Crisis Management: Don’t Panic (But Maybe Have a Plan)

How a Crisis Management Plan Can Keep Your Small Business from Going Full Meme

A wise person once told me, “If you are ever attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler.” I filed that piece of advice away under “clown attack,” and have thankfully not had to use it … yet.

Unfortunately, as a small business owner, countless things have happened for which I have not had a plan on file. And let’s be totally honest – there’s no way to plan for every possible thing that could go wrong and threaten your business’s very existence. (Believe me, I have tried.)

But fear not, taking a little time to think through a general crisis management plan – preparing for the unexpected, if you will – can go a long way toward saving the day, saving your business, or at least keeping you from becoming the next internet meme.

What is a Crisis Management Plan?

Think of it as a fire escape for your business’s reputation. It’s a roadmap that outlines how you’ll heroically (or at least competently) handle negative events, like rogue squirrels taking up residence in your store (this actually happened to a client of mine). Or becoming an internet meme for all the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the crisis is a more common one but still damaging–a sudden storm forces you to close your doors, a key person in your business is suddenly out of commission and you can’t deliver on promised goods or services, or a disgruntled customer leaves a scathing online review. You need a plan for how to respond.

Why Should Your Small Business Have A Crisis Management Plan?

Crises are like surprise pop quizzes from the universe. They happen, and you don’t want to be caught scrambling to answer with a bunch of “ummms” and nervous sweating. Here’s why a plan is your secret weapon:

  • Less Drama, More Action: A clear plan keeps everyone on the same page, preventing your team from turning into a flock of confused pigeons during a crisis.
  • Reputation Protection: A swift and strategic response can be the difference between a minor blip and full-blown internet infamy. Your reputation, quite frankly, is your business.
  • Tame the Rumor Mill: A plan establishes clear communication channels, ensuring you control the narrative instead of letting rumors run wild.
  • Get Back to Business, Faster: Knowing what to do gets your business back up and running quicker, minimizing downtime and lost sales.

How to Create a Crisis Management Plan for Your Small Business (Without Wanting to Cry)

Creating a crisis management plan doesn’t have to feel like prepping for the zombie apocalypse. Here are some simple guidelines to get you started. Remember, you do this BEFORE a crisis hits:

Get Some Basic Controls in Place

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to manage a crisis is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You’ve probably already thought about employee handbooks, policy manuals, and safety plans. Great! Here are a few other things to shore up now, while you are still thinking about it:

  • Make sure all insurance policies are up-to-date and accessible (Like, really, where are they??)
  • Do those policies include Business Interruption, Cyber and Data Breach Liability, Errors and Omissions, and Key Person Insurance?
  • Have your insurance agent review your policies with you at least annually. Your business is changing constantly, your insurance policies probably are not.
  • Make sure your attorney is regularly reviewing the contracts that you are sending.
  • Change your system passwords regularly – seriously, put it on your calendar to do once a quarter.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on all applications. And stop using your dog’s name and the year you were born as your password.

Assemble Your A-Team

Pick a handful (3-5, max) of your most level-headed employees or board members to be your crisis management warriors. Think of them as your own personal team of Ghostbusters but for bad publicity. A few questions to ask yourself to help you decide on who to include:

  • Who is quickest on their feet? Put this person in charge of the team (this likely does not need to be you, the business owner. You are probably better as a team member than the team leader, in a crisis situation.)
  • Who has a way with words? Put this person in charge of emergency communications
  • Who are your best problem solvers? Put them on the team
  • Who is your worst-case scenario thinker? Put them on the team (but don’t put them in charge!)
  • Who are your go-to outside resources? Have your attorney, your insurance agent, and your business coach on speed dial. And maybe a best friend or your mom. Consider building a relationship with a PR firm that specializes in crisis management—before you need it.
  • Make sure your A-Team knows these people by name and how to contact them. If you are the only person who knows how to contact your insurance agent, you are already in trouble.

Imagine the Worst

As a worst-case scenario thinker, this is where I shine. (Remember, don’t put a guy like me in charge.) Get your A-Team together and brainstorm potential threats to your business, from product failures, to cat-5 hurricanes, to vermin infestations, to social media meltdowns.

Have fun, but get serious–prioritize these threats based on how likely they are to happen and how much damage they could cause (because, let’s be real, a rogue squirrel takeover is less likely than a bad customer review).

Craft a Specific Battle Plan

For each potential crisis, outline specific actions your team will take. This includes figuring out how you’ll communicate with the public, how to contain the damage, and how to get things back to normal faster than you can say “crisis averted.”

Create a Non-Specific Plan

This is for that crisis you couldn’t have made up in your wildest dreams (or nightmares, if you are thinking along the lines of a clown mob attack.)

Pull general principles from the scenarios above. Leave more blank space. My money is on this being the template you use most often.

Pre-Write Your Statements

Having pre-written templates for press releases, social media apologies, and customer emails saves you precious time during a crisis. Think of them as your “Oops-I-Made-a-Mistake” get-out-of-jail-free cards.

Pick Your Communication Channels

Decide how you’ll talk to your team internally (walkie-talkies optional) and how you’ll reach out to customers and the media. Designate one person to respond to social media backlash, with unified, consistent messaging across all platforms.

Invite those who are “lighting you up” online to DM you or some other way of taking the conversation private. Guard against coming across as defensive and, at all costs, do not get into an argument online. Crises are usually temporary. Screenshots live forever.

Make it all Accessible

If you are the only one who knows where your crisis management plan is, you don’t actually have a crisis management plan. Make sure you store it in an easily accessible platform along with your most important SOPs (I recommend Trainual).

Train Your Troops

Educate your employees on the plan, their roles, who to call (and who not to call), and how to communicate effectively during a crisis. Regularly conduct practice drills, because who doesn’t love a good crisis simulation (with snacks, of course)?

Review and Update

Your crisis plan is a living document, not a museum exhibit. Revisit it regularly to reflect changes in your business or emerging threats.

With a crisis management plan in your back pocket (and by back pocket, I mean an easily accessible platform), you’ll be ready to face any challenge, from social media gaffes to disgruntled customers with impeccable meme-making skills. You will be able to take a deep breath, ditch the stress, and focus on what you do best – running your awesome business. After all, who needs internet infamy when you’ve got happy customers and, hopefully, a clown-free storefront?

Similar Posts