How to Plan for a Natural Disaster and Rebuild Your Small Business Afterward

 

One of the worst things that can ever happen to your small business and livelihood is to be in the path of a natural disaster.

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Floods. Every region of the country can be affected by different kinds of natural disasters, but whatever might befall your business, you need to have a plan in place to recover from it.

Sounds like a good idea, right? You’d be surprised how few businesses are truly prepared. According to FEMA, nearly 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a natural disaster, and Nationwide Insurance claims that 75% of all small businesses have no plan in place to deal with disasters.

Worse yet, even for the businesses that do manage to reopen, more than half of them say it would take them three months minimum to recover. That’s a long time to build back up something you’ve lost, and longer still to regain all the momentum and business you sacrifice while recovering.

No matter what the experts try to tell you, there’s really no way to predict when a natural disaster will occur or exactly how bad it’s going to be. What you can do, however, is prepare yourself for the chance of a disaster and make plans to help you recover more quickly and get everything back to normal:

Create (and review) a disaster plan

However big (or small) your business, whatever industry you work in, creating a disaster plan is critical to mitigating the damage a disaster can wreak on your operations.

These plans are two-fold. The first step involves making sure anything lost or destroyed during a disaster can be safely replaced and restored.

Do you have all of your sales data and customer information backed up on an external server or a cloud? What about your employee documents? Do you have vendors you can talk to in order to quickly replace anything damaged during a flood if your business relies on certain tools or supplies (kitchen equipment, auto repair tech, etc) to operate?

Asking yourself these questions now will give you a better way to answer them if and when disaster actually strikes, or will at least prevent you from flailing around trying to replace everything.

The second step involves talking to your employees. Make sure everyone’s contact information is shared among your staff, or create some kind of internal communications method (chat programs like Slack, email chains, etc.) so everyone can check in, report their status, and keep updated on what’s going on with the business and what needs to be done.

This will go a long way towards preventing confusion, miscommunication, or being unable to get in touch with workers after a disaster.

Protect your assets

You’ve probably gotten the speech about getting business insurance a million times by now, but if you live in an area prone to something like flooding or earthquakes it really is worth considering.

Several different business insurance providers offer specific disaster-related plans to protect your assets in the specific event of natural disasters—or the old “act of God” clause they always use in their policy wording—and the financial boost from these policies can help you get back on your feet and replace needed equipment faster than normal. (If you’re not the kind that likes to deal with insurance companies, FEMA offers public programs to provide insurance against flood.)

Assets, however, are more than just your physical equipment and property. If your business deals with a lot of data and sensitive digital information, even something like a simple power outage can lead to the security of your data being compromised.

Perform frequent backups of your most sensitive information, keep track of the status of any servers or cloud storage you use, and if you can afford it, always invest in redundant systems to step up in the event of a system failure. For further data backup tips, Scott Moyer of data recovery service DriveSavers has this list of tips to help your data backup efforts.

Always communicate

Even if your employees are accounted for and your assets are insured, keeping a clear line of external communication is critical across all aspects of your business.

Leverage any communication methods you have, such as email or social media, to keep your customers, clients, and partners aware of your current status and what your short-term plans are. Reassure your customers that you’re still in business and tell them when you expect things to be back to normal.

Talk to your vendors and business partners to keep them appraised on when you expect to be operating again, what you’ll need from them when you re-open, or when you can resume your normal services (in the event of long-term contracts or service level agreements).

Being as transparent as possible in the event of a natural disaster will help you retain your partners and customers, and will allow you to get started on rebuilding and repairs that much faster.

Look for disaster relief funding

Recovering from a disaster is one of the most costly things your business can encounter, and you’re going to need all the extra money you can find to get things back to normal.

Talk to different lenders to see if they have specific disaster relief loans, contact the Small Business Administration to see if they have any programs related to the disaster that affected you (as they’ve done in the past with major hurricanes like Irma), and keep a close eye on your finances while you work to get back in fighting shape.

Contact your lender

Lastly, if you’re still working on paying off any small business loans, you’re going to want to work with your lender to establish temporary new terms of payment while your business rebuilds.

Many major banks and funding providers will let you waive late fees, set up new payment schedules, and even refund ATM surcharges if your business is affected by a disaster, particularly one like a major storm that affects a wide area of customers. Work with your funding provider to see what you can do to avoid any further hardships while you come back from disaster.

If you find yourself in the path of a natural disaster, these tips should help to get your business up and running again while minimizing loss of assets or finances in the meantime.