups. If you use phone or text communication, make sure those lists are updated as well. Do you need a phone tree for your staff or providers? Refresh or create any communication materials, templates, and databases now. You won’t have the time to do it in the middle of an event.
Practice delivering your message. It doesn’t matter if you only need to speak with a few clients or address a large public audience, I want you to practice delivering your message. These are stressful times for all of us, nothing creates a panic faster than an audience who loses confidence in you.
No one knows what will happen next with this pandemic. But I do know one thing with certainty. Even if this crisis were to disappear tomorrow you will face some other crisis over the lifetime of your business. Now is the time for decisive preparation.
If you’re looking for expert crisis communications or event response advice, I’ve got you covered. Contact me for a free consultation.
Most of the conversations about personal branding today teach us to look at ourselves from an outside perspective looking in. By that I mean that women are being told to create their images and brands in response to society’s ideas of what we should be. The outcome of that is a personal branding movement that is teaching women to mold themselves in a way that meets society’s expectations of who they should be. To me, that is not personal branding.
Personal branding is an intentional exercise in which we look inward first to get a clear understanding of who we are, what we want to achieve, and why we want to achieve it. Nothing else matters unless we are clear on those things first. Once that work has taken place, we can use branding techniques such as our image, communications skills, behavior, and digital media, to share who we are with the world.
Personal branding should happen from the inside out. I believe that we are doing ourselves a disservice when we allow our own brands to be directed by our external environments.
My goal in creating this blog, is to share with other ambitious women my best advice for creating an authentic personal brand that is aligned with who you really are and your goals for the future.
This blog is not for everyone. But if you are still trying to figure it all out, I hope you will follow along with me as I share my own experiences, how I got where I am today, and my best advice for you as you create your own personal story of success.
Have you already powered through your reading list? Or maybe you’re just looking for something different to add to your bookshelf? Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite books to help you get through another week in quarantine.
If you’re thinking about starting a business check out Business Boutique: A Woman’s Guide for Making Money Doing What She Loves by Christy Wright. This book breaks down the basics including how to turn your passion into a business, how to write a business plan, form a legal entity, price for success and more.
If you’re dreaming about a summer vacation read The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. I don’t know if it’s my Cape Cod roots, but this dramatic mystery about love and money set against the backdrop of a small seaside vacation town had me hooked right away.
If you need more rest then Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity is for you. This book by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith opened my eyes to the different types of fatigue that plague us in our daily lives. And not all of them can be solved with more sleep!
If you want to understand yourself better or improve your relationships check out The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Not only did I love discovering my own personality type (hint, I’m a Questioner!) and what that meant for my life, but I also loved dissecting the personalities of my family and friends. You can take her free quiz here.
If you want to take care of your health read Body Love by Kelly LeVeque. Kelly is a celebrity nutritional consultant and advocate for eating fresh, whole and nutritious foods to look and feel your best. I love the way she breaks down the science behind her recommendations for good nutrition. It’s a no-brainer.
What are you reading right now? Let me know what I should check out next.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have a good job right now, I know that you still might not be feeling so lucky. The year started out strong and suddenly, we’re faced with a global pandemic that’s turned everyone’s lives upside down. Between the newfound stressors of managing your work with the rest of your life while in quarantine, and the constant drip of alarming news on the pandemic, you might have put managing your career on the back burner. While this certainly is not the time to ask for a raise, it is important to continue to manage your career, and your personal brand, with an eye toward the future.
Don’t wait until things “go back to normal” to think about your career growth. If you spent time and energy thinking about your career before the pandemic hit, now is not the time to press pause. Here are a few simple things you can do (from home) to make sure you’re future proofing your personal brand, even if you’re just trying to get through another day.
Show up consistently. When life is stressful and uncertain it’s easy to give yourself a pass on putting your best foot forward at work. Perhaps you feel the temptation to coast on your past accomplishments and sneak in an extra Netflix binge, or two or three. Or maybe you’re worried about friends and family members and you don’t have the energy to behave as your normal, friendly self. I don’t expect you to act like a robot, we are all human. But you might need to push yourself and try harder than normal to make sure you’re still behaving like yourself. You’re allowed to have a bad day here and there. But the latest forecast has many of us working at home for 7 or 8 weeks. Make sure you’re not falling into the easy trap of letting this slide because you’re at home and it’s (hard, lonely, boring, scary, fill in the blank.) Now is the time to perform at your best.
Communicate problems quickly. While you do need to continue to put in the effort, this is also not the time to keep anything you’re struggling with to yourself. If you are having difficulty completing tasks, a teammate you depend on to get things done has disappeared, or you need to take a few days off to focus on your personal life, it’s important to advocate for yourself. Not even the best manager is going to know what you need all the time. It’s up to you to ask for what you need to thrive in all of your relationships.
