With the hurricane season upon us, it’s appropriate that September has been designated National Preparedness Month. The theme for 2017 is: Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead; You Can.
The trouble is, as a small business entrepreneur, your head is almost certainly focused on basic survival – and the last thing you want getting in your way is planning for some disaster that isn’t directly and immediately staring you down. But carving out a little bit of time, and most importantly, a bit of effort, toward disaster planning should also be part of your basic survival and business continuity strategy.
Disasters come in all shapes, sizes and severities – and knowing where you are most vulnerable and what it would take to be prepared for one can reap enough rewards so that whatever happens doesn’t destroy your fledgling business.
Importantly, the major disasters that you hear about in the news (hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes) aren’t necessarily the biggest threat for your small business – but rather, a localized disaster could be the most likely to bite you, such as a major medical emergency – by you, or a critical employee, winter storm, major equipment failure within your operations, software/hardware failure, loss of utilities (water, gas, electricity), building fire or other damage to the premises, website hacking. It could even be a disaster far away from you, one that affects a major supplier or vendor to your business, creating creates a downstream business continuity interruption for you. If you are theoretically up and running, but you can’t get the supplies or support that you need, you have a problem.
In other words, know and understand all of the potential types of events that can have a serious impact on your business operations. If you’ve already thought it through and have contingencies in place, an otherwise major blip in your business could be just a minor hiccup.
What should I do? Where should I start? Start with the links below, or with an internet search on “small business preparedness for disaster”. You’ll find that FEMA, the American Red Cross, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and a dozen other federal agencies and organizations provide disaster planning assistance, including checklists and guidance that can help your business weather a disaster. But more importantly, this resource information can get you back up and running after the disaster strikes.
According to the SBA, 25% of small businesses don’t re-open after a major disaster. I believe this is most likely due to the fact that small businesses have all of their operations concentrated in one location, not to mention that these operations are already stressed and resources aren’t allocated ahead of time to create sufficient contingency planning.
Here are some easy-to-use tools and planning guides that could help you stave off total destruction in the event of a major disaster (note: all underlined text contain links to the various sites):
- Ready.gov, the website created to publicize National Preparedness Month has established weekly themes to help you get started, along with dozens of links for tasks to create a workable plan for your small business.
- As you’d expect, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is the motherlode of resources for disaster management assistance. But most of us think about FEMA in the context of getting aid on the ground when a major disaster strikes (which can definitely be important to you as a small business owner). But a huge part of FEMA’s efforts involve helping small businesses prepare for emergencies that are on a much smaller scale. Their website page Emergency Preparedness Resources For Business contains a wealth of links to pages and documents that you can access, including planning guides, inventory guides, discussions on insurance coverage, and more.
- The “Prepare For Emergencies” guide from the Small Business Administration (SBA) is an excellent first source to begin the steps for basic planning to prevent and prepare for disaster, including what to do ahead of time, how to clean up the mess afterwards, and how to get financial assistance after a disaster.
- SCORE has a Small Business Disaster Preparedness Resources guide that provides invaluable information, including an SBA loan fact sheet that highlights help for that you can request from the SBA. SCORE is a non-profit organization that is separate from, but supported by the SBA. It’s been around for 50 years, and the mentoring they provide to small businesses is through volunteers. You can get basic information about SCORE here.
- The American Red Cross is another of the primary go-to organizations that one thinks of first, again about major disasters. But their Ready Rating Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Small Businesses (same as highlighted below for their co-sponsor, FedEx) is an excellent source for helping you get a Continuity of Operations Plan going.
- You might wonder how the IRS could possibly help you in a disaster situation, but their Preparing For A Disaster website page provides invaluable tips (including a video) on how to keep your small business’ financial and critical business documents (or a backup copy of those documents) safe. The information also explains how to get help from the IRS after a disaster, for obtaining copies of your business’ tax documents, including W-2 forms that you’ve filed.
Don’t forget state and non-government sources for planning assistance:
- Your state – and very likely the city your business operates in – will have a small business disaster preparedness resource guide. Do a search on “yourstate disaster planning for small business”, and you’ll get a dozen valuable hits. In my search, one of the first links to come up was for the SBA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in my state, and it contained a wealth of links to local and national resources. One link, Six Survival Tips For Small Business Continuity, contained a sobering statistic that “between 2003 and 2012, roughly 679 power outages, each affecting at least 50,000 customers, occurred due to weather events”, and any of these could affect your small business.
- The OFB-EZ Toolkit from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) is a pdf document that you can download, helping you know your risks, understanding how your business would suffer from a given disaster type, and how/when to keep your plan up to date, how to test your plan, and where to go for help.
- The Wall Street Journal website has created a page on How To Create A Disaster Plan that was adapted from the book, The Wall Street Journal. Complete Small Business Guidebook, available in Kindle or paperback format at Amazon.com.
- I might mention that Start-Up! An Entrepreneur’s Guide To A Successful Small Business that I wrote (in the newly updated 2017 edition) will have a section on disaster recovery preparedness. It too is available in Kindle or paperback format at Amazon.com.
- FedEx has created a great pdf document, Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Small Businesses – with the apt tagline, “Do More Than Cross Your Fingers” – that you can download. In the checklist it helps you identify your company’s vulnerabilities, and discusses ways to get your entire company thinking about business continuity practices that can be implemented.
So, using some very timeworn clichés, only you can do something about disaster preparedness and planning – and if you’re operating on the assumption that you can’t afford the time to do this . . . well, you very likely can’t afford not to make the time. In fact, it could be the best time you’ve ever given to your business.