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2011

Back in the day, I practiced law full time (although I have since come to my senses and am now a recovering attorney). My practice consisted mostly of helping small business owners start, finance and exit their businesses. What I loved about this sort of practice, and what I love still, is that entrepreneurs are so passionate about what they do. They love their businesses. They love to plot, plan, grow and conquer.

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSo, I always found it curious that so few spent much time considering their estate plans. Oh sure, a few had a will or living trust, but they were in the minority. In fact, according to the most recent statistic I saw, more than half of all adults, do not have a will, including a shocking 92 percent of adults under age 35, and 44 percent of baby boomers (ages 45-64). That is not really what I am talking about, however. No, what I am talking about is an actual plan for what will happen to your business, assets and family should something bad happen to you.

 

Let me suggest that any smart small business person consider the following as part of their plan:

 

Disability insurance: What would you do for income if you are unable to work for any extended period of time due to injury or illness? That is where disability insurance comes in.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

 

A succession plan: What would happen to your business if you are unable to work there for some time or if you were to pass away? Do you want it to go on? Do you want it sold or liquidated?

 

Undoubtedly, these are not easy questions to answer. But you must answer them.

 

Personal example: My dad was the best entrepreneur I ever knew, and unfortunately, he died when I was but a young man. Fortunately, dad had thought ahead and had a succession plan in place. His plan broke his business into five shares with my siblings and me each getting one share, while his business manager received the final share. His idea was that she (the business partner) would run the business and remain happy as she received a 20 percent stake in the business.

 

It didn’t turn out that way.

 

This is what happened instead: She felt taken advantage of. Even though she “only” received 20 percent she was doing 100 percent of the work (my older brother and I were still in college, so running the business was not a feasible option).

 

In the end, we sold our 80 percent of the business to her. I know it was not what my dad expected or wanted, but it was the only thing that made sense. Even that solution far exceeded anything that would have happened if my dad had not planned ahead. In that case, we likely would have had a fire sale after he passed and would have been a lot worse off.

 

The moral of the story is that succession planning is key to any entrepreneur’s estate plan and must be done thoughtfully and intelligently. If you have partners or shareholders for instance, you will likely want some sort of buy-sell agreement that allows others to buy your share from your estate in an orderly fashion.

 

Financial power of attorney: Another document that is necessary in any good small business estate plan is a financial power of attorney. This gives your agent the ability to make required financial decisions in your plan, i.e., the sale of property or other assets.

 

Life insurance: You likely have life insurance, but if you don’t, get some. Term insurance is very affordable and an incredibly easy way to ensure the financial stability of your loved ones.

 

A will and living trust: Probate and taxes can eat up approximately 50 percent of your estate (or more), but you can avoid that unenviable fate with these two documents. As the purpose of probate is to divvy-up your assets, a living trust helps avoid probate since your trust would own the majority of your assets (not you) and thus there would be nothing of “yours” to probate.

 

In hand with your living trust is a pour-over will. It dictates that whatever else you own at the time of your passing is to become part of your trust.

 

Bottom line: You should always consult a tax professional or licensed tax attorney for advice on your specific scenario. A little estate planning can go a long way to making the lives of your loved ones a lot easier.

 

 


 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Despite the youth obsession of our current culture, baby boomers represent one of the keys to economic prosperity in the coming decade, according to industry pundits as varied as marketing guru Faith Popcorn and economist Harry Dent.  Born in the post-war period of 1946-1964, baby boomers are now in their peak spending years of 47 to 65.   Small businesses may be wise to tailor some of their products and services to a segment that is 78 million strong.  As you think about doing so, there are several things to keep in mind:

 

Boomers.pngQuality Discernment.  People who came of age during relatively prosperous times are used to a certain standard of comfort and reliability in goods and services. They expect state-of-the-art quality not only in their luxury cars and resort-level retirement communities, but in the medical services and technology products they purchase as well. 

