Best Practices

Pause, Prioritise and Plan: How to Manage Your Agency in Times of Crisis

2 April, 2020
14 min read
Ellie Scott

By now, we’ve all seen the news. Many of us will have watched over the last few weeks as COVID-19 has dominated the headlines and quickly changed the way we live our lives. Although the road ahead seems uncertain, it’s comforting to remember that we are all in this together as a global community, and communities thrive in times of crisis.

There is no rule book on how to deal with the huge impact that COVID-19 is having on businesses - we're going through unprecedented times for which best strategies or practices don’t yet exist. So we recognise that, while we will do our best to offer advice on what could work for you as an agency or brand during these trying times, not all of our recommendations will be applicable.

Having worked with marketers and agencies, we’ve decided that the best way we can provide value is to try to answer all of the questions that agency owners, marketers and freelancers might have while going through this period of unpredictability. Our aim is to provide a framework for helping you approach this crisis as an agency or brand, as well as give you the confidence to look to the future.

How? Pause, Prioritise and Plan.

While we don’t have all the answers, we do believe that these three stages of decision-making will act as a starting point to help you work through the challenges the next few months will bring and guide you to make measured choices for the health of you and your business.

Step 1: Pause what you can and focus on your mindset

As a crisis begins to unfold and the news of what’s happened trickles in, it’s time to stop and think. Instead of springing into action and making rash decisions that could affect your business in the longer term, pause and take stock of what you have rather than what you have lost.

Try to consider only the immediate implications of the crisis. At this stage, no action is required. Instead, use this time to adjust your mindset and get your head into the right space to deal with the problems in front of you.

If you run an agency, you’ll be aware that amid a global crisis, clients may press the pause button on projects, pull out of events or cancel contracts, which can be extremely worrying. However, it’s important not to panic. Instead, try to slow everything down with the help of these steps:

Pause any promotions and adjust your social media strategy accordingly

Although launching campaigns and showcasing new work is the lifeblood of your brand or agency, in the midst of a crisis like COVID-19, this sort of activity just isn’t a priority, particularly on social media.

As a first step, take a look at your content calendar and pause any posts going out which may detract from the crisis at hand - the last thing you want is for your or your client's brand to come across insensitive.

Instead, try a more adaptable approach with your social media strategy and tailor posts to fit the situation that you’re dealing with - you could try reaching out to customers on social and asking how you can help them in their time of need, for example.

Over-communicate with your team

Whether you employ a team of two or two hundred, communication is vital to the smooth running of day-to-day operations, particularly during a crisis. Transparency and openness help to keep each team member in the loop as well as support them.

As part of the effort to combat COVID-19, many teams have been forced to go remote for the first time, which might be a little unnerving. But tools like Zoom or Slack exist to make communication between teams easier, so are a great way to stay in touch.

It’s also really important to inform your team of any management decisions that will affect them in the wake of a crisis. Designate a senior member of the team to deal with any questions employees might have, and if you’re an agency owner, make yourself available to your team to chat and provide guidance in any case.

Think about how your business might be able to help

Although it’s admittedly a risk for brands to join trending conversations, in cases of global crisis, simply ignoring what’s going on and continuing ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option.

With a situation like COVID-19, most businesses around the world have been impacted, so it’s worth thinking about how your brand or agency might be able to provide some relief and add value to customers' lives during the disruption.

Think about how your or your client's brand can offer advice to any business or person in need, and consider the best way to package this help so that it’s most useful. For example, you could run Facebook Live tutorials if that’s where your audience hangs out, ask followers how they’re doing and start conversations with them on Twitter or share business advice and tips on LinkedIn about weathering the storm.

What's important is that you're reaching out and encouraging togetherness, like social health charity, Joy.

Remember that communities are king in tough times

Uncertainty about the future can be worrying, particularly when your livelihood is at stake. Feelings of stress and panic are inevitable, which is why you shouldn’t have to go through them alone.

