By Andrea Hill
There’s a reason everyone remembers where they were or what they were doing when big national or international crises occurred. Fear and anxiety imprint on our brains more forcefully than any other emotion. And once they set in, they crowd out other more measured thoughts and emotions. This is why the stock market behaves like a roller coaster during turbulent times, and when the stock market starts flailing around, even people and businesses not invested in the market start panicking too. Emotions can be very viral.
Business owners face several challenges during times of duress. Even if you do not buy into the anxiety of the moment, you still must deal with the apprehension of vendors, customers, and employees. So here’s a five-point guide you can pull out of your emergency folder and put to work whenever a crisis occurs.
People who recognize that crisis and stress are part of life appear to respond better to difficulty than people who feel victimized by it. The first thing you can do to improve your position is to accept that downturns are part of the normal business cycle, and crisis is part of the human cycle. With this mindset firmly in place, you will find you are able to jump straight to solutions when challenges arise instead of wasting precious hours and days fretting over fate and wishing it wasn’t so.
If you have employees, your employees will follow your emotional lead. If a downturn freaks you out, undoubtedly they will freak out. If you don’t do anything, they’ll start to worry you’re not doing anything. Sounds like you can’t win, right?
In fact, there’s an extremely important thing you can do. Communicate. Whatever your normal level of communication is, during times of stress you need to increase it. Be reassuring, and keep your communication tone in the middle ground—not unrealistically optimistic nor unnecessarily reactive.
Share that you are watching the situation and whatever plans you have to keep your company safe and functioning. This is confidence building, and it can reduce the level of stress. During the recent spread of COVID-19, companies that quickly put out health and safety guidelines, communicated work-from-home policies, and kept employees updated as new information came in from government and labor agencies saw a marked reduction in employee fear and anxiety.
Once you’ve taken care of the immediate human aspect of any crisis, start communicating your plans to keep the business in good shape.
Even during the depths of the last century’s world wars, commerce continued. But during times of duress, people respond to different types of advertising and promotion, and their motivations for buying change. Here are some guidelines for sales preparedness during these times:
• Don’t stop promoting! It’s temping to sit back and wait, to see how things will evolve, but that is the wrong response.
• Change your messaging. Optimism and “new” don’t sell during a crisis, particularly not during the early phases. Instead, shift your messaging to be reassuring. Focus on benefits and why your products are a sensible, appropriate part of your customers’ lives.
• Avoid any message that appears to be capitalizing on the current situation. Any perception of insensitivity can cost you customer goodwill in the short and long terms.
• At the first hint of a downturn, create a list of your products or services that can be easily promoted as beneficial, sensible, and appropriate. These don’t have to be new products; they can be pulled from your active offerings or even dusted off from your back catalog.
Many crises come and go in a very short time. Of course, if your business is directly affected—such as being in an area where a natural disaster has occurred—operational preparedness becomes about getting the business back up and running.
If there is no physical impact to your business, then your business may become slow as the phone stops ringing and order volume drops. Staying busy is a good way to manage stress and maintain perspective during troubling times. Use the time to catch up on orders, do some maintenance and upkeep, get ahead on design, or plan your marketing activities for the next quarter. Chances are, things will improve before you’ve had a chance to fully catch up.
The coronavirus outbreak brought new operational challenges to many companies. For the first time in many people’s experience, parents couldn’t get to work because schools were closed, and some employees were caught up in quarantines. Now we know that, for the future, we need plans that can be communicated quickly to employees, such as work-at-home policies and how pay will be handled for people who can’t work from home. Can your employees use vacation or PTO time? Are there community resources you can share?
Just-in-time inventory is a fantastic approach for cash flow, but there are some inventory items you simply can’t be without. Make sure you know what those goods are and that you always have a sufficient supply of them. How much is sufficient? It’s a highly individual number based on the importance of that item to your sales relative to the cost of stocking it.
By the time you read this article, the impact of COVID-19 may be ongoing or it may already be over. But the good-times-bad-times cycle is here to stay. The best time to prepare for the next crisis is now. Take time to consider each of these five points as they relate to your business and create your emergency plan. You may even be surprised at how comforting it is just to know you have it—a stress relief method with great practical value.