 

 

Spending Power.  Since the boomer population represents a large percentage of households earning more than $100,000, they have the discretionary income to support their tastes. In fact, people in the 50- to 60-year-old age range represent about $1 trillion of annual spending power, which is nearly twice that of today’s 60 to 70 year olds. Additionally, baby boomers are expected to keep spending as they age as they are likely to continue to work in their chosen field, start a second or third career, remarry, or receive an inheritance from their own parents.

 

Brand Flexibility.  Older boomers, who grew up in The Sixties, maintain a dedication to individualism and experimentation.  Studies have shown that boomers are more likely to abandon brand loyalty in favor of a new and innovative offering than other market segments. This represents a new way of thinking, as people in network television advertising used to view people over 50 as inconsequential because they were too set in their ways.  However, according to a survey by Leo J. Shapiro & Associates LLC cited in a 2005 Businessweek article, “48 percent of shoppers aged 50 to 59 said they would probably switch brands of consumer electronics, compared with 40% of all respondents.  And 56% of people in this group would try another brand of health-and-beauty product, more than the 51% figure overall.”

 

Boomer spending power.pngSpeak Their Language.  Marketing to baby boomers should be executed in their language.  The annals are filled with marketing failures that tried to appeal to older consumers desire to hold onto their youth, e.g. Mitsubishi’s ad campaign showing older adults dancing to indie rock music and Gap’s showing older actors in their advertisements without actually retooling their product line to fit the average shape of an older consumer.  By contrast, cosmetics companies that celebrate the beauty of the older woman’s non-plastic-surgery-enhanced face have realized significant revenue streams from the boomer market.

 

Recognize the Opportunities.  Small businesses analyzing whether their products or services would appeal to baby boomers should take a look at what older Americans are actually buying.  There are the obvious opportunities for small businesses that cater to the real estate, vacation planning and healthcare needs of this generation.  However, boomers are also buying hardware, software and mobile phones in record numbers in order to remain engaged with far-flung children and grandchildren; seeking investment advice as they tap into their retirement funds; hitting the roads, seas and air in new RVs, boats and aircraft; seeking to remain vital with custom-tailored vitamin regimens and fitness-related services; and taking advantage of the “empty nest” by re-embracing their love lives and cultural interests.

 

Small businesses in almost every industry should consider evolving to serve the baby boomer market. They will find that they have a receptive and economically viable audience for many years to come.

Steve-Strauss-in-article.jpgWe are pleased to announce that nationally renowned small business expert Steve Strauss has joined the Small Business Online Community (SBOC)!  Steve is often called “the country’s leading small business expert,” and is a lawyer, author, and now SBOC columnist.

 

As our new small business contributor, Steve will be providing weekly articles about how to successfully navigate this ever-changing small business environment -  while having fun and making money in the process.

 

 

Biography of Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. And whether it’s giving a keynote, moderating a panel, or hosting a breakout or webinar, Steve is often found speaking around the globe (including a recent visit to the United Nations) and sits on the board of the World Entrepreneurship Forum. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

IT industry.pngOpportunities in high technology continue to abound for small businesses.  This is true for startups, as well as for companies seeking to differentiate their services.  One of our previous articles provided an overview of small business growth industries.  As a follow up, we are going to take a more granular look at the information technology market.  A number of factors are driving this growth including: the increase of speed and lower cost of personal computers and servers, the explosion of cloud computing, the ubiquity of mobile phones and the crossover of popular consumer applications into the workspace.

 

As evidence of the pace of technology innovation, take a look at Moore’s Law, which predicts that computer power and data storage capacity will double every 18 months.  This has borne out from the introduction of punch card computing in 1890 to the coining of the term “cloud computing” in 2007.   In the near future, large companies may dominate the manufacturing of hardware, such as the scalable quantum computer, which is predicted to outperform all computers on the planet combined.  However, there will be ample opportunity for small companies to market peripherals, applications, computer security software, and IT services to support the evolution of these faster, more powerful computers.

