In this video and post, I’m dusting off my crisis communications hat from my PR agency days and talking about how you can equip your creative small business coronavirus-style from a copywriting and communication standpoint.
As the COVID-19 times ramp up (and start to affect the economy—did you know 99% of America’s businesses are US, small business owners?? WHATTTT!? I know, right?), I hop and pray this blog post serves as a mini-resource library for you.
One of my very favorite podcasters, Allie Stuckey, said that this is a time to be prepared and not panicked. I love that, so I’m going to swipe it. 😉
With crisis communications, it’s never a question of if, but when.
These things are always going to happen.
The people that have been in business since 2008/2009 KNOW this … they’ve have told us this before! Even just texting with a best buddy this week who masterminds with names that Oprah hangs out with (f’real), she said the same thing. The business leaders she learns from have been saying the SAME thing: get ready, you never know when winter will come.
Don’t forget that if you’re an entrepreneur, this is what you’re born and bred to do. This is your heartbeat: Figuring out how to help people, how to serve them, how to solve their problems and really step into the gap and create space, hold space for them and get in there and help them figure out what they are trying to solve in life. This community of creatives is resilient. It’s why I love working with creatives so much.
By the end of this post, you are going to have some copywriting swipes that you can take away and use as you communicate with your clients and your customers during this delicate time. (Click here or below to download the freebie swipes!) Let’s go!
Coronavirus Small Business Quick Links & Resources
- HoneyBook Small Business Coronavirus Prep webinar for creative entrepreneurs | Got to hop on this with my friends Natalie Franke, Paige at The Legal Paige, and financial expert Dominique Broadway—thousands have watched it, and I learned SO much.
- This hub from HoneyBook (the CRM we use to manage clients in my business) is GREAT. So many helpful tools, especially if you have NO idea what force majeure is in your contract, etc.
- Brush up on your business’s core values—here are a blog and video I did on this
- The Contract Shop templates
- If you need to cancel a client contract because of COVID-19, read this blog from my attorney Christina.
- Work from home WELL … if you’re like me, you’re squeezing work in between naptimes (please God, I need my child to take at least 1 nap!)–here are some work-from-home tips I follow each day, especially lately!
Crisis Communications Tip #1 | Take this time to craft an internal & external communications plan.
Like I said, in my former life when I worked in a communications agency, one of the accounts I was on was Delta Air Lines … and I learned SO much there (Wes works for Delta, too, so we’re dyed in the wool over here!). But one thing that shaped my career was watching how the company prepared for crisis communication. Once a year, middle of the night, they’d simulate a plane crash and then respond appropriately. People would be firing in the right directions, talking to the right people, but through that simulation they got to then be prepared and know that things are in place, if God forbid, this should happen.
^^ THAT is creating a crisis communications plan.
And even if you’re a creative small business, you can do the same thing.
Here’s an example (and this is part of the little freebie if you want to download it):
Now chiefly, you have two big publics that you want to create this for, both the internal publics and your external publics.
Internal PR & Communications Tips
From an internal standpoint, and even if it’s just you on your team right now, go ahead and start to think through these things:
- What are your work from home policies? How will you adjust now that people have their kids home a little bit more?
- How are you going to elevate things up? So say a client or a customer comes in with some sort of emergency. Are they talking to an associate on your team, to a customer service representative, or do you want to communicate to your team that things like that, emergency situations, immediately go up the chain and come directly to you? Start to fashion some sort of a plan and communicate it to people that work with you or your contractors so they understand what to do if something arises. I promise the last thing you want is for somebody to go out there and be a voice and a mouth for your brand when you’re like, “Oh my gosh, they didn’t need to say that. That wasn’t what was supposed to be communicated.” So think through how you want that to go.
- Get “no comment” out of your system. One of my pet peeves leftover from journalism school! (More on that in the next step)
External PR & Communications Tips
Three things I want you to start thinking through here:
- How are you displaying concern about the current environment that’s out there? (More on that plus examples below)
- Can you communicate some of the credible sources that you’re learning from? Think about that HoneyBook webinar. Can you start to communicate to your clients, “Hey, I’ve been in touch with an attorney on my team. I’ve listened to a communications expert talk about this. And these are some things that we’re doing to keep you in your best interests in mind.”
- Do you need any sort of mini PR plan or communication strategy out there and going? Psst—my personal two cents on this is you DO need something right now, whether it is a static blog that’s going to live on your website, a banner at the top of your website, some sort of smattering of social media posts out there, but I do think everybody could better their business with some sort of communications going out about this when it comes to a PR standpoint.
Takeaway: Spend some time thinking through your small business coronavirus plan building something like that PDF image above. Or just grab the little freebie of it I have.
Crisis Communications Tip #2 | Adjust your sales calendar.
The NUMBER ONE small business coronavirus question I’m seeing right now—from mastermind sisters, friends, DMs, clients, and students:
Should I launch??
Do I move my launch??
