This post is part of The PR Channel’s “Guest Blogger Series” featuring insights from Austin-area entrepreneurs and business leaders in areas complementary to PR (including marketing, sales, graphic design, web development and more).
By Mark M. Stacey
Simple tips for righting your ship when things go the wrong way
It isn’t uncommon for businesses of all sizes to find themselves in trouble even when times are good. These days, almost every business in virtually every industry has had to navigate some troubled waters. And although misery may love company, if you are at the helm and your company has found itself leaning the wrong way, you may feel like you are making the crossing solo. Fear not. It might be time to chart a new course, but hard times don’t mean that the voyage is over or that you are necessarily sunk.
Here are some simple tips to help you make it through the storm:
- You have to really want to. Sounds simple but it may well be the most important part of the process. You probably already know more than one thing that may have caused your enterprise to get to this place. Maybe you addressed them and maybe you didn’t. Now is the time for you to get honest with yourself. It is time to commit to do everything it may take to keep from sinking completely. Otherwise you’ll keep thinking about the lifeboats. It is often that simple, but rarely easy. Your conviction and resolve will help to eliminate and lessen panic. Those are powerful tools.
- Signal for help. That may mean your crew. That may mean help from outsiders. It may mean both. Regardless, don’t believe that you can do it on your own – even if you are a sole proprietor or freelancer. The sooner you recognize this and encircle yourself with people truly dedicated to the critical tasks at hand, the better. Consider creating a “Board,” whose sole purpose is to help you through the crisis as well as to shape the direction of the company once the danger has passed. If you already have a board, reassess their individual strengths and lean heavily on them. That is what they are there for. Many times your accountant and your lawyer may be some of your strongest advisors. Engage them early. An experienced business turn-around advisor can also be invaluable in helping you manage the process short-term.
- Create a plan. Assess and indentify the most urgent problems and craft a short-term plan to gain negative buoyancy, so-to-speak. In other words, if you are taking on water and sinking fast, you’ll want to patch the hole and start pumping out water. Nothing else matters until that is done. Once you are certain that you won’t have to abandon ship, then you can get on with the various tasks and programs that may be more comprehensive and longer term. Keep it simple. You can (and should) also be prepared to take your business on an entirely different route in the process. In other words, you may find yourself almost completely rewriting your business plan and maybe even changing your model. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Then keep improving and evolving it until you like where you are headed again.
- Execute deliberately, quickly and with efficiency. This is the time to make decisive moves. And that will very likely mean making some very, very hard decisions quickly and without hesitation. Leadership is never more critical than when a crisis is at hand. Leaders make decisions. Sometimes leaders make mistakes. Mistakes are normally a lot easier to survive than indecisiveness. If your plan calls for you to cut programs or people, make them in the most professional and least painful way, but make them. Your job is to get the ship upright. You can rearrange deck chairs later. Don’t forget to conserve your cash. It is the lifeboat of your business.
- Steady as she goes. Stay at the helm and keep a watch out for hidden dangers. You aren’t out of harm’s way until you are safely back at the harbor. Then make your repairs, replenish your stores and renew your crew. After that start planning for the next voyage. Yes, start planning all over again. This time you’ll be more seasoned and more attentive to the things that may have taken your company off course. And you’ll have a proven set of people and resources to face any potential catastrophe going forward.
- Keep signaling!!! Last, but certainly not least, you’ve got to keep communicating – loud and strong! Sometimes it is easy to want to shrink back into your stateroom and hide. You can even justify it by saying you are focused upon saving the ship. That’s not a good idea. Now is not the time to be silent or invisible. Make a good communications plan part of your overall survival strategy. Then communicate clearly and often what is going on and where you are going as a company. It will dispel speculation and help keep all parties focused upon what you want and need them to be focused upon: the seaworthiness of your vessel. A good, experienced public relations/marketing communications professional is often the most valuable partner during a crisis. Enlist them and put them to work.
Your best tools for getting back on course and sailing smooth are a good plan coupled with an able crew. And don’t forget that the best time to think (and plan for) things going wrong are when things are going right. Have a plan for emergencies and rough seas. Then have a back-up plan for that. Sea Captains often keep several alternative routes planned in their chart room. You would be well advised to do the same with your business. After all, the best way to spend time at sea is in your swimsuit.
Mark M. Stacey is multi-decade veteran business advisor and consultant. He is president of The Milagro Advisory Group LLC and helps companies launch, turn-around, grow, or get unstuck. He is also Co-founder of Alcance Media Group. He can be reached a 1-877-MILAGRO (512-219-8689) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.