Most small business owners will face a time in their career when they have to communicate about topics that may be uncomfortable. COVID-19 has put small business owners in the position to have many stressful conversations about topics they may not want to discuss.
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.
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 may help 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 business running. It is more difficult for them to buy in to your changes if they don’t know why they’re doing so.
You also may not feel great telling customers about your business troubles during COVID-19, but loyal customers will likely want to know how they can help, even if that means buying gift cards to use at a later date.
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 your business is doing and any changes to your policies or procedures will help. Consider a video conference call if possible – especially if your staff is now working remotely, in which case you need to check in to make sure they’re supported as they adjust to their new work life.
Also, keep contact with your clients or customers 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.
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 point.
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 do. If you have applied for the SBA Payroll Protection Program loan or other assistance, inform your employees that this application is in the works and your hope is to have funding soon.
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 renegotiate 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 are not 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.
At Bennett Thrasher, we provide customized outsourced accounting solutions, partnering with you to fill the role of both bookkeeper and accountant, to help you and your business succeed. To learn more, contact Shane George or Jimmy Lee by calling 770.396.2200.