Remember that paying attention to potential problems goes beyond what you’re experiencing in your own life. This is an important time to be thinking strategically about the long-term growth of your employer (which logically trickles down to the long-term prospects of the job you’re in.) If you see an opportunity to help innovate for growth or protect against losses, now is the time to bring those ideas forward.
Help others. I hope this one is self-explanatory, but we all need a reminder now and then. Now is the time to support each other, not break each other down. If you have more time on your hands right now, reach out to someone you know is juggling a lot and offer some help. If time is at a premium right now, go out of your way to praise someone who you know is working hard on your team. Help takes many forms, and it doesn’t need much of your time or energy to be impactful.
Be sure to track your results. Eventually things will stabilize, and you’ll be sitting in front of your manager ready for your next performance review. Whenever that day comes you want to be equipped with a full list of your accomplishments. Tracking your progress and the impact you’re making at work is especially important without the constructs of a traditional office space. Even if you already worked virtually, chances are that you’re boss is more distracted now than ever. Take the guess work out of the process and keep a detailed log of your activities, hours, accolades – basically anything that will support your future case for what a dedicated and integral part of the team you are. You won’t get the pay or recognition you deserve later if you don’t pay attention to the details now.
Be patient. Brand building is a long-term strategy. Whether you’re building a company or you’re advancing your career, success rarely comes over night. In this case the adage, “slow and steady wins the race” really does hold true. This is especially important to remember during tumultuous times. Your employer, or industry, will likely be feeling the negative effects of the pandemic long after it’s deemed safe to return to work. You don’t have to give up on your dreams, but you might need to adjust your expectations.
Be prepared. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but you need to prepare yourself for the prospect of losing your job. No one wants to hear those words but it’s irresponsible not to consider the idea that you could be laid off. You don’t need to panic but you do want to be ready – just in case. I recommend beginning by asking colleagues for recommendations on LinkedIn and make a point to give recommendations as well. The best time to ask for a recommendation is when you’re still working with someone. This is also a good time to make sure your resume and cover letter are up to date. If you do suddenly lose your job, it’s a lot easier to rebound when you’ve already prepared for the worst.
Although I’m encouraging you to prepare for the worst, it is important now more than ever to remain optimistic about the future. Give yourself the time and space you need to protect your mental and physical health, but don’t become complacent about your career and your personal brand in the process. It’s a lot easier to protect your brand than it is to rebuild it.
If you’re interested in learning more about personal branding, check out my new book “The Personal Brand Project: How to Uncover Your Purpose, Achieve Your Goals, and Communicate with Confidence.”
Looking for more career advice? Check out my post “The One Piece of Career Advice I’d Give My Younger Self.”
Every day there is more fear and uncertainty in our lives. With so much to worry about, it is easy to go into reaction mode in your business or career. Whether you’re trying to keep your business afloat, or you’re scrambling to find a new job or side hustle, it’s important now more than ever that you stay focused on your brand so that you can clearly communicate what sets you apart.
Not sure where to begin? I’ve got you covered. Today’s post is the final installment of a three-part series I created to help you clearly define your brand before you get to work on sales and marketing. If you’re a job seeker, this process applies to you as well. I always say, you have to know yourself before you can sell yourself. If you haven’t read through step 1 in my post Building a New Business or Career? Start With This Branding Basic and step 2 in the post Brand Building is All About the Benefits – Here’s How to Define Yours be sure to read through those now.
Your final step is to define your brand attributes. If you are an entrepreneur you need to do this for yourself and your business, product, or service offer. If you work for someone else or you’re looking for a job, you should do this for yourself. Your brand attributes are the things about your brand that are unique to you. I know it can be difficult to define this for yourself, so I’ve created a simple exercise.
- To get started, think about the people you’re involved with day to day, your family, friends, a romantic partner, professional relationships. How do these people perceive you? Write down what comes to mind.
- Now write out what value you provide to others in your relationships.
- Finally, how do you want people to perceive you? This can be different for different audiences. For example, customers, employees, a potential new boss, colleagues, etc.
Review your list and compare your responses to question 1 and question 3. Think about your goals for your brand right now, whether it’s a new service you’re selling or a new job you’re after, you want to make sure that how you want to be seen and how you are seen are aligned. Think about any changes you might need to make to the way you manage yourself or your business and make those changes now. Nothing diminishes the value of a brand more quickly than selling something that is inauthentic to you. Your audience will catch on eventually, and they’ll feel cheated when they do.
