How to Let Your Clients Know Your Company is Dealing with COVID-19
WE WILL CONTINUE TO UPDATE THIS PAGE WITH MORE INFORMATION RELEVANT TO SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS THROUGHOUT THIS COVID-19 CRISIS
According to an email we received from the SBA:
“The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Capital Access will host a webinar series for small business owners to discuss the COVID EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program’s small business loans. The COVID EIDL program is a Federal small business loan program designed to support small businesses to recover from the COVID-19 economic recession by providing accessible and borrower-friendly capital.
- Tuesday, July 27, 10:00 a.m. EDT, Click here to register.
- Tuesday, July 27, 1:00 p.m. EDT, Click here to register.
- Tuesday, July 27, 6:00 p.m. EDT, Click here to register.
- Wednesday, July 28, Noon EDT, Click here to register.
- Wednesday, July 28, 6:00 p.m. EDT, Click here to register.
- Monday, August 2, Noon EDT, Click here to register.
- Monday, August 2, 6:00 p.m. EDT, Click here to register.
The majority of the information in each webinar will be the same. Please also note these events are closed to press.”
According to an email we received from the SBA:
“Eligible businesses that allow employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine can receive a tax credit. Partner with a vaccine provider to host an on-site vaccination clinic.
AND “The SBA is currently accepting applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. To submit an application, visit sba.gov/svogrant.”
But wait, there’s more:
“If you own a small business in the construction or service industry, there’s a good chance you’ll need a surety bond. SBA-backed surety bonds can help you compete for larger contracts.
“Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Did you know that the American Rescue Plan extends a number of critical tax benefits, particularly the Employee Retention Credit and Paid Leave Credit, to small businesses?
From The Feds:
“Federal Coronavirus Resources
State, local, and federal agencies are working together to maintain the safety, security, and health of the American people. Check out coronavirus.gov for updates. Go to cdc.gov for detailed information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit covid-sb.org, the official federal resource website for U.S. small businesses affected by COVID-19.
According to an email we received from the SBA:
“The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on payroll. Borrowers may be eligible for PPP loan forgiveness.
President Biden announced program changes to make access to PPP loans more equitable.”
Here are some new resource links we thought you’d want to know about:
(A summary of criteria that must be met when considering different funding options)
More COVID-19 Relief Information posted
We’ve received so many emails and yet you may not have so here are all the links to find all the info you need?
- SBA information, assistance and funding resources
- Alignable blog post re funding through Community Financial Institutions (you might need to be a member of the platform to view this blog post. If you, please message us for assistance)
- NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) information on assistance and funding resources
- Arizona Small Business Association emailed info on loads of resources for those in Arizona (perhaps your state has something similar)
- The SBDC also released this three (3) page pdf on resources (we did not audit these so some of the information may be duplicative)
We’ve heard a lot about the new PPP window, but not a lot about a second EIDL window which is now also open and we encourage you to file quickly before the funds are exhausted:
Have you received your second Stimulus Check yet? If not, our credit union published this helpful article entitled
(hint: yours probably did, too)
Want to cut to the chase?
“You can check your payment eligibility on the IRS website.
To determine whether you’ll receive the stimulus and check the status of your payment, visit IRS.gov and use the Get My Payment tool.”
(though we didn’t find this very helpful… may it work better for you!)
SBA announced that the deadline to apply for a COVID-19 pandemic Economic Injury Disaster Loan has been extended to December 31, 2021
In an email we received last week, “SBA announced that the deadline to apply for a COVID-19 pandemic Economic Injury Disaster Loan has been extended to December 31, 2021.
To date, SBA has approved $197 billion in low-interest loans, which provide U.S. small businesses, non-profits, and agricultural businesses working capital funds. Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications will continue to be accepted through December 2021, pending the availability of funds.
Loans are offered at affordable terms, including a 3.75% interest rate for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profit organizations, a 30-year maturity, and an automatic deferment of one year before monthly payments begin. All eligible small businesses and nonprofits are encouraged to apply.
They posted this article entitled
If you aren’t already a member of Alignable and would like to know more or receive an invitation, send an email to Info@YuloffCreative.com with the subject line Alignable or leave a comment below this blog post.
New client has a new product that Kills Covid Now:
“When Covid-19 struck, using a century-old technology, EP Consultants manufactured a proprietary system using low-wavelength Ultra Violet lights to disinfect public spaces, including the air people breathe and surfaces that they touch.”
Check out their facebook page to stay abreast of their updates and production schedule, or message them to set up a time to schedule your own demo.
We recently learned about a site with resources to offer
including Employee Retention Credits, Other Tax Credits, and Deferrals of Employment Tax Deposits.
We recently learned about 2 new Small Business Grant sites created to support those struggling during this Covid-19 season:
- Finimpact’s 88 Small Business Grants for 2020 (Best & Active Grants Only!). This site provides a lot of good information for small businesses including defining what a small business grant is, how to find government grants, how to apply for and win grants, etc.
- eBay Up & Running Grants in coordination with HelloAlice: deadline is December 11, 2020 so we’d recommend jumping on this!
