With storm season ravaging many parts of the country and extreme weather events like Blizzard Jonas disrupting daily life, running a small business can become even more challenging than usual during the winter months. How your small business navigates stormy weather and comes back from the inevitable shutdowns may have a direct impact on the bottom line.
The domino effect caused by extreme weather conditions can profoundly influence business, notes Sandy Schwartz, a partner at SLK Law Firm. “Mondays are typically our busiest, with new client intakes for real estate deals put together during the prior weekend," Schwartz says. "The recent storm hitting on a Saturday essentially crippled the real estate market for the weekend, which, in turn, resulted in minimal new transactions coming into the office.”
Small businesses inevitably can lose sales opportunities when storms strike, agrees Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience and author of seven books, including Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way and The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW. “All businesses are challenged by simply getting staff to the workplace. Even if employees can circumnavigate the weather hazards, they often face other challenges, like closed child-care facilities," he says. "And virtual employees are at the mercy of downed power lines and even Internet outages.”
Preparing for Inevitable Interruptions
Winter storms can likely disrupt your small business in one way or another. Severe weather may lead to property damage and risk for employees and customers. Even if you’re not caught in the eye of the storm, your company can experience the collateral effects, resulting in a slowdown.
Here are some steps you can take to help minimize damage in the event of a severe storm, so your business has a better chance of recovering quickly.
- Stockpile emergency supplies. Have on hand items that you may need in case a storm hits, including flashlights, blankets, food and water, first aid kit, battery powered radio, shovels, sandbags and road salt.
- Establish backup power. You may determine that your business would be best equipped with a generator in case of a power outage. This could be used for equipment that requires continual electricity, as well as a backup heating source.
- Determine an emergency plan of action. Pinpoint where on the business premises employees and customers should gather if a storm hits. Discuss ways to minimize safety risks. Regularly review this plan with your workforce.
- Financially plan for downtime. During the recent storm, Martha Johnson, leadership coach and co-author of Navigating an Organizational Crisis: When Leadership Matters Most, had to reschedule clients and saw a “hiccup in revenue. Schools set master schedules that accommodate a number of snow days, so it’s always a good idea to do the same thing in projecting revenue,” she says.
“Effective small-business owners reinvest and create reserves in the ‘boom’ times to ensure they get through the downtimes,” Michelli says. “If you are profitable but don’t reinvest or save a portion of that profit for the inevitable ebbs and flows of business, you likely won’t be around for the long haul—storms or no storms.”
Michelle Tennant Nicholson, chief creative officer of Wasabi Publicity, agrees. “All small businesses only survive if they save their ‘nuts.’ Just like a squirrel saves for hard times during winter, so must small-business owners. Determine how much payroll money you require to survive lean months and save that during prosperous times for rainy or snowy days.”
Business During and After Stormy Weather
Your response to your customers during and after a shutdown can be critical and may determine how well you spring back.
“People who retain electrical power in their homes often hunker down in front of television and computer screens,” Michelli says. “This gives your company great opportunities for exposure to brand messages and online purchasing.”
A storm gives you the opportunity to ramp up your online sales, adds Tennant Nicholson. “If you have an online business, think about leveraging people's indoor cabin fever during a storm by advertising and marketing around search terms about blizzards and similar terms,” she says. “For example, blizzard blowout prices.”
Whenever possible, keep in contact with your customers, Michelli advises. “Customers understand,” he says. “They look out their windows or see the affected area in the news. Some may be annoyed about being inconvenienced by your unavailability, but most simply want you to communicate with them about resumption of operations and demonstrate an eagerness to serve them. They don’t want excuses, false promises or explanations. They just want you poised and ready to care for them as soon as safely possible.”
Communication is critical, Johnson agrees. “Let people know where/when/how you are doing. If you are going to be late on a delivery, let your customers know immediately.”
After the storm, consider thanking all who stood by you, including your customers. “Storms and other acts of nature often bring out the best in people,” says Michelli. “It’s as if we are all reminded of our individual vulnerability when a storm disrupts so many of our daily rituals. Storms also remind us of those people and businesses that we value and miss. The aftermath of a storm is a great time for small-business owners to let their customers know they were missed and how grateful the business owners are to be entrusted to care for and about them.”
Do thank your loyal customers, agrees Tennant Nicholson. “Small-business owners get to write their own stories, much like creating their own snowmen. Are you going to make hot chocolate and snowballs, or are you going to be left dripping wet from complaints? Clients like successful businesses, so tell a story of gratitude, success and happiness, no matter the weather outside.”
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