Every year, around the world, tens of thousands of small businesses are badly disrupted by natural disasters (and sometimes man made disasters). I know that in Australia alone, we face fire, floods and cyclones constantly. The cost both financially and emotionally is huge. Businesses can be disrupted for anything from a few days to a few months. So what should you do to when disaster hits your business?
1. Start by setting up communication to the outside world.
The first step in the rebuilding process is to make sure you are connected to the outside world and this normally means a working telephone and an email connection. It might mean hiring some computer equipment or getting your mobile phone set up for internet connection (if you haven't already. Even setting up a TV in your building helps to make you feel connected to the rest of the world.
2. Break the rebuilding process into smaller, more manageable chunks
When standing in a devastated office, shop of factory, the amount of things that need to be done can be totally overwhelming. The best way to deal with this is to break the big and overwhelming "to do's" into small more manageable chunks. Start on the smaller jobs, one by one, and before you know it you will be back on track.
3. Let your suppliers know what is going on - they will want to help
Remember that if your business is not making money neither are your suppliers, so it is in their best interest to help you get up and running as quickly as possible. Even though it might be a few weeks before you are ready for stock or replacement equipment, place the order now so that you are in the system. Talk about payments - it is better to be upfront and clarify what you need, especially if there is an insurance claim pending. You might be surprised how flexible your suppliers will be.
4. Talk to your bank and credit card providers
Cash flow is going to be a big issue, particularly in the short term. Make the call to your bank and to any institution where you have credit and let them know what has happened. Most of the time they will be supportive by deferring repayments. Regardless of whether you need this right now or not, think about longer term cash flow. On another note, if you take credit cards in your business you might want to get a hold of a manual machine to at least be able to process credit card payments with the old "click clack machine". It is very likely that there will be many power interruptions once the rebuilding process starts. Down time due to power cuts or telephone line upgrades can mean lost sales - clearly the last thing you need now.
5. Keep your staff informed
This is a tough time for employees in small businesses in particular. They know that the business owner generally doesn't have a lot of money and with none coming in, plus the cost of the rebuild, their job is in jeopardy. Tell your staff what is happening, be honest and lay it on the line. As hard as it is, the pressure of doing what you need to do as well as trying to protect your staff from hard news is simply too much. You might just be surprised by the response from your staff - most will roll up their sleeves and do what they can to help, regardless of whether they are getting paid or not. .
6. Keep new records, take photos, keep samples of damaged stock and equipment
When confronted with a pile of rubble or a foot of mud, our initial desire is to get rid of it all so that we can start with a clean slate. But it is important to take photos along the way that show the extent of the damage to stock, to buildings and to equipment. This is important for insurance claims, many of which won't be paid unless there is some record or proof of damage.
7. Manage your physical and emotional well-being
It is very easy to get sick at a time like this. The emotional toll is enormous, something we can easily overlook. Add to this working long hours in less than ideal conditions and the potential to get really ill is extremely high. You simply have to take care of yourself as this is a marathon event.
8. Let your customers know what is going on
As soon as you are operating again, even if it is in reduced capacity, hang that shingle out, turn on the lights and yell it from the street corner. It is vital that you get customers coming back to your business and spending money as quickly as possible and believe me, they will want to support you and your business.
9. There is always an upside -
I know that it is hard to see the upside or the bright side of things at a time like this, but life somehow always seems to give us an unexpected positive when faced by adversity.
I feel that in this instance it is a chance to think about your business, the changes you have been meaning to make but never quite seem to get around to. It is the opportune time to think about your future, what you want out of your business and where you are heading. It is a time to rebuild not just your business but also your dreams and your goals.
Most importantly it is a time to think about what you have, not what you have lost, and to be grateful.