“Banks and businesses, however, report difficulty in applying for or receiving forgiveness. The SBA has released new guidance for firms that took out less than $50,000, and the Treasury Department has said it will start reviewing applications and issuing payments. In the latest episode of Together In Business, Kabbage co-founder Kathryn Petralia says owners could be at an advantage if they wait to submit their forgiveness applications until more guidance is given. Hear the rest of her PPP forgiveness recommendations by watching a replay of the show here.”
New forgiveness form for smaller PPP loans
We received this update via email today:
“The SBA this week released a new forgiveness application form for Paycheck Protection Program borrowers who received $50,000 or less from the program. These borrowers are exempt from any reductions in the borrower’s loan forgiveness amount based on reductions in full-time equivalent employees or reductions in employee salary or wages that would otherwise apply. Your PPP lender may create their own version of this form; be sure to check in with them on their forgiveness process.”
Congress extends PPP to August 8
We’ve received this update from numerous sources, the most recent being Small Business Majority’s email which said:
“Soon after the original June 30 deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Congress voted to extend the program to August 8. While this is good news for small business owners, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make PPP more accessible to small businesses. We are calling on Congress to extend the deadline to December 31, 2020, to make all loans under $150,000 automatically forgivable and to allow business owners to apply for a second round of funding when their first loan runs out.
Three important things to know right now about COVID-19 CARES Act Loans:
PPP deadline is June 30th. You can still apply!
Can’t find a lender? SBA updated their Lender Match Tool.
PPP now has an EZ Forgiveness application
This is a simpler way to calculate and apply for your loan forgiveness. Fill this out and submit it to your lender.
EIDL has now reopened and is accepting applications from all small businesses.
AARP says “If you missed out on a check in 2020, you might be able to file a claim next year”
Here’s their list of 6, but click over the read the entire article with more details:
- Claim $500 for dependents under 17 who were missed in 2020
Claim the difference if you were underpaid in 2020
Claim $1,200 if you were a child dependent in 2019, but not in 2020
Claim $1,200 if you were an adult dependent in 2019, but not in 2020
Claim $500 if you had a baby or adopted a child in 2020
Claim $1,200 if you simply forgot to do so in 2020
COVID-19 Metrics to Reopen
As most states are reopening, this site will help you gauge your risk by state and county based on current legal metrics (below is a snippet for our county).
As many places are considering bringing employees back to work, we received this COVID-19 Return to Work Checklist – Checklist provided by Paychex.
UPDATED 04/18/2020 and 04/21/2020
Other COVID-19 Business Funding Options
With government funding options already out of money, at least for now, other organizations are stepping up to help.
Just enter your zip code to find options in your area.
And thirdly is a program we just learned of through Fundwise that you could actually access any time for many initiatives that you may not have been able to receive a loan for in other ways (full disclosure, this one is our affiliate link so if you apply and are approved, we will make a small percentage of the fees you pay to process the loan).
Please add a comment below with feedback on this and other resources we’ve provided for you here.
Are you struggling with filing for unemployment? This app can speed up the process
Some solo-preneurs and small business owners do qualify for unemployment. Check with your state’s unemployment office since every state is different.
According to Kim Komando, the DoNotPay app can help.
It was originally devised to help consumers limit robo calls and charges. Now with COVID-19, they have added a service to help file for unemployment benefits and to follow up on those applications.
“DoNotPay Covid-19 Relief is an initiative that we have been working on to help the millions of workers and business owners losing their jobs,” DoNotPay founder Joshua Browder told Komando.com. “It’s called DoNotPay COVID-19 Relief— the first product that will extend your rent, credit card and bill payments because of the epidemic.”
Please do let us know if you use DoNotPay and how it worked out for you by sending an email to Info@YuloffCreative.com
Here is what to put in your Covid-19 AT HOME KIT:
If you or a family member gets infected with the coronavirus, it is very likely that you’ll have to ride it out at home.
Most Covid-19 cases don’t require hospitalization, and as intensive-care beds fill, all but the most critical cases are being sent home. So, people should be prepared to care for themselves or their loved ones under their own roof—and that means having the right supplies to nurse the ill patient and keep the rest of the family healthy.
The Wall Street Journal asked doctors at top hospitals all over the country what they would include in their ideal Covid-19 home-care kit. They gathered their best suggestions and advice to help you organize your own.
This Wall Street Journal article has a good list of how you can be prepared:
Are you wondering where your “stimulus check” is? The IRS set up a new webpage earlier this month to help answer that question, yet it was only over the past weekend that it was functional.
URGENT (from Karla Dennis):
“Over the weekend the IRS fixed their Get My Payment portal.
There were some glitches that were blocking tens of millions of people from updating their direct deposit info.
And apparently it’s working now.
So if you need to update your bank info so you can get your stimulus check faster, then you have until noon tomorrow to do so.
The IRS said:
“If you enter your bank information in Get My Payment any day until noon on Tuesday (April 28th), your payment date will be available beginning the following Saturday in Get My Payment.”
