Communicating during a pandemic
Most small business owners face a time in their career when they have to communicate in ways or about topics they aren't comfortable with. COVID-19 has put small business owners in the position of having many conversations that are uncomfortable and stressful.
Whether you're communicating with employees about business issues during the pandemic, hoping to negotiate a rent reduction or changes to credit terms, or asking customers for help in keeping your store open, here are some strategies that will help you be more effective in your communications.
1. Be transparent
It's vital during a crisis that you're transparent about your company's situation. You might not feel good telling your suppliers that business has slowed considerably, but honesty and transparency will help them understand your situation and encourage them to work with you on a solution.
The same is true of employees. Your staff needs you to be open and honest with them about where your company currently stands, how long you expect to stay open if the situation continues, and what adaptations they can make so you can stay in business. Even employees who are resistant to change will likely find ways to adjust if it's necessary to keeping your business running. But it's more difficult for them to buy-in to your changes if they don't know why they're doing so.
You may also not feel great telling customers about your business troubles during COVID-19, but loyal customers will want to know and will do what they can to help out, even if that means buying gift cards to use at a later date.
2. Be consistent
It's not enough these days to issue one email to your staff at the beginning of a crisis and hope they don't need more information from you. Things change suddenly and unexpectedly, and your employees need to hear from you regularly.
You don't have to inundate them with emails, but a couple of messages a week to let them know how business is doing and any changes to your policies or procedures will help them. Especially if your staff is now working remotely, you need to check in to make sure they're supported as they adjust to their new work life.
Keep contact with your clients or customers, too, so they know of any changes that affect them. Let them know how you can help them during the pandemic—if you still can—and ways they can help you or other small businesses.
3. Be realistic
A pandemic is not the time to be overly optimistic about your capabilities. Be realistic about what you know you can commit to and don't make promises beyond that.
Don't promise your employees you will keep them employed for the duration of the pandemic unless you know for certain you have the cashflow to do so. It doesn't help your employees to think things are fine just to suddenly be surprised when you can't afford the payroll. Instead, be honest and realistic about what you can do and what you likely can't.
If you're negotiating a change in your credit terms, be realistic about when and how much you can pay. If you're looking to renegoiate your rent agreement, be honest about what you can and can't afford. This will help your landlord and creditors come to a reasonable agreement with you.
Remember, you aren't in this situation alone. Countless other small business owners face the same scenario you do. Many institutions, customers and employees will do what they can to help your small business succeed, so don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help or tell them what you need.
Being transparent, consistent and realistic with your communications will help you navigate these uncertain times.