Not long ago, I was overseas for a business trip. I went out to dinner with some colleagues and we were having a great time, although the woman next to me seemed preoccupied with her smartphone; texting to and fro. When she came up for air, I asked her what was going on and she explained that she owned a high-end art gallery back in New York and that she had just gotten word that a pipe in her shop had apparently frozen, thawed, cracked, and burst, ruining over $100,000 of art. Yes, she had good reason to be preoccupied.
More than any other season, winter is a time when Mother Nature reminds us that the best laid plans often go awry. While you might be readying that Mid-Winter Sale or quick getaway, the season may have other plans in store for you.
Similar to the dog days of summer, the dead of winter can bring unpredictable weather and affect both employee attendance and productivity of your small business. So this is a good time to make some contingency plans and get your business and employees ready for winter weather. It is essentially a four-step process:
Step 1: Winterize: The very first step in any winter plan is to winterize the store or office just as you would your home. Check pipes and windows and eves. Clear storm drains. Get extra supplies and store them in a safe place in case anyone is ever stranded at your business. Additionally, consider getting a backup generator in case you lose power during a storm. Finally, be sure to review your insurance needs and policies.
Step 2: Assess contingencies: For the small business facing potential harsh winter storms, the assessment should look at:
- The type of likely storm or other disruption;
- The potential for power outages;
- The possibilities of equipment failure; and
- Employee safety and ability to get to work
Step 3: Plan: Based on your assessment above, the next obvious step is to plan for these contingencies. Bad weather can close a business for a day, a week, or more. Anything more than a week usually becomes a very big deal for most small businesses, so your winter plan has to include ways to keep things going as much as possible during any weather-related incident.
The first step here is to create an emergency committee (or contact person for the very small business) that will be in charge of communicating contingency plans to other employees. These communications should include:
- Emergency contact information for all employees, including home phone, mobile phone, personal email and family contact information;
- Instructions for a communications chain if necessary;
- A list of alternate ways to get to work, other than by car; and
- A contingency plan for operating the business remotely
Step 4: Rehearse and test: The SBA suggests that it is a good idea for a small business to engage in a “table top” exercise whereby an imaginary weather emergency is acted out. Who will do what, when, and how? Does your plan actually work? Are there gaps in the system? This exercise will help you iron out any kinks in the plan.
After the table-top evaluation, it is also smart to then test out any backup computer and continuity systems you have put in place— after all, the point of all of this planning is to make sure that no matter what obstacles the winter weather presents, you will be able to keep your business running. Says the SBA:
“Testing is a critical component of business continuity planning. If your systems went down, how long would it take to get them up and running again, and what would be required to achieve that goal? Testing your plan is the best way to ensure that your business will remain in operation no matter what, or that it can be quickly restored under any circumstances.”
In some climates, winter is an especially dangerous season. Smart entrepreneurs take the necessary preventative steps to make sure that his or her business and employees remain safe and sound.
How have you planned for the winter weather? Tell us how below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. 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. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.