- Natural disasters may be out of our control, but we can plan ahead and be prepared to respond and recover from them.
- What you do in advance may be more important than what you do after the disaster hits.
- Know who to call, and what resources and programs are available to assist your business.
In recent years, there have been fires in California, earthquakes in Mexico, and devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and the U.S.
All these natural disasters take their toll on people and communities in big ways. Making sure you and your loved ones are safe after a disaster is priority No. 1, but for business owners, making sure they are able to rebuild after a natural disaster is next in line.
Industry experts offered the following tips for rebuilding your business after a natural disaster.
1. Communicate with employees, customers and stakeholders.
David Rusenko, CEO and founder of Weebly, notes that initial communication and sharing what happened is key.
"It's hard to figure out where to prioritize when your business is hit by a natural disaster," Rusenko said. "While you get organized and figure out a plan, it's critical to communicate as quickly and transparently as possible with your existing customers and new customers who are searching for you online."
The first step, he suggested, should be updating your website's homepage or blog. Customers' patience, empathy and support will only get stronger when they realize that one of their favorite small businesses has been impacted.
Thomas Phelps, vice president of corporate strategy and chief information officer at Laserfiche, added that using your website, social media channels and text messaging to reach your employees, customers, partners and vendors is important.
2. Contact your insurance company.
Once your employees are safe and accounted for after a disaster, survey the damage, Phelps suggested. Contact your insurance company to file a claim. You should do an occasional checkup to ensure you have adequate coverage for major disaster types. Office break-ins and vandalism may occur during a natural disaster, and if someone steals computer equipment of paper documents containing personally identifiable information, and the information was not encrypted, you may have a legal requirement to notify customers, Phelps said.
To be safe, encrypt your customer data, digitize paper documents, and store all critical data in a secure, cloud-based document management system.
3. Use your online presence to help the community.
After a natural disaster, people are always looking for ways to reach out and help, but not all of those people can be on location.
"Give them a way to support your shop and your community with a donation or purchase," Rusenko said. "People are always looking for ways to help recovery efforts, and supporting a small local business is a great way to support a recovering community."
To achieve this, he said, make sure that your online store is updated with current products. Not only will this allow you to continue to make sales, it's a great way to spread awareness about recovery efforts personally and in your community.
4. Check your backed-up data.
Phelps said you should already have backed up and safely stored your most critical data: your business license, major contracts and legal documents, tax returns and financial statements, and other critical business and customer documents. Following a disaster, make sure your vital records are still securely accessible from the devices you're using.
Your business continuity plan should prepare you for major disaster scenarios, such as the loss or unavailability of IT systems, key people or a facility third party facility. Make sure personnel will have access to the plan on secured mobile devices immediately after a disaster, said Phelps.
5. Evaluate your business model.
After a natural disaster, you may want to take a look at your operations and see if there are ways to expand or shift your business model to ramp up sales going forward, said Rusenko.
"It's a good time to assess if you're exploring every possible channel with your business – online, offline, inbound leads, email marketing, social marketing, etc.," he told Business News Daily. "Taking a step back and making small changes can help with reaching your goals and recovering from a potential drop in sales."
6. Plan ahead.
One of the best ways to recover from a natural (or other) disaster is to have planned for it. In addition to the business continuity plan mentioned above, there are some important steps you should take before anything goes wrong, that can help you recover and rebuild in the aftermath. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends that small businesses cultivate partnerships in their local communities. This includes other businesses, local governments and nonprofits. Having these relationships in place ahead of time will help you know who to reach out to when things go wrong.
7. Know who to call.
You already have an insurance agent, but do you know that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration) have resources as well? They even made a YouTube video that shares resources and support programs.
8. Assess your vendors.
Another way to plan ahead is to look at the vendors you rely on. Even if you have a great business continuity and disaster recovery plan, do you have any idea what your critical suppliers are planning to do? Dun & Bradstreet highlights the importance of asking the tough questions before the storm hits, not after. If one of your third-party vendors isn't prepared, you can work with that company to improve, or look for a better supplier.
9. Be flexible and compassionate with employees.
While you want to get back to work as quickly as possible, recognize that your employees may be torn between their jobs and their personal situations, depending on whether they were impacted at home. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests that flexibility will pay off if you allow employees to return to work at their own pace, or perhaps to work remotely if that is feasible following a business interruption.