If you miss tomorrow’s deadline then you’ll have to wait until next Saturday to find out when your payment date will be.”
When we logged on earlier today, it told us a check was being mailed to us on Friday, May 01, 2020 though there was no way to provide direct deposit instead.
On this new page you can:
- enter your payment info if you haven’t filed 2018 nor 2019 tax returns;
- find out when to expect your payment;
- update your direct deposit info so you’re not waiting for an actual check that might take until August to get to you.
The site was updated on 04/14/2020 and this is now what happens when we clicked on Get My Payment:
Clicking on Get My Payment then brings this page:
Clicking on OK then brings you to this page:
That’s as far as we’ve been able to get thus far. The system seems imperfect and overwhelmed.
If you didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019, use this new IRS website to get your COVID-19 payment
From Kim Komando:
“The Treasury Department has launched a brand new website designed to help non-filers and low-income earners qualify for their stimulus checks. The website takes the form of a tax questionnaire and asks for personal information like your address and bank account so you can receive your check by mail or direct deposit.”
Here’s the Surgeon General’s 45 second video on how to make your face mask at home:
UPDATED 04/13/2020 (this section originally added 04/03/2020)
Funding Options for Small Business Owners due to COVID-19
If you have employees (or classify yourself as an employee on your taxes), we recommend applying for the Paycheck Protection Program.
If you do not have employees, we recommend applying for the COVID-19 ECONOMIC INJURY DISASTER LOAN since the initial $10,000 may be forgiven, and, if it’s not, there will be no penalty for early repaying so you can always return the funds if you do not want to incur the debt. Applications were being accepted starting March 30, 2020 and may take as much as two (2) hours to complete (it only took Sharyn 30 minutes, including finding some of the figures in our Quickbooks account).
UPDATE: we applied on Saturday, April 04, 2020 (our application window opened on April 03, 2020). At the completion of the application process, we received an application number and a notice to expect about a week to hear an update, meaning to receive an email stating that our application is in process and what to expect next.
Saturday, April 11th was 1 week. Still no email nor funds deposited, so I called. The menu is confusing as none of the options were “Track your Application” or anything close. The first person sent me to a website to create an account. WRONG. That was for FEMA only and, obviously, they couldn’t find my application.
So I called again, trying a different menu option (I wish I had paid attention to what I was punching so I could tell you, but I didn’t). There were over 1,000 people on hold ahead of me, and yet the expected wait time was only 30 minutes. I laughed. And yet, it was pretty accurate. I did get a couple of updates while I was on hold.
Reese Christian was the representative who answered. He was very friendly and provided the following information:
“We’ve received over 2million applications. Those who applied on March 15th just received funds on April 7th, so I’m not surprised you haven’t received any news yet. Stay tuned to your email. It will come from ELA Applications with an invitation to create an account to see your offer. The advance is typically $1,000 per employee. The loan offer is typically six (6) months of gross profit, up to $15,000. If that’s not sufficient, there will be an opportunity to ask for more. If you still haven’t heard anything by this time next week, please call back.”
As Ms. Kool so deftly stated: assume you are entitled to the funds and apply. If you do not qualify, they will tell you.
The SBA does offer 2 other options: bridge loan and debt relief (info available at that same SBA site)
If you have questions about your application, contact customer service by phone at (800) 659-2955 or by email at DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov
The other financial relief that you might be eligible for is Unemployment. Since this is determined by your specific state, we recommend doing the research to find your Unemployment Office to see if you are eligible as a sole proprietor. The benefit may be as much as $600 per week, so again, assume you are eligible until you are advised by the department that you are not.
Info from a blog by Miriam Ellis:
Operating During COVID-19: Helpful Tips for Local Businesses
Local businesses know better than any other model what it means to fully participate in community life. You are the good neighbors who are there to serve, inspire, and sustain the people and traditions that make your town a unique and enjoyable place to call home.
As we explore this topic of what local businesses can do during the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to honor all that you have always done to take care of your community as a local business owner or marketer. Thank you.
In this article, you will find local SEO tips that could make a difference for your business in the coming weeks, innovative resources for support, advice from my own tight-knit community of some of the world’s best local SEOs, and some serious thinking about building a better local future.
Adhere to all regulations
First and foremost, start each day with a review of both local and national news to be sure you are complying with the evolving regulations for your city, county, and country. Policies designed to mitigate the harm of COVID-19 vary widely from region to region, and your business must keep informed of which forms of service you are allowed to offer in this dynamic scenario.
And, while social media can be a great connector within your community at any time, beware of misinformation and, sadly, scams in the days ahead. Get your news from sources you trust, and if you are not certain about interpreting a guideline, directly contact local authorities. This article does not take the place of laws and regulations specific to your community.
The most helpful thing any local business can do during this COVID-19 crisis, whether it’s deemed an essential or non-essential service, is to provide accurate information to its community. There are three key places to do this:
Google My Business
“More than ever, your Google Business Profile is a critical communication nexus with your customers”. —Mike Blumenthal, of Gather Up
Local businesses know just how big a role Google plays as intermediary between brands and the public. This remains true during this difficult time however, Google’s local product is not running at full strength. Joy Hawkins’ article for Local University on March 23 details the limited support for or complete discontinuation of Google Q&As, posts, descriptions, reviews, and owner responses. It’s an evolving scenario, with local SEOs reporting different outcomes each day. For example, some practitioners have been able to get some, but not all, Google posts to publish.
