You live in Florida. You've seen the destruction that just happened in Houston. You know that a super-storm, Irma, is heading in your direction (and another one, Jose, is close on its heels). You may have already lived through a hurricane or two, or even three already. You are aware that these storms can end businesses forever...or not.
But I do have some good news for you: this is not the 19th century. We have forecasters. We know that these storms are on their way and the first is expected to hit you by late Sunday/early Monday. Maybe it won't be as bad as they say. But you can't take that chance. You still have time to prepare.
You still have time to do these five critical things:
1. Don't think about Monday. Think about three Mondays from now.
Close your business now...and expect to be closed for at least two weeks. As I write this, the first storm is still about four to five days away. But you will need two of those days to prepare your business, and then the next three days for you and your employees to evacuate and be with your families. Don't wait until the last minute, and don't try to squeeze in an extra day of sales before taking action. It's not worth it.
You've learned that if a storm is bad enough--like Harvey, Katrina, or Sandy--your business could be closed for weeks afterward. (And there are potentially two storms!) Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Think ahead about all the things you are able to do today that you will not be able to do in just a few days and possibly for a few weeks.
2. Take inventory.
Load up your car (or have employees load up theirs) and move inventory, files, and paperwork out of the office--or to higher ground. If employees or friends are evacuating north out of the storm's path then see if they can help. Regardless, walk around your facility.
Take lots of photos. Make lots of lists. Assume that it'll all be lost. Document every bit of inventory, equipment, furniture, computers, and other items of value and save those documents online (try DropBox, Microsoft One Drive, Google Drive, or any other online storage service).
Also, make sure all your data is saved to these places too. Have you signed up for an online backup service like Carbonite? You should.
3. Communicate with your community.
Get an email out to everyone who does business with you and let them know that you'll be closing and could be closed next week. Do this so that they can prepare. They'll appreciate the heads up. They may need to buy from a competitor in the short term or have to make other plans. Don't worry. People are essentially good, and so are you. They'll be back.
Find an independent contractor (try UpWork or even Craigslist) who does marketing and doesn't live anywhere near Florida. Hire that person, send over a list of all your customers (and others in your community) and exchange mobile phone numbers.
Next week, even when power is out, you can have that person send periodic emails to your community to keep them up to date on your business, your safety and your timetable for getting back to work...and getting their work done. Of course they care about you, but business is business.
4. Talk to your insurance company.
You may have to wait on hold for a while, but do it. Confirm all of your policies and coverage. Ask them for any particular actions you should be taking right now that will help get reimbursement from them fast (they will be helpful because they want to minimize their losses too because let's face it, it's not a great time to be in the insurance business). Get phone numbers to call for immediately after the storm. Ask them about who to call for state and federal assistance, too--they'll have the numbers.
No one's going to sell you more insurance but you'll want to know any exposures you have so you can plan in advance...and brace yourself for any financial impact.
5. Huddle with your employees.
Your people are your biggest asset. Inventory can be replaced. Buildings can be rebuilt. But getting your employees back to work as soon as possible is vital for you and for them. You should meet with every single one of them today. Make sure they have enough time to evacuate and be with their families.
Get their contact information and backup information. Assign pre- and after-storm tasks for each person. Establish a place where you can all collaborate and communicate (try setting up a Google Hangouts or a WhatsApp group--something that can be accessed wherever there's internet or a data connection). It will be very important for everyone to get back to normalcy after this storm passes so talk about what your plans are for doing this.
Just remember: the survival of your business isn't just about you. It's about your employees, customers, partners, suppliers and all their families in your community who rely on what you do for their livelihoods. Do these things for them. Don't be one of those small businesses that "never recover" from a storm. You're a Floridian. You've been here before. You're better than that. Stay safe.
Now stop reading this and get to work!