Once you’re clear on what you offer and how you are perceived, you’re ready to jump in and start selling. Make sure to take the time to identify your target audience. Who needs and values what you have to offer more than anyone else? Are you targeting families where both parents work full-time with an online tutoring service? Are you a financial planner who wants to help small business owners navigate the current economy with more confidence? Whatever you’re selling, you want to get really clear on your target audience’s pain points, and then tie them back to the unique value you provide.
Congrats! You can now get out there and build your brand with confidence because you know you’ve done the hard work of understanding your value and thinking through how it can positively impact other people’s lives or businesses.
Do you want more brand building tips to help you achieve your goals during this uncertain time? Subscribe to my newsletter to get even more inspiration straight to your inbox.
If there was a secret sauce for brand building, understanding your brand benefits would be the key ingredient.
In my previous post I outlined a simple way to highlight what makes your brand unique by defining your brand essence. If you haven’t taken the time to develop your brand essence, make sure to go back and read about it here. Once you understand the core values of your brand – personal or business – it’s time to build on that by defining your brand’s benefits. There are two types of brand benefits, feature based and emotional based. Features are usually easier to define, especially if you have a product you’re selling or if your career success is linked to easily measurable outcomes (professional athletes come to mind here.) Emotion based benefits can sometimes be more difficult to define, you really need to know your ideal audience before you can create an emotional connection for your brand.
Are you focused on strengthening your personal brand right now?
As you answer the following questions think about yourself in your professional environment as well as your personal life. Think about the people whose lives you touch. How do you show up for people and make a difference? What kind of feedback do you get (formally or informally) at work or in your everyday engagements with others? Answer these questions in as much detail as possible:
- What value do you bring to your relationships? Be as specific as possible. This could mean different things to different people in your life. Family, friends, a romantic partner, colleagues, your profession, your community. List them out here.
- What skills do you bring to your work? By work, I mean your profession or other important role you dedicate your time and energy to. This could be your role as a parent, caretaker or volunteer, not just the work you get paid to do (if any.) Make a list of these skills.
The lists from step 1 and 2 are your benefits. This is the value that you offer other people in your various relationships. Review your list and identify the most relevant benefits to your goals. For example, if you’re looking for a new job, recognizing that you love jobs where you can be a Jill of all trades and deliver whatever is needed of you to keep a business running smoothly is a valuable benefit. Once you identify this as one of your superpowers, you can get to work on finding jobs where this benefit is especially valuable, for example at a growing start-up company.
Are you building a brand right now?
Make sure you’ve done the work to answer the questions related to your personal brand in the first section. You can’t be an effective entrepreneur or business leader without a thoughtful personal brand that is aligned with your business. Once you’ve worked through your own brand, you can then focus on your business. Your goal here is to list all of the benefits your product or service provides your ideal customer. Don’t overthink this and worry about what your more established competitors are offering. To begin, I want you to list every benefit your business offers. Another way to work through this is to think about the specific problems your product or service solves for your ideal customer. Brainstorm as much as possible following the prompts below.
- What are the tangible benefits of my product or service? List out specific features as well as pain points your product or service solves.
- What are the emotional benefits of my product or service? Think about your ideal customer. How do their lives improve when they use your product or service? A simple way to answer this is to start with the age-old question, “What keeps my ideal customer up at night?” And then write down how you help them address this concern.
Now that you have a comprehensive list of your brand benefits, go back and review them. Identify the benefits that you excel at, remembering that you still need to tie this back to what your customers need. Tune in for my next post where I’ll walk through a simple process to help you define your brand attributes.
If you haven’t done the work to create your brand essence yet, don’t forget to check out my last post Building a new business or career? Start with this branding basic.
I’m always here to answer your questions. Let me know how you’re doing and where you’re stuck!
Looking to launch a new business or create your personal brand? Before you jump into promoting yourself you need to make sure you have a strong foundation for your brand. The first step is to define your brand essence, in other words, what is unique and authentic to you or your business. A lot of new business owners skip over this step, thinking they need to get right into selling their product or service. Don’t make this mistake. It’s important to take the time to clearly define who you are and what your brand and business represents, in order to identify the right customers and path forward for promoting yourself.
Here’s how to define your brand essence.
Answer each of the questions below in as much detail as possible. If you’re creating your personal brand, answer these questions for yourself. If you’re creating a new business, you should answer these questions for the business and for the product or service. If you’re creating a new offer, focus on the offer but make sure your answers tie back to the larger brand of your business.
