by Sue Painter
The plight of the Haitian people and their country is on everyone’s mind. The images we see on the news are horrific, pulling at my heart. Literally, Haiti will have to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. Even with massive aid from many countries, getting the country set up and the people well will take much time.
Disaster visits without warning and quickly. On a personal level, it could be unexpected illness or the death of someone dear. For your business, it might be flood, fire, or an employee who causes harm. Think about the small business owners in Haiti right now. If their business is in rubble they have no way to make money even if they could offer what their customers need most. If their business was left standing there is no security to protect it. Already, many shops have been looted for their goods. Some shop owners have simply opened their doors and emptied out their shop, giving away everything they have.
Your business will withstand disaster only to the extent that you have systems in place that you can lean on when something goes wrong without warning. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are your main concerns.
1. Are your business’s assets insured? What would happen if a disaster caused you to lose your office or the equipment you need to carry out your business? You can either buy insurance or self insure, meaning that you have set aside money that could immediately be used to replace your lost equipment and get your doors open again.
2. Do you have back-up systems in place, and do you use them regularly? Could you recreate your financial records easily? Are your customer records secure and backed up either physically or electronically?
3. Have you thought about how to handle the sudden loss of a key employee? Do you have a comprehensive list of what that person does and how she does it? Do you have a way to get additional help quickly if you lose someone to illness or accident? The more you have your work systems documented in an operations manual, the quicker you can get up and running, back to making income.
4. Have you planned how to handle your business if you become unable to work for a while? Is there someone who knows enough about what you do to step up and fill in until you can work again?
If you are a business owner who truly depends on the money you make, it is vital to have answers to these questions. What I see for many solo business owners is that even the slightest disaster shuts them down completely. These owners ARE their business. When they can’t work, there is no income at all. Even an illness like the flu effectively shuts them down. They’ve never thought about alternatives. Often, the loss of momentum creates a negative spiral that the solo business owner never recovers from. Their business just slowly winnows away.
One of my own businesses suffered a mini-disaster over the past few months, in fact. In early December I had major surgery that I knew would keep me away from the massage clinic I own. Plans were fully in place for my staff to take over my own work with clients. My practice manager was prepped and ready to take care of management and administrative work that I normally handle. My start date to come back to the clinic was set. My clients were all informed and taken care of. Well, while I was still in the hospital, the practice manager’s father was found to be terminally ill. She left town and even now has not returned to work. Four weeks after my surgery, I unexpectedly had to have a second surgery due to complications from the first, making it impossible for me to meet my return to work date. One staff member left unexpectedly. Suddenly, I was down to one hard-working staff member and what I could administratively handle by phone. The systems I’ve put in place for that business saved my bacon, and allowed us to continue to serve clients, make money, and handle at least the bare minimum of administrative work. While I used to chaff over the time it took to put operations manuals and back up plans in place, now I am very grateful that I had them.
Disaster don’t have to be as large as the Haitian earthquake to effectively shut your business down. If you want to recover quickly and continue to make money, get your plans and systems in place and review them at least once a year. Your bank account will show the results and your business will suffer far less than those with no planning at all.