According to Michael Isbell, the Founder and CEO of content creation agency Michael B. Isbell Media, reaching out to others in a similar position and harnessing the power of communities is so important during times of crisis:

A crisis provides the perfect opportunity to create a community, and offer your hands to see how you can make the people watching and following along your journey feel more at peace and able to move forward with their lives in this new capacity.

Whether you’re using communities to ask questions, get advice or simply feel less alone, Facebook is the perfect place to start looking if you want to create your own community or join groups of like-minded people.

If you’re a social media marketer, you might also want to check out the Social Media Storytellers community on Facebook:

social media storytellers community

Remember: This is not a sales opportunity

It's natural to want to make the best of a bad situation like COVID-19. Our ambition drives us to want to come out of a crisis better than before. But we must resist the urge to treat it as an opportunity and rush into taking action.

The difficult reality of the current global crisis is that everyone is experiencing it in their own individual way, making it tough to truly comprehend the impact it’s having on people's lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put ourselves in their shoes.

If you want to better understand the concerns of others at this time, we recommend reading through this Twitter thread recently posted by freelance copywriter, Marijana Kostelac:

To echo what Marijana highlighted, some people are losing their jobs and worry about feeding their families, and others have lost all sense of accomplishment because their work doesn't seem meaningful anymore. For the younger generations, this is the first time in history we're experiencing this kind of global uncertainty over what the future holds.

That's why we must show deep empathy and be as supportive as possible to the people around us, our customers and fellow brands and businesses. This also means being mindful of the way we choose to use marketing going forward.

Step 2: Prioritise what can be done now and what can be done later

Now that you’ve taken a breath and considered your immediate options, you should have a clearer idea of the scale of the crisis and its direct impact on your or your clients business. This is a good time to shift your mindset and prioritise the work you need to do to survive this rocky period.

Gain perspective and order your priorities accordingly with the help of these steps:

Speak to your clients as soon as possible to discuss their crisis response plan

In the event of a global crisis, it's likely that you’ll need to alter the communications strategy for your agency's clients or the brand you work for. And since all strong relationships rely on communication, it's important to speak to your existing clients to see how they'd like to respond and decide which changes need to be made to current and future messaging.

Before you get in touch however, it's worth determining if their brand is likely to struggle or thrive during the crisis, and what initial adjustments to messaging may need to be made.

It’s important to remember not to force your or your client's brand into the COVID-19 conversation if there's no place for it. Explain this clearly to your client and provide examples of different brands who have adjusted their communications accordingly.

For brands who are minimally impacted by the crisis, for example, online shops and services, the change in messaging could be as simple as making a statement on social media about how the crisis is affecting their services and then returning to a similar posting schedule as before the crisis. Alternatively, they could focus on topics around remote work, social distancing, mental health or saving costs where possible:

For brands whose services are severely affected, for example, restaurants, gyms, and local shops, the situation is much more serious, as their future is the most uncertain. Now is the time for creativity, and there have been some great examples from other businesses, like restaurants offering takeaway and gift cards, personal trainers from gyms offering free exercises and local shops moving their businesses online:

Finally, for brands who have the potential to flourish during this time, for example, those in the supermarket, wellness, games and electronics industries, it’s key to keep messaging humble. Remember to be helpful, remain empathetic and avoid being too salesy:

Consider adjusting the services you provide and how you price them

It’s so important to know your worth and charge appropriately when packaging your social media services. However, during a crisis like COVID-19, with social media engagement for brands going down and the focus quickly switching to saving money and working with tight budgets, you may need to adjust the packages you're offering your clients.

It could be a better plan to create less content and do more ad-hoc work for your clients, or instead of social media, offer a different service altogether if you have the capacity and the skills required. You could even consider taking on pro bono work if you’re able to.