As of writing this, there are four fields you can utilize to communicate current information to customers via GMB during this COVID-19 crisis, but please be aware that some edits may take several days to go into effect:
Google is allowing businesses to edit their business name field to reflect that they are offering curbside service, takeout, and delivery. For example, if your current name is “John’s Grill”, you are allowed to temporarily change your name to “John’s Grill — Delivery Available”.
If regulations are keeping you at home but you still want customers to be able to reach you on your home or cell phone for information, update your work answering machine to reflect the changes and edit your GMB phone number to the appropriate new number.
Hours of operation
The discussion on how best to show that your business either has no hours or limited new hours is ongoing. I believe the best route for the present is to use Google’s method of setting special hours. This option should be especially useful for multi-location enterprises who can set special hours via the API.
Be advised, however, that there are some instances of agencies setting special hours for clients and then clients receiving emails from Google asking if the business has closed. This can alarm those clients. However, to date, it appears that when Google receives responses to this prompt that yes, the business is closed, they simply put a message about this on the listing rather than remove the listing entirely.
On March 25, Google implemented a “temporarily closed” button inside the “Info” tab of the GMB dashboard, as reported by Joy Hawkins. Utilizing this button may temporarily decrease your rankings, but you will be able to remove the label in the future and I strongly hope (but cannot guarantee) that this will remove any effects of suppression. I recommend using this button if it applies to your business because we must put safety first over any other consideration.
Google has newly created a Google posts type that you’ll see as an option in your GMB dashboard. While other post types have been published sporadically, I am seeing examples of the COVID-19 Update posts going live. Try to fit as much information as you can about the changed status of your business into one of these posts.
In addition to the edits you make to your GMB listing, update your most visible local business listings on other platforms to the best of your ability, including on:
- Bing: A “Temporarily closed” business status is available in the Bing Places dashboard. This is currently not available in the API.
- Yelp: Yelp has introduced a new field called “temporarily closed”. This is meant to be used by businesses which are or will be closed (but not on a permanent basis) due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses need to indicate the “end date” for when this business status will end. Given the uncertainty surrounding timelines, Yelp is allowing users to provide an “estimate” for the end date which they can always update later. Special opening hours can be added on Yelp itself, too. Neither field is available in the API.
Google My Business may be experiencing support issues during this COVID-19 crisis, but thank goodness you still have full control of your website as a home base for conveying important information to the public. Here’s a quick checklist of suggested items to update on your site as soon as you can:
- Put a site wide banner on all pages of the website with key information such as “temporarily closed”, “drive-up service available 9-5 Monday – Friday” or “storefront closed but we can still ship to you.”
- Provide the most complete information about how your business has been affected by COVID-19, and detail any services that remain available to customers.
- Edit location landing pages in bulk or individually to reflect closures, new hours, and new temporary offers.
- Be sure hours of operation are accurate everywhere they are mentioned on the website, including the homepage, contact page, about page, and landing pages.
- If your main contact phone number has changed due to the situation, update that number everywhere it exists on the website. Don’t overlook headers, footers, or sidebars as places your contact info may be.
- If you have a blog, use it to keep the public updated about the availability of products and services.
- Be sure your website contains highly visible links to any social media platforms you are using to provide updated information.
- It would be a worthy public service right now to create new content about local resources in your community for all kinds of basic needs.
Social media and email
“Make it clear what you’re doing, such as things like home delivery or curbside pickup. And mention it EVERYWHERE. The companies that are being successful with this are telling people non-stop how they can still support them. Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who have supported you via social media in the past and ask them to mention what you’re doing.” —Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point
Whether your customers’ social community is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or another platform, there has never been a more vital time to make use of the instant communication these sites provide. It was Fred Rogers who famously said that in times of crisis, we should “look for the helpers.” People will be looking to your brand for help and, also, seeking ways that they can help, too.
If you can make the time to utilize social media to highlight not just your own services, but the services you discover are being provided by other businesses in your city, you will be strengthening your community. Ask your followers and customers to amplify information that can make life safer or better right now.
And, of course, email is one of the best tools presently at your disposal to message your entire base about changed conditions and special offers. My best practice advice for the present is to be sure you’re only communicating what is truly necessary. I’ve seen some examples of brands (which shall remain nameless) exploiting COVID-19 for senseless self-promotion instead of putting customers’ concerns and needs first. Don’t go that route. Be a helper!
Beyond your local business listing, websites, social media platforms, and email, don’t overlook offline media for making further, helpful informational contributions. Call into local radio shows and get in touch with local newspapers if you have facts or offers that can help the public.
