Weathering a Storm: How to Prepare Your Business for the Unexpected
Depending on where you live, natural disasters might be a more common occurrence or possibility than in other areas. But even if you are used to the cadence of hurricane season, or live in an area that has seen more than its fair share of tornados, for example, it's hard to be 100% prepared, especially when you are likely preparing on both the home and business fronts as a small business owner.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration website, "an estimated 25 percent of businesses don't open again after a major disaster." With starting a small business already a risky proposition, that added layer of uncertainty can be debilitating. However, there are steps to take before an incident hits that can give you a head start in terms of preparation when disaster strikes, and can help you get back on your feet faster if the worst happens.
As a small business owner, it's critical that you have a plan in the event of an emergency. From communication to safety preparations, there are several things you'll want to consider before Mother Nature takes an unexpected detour through your town and into your small business.
Have a communication plan for employees and clients. Starting from the most basic, you will want to have the contact details for your key audiences: employees and clients. From there, you'll want to map out how best to tell employees and clients what your emergency plans are, with various scenarios and future state communications mapped out. Let your employees know with plenty of time that they do not have to go to work, or that they should plan on working from home if possible. You will likely also want to set up a phone tree to share with your employees to make checking-in and passing critical messages as efficient as possible. If possible, you may also want to consider a centralized voicemail for employees to call in for periodic updates. As for customers or clients, depending on your business, some may respond best to an e-mail blast or social media announcement. Let them know that you are bracing for a potentially dangerous event ahead and will be able to help them as soon as you can and will provide updates when possible.
Ensure that you have insurance and know what your coverage consists of. With every major storm comes the slight chance that your business may suffer some damages. Make sure you have coverage for your business so you aren't left scrambling to pick up the pieces after all is said and done. Another helpful tip is to take a video walking tour of your business pre-storm; this way if something is substantially damaged you will have proof of what was destroyed for insurance claims.
Back up all important documents. This includes saving information about yourself, employees, and customers. You will want to safeguard and have redundancies for important tax information or any critical financial documents.
Have an emergency kit ready. In the chance you are stuck at your business when a storm hits, you'll want to be prepared to shelter in place. Start with a supply of flashlights, backup batteries, candles, blankets, some bottled water and non-perishable goods. You will also want to have a first aid kit handy.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has also put together a variety of guides, checklists, and safety tips, for an array of emergencies ranging from hurricanes to winter storms, which you can access here. They have also included information for if you need financial assistance after a disaster.
While a natural disaster is never a guarantee, you don't want to take any chances when it comes to the safety of yourself, your family, employees, and customers. Even though expected disasters don't always hit, it's best to be prepared just in case. You worked hard to start your own business, don't let that slip away by the next storms that comes to town.
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