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Small Business, Big PR

Posted At: April 2, 2012 2:30 PM
by Margaret Bishop

Photos by Independent We Stand

Small business owners know the peaks and pitfalls of running their own business. These owners have the responsibility of managing a budget, a full staff and (hopefully) a successful business on their shoulders at all times. One thing small business owners may not be able to manage, however, is a crisis – and this is a huge problem for the owner, the business and the customers.

Crises occur in small businesses frequently. Restaurant owners have to deal with the possibility of ill-prepared food, which could cause E. coli and other infections; accidental injuries, which could bring a lawsuit; and poor customer service, which could cause a bad reputation for the restaurant.

Hotel and hospitality managers face the threat of over-booking crises, which can ruin both the trip for the customer and the possibility of that customer re-booking with the hotel.

For Lora Powell, owner of Salon Blonde, a full-service salon in Spring Hill, Tenn., the threat of overbooking or just simply a non-satisfying hair or body treatment could be crises that cannot be corrected.

“We have had instances where our computer or Internet connection was not working properly,” Powell said. “That causes several different types of problems all at once, including not knowing what time our appointments are, not being able to properly check out the customer and not being able to look up phone numbers or color formulas.”

These everyday crises may seem minuscule to an upper-level crisis PR executive, but to the average small business owner, the handling of an unexpected crisis of this type can greatly affect the business as a whole.

Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management Inc. and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management, has several tips for small business owners and managers to help them out of a crisis situation. Bernstein calls these tips the “Three C’s of Credibility in Crises.”

Be confident

Small business owners and managers usually have the additional responsibility of maintaining their image through personal PR efforts. When managing a crisis, it’s important for owners and managers to be confident in their business, employees and mission. It’s okay (and encouraged) to admit when you’re wrong, but don’t admit so many faults that you begin to belittle your business.

Be competent

Owners and managers alike need to remember to be competent when dealing with crisis management. Admit the mistake, correct it and make sure to minimize the chance of the mistake happening again. Bernstein encourages owners and managers to be honest and proactive. “Stay in communication with your customers until you are sure that they are pleased with the results,” Bernstein said.

Be compassionate

Bernstein emphasizes that being compassionate is the most important part of managing a crisis. “If you aren’t compassionate, people are less likely to hear what you have to say,” Bernstein said. It’s important for managers and owners to show empathy toward their customers when a crisis occurs, and to be understanding throughout the situation.

Powell agrees that being compassionate will get you far with customers. “I have found that if we remain calm, maintain a positive attitude and communicate the situation to each client, they are typically very understanding,” Powell said.

Compassion is one of the few things in life in which the motto “a little goes a long way” is applied. Though many managers and owners sometimes omit this step, it is extremely important. If customers feel that the manager is being responsible and compassionate, they are more likely to expunge the situation completely and continue to contribute to the business.

Avoid the crisis

Perhaps the most important detail in crisis management is the avoidance of a crisis altogether. Bernstein suggests that small business owners complete a vulnerability assessment, which is a report compiled by owners, stakeholders and employees of the business that explores the possibility of a crisis.

Bernstein encourages managers to ask the following questions: What can go wrong in this business? What can we do to prevent a crisis from occurring? If we can’t control the crisis, what can we do to minimize this?

As a small business owner or a manager of a business, it can sometimes seem overwhelming to control a crisis; however, with the use of these tips it is now easier than ever to be your own PR professional.


  1. Post comment

    Reading this article really opened up my eyes to the reality of how easily something can go wrong in the workplace. One may not realize that owners of a small business must also have good public relations and crisis solving skills in order to be successful. I enjoyed how this article gave many different examples of how a problem could occur in a small business and how it gave simple steps on how to successfully handle the problem. The tips that this article gave for crisis solving are tips that everyone in every type of business could use. I certainly will remember these simple tips when I enter the workforce and I believe that many people will be able to apply them to their professional lives as well.


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