Operate as fully as you can
“Find out what support is being made available for you at [the] government level, tap into this as soon as you can — it’s likely there will be a lot of paperwork and many hoops through which you’ll need to jump.” —Claire Carlile, Claire Carlile Marketing
While the social safety net differs widely from county to county, research any offers of support being made to your business and make use of them to remain as operational as possible for the duration of this pandemic. Here are six adjustments your business should carefully consider to determine whether implementation is possible:
If your business meets local, state, or federal regulations that enable it to continue operating because it’s deemed “essential”, here are the ways different business models are adapting to current conditions during this COVID-19 crisis:
- Some healthcare appointments can be handled via phone or virtual meetings, and some medical facilities are offering drive-up testing.
- Drivethrough, delivery, and curbside pickup are enabling some brands to offer takeout meals, groceries, prescriptions, and other necessary goods to customers.
- Supermarkets and grocery stores without built-in delivery fleets are contracting with third parties for this service.
- Farms and ranches can offer honor system roadside stands to allow customers to access fresh produce, dairy products, and meats with proper social distancing.
- Companies that care for vulnerable populations, banking, laundry, and fuel can implement and communicate the extra steps they are taking to adhere to sanitation guidelines for the safety of customers and staff.
- Brands and organizations that donate goods and services to fulfill essential needs are taking an active role in community support, too.
HOW SHOULD YOUR BUSINESS COMMUNICATE WITH CLIENTS DURING THIS COVID-19 CRISIS?
We are getting questions from our small business coaching clients about how they should communicate with their clients right now. Since the questions seem to be the same from all of them, we thought we would share our answers with all business owners.
- How do you effectively communicate with customers during this COVID-19 crisis? What platforms should you be using?
What is being missed by most people discussing how the coronavirus is affecting business is that our communication methods are all working. Email, text, phone, messengers through each social media platform have not been disturbed. The only method you cannot currently use is the ‘Stop By Sales Call.’ Most important: Continue to communicate with each client as they prefer to be contacted. The majority of our private business coaching clients want emails, but some prefer phone calls. We continue to reach out in their preferred ways.
For example, since we are business coaches, we began by holding a mastermind phone call with the entire group. We wen through some basic marketing rules that will always apply, like how to target your messages to potential clients and answer the question ‘what pain in their lives can you remove by providing your service?’
- How often should you communicate with customers?
As always, your business should be in touch with your clients as often as necessary. This is especially true during this COVID-19 crisis. A lawyer in the middle of a dispute will need to be in touch far more often than a promotional product distributor who only communicates with clients when they place an order. Financial Planners, if they have not spoken with every client by now are about to lose a lot of clients.
- What should you say to your customers?
Pretend you are radio station WII-FM. That stands for ‘What’s In It For Me.’ Let your clients know what part of your business applies to them and what you are doing to help them. Our clients, for example do not need to know that we are now doing lead generation for OUR business by switching from in person workshops to online webinars.
- What should you AVOID saying to your customers?
Internal challenges. They don’t need to know them, unless those challenges affect them. Most of them have their own challenges at the moment. Be there for THEM, not other way around.
- What are some remote/virtual solutions for tracking customer communications?
We suggest that each incoming communication from a client be responded to as quickly as possible, EVEN IF that response is “We received your message and will get back to you by TIME/DATE”
- What are some examples of companies effectively communicating during this COVID-19 crisis?
The best communications we have received are from those companies that are being Of Service. Our second business is a promotional product company. This morning, one of the companies we buy from offered 10 free face masks if we bounced back our shipping number.
7. Is there any one thing that business owners should know about customer communication during COVID-19?
This will never change: Be honest. Be on time. Give them value. Care.
Obviously, during this crisis we want to live up to what we teach. If you are a business owner and need assistance, or a second set of eyes on a communication that you want to send out, get in contact with us at info@yuloffCreative.com . If you want a free 30-minute Get Focused Success session on the phone, connect with us at FreeMarketingConsultation.com
We found this great blog by Gina Rubel (Gina F. Rubel is the CEO of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.) that discusses the Coronavirus and how it affects your business. It was written for Law Firms, but it is VERY applicable to most service businesses.
Is Your Crisis Communication Plan Ready to Handle a Pandemic?
By Gina Rubel
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) moves closer to becoming a global pandemic, law firms must prepare to handle internal and external communications in the event it affects them or their clients. If your firm has an existing crisis communication plan, it is time to activate your crisis management team. If your firm does not have a crisis plan in place, this outbreak should be the impetus you need to develop one.
One benefit of having or creating a crisis plan to deal with a pandemic is you then have it to reference for other crises. You can revise the core crisis plan to address other scenarios such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, actions by disgruntled employees, and #MeToo-related situations. In 2019, I noted that public relations professionals have been identifying a significant spike in the need for crisis communication plans across all industries. It is no longer a matter of “if” an organization will need a plan; it is a matter of when.
The coronavirus outbreak the world is now facing may have expedited this “when.”
Creating and Deploying Your Crisis Communication Plan
As you prepare your crisis communication plan to handle this outbreak, here are factors to consider.