 

Demand for companies that focus on hardware, software installation and networking will decrease as companies use cloud computing to access software and data on an on-demand basis. However, there will be a host of new technology specializations related to the cloud.  For example, “virtualization engineering” firms will be needed to design and manage virtual networks; “collaboration technology specialists” will be called upon to advise companies on adopting and deploying collaboration solutions. Lastly, security professionals will need to evolve to provide more robust protection of intellectual property and financial data in the increasingly networked world while staying ahead of hacking techniques.

 

In the mobile technology space, there is, of course, considerable opportunity for start-ups focused on “apps.”  The cost of entry is low; revenue generation potential is high since most apps reach a large number of users, and, if you penetrate an untapped niche, the growth possibilities are even greater.  Additionally, there are numerous specialized opportunities for small businesses in this space, including “mobility consultants” who help integrate a firm’s technology, on-demand translation services via SMS and multimedia solution designers.

 

Moore's Law.pngWith millions of people using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, people are looking for the same ease of use and familiar look when it comes to enterprise technology.  Recent consumer-style technology innovations created by small businesses for the workplace include: a Web-based application that cuts the time taken to do expense reporting by 50 percent, a cloud-based application that human resources departments can use to manage payroll, and others offering consumer-friendly approaches to customer relationship management and email administration.  The opportunity for small businesses in enterprise software is supported by studies that predict the addition of 68 percent more software publishing jobs during the next decade and output growth of 8.4 percent a year through 2012.

 

Opportunities for small businesses in the technology market will only continue to grow.  If you are an information technology start-up, or an established small business looking to expand, do not forget that your best resources are still people.  Network with engineers and consultants: do not forget the influx of highly educated technologists from countries like India, China and Japan; and keep your own technical skills one step ahead of the competition.  Whether you provide simple messaging applications, or the most complex cloud architecture, you will find there is an abundance of opportunity for your services. 

leadership.pngThe typical leadership style of successful small business owners may be different than what some people envision. While small business owners have varying approaches to running their company, there are several best practices to motivate employees and expand business operations. What makes the difference between the 50 percent of small businesses that succeed and the 50 percent that fail within the first five years? 

 

The following are some leadership characteristics of successful small business owners.

 

  • Stay calm.  While entrepreneurs may have more of an appetite for risk and adventure than the general population, small business owners need to remain calm and collected while navigating a high-pressure environment. In fact, small business owners score 45 percent higher than CEOs at large companies when it comes to “performance under pressure,” according to a recent study from Inc. magazine.

   

  • Remember that you are not your company.  While many high-profile Fortune 500 CEOs have become the “face” of their companies, this often does not work as well in the small business world.  Arguably, Steve Jobs is the face of Apple, but he has an organizational infrastructure that enables him to focus on promoting Apple’s vision.  While the idea of high-profile leadership may be tempting for a small business owner, the reality is your company must extend beyond a brand based primarily on your image.

 

  • Use support, not intimidation to motivate. While entrepreneurs may encourage employees to work now for a payoff later, small business owners represented by the Inc. 500 score 82 percent higher than the general population in their capacity to offer support and encouragement.  They do not micromanage.  Instead, they succeed by helping employees and partners reach success and feel ownership of the company.

 

  • Eleanor Roosevelt quote.pngKeep the finish line in view. Similar to an Olympic athlete, a successful small business owner needs to have a clear vision of success. Remaining dedicated to achieving your company’s goals over time will ensure long-term success.

 

  • Find a way to be happy every day.  If the dream you had for your company made you happy, you should find a way to sustain that happiness as your company develops and grows.  There are ways to lead your company that will nurture you in deeper ways – be honest and authentic about why you started the company.  Hire employees who enjoy autonomy, are not afraid to speak up, and share your vision for the company. Tap into the meaning behind your business and the contribution you are making to your employees, customers and community. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:  “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

small business opportunities.pngYou may be thinking of starting a new small business, say a cupcake bar.  Or you might be looking to transition an existing business to a new market, like turning a sandwich shop into an Internet café.  Or you and a potential partner could be weighing the pros and cons of joining forces; maybe you’re a software developer considering a merger with a graphic design firm.