- What words do you think best describe you or your business? Don’t overthink this. Write down whatever comes to mind below without editing yourself. Once your list is complete, review it and identify the key words that you know define you/your business better than the rest. What really sets you apart? Those are the words to focus in on here.
- What are your defining values? This list is only for you. There are no wrong answers so be honest here. Your values are your core traits that drive everything you do in life. For example, honesty, kindness, being open-minded, family-focused, etc. If you’re working on a business, think about the purpose behind your business. Why are you launching this? You need to define a need greater than your own financial or professional goals (although those are important.) What problem in the marketplace are you looking to solve? How will your offer make your target audience’s life better?
- Who are you at your core? Ask yourself what about you transcends any role you play in life. Whether you are a professional looking for a new job or an entrepreneur creating something new, these key characteristics are what shape your authentic brand and help you stand out in a crowded market.
- What are your non-negotiables in life? In other words, what do you refuse to give up, no matter what? This question is really important, make sure you take the time you need to answer it honestly. An important part of defining your brand is recognizing your limits – as a professional or as a business owner. You will be faced with hard choices as you build and grow, it’s critical that you know yourself well enough to recognize the sacrifices you are willing to make, and when you need to walk away. If you don’t take the time now to define what you and your brand stand for, it will be more difficult to manage your brand when faced with unexpected challenges.
Once you have taken the time to evaluate and clearly define your core brand, you can move on to the next step of aligning your unique brand with what your target audience needs.
If you’re looking for more information on how to create your personal brand check out my post 8 Steps You Can Take Today to Create a Meaningful Personal Brand.
I’m here to answer your questions, email me and let me know how I can help you.
During a disruptive event like the coronavirus it can be difficult to balance immediate, needs-based marketing to your customers versus the longer-term proposition of growing your brand. When faced with a crisis, it is important to balance timely communications and relevant marketing with your regularly planned brand programs.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from business owners wanting to know what appropriate marketing looks like during this uncertain time. The answer is – it depends on your business. Who you are, what you offer, and who you serve. The key is, you need a holistic view of you business and brand before you can identify the best path forward. I’ve outlined three things you should start, stop, and continue doing to help you navigate this evolving situation with more confidence.
Tracking the issue via a reliable news source – don’t just focus on your local area, pay attention to global trends and impact
Check-in frequently with employees, clients, vendors you rely on, or anyone else who is important to the success of your business.
Thinking about your behavior as a risk to your brand. The decisions you make in your business and in your communications are not just about the bottom line. People will remember how you behave and what you say even once this crisis has resolved. Think about your business two years from now. You have the opportunity now to build a solid foundation for the future.
Review any upcoming communications, campaigns, or events you have planned. Now might not be the best time to promote your spring sale, your fun run in six months, or a conference you were planning. Think about your audience and what they really need from you right now.
Continuing with a business as usual attitude. You don’t need to panic but you can’t pretend that nothing is happening. You need to behave as if your business has been impacted, even if it hasn’t been yet.
Expecting employees, customers, or vendors to show up for you in the same ways they always do. Remember that we’re all human, not business machines, give everyone some extra space and grace. Including yourself.
Adding value to your customers however you can. Their lives have been interrupted too. Is there anything you can do out of your usual business practice to make their lives easier right now?
Being yourself. The clients or followers you have right now are there because they’ve connected with your brand. It’s more important now than ever that you stay consistent in how you deliver your brand promise and communicate your brand value.
Innovating. If new and creative ideas are coming to you despite the chaos and uncertainty, run with them! This is a great time to test new ideas or reprioritize your goals. Was there something you hoped to accomplish a few years from now that suddenly seems more relevant? Make it happen. Just be careful to balance innovation with spending. No one knows what the economic impact of this crisis is yet, make sure that you’re future proofing your balance sheet now, even while you’re trying new things.
Looking for more tips? I created a free checklist with 5 simple strategies you can start today to help you build a meaningful brand now and into the future. Download your copy here.
It doesn’t matter if you are a public figure, executive, or a professional, your personal brand matters right now more than ever.
I think we can all agree that the events of the past few weeks have put many of us on a roller coaster of emotions. We are all feeling the effects of COVID-19 and while much is still unknown about the virus, most people seem to agree that life will not be the same any time soon.
With our everyday routines turned upside down the idea of your personal brand, namely your reputation, might not be at the forefront of your thoughts. But it should be. Whether you are working from home, working non-stop for the benefit of others, or unfortunately out of work due to the pandemic, now is the time to be thinking about your own brand – specifically how you communicate, present yourself, engage with others, and behave online.
When the dust settles from this current storm your customers, clients, and coworkers will remember how you are behaving right now. If you represent a brand publicly or you are a professional employed by someone else, you cannot afford to be complacent or worse, irrational, during these difficult times.