Speed: Given the rate at which events are unfolding, your crisis management team must be small and agile. It must be able to operate quickly and take decisive action. This is not the time to spend hours emailing dozens of people to find free time on their calendars. Your team should consist of trusted, high-level firm members with the authority to make decisions, implement them, and communicate on behalf of the firm internally and externally.
Accurate Data: Your team should assign someone to monitor a small number of trusted websites from leading health authorities such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That team member should regularly update the group on the latest information, including developments that might affect your firm, your employees and your clients.
Internal Communication: In this situation, internal communication may be even more important than external communication. Remember that your employees are worried about themselves and their families. They should not have to worry that their firm is not prepared to handle the situation. Regular communications regarding the implementation of the crisis team, along with health, safety and work-from-home protocols, will help alleviate concern and may help keep your team members free from infection.
Maintaining a Respectful Workplace: In uncertain situations, people can become fearful. This can result in individuals or groups of people being treated differently due to race or health status. Firms must combat this by thoroughly educating all employees on the symptoms and transmission of this virus. You need to focus on facts and avoid speculation. This would also be a good time to reinforce any anti-bias policies that your firm has. Encourage everyone to support one another and their communities.
Finally, consider how your firm will handle the following potential situations:
- Office closure. Are you prepared for your lawyers and administrative staff to telecommute? What resources might they need, and can your servers handle the load? If you are a multioffice firm and one office needs to close, can you relocate work and workers, possibly to another office? If the office must remain closed for some time, are you prepared to work remotely for several weeks?
- Office quarantine. Are you prepared to help employees and their families if the need arises to quarantine team members on-site?
- Travel restrictions. Do you have a draft communication in place to send to clients if you must cancel travel and move meetings to a videoconference format? Is your team proficient in the use of videoconferencing technology? Does the firm maintain a subscription to videoconference platforms?
Times of uncertainty, whether caused by a pandemic illness, a natural disaster or any other crisis, can provoke fear. But law firms that have planned ahead to handle any contingency are better equipped to weather the storm.
WE WILL CONTINUE TO UPDATE THIS PAGE WITH MORE MARKETING INFORMATION.
ORIGINAL BLOG BEGINS HERE:
In many ways, this COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has only begun to affect companies around the United States, in various levels of seriousness. In cities where the virus is more prevalent, like New Rochelle, New York and Seattle, Washington, companies have already closed offices, asked employees to work from home, and some government offices have severely limited services.
For example, virtually every organization we have dealt with is ‘closed for the duration.’ For example, every 90-minute workshop we had scheduled for Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) is on hold.
For your clients who may already be anxious about their OWN lives, this looks like barely controlled chaos. Anxious clients make any engagement more difficult.
BEST WAYS TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CLIENTS RE COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real-time communications lab experiment in how you as a business owner and organization share important information with your clients and customers. For example, we just sent out a mass email to everyone scheduled to attend our Small Business Breakthrough Bootcamp at the end of March 2020. Just hours after we hit ‘send’ the government changed our plans.
We have read a lot of interesting information and building on that advice, here are some specific tips for messaging to reassure clients you and your company are able to respond and meet their needs during this COVID-19 crisis.
CLIENTS WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU ARE RESPONDING TO THIS COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- If your office was, or will be, temporarily closed for deep cleaning, let your audience know. You have zero to lose and everything to gain from sharing this information. Let your clients know the preventative measures your company is using. If you don’t post something publicly, you run the risk that someone else controls the message, you fall prey to your client’s imagination, or appear to believe the crisis does not exist.
• If some or all of your staff is working from home, let that be known as well. Let clients know you are doing everything you can to keep your team safe and productive, which means their work with you will be attended to appropriately. For example, let them know that phone messages are automatically forwarded and will be picked up in a consistent manner. When will calls be answered? Let your voicemail tell callers. For example, ‘All calls will be returned between 3:30 pm and 5 pm.’ Clients will be reassured that you have a plan to protect your workforce, which means that their work with you will continue to receive the proper attention. We have already begun to post photos of life at home… though most of you already know we are based in what most people who would own this house call a ‘dining room.’
• If you are limiting office access to only essential personnel, let clients know. If meetings or appointments need to be rescheduled or handled virtually, provide a simple reminder to check in with you before showing up for previously scheduled meetings or events.
LIMIT YOUR CONTACT DURING THIS COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Instead of face-to-face sales calls, attempt to make them over the phone. In the current environment, most business owners are going to be OK with this – they will give you a pass.
A WORD ABOUT VIDEOCONFERENCING
Sure, a phone call or email may suffice to convey information, but consider using videoconferencing with both corporate and consumer clients if in-person meetings are not appropriate. Just seeing you in action will reassure clients, even if you are working from home. By the way – if you are on camera, you don’t have to ‘suit up’ but a polo shirt is appropriate. We suggest you use a video conference service. Tell your prospect “We can both have coffee at our own desks” and actually SHOW your cup on camera. It will be just amusing enough.
If you need help figuring out a videoconference system, get in touch with us at www.FreeMarketingConsultation.com
We would be remiss if we didn’t remind you that videoconferencing does take up additional bandwidth. If this is an issue for you or those you are conferencing with, we recommend you start with video on, then disengage all video so that you can more easily hear each other. With more folks working from home, your bandwidth may be taxed even if you are used to working from home.
