Is Your Small Business Prepared for Disaster? How to Make Sure You’re Ready for Anything

Small business owners can control what they sell, whom they hire, and how they do business. Having the power to make decisions is one of the reasons many business owners like running the show, rather than working for someone else.

All that still doesn’t give owners power over outside events. Natural disasters, financial crises, and unforeseen circumstances—from the death of a partner to the collapse of a major client—do happen. Preparing for the unforeseeable may be harder than setting aside cash for more predictable setbacks, but small business owners should still make a point of creating a plan of action for when disaster strikes.

Many Small Business Owners Don’t Make Plans

Hope is a deterrent for planning for the worst. Small business owners are often optimistic; by definition, that means they may not entertain the possibility of bad outcomes. These sunny expectations can help with building a business, overcoming daily problems, and fostering a can-do attitude. But the same feeling can be disastrous if it means that forecasts are not accounting for potential breakdowns along the way.

Basic Preparation

You can make a plan even without knowing the exact nature of the disaster that may befall you. Consider the basic line-up—natural disasters, the death or serious illness of a partner, or a financial crisis—and set aside some time to mitigate the main negative effects of each.

First, look into getting the right insurance package. If you’re in a low-lying area, you’ll want to sign up for flood insurance; if your region suffers extreme winter, coverage for hail, snow, and freezing temperatures is what you’ll need. Business interruption insurance is an add-on that’ll compensate you for lost income if physical damage prevents you from continuing business as normal.

Then, set up a plan for communicating with employees and customers in the case of a disaster. You might even draft a sample fill-in-the-blank email that will help you disseminate important information so you don’t have to compose notes in a panic. Back up all important data and keep copies of files outside your physical office. Update your backups quarterly, if not more. You should also start researching your options for disaster loans, should you need help getting back on your feet.

Finally, if you have a partner, find a time to sit down a discuss a succession plan, in the case of an emergency.

Once you’ve put your plan in writing, drafted some emails, and signed up for insurance, you can file your preparations away, so that sad possibilities don’t derail your daily work or sunny demeanor.

Business After the Black Swan

The “black swan” is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a 2007 book of the same title. His point is that we are all terrible at planning for events we cannot imagine. When an unexpected episode then occurs and is big enough to take a toll on the markets or our industry, we are almost always unprepared.

By taking the steps above, you’ll have a better chance at resiliency. After a disaster happens, follow the plans you set up. Employees will look to a strong leader in this time, so you’ll want to put on a brave face and communicate clearly, even if you’re anxious about the damage.

As you rebuild, loans may help you get back on your feet. The Small Business Administration offers low-interest, long-term loans specifically intended to help businesses after disasters that affect them either physically or economically. The interest rate ranges from 4 to 8 percent, depending on a business’s access to other credit, and repayment is up to 30 years.

“Accelerate Through the Curves”

Whenever a situation is out of your control, it’s tempting to sit back—or even hide—and wait for all the trouble to disappear. But as a business owner, your company will have a better shot at surviving and thriving if you accelerate through the curves, like a racecar driver.

Unfortunate events will probably transpire during your tenure as an owner, but they only develop into really bad outcomes if you allow them. Instead of wallowing in an unfortunate status quo, gather your wits and see how to make the best of a situation, inventing new products or tweaking your service to respond to a changing reality.

You may not know what type of disaster will strike, but still, it pays to be prepared for what you cannot predict by making a plan. Fortunately, once the plan is in place, you can simply go back to being optimistic.