Small business owners, service providers, and hourly workers are some of the first to suffer financially from this global health – and economic – crisis; but they will not be the last. In my own career I’ve been laid-off twice. The first time during the global financial crisis in 2009. Nothing prepares you for the demoralizing news that you are suddenly out of a paycheck you are counting on to survive. The psychological effects of having a large part of your identity suddenly taken from you can be crippling. This is already happening around the world and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Today’s top trend on Twitter is #saveworkers and it’s no surprise.
Some of my favorite brands and public figures are making critical mistakes in their communication strategies and brand management right now – and I like them less for it. To everyone representing a brand right now, big or small, be mindful of your actions and thoughtful in your words. Yes, these events will eventually blow over, but your customers and coworkers will not forget the choices you’re making right now.
The best way for anyone to build their brand right now is to protect it. How? Read on below for a few effective strategies. If you’re a business owner needing to pivot your services or a working professional suddenly in need of a new job, these steps below will help.
Check your behavior. Most of us are feeling, and possibly behaving, out of the ordinary right now. But that’s not an excuse to behave badly. People act differently when they’re stressed or scared, and while I do believe we should be accepting of each other now more than ever, that’s not a pass to behave like an 8-year-old when you’re a grown adult. Now is the time to focus on the basics when it comes to behavior management. Think before you speak, bite your tongue, maybe even ask someone you trust if you’re behaving rationally before you respond to something.
This feels like a tip I shouldn’t have to write but I have already seen too many examples in my personal life and on-line that prove we all need this reminder right now. Take a breath, take a pause, and picture yourself in the future. If you are a public figure, those insensitive tweets you’re posting will hurt your business in the long-term. This is a chance to show people who you are – what do you want to be known for?
Communication is everything. Communications is a broad category when we’re talking about marketing and branding and I typically focus on something specific when I’m giving advice, but in this case, I really mean communication in the broadest sense.
Think about your communication skills – how are you delivering information to others? If you’re a business owner, how are you connecting with your customers? This is an opportunity to go above and beyond business as usual communications to provide additional value. Or just to let people know you care. If you’re still thinking of your customers as a number instead of humans who are anxious, scared, tired just like you, then you’re making a big mistake.
Your communication skills are important in your personal relationships right now, too. You don’t have to have it all together right now. In fact, I really appreciate the people who are being honest in my business and personal relationships. It’s ok to feel uncertain, frustrated, or confused. Did you take a day off in the middle of the week to decompress? Did you find yourself crying at your computer in the middle of the day because it all felt like too much? I appreciate the vulnerability and honesty, and by being honest with each other we can build a stronger foundation of trust and open communication in the future. Not just in our personal relationships but in our business relationships and marketing as well.
Think about your communication channels. This advice is for business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals with some sort of a public brand. You need to address your communication channels holistically. I’ve seen a lot of business leaders putting out great content on one channel, such as Instagram or LinkedIn, and then ignoring the others. When your business as usual marketing strategy is multi-pronged, meaning you typically engage with your followers via multiple channels such as email, your website, and different social media channels; you are making a huge mistake right now by only showing up for people on one channel. If you’re only focused on one channel right now there are cracks in your brand’s foundation. Take some time to fix them now before the chasm is too great to overcome.
Do your due diligence when sharing information. Make sure you take a minute to think about what you’re sharing, especially if it’s a news item or related “tip.” Make sure you are doing your due diligence by reviewing the source of the information your consuming and sharing with others. Is it from an original, credible source?
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ultimate goal in any crisis situation is to manage the message and contain the damage. This means it is prudent to consume news with a critical eye. Remember in situations like these what we are told today could be revised tomorrow. For example, if there is a press release from your local government that says there is no lock down in your area today, do not take this to mean that there will not be a lock down. It’s imperative that you prepare your business, and personal life, for the worst-case scenario. I’m not writing this to stoke panic or encouraging you to go out and buy everything you need for the next year. I’m just reminding you that it is up to all of us to remain rational and well informed and make decisions that set-up our business and careers for success in the future. It’s time to move beyond the shock and denial phase of this turmoil and move on to action and preparedness for the future.
Be helpful. This feels like one I shouldn’t have to write but I’m going for it anyway. Be a good human – at home and at work. Think beyond yourself right now, whatever your situation. I’m encouraged by the number of people doing nice things for others, just because. But there is still a lot we can all do. If you’re coworking with a partner at home, why not do the dishes with those 5 minutes you have between conference calls? If you’re single and you know your friends are overwhelmed balancing work and family right now, get creative and offer some help. Can you video chat with their kids so your friend can make dinner? Can you offer to organize something a friend would normally take care of? Take a few minutes to send an encouraging text to a friend who you know is working all hours just trying to keep up.
