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I’m often called to do crisis communications work for major corporations that find themselves in a bind or damaged by an event in their industry. Unfortunately, by the time I get the call, the company has already missed the most important lesson: The best way to prevent a brand-damaging experience is to avoid doing something or saying something harmful in the first place. Small business owners are especially vulnerable. In today’s world, where people consider themselves "citizen journalists," your behavior could easily find its way onto public forums or social media networks such as YouTube, Twitter, or Yelp.
As a business owner, you are your brand. An angry tirade or rant can leave a negative impression on your customers. For example, the other week I saw a well-known real estate agent standing outside a local restaurant yelling and cursing into his phone. He was standing near the alley of the restaurant, close to the parking lot, probably thinking nobody would see him. He was so loud, however, that he called attention to himself. It was clear that he was yelling at someone he knew (his wife or daughter). Not for a minute would I ever consider using him as a realtor after witnessing his behavior. He might be the best real estate agent in the country, but in that moment he forever tarnished his brand without saying a word to me. Saying something in anger is often the easiest way to lose friends and supporters.
Here’s a second example. Several weeks ago I boarded a cross-country flight and as happens so often, we were delayed on a runway at New York’s JFK Airport. When the pilot announced the delay (45 minutes to an hour), a man next to me in his late 40s made his anger very public, cursing and yelling so loudly that passengers a few aisles away turned in our direction. I sunk in my seat so nobody would think I was with the guy having a meltdown. A couple of hours into the flight we started talking and Mr. Meltdown, a consultant, began to pitch me on his services. I thought to myself: He’s got to be kidding. After the behavior that I had just seen, I’d be scared to be in the same office with him. The consultant’s behavior "off stage"—when he wasn’t working—had ruined his on-stage performance.
These are tough times economically. Anger is rampant. Many people are out of work, losing their homes, afraid of losing their jobs. As a small business owner, you might be seeing your revenue and profits fall as customers spend less. I understand why people are angry. It spills over into their personal lives as well. But you must guard against meltdowns, especially in public. If anything, always have a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and a kind word. You are your brand.
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