How Early Stage Companies Can Navigate the Crisis Minefield

“We have a crisis…” This is the last thing any company executive wants to hear - ever. The word alone conjures up images of disaster and panic. The reality is that every company - big or small - will at some point face a crisis. The question is: are you prepared?

Your response can have a longer lasting effect than the crisis itself. Crises met with silence, or “no comment” can cast a negative light on your company and portray you and other execs as indifferent - or worse - uncaring. For startups and SMBs, a negative first impression can be hard to recover from.

By their nature, crises arise unexpectedly and are therefore impossible to plan for 100%. But that doesn’t mean you have to flounder when they arise. Fortune 500 companies and other large brands have crisis plans. Sometimes these plans fall short, but anticipating and having a plan to start is half the battle.

For startups and SMBs, crises can take many forms. There’s a tendency for early stage companies who are focused hard on growing the business (rightly so) to not think about crises until one actually hits. Then, everyone tries to react, but with no cohesive strategy in place, the positive opportunities that crises present are lost.

The first rule of any crisis is that you can’t communicate your way out of a problem. Your first step should always be to fix, or work to fix whatever the issue is. Did your website or software have an outage? Before you say anything, get to work fixing the problem and then communicate your efforts to customers, partners, employees, investors - whoever the issue effects.

Here are a few initial things to think about for crisis planning.

  1. Create a ‘what if’ list. Think about and make a list of the potential issues that may arise within your company both today and down the road. Include both likely and unlikely scenarios to help better prepare for all types of situations. Bring different team members in from the start, as crises can involve issues across product, sales, marketing, finance and human resources.

  2. Communicate internally. Having protocols in place regarding who will respond in what scenario (and how) will alleviate fragmented and even contradictory messages going out from multiple people/teams. In theory, this should be easier for smaller companies without thousands of employees, but even small teams can falter if everyone isn’t on the same page internally.

  3. Avoid knee jerk reactions. Timeliness is critical in a crisis, but that doesn’t mean you should quickly talk just to talk. Even if you’re the CEO or a co-founder and you’ve decided to respond, take a few minutes to run things by others (co-founder, your communications team, etc.) to help bring perspective and strategic insight into the best way, tone and channels to respond (blog, social media, email, etc.).

Crises doesn’t have to spell disaster or create chaos. For every crisis, there’s an opportunity to correct the problem and respond in an organized, strategic, intelligent - and most importantly - human manner. Customers and other internal and external stakeholders want transparency during a crisis. Even when hiccups happen, which they will in any startup and SMB, you have the opportunity to continue telling your brand story in an honest and authentic way.

Want to discuss further about how you can organize, develop a plan, and align your communications efforts for crisis planning? Get in touch with us here.