Apply these same ideas to your business life. Are there colleagues you can help because they have less flexibility than you? Do you manage someone who seems to be struggling right now? How can you help them? If you’re an entrepreneur, what can you do to support others? A little bit goes a long way right now.
“Be helpful” might sound basic, but it’s good for our relationships. At the end of the day, that’s what brand building is all about. Now is an opportunity to show people who you really are, and who you are working on becoming. You can embrace the opportunity and put your best self out there, or you can let people decide for themselves. The choice is yours.
In honor of Friday and the end of the traditional work week, I’m taking a break from my focus on crisis planning and turning to a related but lighter topic, our human need for “normalcy.”
I’m in no way an expert on human behavior but I have some helpful tips for you today based on my own experiences. I’ve seen a lot of change in circumstances in my career with many ups and downs. If my nearly two decades of professional experience had a tagline it would be: “the only thing that is certain, is that there is no certainty.”
All in I have spent about 5 years working virtually, first as a team member in a small business, then as a team member in a larger company, and now for myself. My current situation, running my business online while also raising my toddler, has been the ultimate challenge. But it has also been the most rewarding. I’ve been reading a lot of posts from people struggling to adapt to working virtually and (for some) being home with their children. I know it can feel like a big adjustment, but there are plenty of great things about it too. Over the years I’ve come up with my own list of strategies that help me stay (at least somewhat) calm, optimistic, and focused during difficult times.
As you read my tips below, please know that I really am in the trenches with you. I understand that “just a minute, Mommy has to send one more email…” is often met with domestic disaster. Like when my 2-year-old responds by peeing all over our newly renovated bathroom. On purpose. Those experiences are my “normal” life, but that doesn’t mean I always embrace it with enthusiasm.
Here are a few of my best tips to help you get through the challenging days.
Tip 1: Maintain as much normalcy as possible. This is a valuable lesson I learned when I was laid off in 2009 during the global financial crisis. At that time, I was single and sitting around my house all day was a nice break from things, until it wasn’t. I fell into an unhealthy pattern of staying up really late and sleeping half the day away which did not help my mental or physical health. I kicked that habit to the curb and forced myself to maintain a reasonable bedtime and wake-up time. I also exercised daily and put more energy into creating healthy recipes. These healthy habits became my new normal and helped me feel like I had some control over my routine (and thus life) even when I had little control over my job situation.
These days I’m doing my best to create normalcy at home for my family. My son and I still send my husband off to work (upstairs) by wishing him a good day, and he still gets a hug when he “comes home from work” at the end of the day. The dog still gets walks at the same time of day, and dinnertime is the same, too. While our regular activities might all be cancelled, I’ve tried to maintain as much structure as possible so that we all feel secure in our day to day routines.
Tip 2: Find pleasure in the small things. This is my absolute favorite thing about working from home as a mom. I love that my workday is punctuated with hugs from my son, or that I’m greeted by my pup who is excited to see me. I appreciate being able to text a friend without scrutiny and when my back gets stiff, I’ll take a minute to hop on the foam roller and stretch. I would never have done those things in any of my office jobs.
Two years ago, I made the switch to virtual work from a long commute and I thought, what if I used my “commute” time in the morning as personal time? What would that look like? This little question has created life-changing results for me. Instead of sleeping until I hear my son call for me, I get up, exercise, and follow a routine that helps me feel centered despite what’s happening in the outside world. Taking time for ourselves is especially important right now and I encourage you to think about how you can start your day with even a few minutes to yourself. This small thing could lead to big changes for you, too!
Tip 3: Prioritize self-care. I know everyone’s lives are crazy right now. Some of you have been in virtual situation rooms trying to save a business, some are stuck on conference calls all day, some are out of work and desperate for a solution, and many people are figuring out what virtual home schooling looks like in their families. Most importantly of all, some of you are on the front lines, in professions that require you to risk your health so that the rest of us can stay healthy. None of this is easy which is why it is important now, more than ever, that you take a few minutes out of your day to care for yourself. Find one thing that you can do for yourself, and no one else. Maybe your one thing is that you manage to take a shower today, or maybe you meditate 20 minutes a day. Whatever self-care looks like for you, commit to something and do not compromise on that one thing.
