When flooding or other disasters occur, it is important that businesses are able to maintain their critical operating functions. Planning ahead to minimise disruption can often have significant business benefits at relatively little cost, but what happens if you do not have a disaster recovery plan in place? For most small businesses, the next steps can be crucial in order to continue operations.
Maintaining business during an emergency
During disaster recovery it will be necessary to continue operations as much as possible. Your key aim will be to ensure that your business continues operating and that you can retain an income. Ask yourself, what is the minimum you need to continue trading? Consider things like premises, staff, stock, tools, communication and cash.
The questions below are aimed mainly at small businesses and sole traders, but some of the principles also apply to larger companies.
Is it beneficial to seek advice and mentorship?
Do not hold back on seeking professional advice and support. Talk to a business advisor and possibly other businesses who have had a similar experience previously. If time permits, and if it is practical, consider forming a peer group with other businesses in the immediate area.
Do you need temporary premises?
Consider whether re-opening is a viable option, or whether you need to relocate to temporary accommodation (business centre, hotel, home, market stall etc). Make sure that you and your staff can work effectively from any temporary set-up.
Will a virtual office be beneficial for maintaining a professional image?
This could be a good short-term solution to maintain telephone answering, mail forwarding and other office-based services. This can be particularly useful for a service-related business.
What essential services do you need (communications, energy, water)?
Severe disruption may make it impossible to trade from flooded premises. How long before services can be resumed, can ‘mobile services’ do the job or do you need to move? Do not forget that you still need to ensure that relevant health, safety and environmental requirements are adhered to.
Does your business rely on transport?
If your service and delivery vehicles are unusable, consider whether you need transport in the short-term. If the answer is yes, then could hiring vehicles be a viable solution?
Are the right staff, skills and tools in place to maintain key business functions?
Make sure that employees are allocated the most appropriate roles in the current situation, they understand what is required of them and they are appreciated. Some staff may excel with skills that you were previously not aware of and some may need to take up other activities. They will all need the right tools to do the job and you need to make sure you have sufficient funds to pay them.
Have you got enough stock to see you through?
You will need sufficient stock to ensure customers will still be interested in buying or to fulfil existing orders. However, are there also opportunities to dispose of damaged stock and what is the cost implication for your business in doing so?
Are there alternative ways to sell your products?
Turning to eCommerce and online auction/sales tools could provide a short-term solution if premises are a longer-term problem. If this is an unfamiliar area for you, ensure that you take advice from a professional and reputable service provider.
Do you have ways of taking payment?
If you are heavily dependent upon card payments then ensure that you have facilities in place, or that you fully understand implications of not being able to offer this service. You can also establish whether you can offer alternatives to card payments and what processes need to be put into place (if any) to accommodate this.
Are your business records fully accessible?
If not, you will need to decide which records are essential and a priority for short-term trading. Consider whether you need customer information, financial reports, stock controls, invoicing, or information about creditors/debtors at this time. If you do, how can you make these files accessible in the shortest time possible?
Do your customers know what is happening?
If you are going to be going to be out of action for a considerable period of time, customers are more likely to be loyal if you keep them informed (newspapers, mailshots, email, word of mouth). Let your customers know what is happening as soon as you have a recovery plan in place. Prioritise contact with customers particularly if there is ongoing work that is affected.