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Is Your Small Business Prepared for the Next Natural Disaster?

Let’s make something clear: disasters happen. They can strike at any time and will affect anyone, regardless of their age, race, gender, socio-economic status, political affiliation, and so on. They also have the potential to not just hamper businesses of all sizes, but to cripple them.

That’s one of the key reasons why it’s absolutely crucial for business owners and managers to have a disaster plan.

What Kind of Natural Disasters Could Impact Your Small Business?

Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and even parts of Georgia were hit by hurricanes recently, lives were lost, and millions lost power. Some communities were overwhelmed by flooding and high winds flattened homes, buildings, and other structures. In California, wildfires rage practically every year.

Tornadoes, lightning strikes, and even freezing rain can cause problems for any business, both large and small.

For many business owners, it’s not a matter of if a disaster will strike and affect their operations, but when. In order to weather the storm (pardon the pun), it’s crucial to pay attention to the details that could keep operations running. It may not be smooth, but as long as it’s running, it leads them away from potential failure.

Make sure communication remains open.

During a power failure, a typical analog phone system will no longer work. But, with a VoIP phone system, even with a power failure, communication lines can remain open and fluid. Customers and prospects may have no clue that your business is without power; yet they want service, support, and possibly to place orders.

If phone service is down for any amount of time, it could lead to losses that are calculated by the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and possibly the millions.

One way to avoid losing communication with your customers and your employees is to setup a VoIP Hosted Phone System (that runs over the Internet) as either your main phone system, or as a backup phone system should your main phone system, that is dependent on power & phone lines, go down.

With a VoIP PBX system, your calls can be automatically routed to your employees cell phones, if the Internet goes down, so that you can continue to take calls. The caller will hear your company greeting as they usually do, but the call will be routed to a cell phone. Different departments or employees could answer their calls as usual.

Communication is one of the fundamental keys to success for most businesses today and when it’s down, it’s devastating. Avoid this possibility by setting up a VoIP PBX system that runs over the Internet.

Be aware of the risk to the business’s day-to-day functions.

A retail business, for example, may not be able to open in the event of a power failure. Most retail stores today are overly reliant on scanners and have no other means by which to calculate orders.

How long could your business survive without sales?

Develop a plan that will minimize down time. During disasters, people are willing to be patient to some extent, and the business that steps up and get back to ‘normal’ (however that may be defined) will stand out.

Take weather warnings seriously.

If there’s a risk of flooding in the area, for example, operate on the assumption your business will get flooded. Put sensitive electronics up high, backup all files, preferably offline, such as ‘in the cloud,’ and have equipment on hand to clean up as quickly as possible once the waters recede.

Get a Backup Generator

More and more people flock to hardware stores to purchase power generators before a hurricane, severe storms, or winter weather. The comforts of home have become almost a necessity for millions of people. Yet few small to mid-sized businesses ever consider backup power sources.

If your business has its lights on and doors open when almost every other one in the city is out, guess what? It’ll be noticed and that not only helps you stay solvent, it could lead to a great reputation.

Backup generators, depending on their size, might only be enough to keep a few basic lights on (for safety), a computer system operating for orders and checking out, but it can also be tapped into the security system, which protects your operation when you finally go home for the day.

Put a (UPS) to work for you.

This isn’t recommending a shipping company, but an Uninterrupted Power Supply. This is key for essential devices, like a data server or main computer system for your company.

The better UPS systems will have backup battery power that should keep the devices operating for several hours, at the very least. This would provide you ample time to get the backup generator running, backup files, and if need be, to properly turn off the system (as well as moving various files off-site when necessary).

Make Sure Everyone’s on the Same Page

Whether your business has only a handful of employees or dozens, each one should be aware of the disaster preparedness plan (to the extent that it pertains to their responsibilities). In order to achieve this, you need to have a clear plan in place.

Write out the plan.

When your disaster preparedness plan is written out, there are no questions. It can also provide some insight into what may not actually be effective or beneficial (often, business leaders notice in their notes discrepancies they hadn’t picked up on when discussing them verbally).

Make sure everyone has a copy, reads it, and understands this plan. Encourage questions and that will limit problems in the event disaster strikes (it may also help you fine-tune the plan with better ideas).

Establish a chain of custody.

Who will be responsible for what? You may have one employee responsible for getting the power back up, if possible. Another may be in charge of customer support (fielding phone calls). A third might have the task of backing up vital files and systems.

Make sure that not only does everyone know what they’re responsibilities would be, but that they also know who is taking care of the other aspects.

Practice.

Most people who have any kind of disaster plan in place (some reports note this is less than 39%) don’t actually practice it. Most people also dramatically overestimate their ability to handle stressful situations.

There’s a reason sports teams practice their game,  politicians practice their speeches, and actors rehearse their lines, and that’s to be prepared.

Practice will help you and your team understand what may happen in the event of a disaster. When one happens, though, stress, anxiety, fear, and all those other emotions will impact execution, and the practice you did will help people stay calmer and more focused, which will be crucial for getting your company through those troubled waters.

The Bottom Line

Remember, the more prepared your business is for a potential disaster, the more likely you’ll navigate those times and not just survive, but excel, thrive, and rise above your competitors. It’s easy to assume nothing bad will ever happen, but that’s exactly what almost every single business owner thought before it did. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard: be prepared and diligent in those preparations.

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