small business tips Archives - TAB Corporate

Crisis Communications Tips for Small Business Owners

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As much as we’d like to believe it, a public relations crisis doesn’t always happen to some other business. In this era of instantaneous digital technology, even a small customer complaint can metastasize overnight into a full-blown crisis. But while it’s inaccurate to say that such a crisis is inevitable, nonetheless small business owners who plan ahead for the unforeseen are generally better equipped to weather the storm than those who have no crisis communications plan in place.

Here are tips to help you formulate a plan of action when a crisis strikes, as well as general principals to guide your conduct during a difficult time:

1. Engage with media and the public, rather than try to outsmart them. Let’s assume that the nature of the crisis—be it a product recall, surprise civil liability lawsuit against your business, alleged employee criminal behavior, etc.—meets the criteria for a necessary public response. In such cases, expect that the demand for information will likely include what happened, why it happened, what solutions are being considered and how your customers will be reimbursed for their troubles.

PR specialists like Sharon Cain of Quest PR sum up a business leader’s required actions this way:

  • Acknowledge the problem or crisis—say “we know what is happening and we are doing something about it.”
  • Stick to the facts and don’t speculate.
  • Be honest and transparent and don’t try to cover or obscure the issue.

In other words, tell the truth.

2. Select a single spokesperson to represent your business. In many cases, it falls to the owner or CEO to stand up for a company under media siege. Sometimes this responsibility is assigned to a media or PR representative. Whatever the situation, it’s imperative to select one individual to represent your business and to allow no one else to act as an “additional” spokesperson. Many PR mishaps only get more complicated when two or more people step forward to defend the organization.

3. Remain calm in the eye of the storm. It’s asking a lot of an individual, but the most effective public persona to strike in the midst of a crisis is staying calm. If you’re the spokesperson, you will be “bombarded by doubts, questions, negativity, and grievances as you struggle to lead your company and your team out of the morass,” notes PR expert Murray Newlands. Keep a steady hand on the tiller and “don’t succumb to frustrations, panic, or anger, as your staff is going to be looking up to you to discover a solution.”

4. Think before speaking out on social media. Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can be enormously helpful in getting your message out. But they can also be filled with perilous forums in which you and your business can get mired in seemingly endless negative chatter.

When a crisis strikes, you obviously can’t avoid referring to it on your social media networks. At the same time, remember to never get into back-and-forth exchanges with trolls or anyone else who seeks to bring further damage to your company’s reputation.

The best advice is to take a deep breath before composing and sending a message.

“Publish a neutral statement showing you’re aware of the situation and that you’re investigating the matter,” writes social media strategist Lesya Liu. “Do not go into details of what happened just yet, before you get the full picture, and don’t make any comments acknowledging or rejecting any fault.”

Of course, prior to holding a press conference or issuing a statement, you should consult with your company attorney. They might wish to err on the side of extreme caution, so the most effective approach may be to weigh their legal advice against the potential damage to your brand if you choose to say or do nothing at all.

Remember, your ultimate priority during any crisis is to preserve the trust of your customers.

Want more advice on crisis management or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

 

5 Advisors Every Startup Should Have in its Circle

5 Advisors Every Startup Should Have in its CircleStarting your own business can be the most frightening, yet rewarding, challenge you’ll face in your professional life. While the urge to be your own boss may have driven you to take the entrepreneurial plunge, surrounding yourself with the best team is the key to ensuring your startup will beat the odds and provide you with long-term success.

We asked Dave Halpern (an executive business coach from The Alternative Board with nearly a half century of experience) to choose the five key players a startup should have in its circle. Learn from Dave’s no-nonsense business coaching tips (in quotes below) as he explains why each of the following professionals are essential members of your extended team:

1. Attorney“Dot your i’s and cross your t’s – better yet, let a lawyer make sure all contracts are legal and binding.”

Takeaway:

A business may find itself in need of one or more types of legal representation over time. Contract writing, incorporation, licensing and intellectual property are issues that are best handled by professionals, and they can crop up at any time.

Hire an experienced business attorney for your startup. If they’re professional and trustworthy, they’ll immediately tell you when any issues arise that they’re not qualified to handle and should be able to refer you to someone who can.

 

2. CPA“You never want to take shortcuts when it comes to keeping your books and whether you’re accountable to venture capitalists, a future buyer or even tax collectors, a good CPA will CYA!”

Takeaway:

Save yourself trouble ahead of time – get an accountant to do the accounting. Though it can be tempting to do the books yourself (it’s just addition and subtraction, right?), accounting is a college degree of study for a reason – it’s complicated.

Why is it complicated? Ask the taxman! The tax burdens placed on businesses extend beyond just the tax bills themselves. The paperwork and procedures that companies are expected to keep for audits are onerous, and a good accountant will have an intimate knowledge of the processes involved.

 

3. IT Company“Since businesses are increasingly dependent on state-of-the-art and reliable technology, you’ll want a team (or at least a tech support rep) on call for any emergencies in your infrastructure.”

Takeaway:

Your operations are likely highly reliant on technology and even a simple glitch like your mail server going down can grind daily productivity to a halt. In-house run IT systems will require expertise for regular maintenance. Whether your “IT guy” is full-time or just on call, Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll inevitably come to need their expertise in a big way at some point.

Conversely, once your business expands, IT systems can also be outsourced to cloud service providers who can host the necessary hardware in their own secure and locked-down data storage locations.

 

4. Sales Expert“You’ll need this specialist to grow the business and either instruct your sales staff or, in smaller businesses, be the sales staff.”

Takeaway:

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could sell? Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Worrying about your company’s ability to maintain a steady stream of orders and income might keep you awake at night if you don’t have a proven leader in your sales department. Selling is a skill, and you’ll need someone on staff who specifically performs this skill – and well.

If you have a full sales staff, your sales expert can lead the team. If, however, you’re a small enough startup, your sales expert might be your sales staff. Still, this pro can help you grow your business to the point where additional salespeople are required.

 

5. Marketing Organization“A professional marketing firm will ensure your company is represented well publicly and that the word gets out in the most expedient fashion.”

Takeaway:

Branding, advertising and marketing strategy can make or break any company trying to enter the marketplace. You can offer the most brilliant product or service, but unless people know about it, your business is dead in the water.

If you’ve got a knack for writing, a current list of media contacts and time to keep up with rapidly changing internet trends — skills like social media management, content marketing, blogging and PR can be learned. Adding a marketing expert to your circle, however, will free you up to focus on the things that you actually enjoy doing for your business. Whether you bring one on full-time or only for sporadic campaigns, a marketing organization can pay for itself by providing your company with valuable public exposure.

In addition to these five key players, many business owners would add a sixth must-have person: a small business coach. Do you have one? Check out a few case studies of business owners who have increased profits and improved work-life balance by becoming members of The Alternative Board.

Can you think of any professionals who are essential to a startup business that we may have overlooked? Let us know in the comment section below.