Right now, it seems that the most difficult part of your startup journey is over. You’ve secured funding, your product is selling, and the social love is flowing. Congratulations! In this honeymoon period, it’s probably difficult to imagine that things could go horribly wrong for your startup or small business.
But as larger companies like United Airlines, Equifax, and Uber know, a public relations problem can quickly spiral out of control and become a full-fledged disaster if not handled well, costing you time, money, and, most importantly, consumer trust and loyalty. For small businesses, the stakes are even higher — a too-large crisis might be impossible to bounce back from.
Luckily, there are ways to minimise a crisis without waiting for one to occur. Here’s how to plan so you can move quickly when issues arise.
Decide who’s in charge.
Small businesses and startups have an advantage over larger companies because there aren’t multiple levels of upper management to get through in order to get a response. However, there still can be confusion about who’s in charge if something goes wrong. In a time of crisis, you don’t want various people giving mixed messages on various channels.
Before things go down, designate a chain of command that makes it clear who is responsible for what, and what the threshold is for issues being escalated before anyone can act. You want employees empowered to do their jobs, but also able to quickly identify when something needs to be raised and who should be contacted.
Monitor what’s going on, both within and outside the organisation.
While crises can emerge seemingly out of nowhere, the truth is that often, there are early signs of trouble brewing. You’re probably already monitoring your brand’s mentions in the news, but to be truly thorough, expand that list. Keep tabs on what mentions your senior execs are getting — journalists are paying attention to what they’re saying and doing.
Engage in some professional stalking and follow what attention your competitors are getting as well. If they’re getting flack for something, you may be up next. Along those lines, following what’s happening in your industry as a whole is important, too. Even if your company isn’t directly involved, you might get pulled into a current events problem by association. Knowing what’s going on and where your company stands means you’re prepared to address questions head on.
Have statements prepared in advance.
Prepping as much as possible really helps in situations where time is of the essence. Having a few general statements that have already been reviewed by management and legal and can be released when disaster strikes will buy you some time while the team assess the situation and prepare something more comprehensive.
Offer solutions, not excuses.
Businesses often make a problem even worse by putting the blame on someone else or burying bad news. If your company has screwed up, take responsibility. Explain what happened, the gravity for customers, and most importantly, what your company is doing to fix it. Stick to your key messaging and resist blaming, well, anyone else. Bonus points if, once you’ve taken tangible steps to fix the problem, you report back to customers on what the business has learnt and how it will avoid the same problem again.
By being proactive and taking control of the story, you’ll reduce the chances of someone else, like a competitor, shaping the narrative for you.