The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is changing the way we all do business, and having a particularly strong impact on small businesses. We’re all learning how to be flexible, imaginative, and resilient — the best traits a small business owner can have, besides tenacity.

First and foremost, prior to doing anything else, take stock in the situation. This is the time when we stop and make sure that everyone is safe. Make sure that your family, staff and especially yourself, are safe and safeguarded, to the best of your ability.

Then, move onto forming your communication plan. Now more than ever, crisis communications has become a necessity. How business leaders communicate with their employees, clients and customers will play a major role in their perseverance. Communicate the right way, and we may even bounce back stronger post-pandemic.

Show Compassion

The No. 1 rule in any crisis is to show compassion and empathy for those affected. If you can, hold off launching your new product or service. Pull back your sales pitches, emails and phone calls – you just can’t know how your prospect is impacted by the current situation. Now is the time for all of us to come together to help people who are struggling.

Identify Your Key Messages

Make a message map to help you identify your key talking points. A message map is also a great way to organize your thoughts and consistently relay your message. At its center lies a key message that says what you do, who you do it for, and what the benefits are of doing it. This is your guide that helps establish clear and consistent communications for clients, prospects and team members; everyone in your organization should have a copy of this guide. Consistency is key!

Update Your Social Media Channels

Keep your social media channels current and respond quickly to messages people send to you. If you can’t be readily available, platforms like Facebook and Instagram, do allow you to set auto-responses for messages with helpful information prepped in advance. Auto-responses can include your contact information, how you prefer to be contacted, how your business is responding to the situation and links to pages on your website. Create a post that can be pinned to the top of the feed and keep it updated with your latest business information.

Tidy Up Your Storefront

Even if your business is shut down, make sure it looks presentable from the outside. This goes for both virtual (online) and physically located businesses. If it’s messy and in shambles, that sends the wrong message to clients and customers and makes it look like you don’t care. Your website should have a clear response message that links visitors to your key message regarding the situation. This response message should be visible from the homepage and easy to locate for users. A great option for website messages is a clickable top bar banner or a note on the homepage. For walk-up storefronts, owners should have something posted in the window or on the door that informs guests of any new procedures, new opening and closing hours, and how they can get additional information about your business. People appreciate information as well as any guidance in advance if your operations have changed.

Help the Cause

Ask yourself: How can I give back? Think of the pandemic like a war effort, and we’re all in it together — because we are. If you’re able, do what you can to help your community. Patronize other small businesses in your area or donate money, goods or services to nonprofits whose resources may be strained right now. Connect with other small businesses in your area and brainstorm about how you can help and support each other.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Don’t go dark! Even if you are closed for business temporarily, be there for others. Show up online. Connect with people on the phone and by mail. Update your website and social media channels. Check and respond to reviews. People are going to visit your website looking for the hours you are open, if you are even open, and the best phone number to use. This is basic information and should be right at the top of your home page. When you’re constantly having to make changes to adapt to an ever-changing situation, it’s imperative that you let your customers know what you’re doing and when.

And, remember to stay calm. Even though it may feel like your world is falling apart, there is always someone out there with more problems than you. They need you to be calm. We will get through this — together.