Thoughts in a nutshell (and if I go live on this, which I probably will, I’ll add the video here):
The entrepreneurs that outlast all this will get scrappy—check out these comments from killer direct-response copywriter Frank Kern:
Long, but I liked it.
Selling during all this can look a little icky if done inappropriately. Quick case study: GOOP posted this on Instagram over the weekend, right about the time that everything’s canceling.
I’ll let you guess how that came across.
Not to mention Betches articles like this one, lol’ing at how influencers and celebs are popping out tone-deaf posts.
DO NOT BE THAT BRAND, MAH FRIEND. Do not.
I mean, I have 2 mompreneurs selling in my inbox right now and it’s coming across soooo woof. Not that you can’t sell, but it’s the MESSAGING of it that you have to be so careful with right now.
When it comes to crisis communications, the strategy is to get ahead of the story. Start communicating now, start showing your clients and your customers now that you care about this. Like I said with the “no comment” thing earlier, when you don’t say something or you just ignore everything, people start to make their own suppositions … you don’t want them to interpret the wrong thing from your communications just because you’re not saying the right thing.
Do this, not that
Example—here’s a great piece of customer communication I got at the end of last week:
Five things about it that worked:
- It said “personally” in it, so this was personal outreach from the CEO of the business. This is your time for people to hear from you, not your associate, not somebody else on your team, but YOU, friend.
- It told me about how the company is being flexible and nimble and making some arrangements that may not have been the most comfortable, but they’re doing it on behalf of their customers and their clients. Aka moi, the one with the purse strings.
- It reminded me how they are in contact with the best of the best. Like I said in the first thing, it helps right now to go ahead and communicate to your clients and your customers, these trusted, credible brand names, the World Health Organization, the CDC, your attorney that you’re talking to, your financial planner for your business, a communications expert or the HoneyBook webinar that you’re watching. Go ahead and drop names in this. That can start to help your clients and customers say, “Hey, you know what? She knows what she’s doing. She’s going to the experts. She’s putting in the hours and the work for me.”
- It gave me tips. I went to a conference the other week right before all of this hit, and one thing I loved is that every single bathroom that you walked into, there was a big placard on the wall that talked about best handwashing tips and some other ways to stay safe. Even the Purell dispensers all over the place were just that one more reminder that this company was looking out for me. How can you communicate that with your clients and your customers? Even if it’s giving them ideas of how they can help their community during this time, that’s still good. That’s still a tip that you can give to serve them.
- It told me 3 practical things that this company is doing to take action for me, the client that has paid a lot of money to them.
A few more good ones for you to swipe small business coronavirus copywriting ideas from—
This one from Simplified and Emily Ley was one of my favorites … they’re a product retailer, and this came across soooo much better than J. Crew’s, which I personally thought was weird.
Okay, this one is kinda long, but I want to give you a copy swipe for your files that’s more small business coronavirus client-y focused. This brand, Gravy, is one we use CONSTANTLY … they help us serve our students when they have a credit card payment fail. Loved this email. If you serve clients 1-on-1, this is a great email to look at:
Feel free to swipe any small business coronavirus copy from the email my little business sent out (audience is creative small business owners, 96% women):
Aaand lastly, this email from Loom. Truly one of my faves!
Takeaway: Craft one piece of communications to put out there this week that shows your clients and your customers that you care deeply for them and you’re here to serve them. Whatever outlet you’re going to be using to publish this, it may depend. But how many times is this that moment where you get emails in your inbox from companies that you think, when did I even sign up for your emails? So don’t be that person. 😉 Let this be a lesson for you that you need to have regular communications with your people so you never ended up being *that* person.
Crisis Communications Tip #3 | Update your contract.
I don’t know if you watch This Is Us but Randall and Beth are just the best couple, and I will fight anyone on that. They play this game, if you watch the show, you know it, where they go to the worst-case scenario and they say like, “This is my fear. This is going to happen,” and then … it’s like the spell breaks. They get over it. They’re ok.
To me, that’s the power that a good firm contract can have.
You may be interested in: 8 Powerful Ways to Get Good Client Testimonials
Now, I’m NOT an attorney or a lawyer at all, but one thing I’ve learned the more I have been a creative small business owner, is that having that lock, that airtight contract in place.
Onboarding communications as your opportunity to reiterate some of those things that are in my contract … because your client or customer isn’t reading every single bit of that (unfortunately). So if I’m able to turn around and communicate those in onboarding communications and client magazine, in a beautiful welcome magazine or whatever, how you’re looking out for your client and you’re not just trying to cover your booty with your contract, that can help.
So use this time to make sure you have a really firm contract in place, but that you’re also doing a really good job to communicate to your client the things that are in that contract that they have signed on the line about.
Sidenote—it’s probably not the best time for you to go back to your clients and say, “Hey, by the way, can you sign this new contract that I have?” MAYBE don’t do that right now. 😉 Now is the time though just to prepare. So on the aftermath of all of this, you do have something in place that’s really firm.
Takeaway: Firm up your client contract. Here’s where I get mine.