It's essential to figure out how you can best serve your clients during this uncertain time, and if there are any other marketing channels or activities you can help them with. For example, you could:

  • Utilise your web development and design skills to build a website for a local business
  • Invest more time in SEO to improve website pages in preparation for when business returns to normal
  • Start writing blogs for clients who could benefit from this service
  • Brainstorm alternative marketing strategies to generate revenue
  • Experiment with different content types, like video

If you do discount your services for new clients (or existing ones), make sure this is reflected in your invoices along with a deadline. For example, you could give a discount for the duration of three, six or twelve months, depending on each client's circumstances, to build on trust and give them the opportunity to work with you.

Deal with cancellations

The prospect of losing all or the grand majority of your clients is devastating. And although nothing we say can fix this, know that you're not alone. There are a staggering amount of freelancers, marketers and agency owners who are going through this too:

covid-19-job loss

Remind yourself not to get discouraged during this time. This is a global event where everyone is impacted - whether you're just starting to offer your services or are an established business in the industry.

We asked Devin Bramhall (@devinemily), the VP of Marketing at Animalz, to share how the crisis has impacted their esteemed content marketing agency. To not much surprise, they too have experienced churn, a drop in the number of leads, and their ability to close new clients:


It's disheartening when businesses no longer need your services, but you must remember that as an agency owner, you still have a business to run. Here are some tips for dealing with client cancellations:

  • Review the contract terms to check how this impacts timelines
  • Review if there are any outstanding invoices
  • Discuss if there's any space to adjust services instead of cancelling
  • Discuss if there's a possibility to work together again in the future once circumstances improve
  • Ask if there's a possibility to get feedback and social proof
Whatever happens, remember the value of the services you provide. As Val Geisler, a customer retention specialist put it, “you too, need to focus on cash flow right now”.

Step 3: Plan for the future, once you’re ready

Once your mindset and first priorities are taken care of, it’s time to get practical and start planning for the future of your brand or agency. Although it may seem impossible now, as soon as you’re ready, you may want to look into the next steps for your business.

For Sendible's CEO and Founder Gavin Hammar, using strategy maps to plan, formulate and communicate a new business strategy during COVID-19 proved helpful. If you'd like to learn how to create strategy maps for your business, agency or clients in order to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis, you can find Gavin's guide here:


Here are some additional actions you can take to rebuild your agency or brand after a significant global crisis like COVID-19:

Review your financial situation

This is crunch time. You'll need to pull up your financial records or speak to your accountant to get a tight grip on your agency's finances. Some of the key areas to consider are:

  • What your current expenses are (from salaries to paid tools)
  • How much income you are still expecting to receive
  • How much cash you have in the bank and for how long it could last
  • How much of your agency's revenue could drop in the near future
  • What actions you need to take to stay in business

As a social media management company, this is the part where we are a bit out of our depth, so we've collated a few resources to help you review how you're doing financially:

  • COVID-19 Resource Center for Agencies by agency advisor, Karl Sakas
    Karl has published a comprehensive FAQ page on how to manage your agency during COVID-19. His finance and sales advice is priceless to agencies who are unsure how to calculate their monthly income/expenditure, are wondering how to react to the pandemic publicly, and how to continue to sell their clients.
  • COVID-19 Agency Survival Guide by a team of attorneys at Matchstick
    This will be most useful if you're an agency based in the US, since quite a few laws mentioned would apply to this country only. You'll find insightful and practical advice on putting together client contracts going forward, communicating and taking care of employees, as well as managing your payroll.
  • SBA Disaster Assistance in Response to the Coronavirus for agencies based in the US
    If you're based in the US and you need additional funds to stay afloat, your agency may be eligible for the SBA disaster loan and/or other Coronavirus related relief. The additional funds may help you keep your peace of mind and focus on other important matters during this time.
  • COVID-19: support for businesses and agencies based in the UK by GOV.UK
    This is the official website page for measures currently in place by the UK government to “support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19”. If you're active on Twitter, you may want to follow Work Notes - it's an account dedicated to providing useful resources for the freelancer community based in the UK.

