After Hurricane Matthew, many in its path struggled to get back to square one — families, municipalities, and corporations — but small businesses bore the brunt of the brutality.
More than three months after the storm’s initial destruction, many business owners are still trying to find their feet, paying recovery expenses out of their own pockets when government loans aren’t enough.
Struggling to grow back the customer base that existed before the storm struck is a story to which many small businesses owners who live in the path of bad weather can relate. After Hurricane Katrina, for instance, small businesses were the ones most likely to close permanently, unable to recover from the damage that was done.
For many, the death of a small business at the hands of a storm is simply one of life’s inevitabilities — but it doesn’t have to be. For companies small in stature or young in years, the more they prepare for a battle of wills with the elements, the better chance they have to survive weather’s best shot.
Are the hardships that hit a small business during an extreme weather event really insurmountable? To answer these questions, we should start by examining some common obstacles businesses run into during a storm:
As it turns out, running a business if no one shows up to work is pretty difficult. Weather can stop a business in its tracks — snow and ice, heavy winds, or flash floods are all major obstacles for getting to work. While major corporations with thousands of employees might be able to work around this, small businesses only have so many options.
An extreme weather event can affect customer behavior in many ways. The most obvious being that customers don’t go out during a storm, but that’s only one part of it.
Before and after a weather event, customers will enter a store to buy specific items related to pre-storm preparedness and post-storm recovery — and that will change based on the storm type. Additionally, the amount of purchased items needed can catch an unprepared storeowner off guard. Case-in-point: Suddenly, the snow shovels that have been idle for the past several months are now out of stock at your store, as well as at most other stores around the city.
Major corporations perform serious research to predict these changes and have the right supplies in stock. Many small businesses, however, often overlook this variable in the run-up to a storm.
While a weather-related power outage that lasts a few hours will usually only put a minor dent in the bottom line, weather-influenced blackouts that continue for days and weeks can cause serious damage to the financial outlook of a business.
While bigger companies can probably withstand a storm and still survive, prolonged power outages can be deadly for a small business. These are difficulties small business owners can easily foresee. It’s just up to them to take the necessary precautions to guarantee things continue to run smoothly.
Thankfully, bad weather doesn’t have to stop your business in its tracks. There are specific strategies and preparations you can make to ensure that your business runs, if not as usual, as well as it possibly can during difficult weather:
Believe it or not, most employees don’t want to miss work, even in bad weather. When surveyed by Unified Communications Services, only about 6 percent of workers said they took the day off completely due to bad weather.
Ideally, many of your employees will be able to work from home — an increasingly common bad-weather solution. However, when that isn’t possible, it’s important to not only allow extra time for employees to get where they need to be, but actually build in extra time for everything — including your supply chain.
Have a plan of action ready for monitoring local news bulletins and alerts from police, the local office of emergency management, media, and the transportation department.
Nowadays, many local sources will have Twitter or Facebook pages where you can keep abreast of the situation. This way, you have up-to-date information, including road closings and re-openings, government services, power outages and more.
Often, counties and cities will have methods of mass notification to alert its citizens on important updates. Sign up for these ahead of time, because once a storm hits, new applicants can be slow to come online. Above all, make sure those employees attempting the trek to work know that being on time isn’t what’s most important — staying safe is.
Analyzing the risks associated with the weather is about more than just understanding what type of weather a certain region can expect. Bring in a professional weather service that can apprise you of the weather-related risks to your business and help you put the right response plans in place before a paralyzing weather event has the chance to bring your business to a halt.
Weather can be unpredictable at times or changes to the forecast can come suddenly, which is why it’s important to prepare for every possibility — that way, you can never truly be caught by surprise. Pay specific attention to weather forecasts for days in advance — ideally you should have a service that will give you real time alerts, as well as longer-range forecasts — and communicate any possible extreme weather events to your staff immediately.
This approach assures that your whole team can perform any preparations that need to be made in advance while on your time schedule and that you can wait out the storm in your best-case scenario.
Always have more than one method of communication to get you through a storm. Cell towers can go down or become overwhelmed, power lines can get hit cutting out your access to the internet and Voice Over Internet Protocol options; even landlines aren’t foolproof when it comes to bad weather.
Fortunately there are lots of options. Put walkie-talkies in the warehouse, equip every location with a landline, subscribe to a VoIP mass notification service, make sure employees know the advantages of texting, and inform everyone of the Twitter or Facebook accounts they can follow to get updates if all else fails.
Educate yourself — as well as your employees — on every form of communication available. Don’t limit your contact to only employees, either; stay in touch with your vendors, and talk with them ahead of time to ensure they’re prepared to keep deliveries coming.
Even in the most dire circumstances, no one should ever be flying blind. Advance planning and keeping the lines of communication open assures that everyone can work together toward the common goal of staying safe and getting back to business quickly.
Bad weather can mean bad business, but it doesn’t have to. With the proper data, preparations, and expectations, a business can still thrive, even during the meanest of storms.
Anything to add to the plan of attack shown above? Are there any other obvious obstacles small businesses might encounter when facing weather-related issues? Feel free to comment below and continue the conversation.