Small and Medium‑Sized Business (SMB) Crisis Management

Micky Deming

Everyone who runs an SMB is familiar with the feeling of uncertainty. It is the nature of the beast. And that's due to the reality that SMBs are susceptible to a variety of factors, both internal and external.

Key team members that suddenly leave, an unforeseen disruption in the marketplace, clients coming and going, etc. 

That’s ok. You know you can manage those. You’re a pro.

But what happens when you get a curveball thrown your way? Something that no one could see coming. What happens when every single business gets thrown that curveball at the same time?

That’s the world we're in right now.

You can’t control uncertainty, but you can control what you do when uncertainty takes a turn to crisis.

“Leadership is influence” — John C. Maxwell

Leadership is a broad topic, and we certainly can’t go into all the nuances of what being an effective leader entails in this article. However, we will touch upon the fact that during uncertain times you are in charge of steering the proverbial ship. 

Now is the time to get in touch with you as a leader: After all, crises don’t schedule themselves around your free time. . Today is the time to read up, get inspired and put everything you learn into action.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership” — James Humes

Your team looks to you for direction. The key to taking them in said direction is how you communicate.

Here are 3 tips on how to make your communication more effective in complicated times:

  • Over-communicate: With so many communication channels available, it’s become more difficult to get past the noise. Research has shown that listeners absorb much less than you expect, so don’t be afraid to be somewhat repetitive to ensure your message comes across to the people who need to act on it.
  • Ask for honest feedback: Ask your team if they understand what you mean, and be patient and understanding if they say they don’t. Not only does it help confirm that what you communicated was understood clearly, it shows that you truly care — about the message and its recipients.
  • Be yourself: It can’t be overstressed: Honesty and transparency are at the heart of being an effective communicator. Be yourself, share your perspective and acknowledge that it is one of many. . There’s nothing worse than having to follow someone you can’t trust. 
  • Make a decision: You won’t get everything right, but you will have to make big decisions with serious consequences on limited information. Deliberate where you can, but don’t hesitate or stall in the hopes that a better option will appear magically in front of you. Hesitation can lead to worse outcomes, and will sap your team’s morale.

“Clarity affords focus” — Thomas Leonard

A crisis is a scenario that puts your business in real danger of having to shut the lights off for good — if managed improperly.

So as a first priority, you need to define what crisis means for your business from every angle. 

Here are a couple of tips to help you pinpoint what a crisis looks like.

  • Define KPIs for good, bad and crisis: Keep your eyes on the data that matters. Cash flow, sales projections and other operational metrics are key to make sure you know what’s going on. Recognize that a crisis is a different reality to the normal ebb and flow of your business.
  • Constantly update your business data: How quickly we can react to the data we get can be the difference between being able to manage a crisis or not. You should always have a clear picture of what’s going on in your business across the board. Data you don’t have quickly is data you don’t have at all.

“Keep calm and carry on” — World War II poster

Emotional decision making is not good decision making. The problem is that when our business is affected by a crisis  like COVID-19, it comes with a deluge of powerful feelings that compete for focus with the critical choices you need to make for your business. . Waiting it out is not an option. Here are two tips on how to make data-informed decisions and steer away from emotion-driven decisions.

Beware the Hype 

With so much going on, there’s an overabundance of news. However useful it is to stay informed, we need to be wary of how we’re letting it impact our decision-making processes. Take the time to determine if the news is factual or speculative, and whether or not we should base our business decisions on it.

Rely on Trusted Advisors

When there’s too much information, it becomes difficult to make decisions. That’s where counting on a group of trusted advisors becomes invaluable. A team of advisors will help you look at the situation from different angles and dispassionately. They’ll help you create a better solution than if you rely only on yourself.

“What helps people helps business” — Leo Burnett

Aside from leading your business in the right direction and making the best decisions possible, your day-to-day operations must go on. This is where having a series of contingencies from both an operations and a team mindset comes in.

Can your operation run with remote work? 

This, of course, will be industry-dependent; But most SMBs will be able to run some part of their business remotely. Are you ready to work remotely on a moment's notice?

Having the right tools (i.e. software, hardware, communication tools) and clear processes on how to use them is critical. That’s true both for you and for your customers. You need the ability to quickly and effectively change: 

  • How and when you field phone calls (for instance going from in-house to a remote receptionist, or expanding the hours you take calls)
  • Interactions with new leads and prospects
  • How you deliver your products and services

The “hit by the bus” rule.

What happens if suddenly you or another one of your key team members can’t show up for work? Does everyone know what to do? What processes will they bottleneck? 

Often we end up working ourselves into silos. This typically isn’t a big deal in our day-to-day operations, but it can hurt you when in crisis mode. Building redundancies and contingencies into your processes is key to being able to weather a crisis.

Keeping priorities clear.

This is another area where effective communication becomes a critical aspect of running your business. 

That’s especially true if it seems like you’re spending most of your time putting out fires.

Making sure everyone understands what to prioritize under any given circumstance will your team to be an asset, not a liability, in keeping your operation going. 

"Don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going." ⁠— Sam Levenson

Just because you’ve entered crisis mode doesn’t mean you should stop growing your business. After all, we never really know how long a crisis will last, and you’ll need clients once you’ve weathered the storm.

Even if you must cut down on your marketing budget, make sure you have a way to keep bringing in leads. Whether it’s through referrals from existing and past clients or through your network, make sure your business is out there.

“You can only control what you can control” ⁠— Heather O’Reilly 

Control your controllables and don’t spend your time on the rest.. Listen to your team, know where you stand, and keep in mind possible moves given likely worst-case scenarios. 

When you're prepared, you know how to react to whatever gets thrown your way. This will not only give you and your team peace of mind, but put you in the best position to weather the crisis and take advantage of the opportunity that lies beyond.

Micky Deming

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