Disasters come in all shapes and sizes – from contaminated food in the company cafeteria to a town-flattening tornado. Some involve scandal, others involve money.   All have the potential to dramatically impact a company’s preparedness and responsiveness to its customers.

 

Crisis Planning.pngSmall businesses are especially vulnerable in crisis situations. Only 25-35 percent of small companies have a disaster recovery plan in place and less than 10 percent have crisis management and business resumption plans, according to the Gartner Group. Forty percent of small businesses fail to reopen after a natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake, according to the American Red Cross.

 

The following are several tips that may help you to make sure yours is one of the 60 percent of small businesses that survive a crisis:

 

Arrange for backup.  With some advance planning, your business can operate in the aftermath of a crisis, if not at full capacity, then at least to some extent. You should backup computer data at an offsite location, investigate disaster recovery services that can provide temporary office space and invest in insurance that covers you for any event that could shut down your business. Create a phone tree that will account for their whereabouts, inform employees where to go and when during a disaster.  Once you’re in your temporary location, focus first on immediate needs such as: employee safety and well-being, pending sales, supplier deliveries and customer service.

 

Designate a crisis team.  Put a team in place that will spring into action when disaster strikes. Ideally, the team should include the small business owner, a communications representative and legal counsel.  The team should know where they will meet, what each member’s responsibilities are and what they are allowed to say, and to whom in the event of a crisis.  Once you are ready to communicate with the media, members of the crisis team should be the only spokespeople.

 

Stay on message.  Develop a set of corporate messages prewritten for possible crisis scenarios. Take the time to go through the ten most likely crises that may arise, given your particular industry or business environment.  Thinking about product recalls, lawsuits and other serious issues might not be pleasurable, but planning your response in advance will help you be better prepared for the future. If a crisis occurs, you can use the messages to craft a Q&A that company spokespeople can use when speaking to the media, customers, partners and stakeholders.

 

Never say “no comment.”  Particularly with natural disasters, the shock of the situation may leave you wanting to bury your head in the sand.  It is important to resist this urge.  Although you may not have had the opportunity to fully research the situation, develop a brief announcement acknowledging your awareness of the crisis and promising further communication once your company looks into the details. And, by all means, never give out confusing or false information; this may damage your business irreparably.

 

Be proactive, not reactive.  While you may be bombarded with media calls, you do not have to take every one in real time.  If you’ve already prepared a list of reporters and editors with whom your company has good relationships, you can reach out to them first. In some cases, it may be advisable to give an “exclusive” to the publication with which your company shares the most goodwill.  This is advance notice of the announcement your company will make.  The “exclusive” article will appear in print early on the day that your announcement is distributed to the public.

 

Crisis Mgmt.pngCreate a media “room”.  Your company should have a central repository for all crisis-related announcements and news. The best place to do this is your website.  You can develop “dark pages” in advance that contain basic company information and details about how you respond to a crisis, such as frequency of updates, contact information, etc.  These dark pages can be turned on or surfaced at a moment’s notice.

 

Demonstrate leadership.  Perhaps most importantly, as the public face of the company, the small business owner needs to stay calm and offer reassurance.  One way to personally communicate with stakeholders, customers, business partners and community leaders, is to disseminate a video or voice message on your company’s website or through a social media press release. This message will focus on the company’s response to the crisis.  Further, when it comes to handling employees, remember that they will reflect the same emotions that you display.  Even if you are stressed, try to remain accessible, offer time off if needed and continue to reinforce that your small business is a team that supports and works with each other.

 

No one hopes for a crisis. But if you plan ahead, even faced with the flood of the century, your small business can stay afloat.