Tip 4: Connect with others outside your home. This is a good time to embrace the benefits of technology. Video calls with friends and family aren’t the same as being together but it’s still a great way to connect with loved ones. I’m also using group messaging apps like WhatsApp more now than ever. Start a group text with friends or use voice messaging instead of text to keep conversations going with friends in different time zones. I’ve been doing this a lot over the past few months and I love hearing a good friend’s voice and feeling like we’re having a real conversation, even if the format is different. I’m also encouraged by the number of people on social media sharing messages of positivity and offering support to each other. It’s important now more than ever to protect yourself from negativity. Now is a really good time to unfollow accounts that aren’t aligned with your values or make you feel insecure in any way. If you find yourself going down unhealthy rabbit holes online, then consider a digital detox. I’ve done a few in recent years and it has done a lot for my mental health and overall happiness.
Tip 5: Do not bury your anxiety in unhealthy food and other things – at least not every day. I am not a health expert but I have discovered for myself that the foods I often turn to for comfort or as a special “treat” (aka, chocolate, processed foods, caffeine, sugar, wine) end up making me feel more anxious, even sick. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the things you like all together, but I do encourage you to evaluate how you’re fueling yourself during stressful times. I had to break the pattern of stress-sugar-stress-sugar myself to recognize how much it was contributing to my overall feelings of anxiety and illness.
Tip 6: Embrace the opportunity for something new. You might be feeling right now like you have less time, but you have the same amount of time as before, it’s just different. This tip is for those of us at home, safe and healthy. I recognize there are plenty of people with a completely different reality right now.
For those of us lucky to be home, consider including something new to your routine. Is there a hobby you’ve been wanting to try? Why not start now? Can you adjust your schedule and get a little extra sleep? Do you have time now to learn something new? If you’re a parent, what can you do differently as a family? In our home, we don’t do screen time with our son. Recently we decided to start the ritual of having a family movie night. The little guy is entirely wrapped up in the movies we have introduced him to so far. And we’re having fun watching some of our favorites again through his eyes. (Side note: The Frozen 2 soundtrack is really catchy!)
Tip 7: You absolutely can multitask – depending on the task. If I had to say that there was only one thing that I have figured out about work from home life it is this – you can multi-task! The key is to make sure you are coupling the right tasks to do simultaneously. My best advice is to make the voice memo on your phone your best friend. I noticed that I have a lot of my best ideas while doing mindless activities like chopping vegetables, doing the dishes, folding laundry, and taking a shower. In fact, most of my blog posts get written in my head in the shower. (You can ask my husband; he’s always looking at me puzzled while I dash around in a towel looking for a pen.) I also have a notepad that I keep in our living area, where I spend the most amount of time playing with my son. This way, I can easily right down a quick idea before I forget, and then get back to implementing it later.
I understand that if you work for someone else you might not have this flexibility. But I still encourage you to take these concepts and figure out how you can make them your own. Can you fold laundry while listening to a conference call where you don’t need to contribute much? Can you keep a notepad nearby and write your to-do’s or grocery list while on Zoom with your team? I’ve found the more I can take care of the little things when they pop into my mind, the more I can focus on the critical things that require more of my time and energy.
Tip 8: Communicate often. I’m writing this tip for myself today because I always let my personal communications fall to the end of my to-do list. Now more than ever we need to support each other. Reach out to your friends and family to say hello. Ask how they’re doing and then listen to what they’re going through instead of piling on with your own situation. Say thank you, a lot. Say I love you, a lot. Do your best to be supportive and understanding of everyone in your personal and professional circles. We all deal with stress and fear differently. If someone is not their best selves, do your best to let it go and stay focused on being the best version of yourself you can be during this stressful and uncertain time.
Tip 9: Get some fresh air. If at all possible get outside for some fresh air, if only for a few minutes. Even before the pandemic there were days that I would not realize until bedtime that I never went outside that day. That is not healthy! Even a short walk or (yes I’ve done this) sticking my head outside the back door, does wonders to make me feel refreshed and invigorated. Do your best to get out with nature (or at least in the elements) when you can. And drag your family members out with you, too.
Bonus tip for parents with school age kids, my nieces (in Pre-K and First Grade) still get ready for school (although they’re at home) and then they take a “magical school bus” around the house before arriving at “school” (opposite ends of the kitchen table.) They love this routine every morning. Give it a try!
One final thought, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our world will look like on the other side of this crisis. I’ve been a champion of virtual work and online business for years. I’ve always felt that our current corporate model in America isn’t working and it’s stifling innovation as well. One bright side to this is that we are all showing our children what work can look like beyond the traditional office. I know they’re paying attention, it’s my hope that they’re able to innovate and create better professional opportunities for themselves as a result.
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:
- 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.)
- 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?)
- Who are the local authorities I need to speak to for this scenario?
