Self Made: NASE's Blog

Are You Prepared For A Business Disaster?

Friday, November 02, 2012

Posted by Gene Fairbrother (NASE Lead Small Business Advisor)- 

While few of us will ever experience the ravages of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, every day entrepreneurs’ lives are devastated by tragedies that don’t get national attention. In the every-day business world disasters come in all shapes and sizes like a home based consultant who looses their home to a fire or an ice storm in Massachusetts that takes out power for a week. The difference is that losing a home to fire or falling off a ladder and being laid up for two months doesn’t bring the federal, state, and local government rushing to your aid.

Every business, no matter the size or where they are located, could suddenly find themselves facing the demise of their business. The difference of whether a business survives or not can come down to having a disaster plan ready to implement. Here are a few tips that will help any business do a little advance planning ... just in case.

What should a disaster plan include?

The critical components of a disaster plan will depend on what it takes to keep your business running. For a free lance writer the plan might be as simple as maintaining a computer back-up and having an electrical outlet to keep your computer and smart phone up and running. If you have an emergency, grab your laptop and cell phone as your head out for a hotel.

For a market research firm with five or six employees it becomes a different world and takes more planning. Where will the offices relocate? Where can you put your hands on six or seven computers? How do you get phone lines installed along with a hundred other details?

Do you have your computer backed-up?

Business owners should routinely back up all information on their computers and include an offsite copy in a safe location that you can easily put your hands on in an emergency.

Do you have an up-to-date customer data base?
If you’re out of business for a few days – or longer – you need to let your customers know.  This means having an accurate list of customers and their contact information.

Do you have a contact list for your competitors?
Business owners erroneously think of their competitors as “the enemy”. But, with some planning these businesses can temporarily help your business survive. If necessary they can help your secure products and services for your customers until you get back on your feet.

What are the tools of your trade and how can you get them?
If your building is evacuated, you may be able to grab your laptop before you go. But what if your business needs sophisticated (and heavy) design computers or specialized equipment like a photographer’s camera? Keep track of what equipment your business needs to function and know where you can purchase or rent replacements if you can’t take yours with you in an emergency.

Share your plan with someone else?
Even some of the best ideas ... aren’t. Sometimes another set of eyes can point out the cracks in a plan or missing components. Your disaster plan may make sense to you but share it with someone else who might discover some missing points. And if you have employees, make sure that every one of them is very familiar with the plan and how to implement it.

Have you refreshed your plan?
Some basics of business seldom change, like where you would evacuate to or what the first thing you’d grab on your way out the door. But some things do change, like the contact information on customers and competitors or where to find replacement equipment. Review your plan at least once a year to make sure it still works.

Do you have the right insurance coverage?
While it’s one thing to prepare for a major disaster, it’s important to make sure you have covered the financial disaster that could follow. Evaluate every aspect of your business insurance coverage at least once a year.

Know who is there to help you and let them know you need their help.
If you experience a disaster such as a hurricane, flood or tornado make early contact with every organization that will be offering assistance such as FEMA, the SBA and of course your insurance carriers.

Keep your clients informed.
If you have good information on your clients you can keep your customers informed through personal contacts, emails and updates to your website. Remember that clients will continue to need products and services and in most cases will work with you but … they still have needs and must continue to take care of those needs.

While no one wants to think about how a major disaster might affect their business and their livelihood, the cruel facts are that hundreds of entrepreneurs experience it every day. From a fire that destroys a home or storefront to an automobile accident ... lives are changed and families are devastated. While no disaster plan can prepare you for every contingent, a little foresight and planning can make the difference between a business being able to survive or drowning in mass confusion and crisis.

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Self Made

A blog on the self-employed and micro-business

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Katie Vlietstra - As Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs, I work to explain how actions on Capitol Hill can impact the self-employed. I love D.C. and have made my home in Capitol Hill, where I live with my husband and black Labrador, Coltrane. We love playing volleyball and softball on the National Mall. 

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