This isn’t a nightmare or a Hollywood film. It’s a reality for thousands of small businesses every year. You wake up one morning to find your business, your passion, your life’s work now a smoldering ruin or several feet under flood water.
The Valley Fire in Northern California, combined with the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, has reminded us that natural disasters can strike anywhere. You need to be prepared.
According to the 2013 Small Business Disaster Survey, 74 percent of small business owners don’t have a disaster recovery plan. Another 84 percent don’t have natural disaster insurance and 71 percent do not have a backup generator.
Even a fire or sprinkler system malfunction can render your business uninhabitable for weeks. Having a plan is imperative. If you’re already dealing with a natural disaster, here are keys steps to get your business back up and running as soon as possible.
- Contact your employees. Make sure everyone is safe and then determine how many can report in for work. You can’t make a plan without knowing available manpower. Many employees will have to deal with their own family issues, so consider split shifts or even time off. If your employees feel undervalued or overworked during a natural disaster, some may consider resigning. This could leave you severely understaffed.
- Contact your insurance. Document all losses or damage and contact your insurance company ASAP. But also be prepared to take damage control steps as well. For instance, you may need to tarp a leaking, damaged roof to make sure additional water doesn’t ruin your office. Some policies have loop holes so ask your agent today if you are expected to carry out these actions. You should do this now and not wait until a crisis happens.
- Identify critical business activities. If you can’t afford to shut down, determine whether you will need to shift operations to a temporary location nearby. Again, consult with your employees about this location and make sure they also can get there with relative ease. A site 20 miles away may present significant transportation issues. Try and choose a close location or one accessible by local bus lines or public transport as those are usually up and running quickly. You may even consider having your employees temporarily work from home.
- Find alternative facilities. Reach out to other businesses to see if they could give you a temporary “base of operations”. You could even offer to exchange the services that you can provide. This could potentially save you on rent and other short-term expenses. If you officially do business together, they might even lend you equipment or manpower.
- Contact the Small Business Administration. The reality is, FEMA isn’t necessarily set up to help individuals. If your business needs more immediate aid, there are Federal funds available. The Small Business Administration (SBA) can also provide disaster loans up to $2 million at favorable terms. Glen Gilmore, who is a lawyer by trade, has helped develop and deliver crisis leadership courses with the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center at Texas A&M University. He says that social media is now the new call center. If your company can’t connect with governmental assistance via traditional means, try tweeting them. Yes, “tweeting” them. Most are now listening and responding in the social space.
- Save your data. Data is important to any business and losing it can add unnecessary headaches to an already unfortunate situation. Tech influencer Robert Scoble said in an interview that small businesses must “grab their hard drives and run.” If you don’t have access to cloud-based services like DropBox or use Google Drive, then ensuring that you protect your data is critical. Especially any financial or customer data.
- Start a campaign on GoFundMe or IndieGogo. Social media can be a crucial element in raising funds necessary to keep your business afloat. With friends, family, employees and loyal customers spreading the word, you may be surprised at how quickly you can raise money. Many people affected by the recent northern California fires have created GoFundMe campaigns. To date, over $2M has been raised for the victims, from more than 18,000 donors. CEO of GoFundMe, Rob Solomon said that the most important thing a campaign organizer can do is share their campaign frequently on social media. Successful fundraising is all about getting the word out to your contacts.
The good news if your business is within a federally declared disaster area you may be entitled to special tax treatment. Extensions on filing taxes or certain favorable tax provisions are occasionally granted to individuals and businesses who live and work in these areas, so check with your accountant.
Gene Marks, a CPA with The Marks Group gives some really good advice for small business owners when it comes to planning and preparation for natural disasters:
The wrong time to think about what to do in the case of a disaster is after the disaster happens. Every business, particularly those that are exposed to certain natural phenomena like hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and floods, needs a written disaster plan prepared well in advance.
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