- How will I track and monitor relevant information for this situation?
- How often will I communicate with each stakeholder group?
- Are there any legal concerns I should be thinking about in my communications or planning?
- What are the financial ramifications to my business for this scenario? To my employees?
- 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?
- Do I have any regular marketing activities planned on any of my channels that should be paused if this scenario occurs?
- 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.
In this post I share a few things no one told me about being a new entrepreneur, along with a few strategies I use to manage the overwhelm.
Last Spring, I officially transitioned from my corporate job to life as an entrepreneur. A friend recently asked me if my “new life” was what I expected. My answer was yes, and no. I work part-time so that I can also stay home with my young son. This plan was by design and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but that doesn’t mean the transition has been easy. Even though I was prepared in theory for the transition, nothing really prepared me for the transition emotionally. Here are a few of the challenges I experienced over the past year as a new entrepreneur and “stay at home” home.
The loneliness. I love working from home and giving up years of awful commutes to work at home on my own schedule was a dream come true. I have never been as focused or productive as I’ve been now that I can work on my own time in the way that suits me best. The downside? The day to day of my business life can get very lonely. Because I was spending hours commuting into an office every day my social life was built around the convenience of being in a city, away from where I live. I failed to realize how difficult it would be to see friends who now had different schedules than me. And the local mom friends I thought I would make taking my son to regular toddler activities? They didn’t come as quickly as I expected either. It turns out it’s a lot harder to have a meaningful conversation when you’re keeping one eye on your little one at the playground. (Who knew, right? ;-0)
After a few tearful conversations with my husband that generally went, “You don’t understand, you go to work and talk to grown ups all day while I talk to a toddler about trucks and baseball…” I finally realized it was up to me to go out and make some new friends to compliment my new routine. It’s a work in progress, but it’s comforting to know I have awesome women nearby I can lean on when I just. can’t. take. another. tantrum that day.
Saying goodbye to a regular paycheck is hard. Intellectually I already knew this and we planned for it. But it is still challenging to adjust emotionally. It’s one thing to give up my designer handbag purchases for the sake of building a business I love. It’s a whole other thing to realize that giving up my regular income meant I was reliant on someone else to provide for me. This was a big emotional trigger for me that I had completely forgotten about. Once upon a time after a difficult breakup, I swore I would never rely on anyone else again. And then I worked for over a decade to keep that promise to myself. I have the most supportive and wonderful partner in life. But that did not make it any easier for me to face those old triggers.
My brain will not shut off! I didn’t think I could ever be as tired as I was when I had a newborn. Then I chased my entrepreneurship dream. Obviously, it’s different now. I’m sleeping and I’m not recovering from childbirth. But mentally? I’m exhausted. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I am thinking about some aspect of my business and what I want to do next. It’s exhilarating to care so much about a business that I cannot stop talking to myself about it; but I also had to learn how to protect myself from mental burn out. It’s a serious juggling act and I’m still working on solutions.
By doing so many things on any given day, I often feel like I am doing nothing. Seriously. I spend my day juggling my health and fitness quest with spending quality time with my son and husband, creating a business and executing on my ideas; along with managing my household, caring for my home, exploring other intellectual and personal pursuits; spending time with friends and family; volunteering; planning epic trips for the future….you get it, I’m doing a lot. As I know anyone reading this is, too. My problem is, I often feel like I’m failing at it all. My solution? I coach myself to practice what I teach every day. I focus on the highest priority tasks, I organize my time and minimize distractions, and I check in with myself frequently to make sure I’m pursuing the right goals. I also lean on my husband, my girlfriends, and an occasional weekday Netflix binge to keep myself sane.
Imposter syndrome is real, and it’s rough. Because of how I sometimes feel (see number 4 above) it can be hard not to fall into unproductive thought cycles. The ugliest one is around the belief that I don’t yet have everything in my life and business running perfectly, so how could I help others? This is nonsense and I know it; intellectually. But if I let that little voice of doubt creep in, it can become crippling. When I get stuck in a negative thought pattern I remind myself why I do the work that I do. I remind myself that I have already helped so many people, and I know I can help more. I talk to myself instead of listening to myself. And sometimes I take a break. I ignore the internet and social and all my “I should be’s…” and I just let myself be. And when I give myself that space and grace to be comfortable in who I am, I find myself again ready to embrace the possibility of what I can achieve if I just take that next actionable step to move my goals forward.
There have been some surprises along the way, but that keeps things interesting. I can’t wait for the year ahead.
What about your entrepreneurial journey? I want to hear about your experience. Can you relate or are you considering a change now? Let me know in the comments!