 

No matter which position you’re in, it would help to have an idea of what industries are forecasted for growth in the next decade, right?   The following are some industries that are expected to enjoy burgeoning market potential. Some have revenue growth projections as high as 12 percent and employment growth as high as 10 percent, well beyond the national average.

 

Career and Resume Consulting

As people unemployed during the economic downturn seek to return to the job market, some are finding that they need to “reinvent” themselves.   Finding a way to showcase their experience in a unique way or to reposition experience for a new career direction often requires the assistance of a professional.   Having a background in professional writing or human resources will be of great value if you are interested in starting your own career consulting firm.

 

E-Commerce and Online Auctions

As consumers have become comfortable shopping online for everything from concert tickets to cars, there continues to be tremendous potential for brick-and-mortar businesses seeking to sell their products online; new Internet-only specialty sites, and small companies seeking to sell their products via existing venues like eBay, Etsy, Rubylane and Supermarket.  Perennially hot categories include toys, electronics, sporting goods and furniture, as well as more surprising products like handmade crafts and vintage clothing.

 

Environmental Consulting

As national and international environmental laws become more complex, companies of all sizes are seeking advice on everything from compliance to clean up. While Fortune 500 companies are apt to have both in-house environment health and safety (ESH) staff and contracts with large ESH consultancies, mid-size firms will be looking to small environmental consulting firms to help them stay “green.”

 

Home Health Care

As baby boomers continue to age, the need for medical and logistical assistance in the home is expected to continue to grow.  The numbers tell a compelling story: 7.6 million people were already receiving home health care in 2004 and the industry was commanding $45.2 billion in revenues. Now, employment in this sector is projected to grow 54.5% by 2012.  There will be innumerable opportunities for visiting nurse services; baby nurse companies; and agencies that place home companions.Small Business Specialization.png

 

Internet Services and Data Processing

Consumers have become increasingly dependent on the Internet for keeping in touch with family and friends; researching restaurants and vacation spots; doing price comparisons; storing data; tracking shipments; upgrading software and more. Growth is being fueled by falling device prices, which has led to forecasts of more than 1.4 billion computers worldwide as well as the proliferation of wireless technology. Therefore, experienced information technology consulting firms will continue to be in great demand.  However, bear a few things in mind:  Specializing is better than trying to be all things to all people; a flexible business model is recommended, allowing subcontractors to be engaged when projects demand; and all efforts should be made to parlaying small client projects into larger ones.

 

While this is just a sampling of industries where your small business might find opportunities, over the next few months The Small Business Online Community will offer a series of in-depth explorations of several of these small business growth industries.

A new delicatessen opened on a deteriorating Main Street in a south New Jersey town as part of the renaissance of the once-popular downtown area.  There were a number of competing establishments at a nearby mall, so a unique differentiator was added to the business — a theatrical performance space featuring productions geared toward senior citizens, many of whom live next door in senior housing.  And, perhaps to attract more of the cash-strapped local residents, the deli participates in town-wide promotions, such as the “$8 lunch special.”

 

Fit your community.pngA family-owned insurance business in southern Vermont seems to have been able to compete with large national competitors by building on the long-standing reputation of trustworthiness, creative solutions and good corporate citizenship established by earlier generations of the family.  Many business owners and families in the area entrust all of their insurance needs – home, auto, business and employee benefits – to the small company, perhaps due to a community value system that espouses “staying local” and “one-stop shopping.”

 

These are good examples of new and growing small companies developing their business models to meet the needs of their communities.  The following are less successful examples (please note that these are hypothetical, building on some real-world scenarios that the SBOC community has observed):

 

Perhaps seeking to capitalize on the large number of young affluent families in the area, a high-end maternity store and an expensive toy store opened in a town in Bergen County, New Jersey.  The maternity and toy store may have failed because they missed some of the town’s key values. While many women in town could probably afford a pricey silk maternity top, the trendy, urban clothing was not in synch with the conservative apparel worn by most women in this community. Also, while many upper and middle-class moms may be willing to pay a premium for the convenience of shopping for birthday gifts in town, the disorganized, chaotic feel of this particular toy store may have driven them to the mall instead.

