No one was prepared for the events that unfolded this year. Even the best-laid crisis plans were shaken by the cards we were dealt. And, while Fortune 500 companies and Main Street shops alike were thrown for the same loop, small businesses suffered the greatest disruption.

We learned how important it is for small businesses to be prepared -- for everything. When crises hit, instead of scrambling for solutions, businesses must have a plan for every scenario. Here are four questions designed to help ready your business for what may come next. 

1. What are my top priorities?

When things get tough, priorities are key to keep your focus. For small-business owners with tight profit margins, this is especially important. Start by mapping out the functions of your business, including your employees, assets, real estate, processes, and investments. Which functions are critical to keep your business running? Having your priorities identified beforehand can help you avoid making hasty decisions in the moment. Crises threaten the bottom line; make sure you're making decisions to protect it.

2. What makes my business vulnerable?

As you assess your priorities, you may discover vulnerabilities within your business. Maybe your inventory is exceedingly high or potentially lower than you realized. It's a good practice to look at aspects of your business that are draining your profits or not producing a return on investment. When every dollar counts, it's smart to keep your business lean. Specific crises may make one business more vulnerable than the next. The pandemic bolded the invisible line between essential and nonessential, making "nonessential" businesses extremely vulnerable. While no one predicted being defined in that way, it is valuable to consider the capacity in which your business can operate in different crisis situations.

3. What's the strength of my business?

Identifying your strengths is key to staying afloat in hard times. Whether it's unbeatable prices, a personalized service, or the best slice of pie in town, recognize what keeps your customers coming back. The ability to keep up with industry trends is another important strength that keeps customers engaged. When crisis hits, you don't want to get caught flat-footed with the inability to innovate and adapt to what your customers need. During Covid-19, many businesses shifted online. Digitalization and an understanding of your customers' behaviors can make all the difference in preparing your business for any storm.

4. Where can I get creative?

Creativity is essential in business. When the pandemic hit, small-business owners everywhere got creative with what they had. A local general store owner reached customers via FaceTime to take their orders. Pizza joints sold "pizza kits" for families to make and bake their own pies at home. Local apparel shops started sewing masks for health care workers and community members. Distilleries turned their alcohol into highly sought-after hand sanitizer.

In times of uncertainty, it pays to be creative. Whether it's repurposing inventory, pivoting online, or completely changing the way you offer your services, it's important to keep an open mind to whatever may come next and how you can help in times of need.

This pandemic has taught us (and continues to teach us) many lessons. For small-business owners, it's been no easy feat. The best way to forge ahead? Repurpose the lessons learned into plans for anything and everything that may come next. Preparing means protecting, so start thinking now how you can safeguard your business in the future.