Our world has been upended in less than a week. Many of you are seeing your businesses slow or completely grind to a halt. Uncertainty clouds every decision. We just don’t know how to handle so many unknown things thrown at us all at once. People we know and love may be seriously ill. Times of crisis such as these can be completely paralyzing.
One of the most important things we can do in times of crisis for our future business legacy and success is to build trust with our communities.
I want you to know if you are reading these words— You are not alone.
For seven years I called the bush-bush of an active conflict zone in Africa that was in between nation status home. I thought I’d be there for the rest of my life. I was wrong. But it has uniquely prepared me for where the churn of the COVID-19 pandemic has spun us out.
In South Sudan, I faced a nation that lived on the edge of war, 15 of the world’s most deadly diseases at our doorstep. We had times of completely bare food markets, disease outbreaks and chronic instability. I learned about how to survive shortages, navigate panicked mobs, keep perspective in crisis mode and communicate the unfolding story.
In the video above, I chat through some of the lessons that are most relevant in our current situation here with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In my time living in South Sudan, our team dealt daily with threats of violence and instability, an economy in free fall with hyperinflation, and food insecurity where markets could be bare for weeks. Many of us here in the USA have never had to contend with empty supermarket shelves, panicked buying, economic turmoil and the threat of deadly disease. I have. Here’s some of what I learned in the process.
THE POWER OF FOCUS
In times of crisis, I focus on what is in my control. When I can control nothing else, I can always control my response.
Feeling fear and panic is normal, but being overwhelmed by fear isn’t helpful. When I start feeling frozen in the headlights, I make a list of what I can do right now in the moment I am in. Then I do the next thing. Doing something constructive, even if it’s infinitesimally small, goes a long way to combat feeling helpless.
I choose a few reputable information sources and check in with them as often as the situation warrants. But I refuse to get sucked in by a media tsunami.
Overconsumption of media can lead to overwhelm and added anxiety.
In the case of COVID-19, I’m keeping up with a few national outlets and at least one local news resource because crucial information and decisions will vary broadly based on geographical necessity.
I use social media to connect with a broader community, but I’m selective about the conversations I invest in. Small recommendation, if I may. Watching Blood Diamonds while living in Sudan was not helpful to my state-of-mind or quality of sleep. And while I love the movie Contagion, it isn’t going to teach us anything new about avoiding COVID-19. I promise. I watched it again last night just to make sure.
As creative business owners, we have the privilege to be a conduit of trust-worthy information for our communities. We also have the unprecedented opportunity to use our skills and resources to support and serve the needs around us.
The way we communicate in crisis either builds trust and brand credibility or it breaks it down. It’s crucial we strengthen the foundation of trust needed to bounce back after this crisis passes.
NAVIGATING SHORTAGES & SCARCITY
Shortages and scarcity are scary, especially if you’ve never lived through them. Most of us in the USA haven’t walked into a store and seen a section of essentials completely wiped out, let alone seen it stay that way for days or weeks. My time in Africa taught me to think through four S’s in managing shortages. These questions work for businesses as well as in our personal lives.
- STRETCH: How can I stretch what I have?
- SUBSTITUTE: What can I substitute or DIY?
- SIMPLIFY: How can I simplify that need in the short term? Is it something I can do without temporarily?
- SHARE: How can I care for others who have less than I do by using what is available to me?
Practice radical generosity. I was always humbled by the way my adopted Sudanese family cared for me. We looked out for one another and the crises we faced together forged community rather than isolation.
What services can you offer to your fellow business owners free of charge or at a deep discount?
I learned to plan three layers deep. Our team regularly considered short-term needs (days to 2 weeks), near-term needs (4-8 weeks) and mid-term needs (2-12 months). It isn’t about playing a game of what if, rather it’s about trying to be as educated as possible about what is, including the most up-to-date situation status, available options, and possible alternatives.
But planning and preparation are not one-sized fits all. Especially in a situation like COVID-19. Keeping 120 children safe in the middle of life-threatening outbreaks in Africa, we learned to default to intense prevention. We created a family plan and practiced the plan until everyone knew their part in it.
In outbreaks, being personally proactive is critical. It isn’t just about protecting ourselves, but our loved ones and our communities. We could not afford for even one child to get sick because it could affect the whole compound. The same is true in many cases with COVID-19. I have several underlying health conditions with my lungs that make me at higher risk for this infection, and I am caring for my mom who is in end-stage cancer with severely affected lungs.
So, yes, I’m officially going overboard. I ask people in line shopping behind me to please back up if they are too close. I keep a decontamination station by my main door and a portable disinfection kit in my car. I shop at odd hours. I’m avoiding as many public spots as possible. And my hands have never been so clean.
Because in this case, self-care is community care. If I learned anything from my Sudanese friends, it’s that strong community is what makes surviving even the unimaginable possible.
INVEST IN COMMUNITY
Community is far more than occupying the same physical space. It’s knowing we are not alone. Even in the middle of possible lockdowns and quarantines, volatile markets, supply shortages, wage insecurity, and necessary social distancing, we don’t have to walk this journey out on our own. Indeed, we cannot.
Here are few incredible resources for creatives and small business leaders I personally invest in learning from:
- Coronavirus & Small Businesses Resource Hub by Rising Tide
- Small Business Coronovirus Communications: PR & Copywriting Tips for Creatives by one of my favorite educators on the planet, Ashlyn Carter
- Coronavirus Best Practices And Clauses To Have In Your Contracts by The Legal Paige
Some of the ways we are used to connecting must change in this season. We don’t know for how long or what the future holds. But right now, we can still choose to uphold one another and intentionally build a community that is stronger than the things that separate us. And it’s this community that will make all the difference in days ahead.
In the next days and weeks, I’ll be sharing here more about thriving through crisis, resilience, and embracing change. And I’m working on some additional free resources and ways to support you through this season.
Before you go, here is a resource for you to get started with— My Crisis Communication Checklist ⬇️⬇️⬇️