With many of the UK waking up this morning to new or continued Tier 3 restrictions, it’s clear that COVID will be impacting us all for some time to come. For business especially, its been a tough slog so far – particularly for those in the hospitality sector – so to help, we’ve put together some key COVID communications advice.
It can be hard to know what and how to communicate right now and the constant upheaval is putting an extra burden on SMEs. We got ready for GDPR, and we’re doing our utmost to get our ducks lined up for Brexit…that’s a whole other story altogether, AND on top of it all, we need to stay ahead of COVID related developments too.
The easiest way to prepare yourself and your business for the choppy waters ahead is to create a package of tools which will help you stay one step ahead of any changes, as well as the mountains of red tape. The good news is, none of what needs to be in your ‘toolkit’ is new; most businesses have the resources they need already; what’s different now is that businesses need a specific ‘COVID flavoured’ version.
Good Communication for your start-up
Let’s look at one specific area: communications. Good communication = successful management. A good communications plan is the cornerstone of any successful management of your SME.
Your pre-COVID comms plan (if you already have one) should be adapted to the current situation. What will remain the same and what will change? How can you prepare and carry on, with disruption? How can you adapt what you already know and have to the ever-changing situation?
Let’s start with the basics. Any comms plan needs to include the following characteristics:
- Understand your audience
- Listen actively
- Be clear about what you want to say
- Use appropriate comms channel(s)
- Make sure your comms are timely
Before we continue, we need to add one more crucial step, at the very beginning; know your trusted sources of information!
The best sources of information are the most important government websites and you should check them regularly.
Now, let’s take a look at each step and you can adapt them to help your business battle through the pandemic:
Understanding the audience
Your audience; staff, customers, suppliers etc. will probably be much more sensitive to different types of communication right now.
Everyone’s capacity to handle uncertainty and manage risk is different; some people will be very risk-averse, some will rely on science or authority, and some will be the complete opposite.
Your comms plan needs to be mindful of this and be tailored to the different needs of your audience. The key to getting what you say, right, is understanding your audience and you can do this by actively listening to them.
Listen actively to your staff, customers and suppliers
You should make every effort to listen and hear what your audience is most concerned about. For example, is it rules around social distancing? The future of your business?
You should also try to show your audience that you are there, that you are listening, that the measures you are putting in place are there to protect them and meet their needs. The actions you take need to be about them – and they need to understand that in your comms. Just acting, but not communicating, can lead to misunderstandings and a break-down in trust.
Be clear about what you want to say
If there’s one thing we can learn about leadership during this pandemic, its that communications must be crystal clear…we strongly advise that you re-watch any of Boris’s addresses and, well, do the complete opposite.
For example, if you need staff to wear face coverings at all times when t work, or if they only need to wear them in certain areas – be absolutely clear about this. If there are areas within your workplace that are off-limits for whatever reason, make sure they are obviously labelled.
We’ll say it again for those at the back – above all, your communications need to be clear, simple and repetitive.
Avoid using abbreviations or acronyms. And remember, this is not a time to be original or funny.
Pick the most the appropriate channels to use
These days we, as entrepreneurs, use lots of comms channels. From CRMs, to Teams, from Twitter to WhatsApp, from newsletters to window signage. Make sure you choose the right platforms to communicate to your audience and consider whether they’re appropriate for the message you want to convey. Make use of as many channels as you can and be consistent.
A good place to start is to build a list of all possible channels i.e. website, newsletter, sign on the door, CRM, social media etc.
If you can, we’d also recommend that you try and use templates where possible, to save time and help keep your comms consistent. It’s also important to make sure that everyone who’s involved in any form of comms inc PR & social media teams, web developers and designers, know what your COVID messaging is and when and how to include it.
Make your communication timely
This is where COVID communications can get a bit tricky: things can change at the drop of a hat right now, which makes it very difficult to plan. You should ensure that you’ve not left out of date information on any of your communications and you should make sure that they’re always in line with the most recent government or Public Health guidelines.
Now, we know that’s a laborious and time-consuming task, but fortunately, there are a couple of tricks and tips you can use. These are not new, they should be familiar to you, and in COVID related messaging they are essential:
● In any electronic communications (websites, e-newsletters, internal team chats, etc.) use government website links.
● Used shared file systems such as Google Drive or Dropbox for templates and drafts to make it easier for everyone to access them at any time of day.
● Create a log of all communications to make sure you don’t miss anything.
So there you have it…
…our quick COVID communications advice for SMEs. We hope it helped.
If you need more help, support and guidance, please reach out to us. We’re all in this together and if we can help, we will.
For more helpful hints and tips check out the rest of our blog