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.