Record-setting summer rains in drought-stricken California. Hurricanes in Texas. Tornadoes in the Plains, flooding on the coast. These are all sudden curveballs small-business owners commonly have to deal with.
"Just when you think things are cool, wham! A sucker punch," says Peter Boni, managing principal of Kedgeway and author of All Hands On Deck: Navigating Your Team Through Crises, Getting Your Organization Unstuck, and Emerging Victorious. "It happens to outfits big and small. Sometimes it's self-induced. The culprit could be lack of foresight and planning, or just bad management. Other times, external forces beyond anyone's control can whack you."
“Natural disasters happen all the time all over the United States, from the floods in California and Texas, to the tornadoes in the Midwest, or hurricanes,” adds Bill McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t. “Successful business owners understand one important reality from those owners who are just hanging on or have had to close their businesses. They understand that what can be controlled must be. And what can’t be controlled has to be contained.”
The realization that you can't handle things all by yourself is tough for some small-business people to recognize, but it's imperative that you create a crisis team to help pull you through.
—Peter Boni, managing principal, Kedgeway
—Peter Boni, managing principal, Kedgeway
Natural disasters can’t be controlled, but adequate insurance coverage may go a long way to helping lessen the blow of the unexpected, McBean notes. “[You should] realize the importance of asset protection, that profits or sales would not be possible if the assets of the business aren’t protected. In reality, asset protection is more important than sales and profits, because assets create the tools and the inventory from which profits and sales are generated. Assets represent cash or credit already spent, and not protecting them is equivalent to leaving thousands of dollars on a park bench and hoping no one will take it.
“Always break down your assets into the controllable and uncontrollable ones,” McBean adds. “Then make intelligent decisions regarding all your assets in terms of how they can be protected after a disaster, so your business can survive to fight for market share when things calm down."
Whatever you do when presented with a challenge, try not to go it alone, Boni says. "The realization that you can't handle things all by yourself is tough for some small-business people to recognize, but it's imperative that you create a crisis team to help pull you through. Reach out to your staff, advisors and vendors and ask for assistance."
Other suggestions for disaster preparation:
- Consider developing a written, documented disaster preparedness plan and review it with your employees. You might determine how you will communicate with one another in the event of a crisis, and make sure the information includes emergency contact information for everyone.
- Communicate your disaster preparedness plan. Hold a meeting and run through potential disasters, where you might discuss your first and future steps.
- Determine chain of command. This may mean designating an employee to take over if you’re out of town and unreachable, so you have someone you can rely on steering the ship while you’re gone.
- You might share your plan with critical external contacts. If you rely heavily on outside vendors, such as computer support people, sharing your potential disaster plan with them may help them know what to expect and do if something does occur.
- Consider an alternative operation site. If a natural disaster strikes, you probably won’t want to have to scramble to find an alternate location. Deciding ahead of time where that will be may help.
- Back up frequently. Loss of data may be a small-business owner’s biggest potential threat. Backing up into a cloud, daily, may help ensure your data is safe
The Other Side of Disaster
When a storm has passed and your company is still standing, you may find it has made you a better business owner, Boni believes. "It improves your judgment and your confidence when you overcome the storms. And it builds camaraderie. Those scars of experience build character for you and your team."
Surviving storms of adversity may also lead to increased business, McBean notes. "One company’s disaster can be another company's road to riches,” he says. “Like the floods of California, destruction causes reconstruction, and those small-business owners who covered themselves adequately can expand.”
Whatever you do, it may be best to stay away from what McBean calls the hope theory. “In this case, small-business owners hope that unfortunate incidents simply don’t happen,” he says. “The hope theory destroys businesses, because the unforeseen and mismanaged always catches up with you.”
For more tips on expanding your business, access Business Growth: How to Survive and Thrive, from MSNBC’s Your Business.
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A version of this article was originally published on July 24, 2015.