Crisis communication tips for small business owners

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vistaprint has been on a mission to help small business owners adapt to a changing world. And in these challenging times, it's more important than ever to stay connected to your customers.

For many business owners, Crisis Communications Management is uncharted territory - and it can be difficult to know how to communicate with customers in an authentic, appropriate way. In our first episode of Vistaprint's Home Office Hours Live Webinar, we brought in three experts to discuss this of-the-moment topic.

Adam Lawless and Robin Vancura, Leads on Vistaprint's PR and Social teams, shared their insights on crisis comms with special guest Ali Karsch, founder of Little Voice Public Relations.

Some of their key crisis communication tips:

  • Be human
  • Be mindful
  • Create community
  • Join forces
  • Let people know how to help
  • Be nimble
  • Do good

Be human.

You are the heart of your small business...so show customers that there's a person behind your brand. Re-introduce yourself to your customers, whether through a social post or a dedicated email.

Public Relations expert Ali Karsch says, "In this climate, it's really important to dig into your brand story and why you started. What are you about? What do you stand for? What is your mission?"

If your brand mission and goals have changed since you started your business (it's ok if they have!), take this time to re-establish what you're about. And if they're the same, clue in your customers - it's never a bad idea to remind people that there's a real person behind the brand they love.

According to Ali, everything goes back to being human. First, "Be honest, take the time to address the situation, and be mindful. Then share what's going on with your business and go from there. Now is the time to be heartfelt."

Be mindful.

The key to successful crisis communication is being considerate of the climate you're in. It's not the time to do a hard sales push...so adjust promotions and marketing initiatives accordingly.

Ali says that right now, "It's about being present for your customers and mindful about how you market yourself. You don't have to stop what you're doing, but it's time to be a person and take a step back."

Even though it can be tricky, she's told clients that they need to address the 'elephant in the room'...in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic. "You're not taking into account what's going on in the world, and you need to."

Create community.

Even if you can't connect with customers in real life, there are still opportunities to come together as a community...and in a crisis, it's more important than ever. Use your social channels to bring customers together, and develop creative programming to keep your followers engaged.

Ali notes that there are more digital marketplaces opening up, and that platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great for more than just connecting with customers - you can use them as eCommerce outlets, too.

Robin Vancura, Social, Content and PR Lead at Vistaprint, adds that a crisis is a chance to come together with competitors. Now is a great time to network digitally, whether it's through an online conference or discussion group.

Join forces.

Adam Lawless, North America PR Lead at Vistaprint, says that with so many small businesses being impacted, everyone is open to new things and exploring new partnerships. "I think people are more receptive now than ever to new partnerships - now is the time that doors are really opening...let's take advantage of it by banding together."

Partnerships are one of the positive things that can come out of a crisis. Collaborate with other like-minded brands or founders to share resources and support each other.

If you run a brick-and-mortar store, Adam suggests setting up a partnership with a thriving eCommerce business. Offer to stock their product in your shop when you reopen in exchange for them selling your merch on their site right now.

Let people know how to help.

Customers want to support their favorite small businesses, but they don't always know how...especially in a crisis. Be upfront, and let them know exactly what they can do, whether on social media or in an email newsletter.

Create a social post telling customers what you need from them right now. Encourage them to re-book appointments, leave positive online reviews, buy gift cards, or donate to an employee relief fund. The small business community is just that - a community. We're all in this together, and we think you'll find that your community will continue to stand by you.

Be nimble.

Being adaptable is always important as a small business owner, and even more so in difficult situations. Think about what you can do to update your offerings to accommodate the current climate, whether it's adding curbside pick-up or digital gift cards.

We've seen neighborhood farmer's markets take things online, distilleries shift production to hand sanitizer, and eat-in restaurants adapt to delivery models.

Do good.

It's ok to sell or promote a new product in a crisis - just try to implement a feel-good element. Ali suggests donating a portion of the proceeds or a batch of the new product.

We've been inspired by small businesses all over the world who have managed to do good in this time. Whether it's donating meals to frontline workers, offering free delivery to senior citizens, or giving a portion of revenue to charity, every bit counts.

Though it can be easy to wallow in a crisis, Robin says that it's "a time to be helpful. Make sure your messaging has a hopeful way about it so we're always looking towards the future."

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