 

A new, hip sushi restaurant joined the cadre of historic and nautically themed stores and cafes in a harbor town in Long Island, New York.  The rationale seemed to be that the families and fishermen who enjoyed seafood at the local eateries would easily segue to upscale sushi-grade fish. Unfortunately, the dress code barring shorts and flip-flops did not match the town’s culture, and the restaurant closed in less than a year.

 

If you are an entrepreneur considering launching a new small business, or expanding your existing business into new markets, you should keep in mind the following to help ensure that your business fits the needs and preferences of your community: Community.png

 

  • Take time to study the types of businesses that have succeeded and failed in your immediate and surrounding communities
  • Ask for feedback from your local chamber of commerce, town government and successful local businesspeople on your proposed small business
  • Analyze your community’s value system and be sure your business plan aligns with these values(i.e. if there’s a strong focus on the environment, make sure your business is “green”)
  • Look for a business niche that fits with your community’s predominant lifestyle and socio-economic status
  • Establish and reinforce your reputation as a generous and responsible community citizen by sponsoring local events, donating to local charities and becoming a visible presence in overall community enrichment
  • In addition to social networking and digital marketing, remember that your local newspapers can be effective channels for promoting your business
  • Use local suppliers and vendors whenever possible
  • If you merge with or acquire another small business that has a strong local reputation, consider incorporating the business name into the new name

 

Whatever type of business you’re opening, you should keep the needs and values of your local community in mind.  After all, your relationship with your community is a two-way street. 

By Christopher Freeburn

 

Small businesses always face big challenges, but being located in a small town can make the usual obstacles even harder to surmount. Small town environments impose certain restrictions on a small business that similar businesses in suburban or large cities simply do not face.

 

Small-biz-Pull-Quote.png“The battle for customers is much more aggressive in a small town compared to a large city,” says Tom C. Egelhoff, a Bozeman, Montana-based business consultant and author of How to Achieve Small Town Marketing and Advertising Success and The Small Town Advertising Handbook. The advantage of doing business in a large city, like New York, is that the sheer numbers of people passing outside your business every day is likely, simply by chance, to bring in many more casual customers in a week than a business in a small town of several thousand people will see in an entire year. “So you need to be much smarter, much savvier, and much more aggressive in small towns than in big cities,” Egelhoff says. The following three tips are critical to small-town success.

 

1. Small business, know thyself

The first step toward developing an effective strategy for competing in a small town is to understand what your business does, who its customers are, and what they want. “Think of it as creating aSmall-business-small-town-in-article.png resume for your business, as if your business was applying for a job with your customers, who are the boss,” Egelhoff says. Making certain that you thoroughly understand your marketplace is critical when operating in a small town since the small population leaves you less room for error. “In a small town, with its limited population, you don’t have the luxury of a slight misjudgment.”

 

Additionally, in small towns, many people will decide whether to visit your business or not, based largely on what they hear other people say about it. The smaller the town, the greater this word-of-mouth effect will be. This is why creating a consistent image for your business is so important. Customers will rely on that image when making the decision where to shop. “Don’t confuse potential customers,” Egelhoff cautions.

 

2. Be careful with pricing and advertising

In difficult times, a small business might be tempted to reduce prices sharply or offer extensive discounts. While that can bring in more customers in the short run, it can also have a negative long-term effect on the business, Egelhoff warns. “What you don’t want to do in a small town is to disrupt the image of your business that you have worked so hard to create,” he says. If your business was perceived as a purveyor of quality merchandise or services, too many discounts and sales might suggest to customers that your products aren’t really as good as they thought, or that you were always overcharging. “Another problem with too many sales or discounts is that they tend to attract the ‘discount customer,’” Egelhoff says. “A regular customer will take advantage of discounted prices, but will also buy merchandise at a the normal price, whereas the ‘discount customer’ only buys at the discount price and will never go up to pay for quality,” Egelhoff explains. If your business becomes primarily associated with discount merchandise and customers, you won’t be able to make money when good times return.