MUST BE IN PERSON? EMPLOY SOCIAL DISTANCING DURING THIS COVID-19 PANDEMIC
This section is from the State of California: What is Social Distancing and how is it achieved?
Social distancing is a practice recommended by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of contagious diseases. It requires the creation of physical space between individuals who may spread certain infectious diseases [like COVID-19]. The key is to minimize the number of gatherings as much as possible and to achieve space between individuals when events or activities cannot be modified, postponed, or canceled.
Although the Department expects most events with more than 250 attendees (AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS NUMBER HAS SINCE BEEN REVISED DOWN TO 10 AS OF THIS WRITING) to be postponed or canceled, we emphasize that the venue space does matter. Achieving space between individuals of approximately six feet is advisable. Additionally, there is a particular focus on creating space between individuals who have come together on a one-time or rare basis and who have very different travel patterns such as those coming from multiple countries, states or counties.
What can you do to make an event safer?
Here are several tips:
• Stagger your activities at the event.
• Add frequency of an event to spread out attendance, e.g. hold more, smaller gatherings.
• Add distance between where individuals sit or stand around tables.
• Add additional hand washing stations and restrooms.
• Limit the number of people in lines.
• Avoid direct physical contact, such as hand-shaking, holding hands, and hugging.
• Extend hours to allow for staggering of attendance or participation.
• Use phones, videos or video conferencing to reduce the need for close interactions.
• Consider ways to encourage anyone with fever and respiratory symptoms to stay home when sick, such as:
- offering refunds or support reselling of tickets for persons who become ill;
- placing messages on websites, tickets, and venue entrances reminding people to protect one another by staying home if sick.
• Use Disposable gloves if you are going to be out in public.
• Wash your hands as soon as you get home.
• Wipe down your phone.
KEEP YOUR MESSAGE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE
Frequently Asked Question pages (FAQs) are often a great way to communicate. Keep both questions and answers as concise as possible. Use short, declarative sentences. Include helpful links, but do not over-link. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by too much information and too many links. It increases anxiety, rather than alleviates it.
That said, just like in everything you do for your clients, do not over-promise. You can be optimistic about the high level of your preventive measures to ensure business continuity. But also acknowledge that this is an evolving health and economic crisis. What you can promise is that you will continue to update clients about your company’s capabilities and how you are protecting your workforce.
POST INFORMATION WHERE IT IS EASY FOR CLIENTS TO FIND IT
One of our most pressing things to do is to add a link on our home page. It will probably go to this blog (thinking ahead as we write). It is the easiest way for customers and corporate clients to quickly and easily find the information they are seeking. You may have sent out an email to clients, like we did, but did it make it to the right people in that company? They shouldn’t have to go beyond your homepage to find it. Here’s an example from a few companies’ home pages:
THINK ABOUT SENDING A PERSONAL MESSAGE
We are seeing a lot of companies send out personal messages from the President and/or CEO, or even a short video address. That is probably the way we will go. It’s OK to acknowledge fear and uncertainty while tempering that with your stated commitment to respond appropriately. Cheer the hard work that your team has put in to commit to continuing to service client needs. And keep the door open for continued conversation. We have added two examples at the end of this blog.
As you work to publish client alerts on what they should be doing to respond to the crisis, remind them what you are doing to ensure your own viability, which in turn ensures theirs. It will help ease their concerns and could very well be a touchpoint to strengthen your client relationships.
Obviously, this is not going to be an easy thing to go through. We are remembering back to recessions and crashes and the 1994 Northridge earthquake. At that time, we were better able to see all sides of what we were dealing with. I went back and found some “How to Market During the Recession” blogs that have been sitting on my hard drive and will be updated. We knew when the walls would get put back up in our back yard.
This is different. It’s an invisible threat to all our well beings and as of this writing, the Federal government is taking its cues from the various states instead of the other way around. That makes for uncertainty in the marketplace.
So, the best advice here is to stay focused and assume things will be worse then you really expect. As we used to tell our outfielders when they were playing little league: it is easier to come in on a fly ball than go back. It is easier to do fewer things than expected to avoid a downturn than have to do more.
If you need assistance, we are here for you. Go to www.FreeMarketingConsultation.com. Answer a few short questions and you will get a link to our calendar so you can choose a time that works best for you. The average small business owner reports back to us that this call was worth at least $10,000 to their bottom line.
BONUS MATERIAL FOR THIS BLOG
Here is our Evacuation Checklist that we have used with many clients:
Here is a Crisis Evaluation Checklist developed by Gina Rubel from her PR for Lawyers book. You can adapt this for your business. Use this crisis evaluation checklist to determine what happened, the extent of the damage, what you need to get across and to whom, and how to contain the crisis.
_____ What is the issue? What happened?
_____ What is the extent of the damage? How might the situation unfold? What is the best-case scenario?
____ What is the worst-case scenario?
____ Who is implementing the crisis management plan and who is alerting the crisis management team?
____ What is the message(s) to get across and to whom (if/then)? What can’t you say? Consider how your messages can be manipulated and include that in your notes.