Start looking for new business

A lot of businesses are experiencing losses at the moment, so it may feel like an odd time to start prospecting for new opportunities. However, once the dust starts to settle, this will be an important step on the road to recovery. Here are some suggestions for finding new clients in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Follow and engage with brands you’d love to work with
    Following a crisis, building genuine relationships with your prospects is key. As a starting point, you could look for brands who you think have responded particularly well to the COVID-19 pandemic. Start by following them on social media and engaging with their posts to build a rapport.
  • Make the most of virtual networking opportunities
    In times of social distancing, traditional networking opportunities are sparse. But that doesn’t mean they’re non-existent. Use Facebook Groups and other social media forums to scope out potential clients and try to join groups where you can offer help, value and demonstrate your skills and experience.
  • Be proactive and creative in your approach to sourcing new clients
    When finding new clients, resourcefulness and initiative are key. Try running events rather than just attending them. If you’re a small agency, you could run a local ‘social media for small business’ virtual meetup, speak at online conferences, make guest appearances on Podcasts, Webinars, Twitter Chats, and Facebook Lives.

If you do have free time, consider using it to upskill

In the event that you find yourself with time on your hands as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, upskilling is a great way to put it to use. Plenty of brands and companies are offering free training courses, which under normal circumstances they would have charged for, such as Ahrefs Blogging for Business course. The Hubspot Academy is another free resource which is perfect for helping to take your professional skills to the next level.

Equally, if you’re a social media marketer who’s found themselves at a loose end, you could use this quieter period to master the specific features of the channels that you work with every day or get ahead of the curve by keeping abreast of the upcoming changes and new features of the main social media networks.

You could learn more about the best features for engagement on Instagram for example, or take the time to improve your visual content creation skills by experimenting with creating more GIFs and videos.

Some other areas in which to upskill could include:

  • Improving your knowledge of analytics and reporting using tools like Google Analytics and Search Console
  • Experimenting with paid media such as Facebook or Twitter ads
  • Learning how to create live video and better social media Stories

Improving your skills will help you to become a stronger digital marketer in the future, and who knows, you could discover a new passion which could take your brand or agency in an entirely new or unexpected direction!

Future-proof your brand or business

One of the most alarming lessons that COVID-19 has taught us, is how little control we have over some crisis situations. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them.

Once the initial shock of the pandemic has subsided and things start to feel a bit more certain, it’s time to implement what we learned and begin to lay a solid foundation to start over.

Use this crisis as an opportunity to rebuild your or your clients brand as a stronger and more viable entity. Here are some of the things you can do to make this possible:

  • Generate social proof
    If you’re looking to win new clients you’ll need to gain credibility and the best way to do this is through social proof. Client testimonials are a fantastic way to prove that your agency does great work. Simply reach out to your best clients and ask for feedback and place this on your website’s ‘About Us’ page. You could also think about writing up case studies of your most successful work and placing these on your website for prospective customers to see.
  • Find your industry voice and raise the profile of your brand
    A strong business has a unique voice and a recognisable presence. If you’d like to ensure that your brand or agency can make it through the next crisis, then increasing the visibility of your company culture is a great place to start. Utilise platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Medium to advertise thought leadership, introduce team members and work on improving the online presence of your company so that when potential clients do come, they are more familiar with who you are and are more likely to buy.
  • Update your existing processes to improve client onboarding in the future
    This could also be a good time to review and update your current processes. Think about the whole journey of your clients - from the moment you first get in touch to when they become a client and you're collaborating with them on their project. You could improve any part of that journey - from the templates you use when reaching out to them, to the social media proposal template, which may need a revamp. Perhaps a better framework is required to deliver impactful analytics reports faster? Streamlining how you work will help you when things get busy again!

Wrapping up

We are facing unprecedented times and there will be many challenges ahead for brands and agencies in the next weeks and months due to COVID-19.

However, we must remember that whatever happens, there is strength in the global community, on and offline, and so many resources available that can offer help and support.

This is a time that demands innovation and flexibility, but together, there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

For support, we recommend visiting and for official health advice, go to the World Health Organisation.

For more helpful content related to COVID-19, check out our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram profiles.