 

When it comes to marketing your business, Egelhoff has two rules for advertising. “First, you never advertise in any medium that you don’t have at least a seventy-five percent expectation that the advertisement will bring in more business than it costs, because advertising should be looked at as an investment, not an expense. It must pay for itself,” he advises. “Second, when emotion comes in conflict with logic, emotion always wins. This means that people buy products or services because of how they make them feel, not because they really need them.”

 

3. Maximize the right kind of customer service

In a small town, most people know each other, and they generally talk to each other. That means that word-of-mouth advertising is simultaneously a small town business’s greatest asset as well as its greatest potential threat. So it is vitally important to provide courteous, responsive service.

 

Egelhoff says that the right level of customer service is “the best service you can provide day and night and remain profitable.” He warns small businesses not to try and take customer service too far. There is only so much you can do to be helpful to customers before you start incurring unacceptable costs. “I think good customer service will help retain existing customers; it probably won’t bring in new customers,” he says.

 

More important than being helpful during the sales process, Egelhoff says, is dealing with complaints. “In a tight-knit community, one person’s bad experience can really hurt your business,” he explains, “because that person will certainly tell friends about it, and word like that spreads quickly.” Egelhoff advises making it easy for customers to complain about products or service to you, the business owner (rather than friends and neighbors), and acting quickly to address those complaints when they are valid. “In a small community, one festering complaint can become poison to your business.

American Small Business.pngAs we observe Independence Day, we should reflect on where our economy has been, where it is headed and what it means for America’s small businesses. The ongoing economic turmoil has created an uncertain environment for small businesses, but they also have the potential to be a main driver of the recovery.  As an owner of an American small business, you have an opportunity to contribute to job growth, highlight America’s commitment to global competitiveness and reinforce the nation’s continuing reputation as a driver of innovation.

 

Small Business Employment Numbers

Many small businesses are planning to add new jobs in the coming months, according to a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business and the ADP National Employment Report. In fact, “micro-firms” with fewer than 50 employees represented more than a third of the jobs in ADP’s report.

 

U.S. Smallbiz.pngAccording to the Report to the President from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) entitled “The Small Business Economy,” small businesses have been responsible for 65 percent (or 9.8 million) of the 15 million new jobs created between 1993 and 2009. Even following economic recessions, small firms have demonstrated they can recover more quickly than some large enterprises. During the recessions of 1990-91 and 2001, firms with fewer than 20 employees were the only ones that showed job growth. During the recent downturn, two sectors highly populated by small firms – healthcare and education – saw increasing employment numbers.

 

In addition, the U.S. government says it is committed to fostering further job growth in the small business sector, pledging additional aid to facilitate expansion and existing operations. Small businesses may also have additional means of attracting the best new employees as a result of the government’s pledge to double the Small Employer Pension Plan Startup Credit and expand the Saver’s Credit to a 50 percent match on retirement savings.

 

 

Increasing Global Demand

American small businesses have shown an increase in export-based revenues. Real exports grew 6.2 percent in 2008 alone, as businesses large and small took advantage of the declining value of the dollar, lowering of trade barriers and the increasing cache of American-made products. Small businesses in particular represent 97 percent of all known exporters and were responsible for 29 percent of transactions – worth approximately $311 billion. Additionally, growth in small business exports and export-related jobs should be facilitated by new legislation, such as the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement that was recently proposed by the Obama administration.

 

Small Explosion of Innovation

Small businesses often prove to be a productive breeding ground for innovation and technological advances, hiring 43 percent of high-tech workers (scientists, engineers, computer analysts, etc.) and producing 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.  Specifically, small businesses represent the following: 98 percent of the companies holding telecommunications patents, 97 percent of the companies patenting software, 92 percent of the companies with patents for aerospace products, 90 percent of companies that have patented pharmaceuticals and medical devices and 87 percent of the companies patenting semiconductor machinery.