____ What is your position (if/then) as it relates to the issues/crisis at hand?
____ Does the firm need to issue a holding statement? If so, what should it say?
____ Does the firm need to set up a hotline or a staging area?
____ What are the legal issues/considerations? Is there evidence that needs to be preserved? Is there information that is privileged?
____ When is the right time to act?
____ How can your firm contain the crisis?
____ Can your firm remove the issues and what tools or experts are required?
____ What tools will you use to monitor and evaluate the situation (keep an eye on mass media and social media, and clarify inaccuracies whenever possible.) The same tools that are identified in monitoring the media can be used for monitoring a crisis (see Chapter 10).
____ What if you can’t rectify the issue or remove the problem? What does that mean to the firm and what will you do next?
____ If there has been a resolution, are you going to alert your key audience about the resolution? If yes, what should the resolution statement say? (Provide information about how it may have happened, what was done to rectify the situation, and what is being done to safeguard the firm/clients/information)
____ How will your firm answer future questions regarding the incident? For example, if you are in a new business meeting and the issue is raised, how will you respond?
Here are two examples of letters from CEOs of factories in the promotional product industry. There are a lot of amazing tips that you can use for your company. It’s called R&D – rip off and duplicate! :
I wanted to take a moment to provide an update as to the current situation at XYZ COMPANY, but first, let me acknowledge that these are stressful and uncertain times. This is our 70th year in operation and I’ve been running the company for 29 of those years. We’ve been through a lot together and we’ll get through this together as well.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, we are following the advice of medical professionals and all levels of government. The well-being of our team and clients is our top priority. As of this morning we have put the following procedures into action, and we are fully operational from customer service through production and shipping.
We have implemented measures in our facility to reduce contamination such as: fogging the entire building using hospital grade disinfectant along with providing access to hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves, and masks for all employees. We have regular equipment washing procedures in place as well.
Social Distancing and Work from home
The best method to prevent the spread of the virus is to keep our distance from our clients, co-workers, and people in general. We have therefore cancelled all corporate travel, in-person client meetings, and tradeshow and event participation, for the next few weeks. Our client teams are Zoom-enabled and are scheduling virtual meetings in lieu of face to face.
We are in a fluid situation and have many of our team already working from home. Our dedicated customer service team and sales teams are working and are available to support you. Our IT team is configuring additional laptops and security protocols to further enable remote work.
For those in our office in Montreal, we are practicing physical distancing per Ministry of Health and CDC guidelines.
Inventory, Production, and Supply Chain
We have begun to receive new inventory shipments from China and our domestic inventory remains very strong. Our office in China has resumed normal operations and the supply-chain has stabilized since Chinese New Year and the compounding effects of COVID-19 in China.
Our warehouse and production facility are fully operational, and we are continuing to honour all in-hands dates and on-time shipments.
Our goal at XYZ COMPANY during this time is to protect our team from contracting and spreading the virus while being commercially responsible.
We will continue to communicate with our teams and you, our trusted clients, and will follow the advice of medical professionals and all levels of government during this difficult time.
We will continue to scenario-plan and adjust to the changing environment and we’ll continue to update you weekly on the situation.
Please share your questions, concerns, and ideas with me and the team and we’ll get answers back to you as soon as possible.
Our contact email : firstname.lastname@example.org
President & CEO
Here is another COVID-19 letter from a CEO
To Our Valued Customers:
The past several days have brought about changes to our daily lives that we have not seen for generations. As people all over the world take measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, I would like to take a moment to share some of the initiatives we are undertaking to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers, while maintaining the continuity of business operations, so that we may continue to serve you through this difficult period.
Social Distancing: Effective today, we have suspended all non-essential corporate travel. We have also instructed our outside sales team to discontinue in person customer meetings. Beyond this, we have taken significant measures to convert as much of our staff as possible to a work from home structure. In the process of converting people to remote work, we have prioritized those members of our team with greater vulnerability to the illness. For those functions that cannot effectively convert to work from home, we are in the process of spreading out work stations to ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between employees.
Enhanced Sanitation Procedures: In addition to the hand sanitizer stations that are installed throughout our facilities, we have worked with our janitorial services to implement hospital grade disinfectants with extra attention paid to high touch areas such as door handles, telephones and keyboards.
From a business continuity point of view, we believe the measures detailed above will serve to keep our team healthy and available to provide the service you have come to expect from ABC CORPORATION. We know there is industry wide concern about product availability with disruptions to the global supply chains we all rely on. We have conducted a vendor by vendor assessment of vulnerability and are confident in our inventory position, both generally and in particular with those vendors deemed to have greater than average exposure to supply chain disruption due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 represents a global health crisis and to say we are sailing uncharted waters would be an understatement. At ABC CORPORATION, we believe in a shared responsibility as members of the broader global community to do all we can to support public health, the health of our industry, and the economy, as we all work together to overcome this unprecedented challenge. We greatly value your partnership and are here to support you in any way we can.