 

Whether we recognize small businesses for their contribution to job growth, or champion legislation that will foster global competition and technological innovation, one thing is for certain: Small businesses play an essential role in the U.S. economy. Happy Fourth of July!

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes – from contaminated food in the company cafeteria to a town-flattening tornado. Some involve scandal, others involve money.   All have the potential to dramatically impact a company’s preparedness and responsiveness to its customers.

 

Crisis Planning.pngSmall businesses are especially vulnerable in crisis situations. Only 25-35 percent of small companies have a disaster recovery plan in place and less than 10 percent have crisis management and business resumption plans, according to the Gartner Group. Forty percent of small businesses fail to reopen after a natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake, according to the American Red Cross.

 

The following are several tips that may help you to make sure yours is one of the 60 percent of small businesses that survive a crisis:

 

Arrange for backup.  With some advance planning, your business can operate in the aftermath of a crisis, if not at full capacity, then at least to some extent. You should backup computer data at an offsite location, investigate disaster recovery services that can provide temporary office space and invest in insurance that covers you for any event that could shut down your business. Create a phone tree that will account for their whereabouts, inform employees where to go and when during a disaster.  Once you’re in your temporary location, focus first on immediate needs such as: employee safety and well-being, pending sales, supplier deliveries and customer service.

 

Designate a crisis team.  Put a team in place that will spring into action when disaster strikes. Ideally, the team should include the small business owner, a communications representative and legal counsel.  The team should know where they will meet, what each member’s responsibilities are and what they are allowed to say, and to whom in the event of a crisis.  Once you are ready to communicate with the media, members of the crisis team should be the only spokespeople.

 

Stay on message.  Develop a set of corporate messages prewritten for possible crisis scenarios. Take the time to go through the ten most likely crises that may arise, given your particular industry or business environment.  Thinking about product recalls, lawsuits and other serious issues might not be pleasurable, but planning your response in advance will help you be better prepared for the future. If a crisis occurs, you can use the messages to craft a Q&A that company spokespeople can use when speaking to the media, customers, partners and stakeholders.

 

Never say “no comment.”  Particularly with natural disasters, the shock of the situation may leave you wanting to bury your head in the sand.  It is important to resist this urge.  Although you may not have had the opportunity to fully research the situation, develop a brief announcement acknowledging your awareness of the crisis and promising further communication once your company looks into the details. And, by all means, never give out confusing or false information; this may damage your business irreparably.

 

Be proactive, not reactive.  While you may be bombarded with media calls, you do not have to take every one in real time.  If you’ve already prepared a list of reporters and editors with whom your company has good relationships, you can reach out to them first. In some cases, it may be advisable to give an “exclusive” to the publication with which your company shares the most goodwill.  This is advance notice of the announcement your company will make.  The “exclusive” article will appear in print early on the day that your announcement is distributed to the public.

 

Crisis Mgmt.pngCreate a media “room”.  Your company should have a central repository for all crisis-related announcements and news. The best place to do this is your website.  You can develop “dark pages” in advance that contain basic company information and details about how you respond to a crisis, such as frequency of updates, contact information, etc.  These dark pages can be turned on or surfaced at a moment’s notice.

 

Demonstrate leadership.  Perhaps most importantly, as the public face of the company, the small business owner needs to stay calm and offer reassurance.  One way to personally communicate with stakeholders, customers, business partners and community leaders, is to disseminate a video or voice message on your company’s website or through a social media press release. This message will focus on the company’s response to the crisis.  Further, when it comes to handling employees, remember that they will reflect the same emotions that you display.  Even if you are stressed, try to remain accessible, offer time off if needed and continue to reinforce that your small business is a team that supports and works with each other.

 

No one hopes for a crisis. But if you plan ahead, even faced with the flood of the century, your small business can stay afloat.

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