Are you prepared for the unexpected? If you are like most small business owners, the answer is “no,” or probably more appropriately, “well, maybe, a little.”


The spring Bank of America Small Business Owner Report found that half of small business owners say they have a plan in place to cope with a significant disruption, such as a natural disaster, medical emergency or major staffing change.


Even with a plan in place, the Report found that, on average, most small businesses could stay afloat for five months before needing outside financial help.


That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things that small business owners think about – getting customers, making payroll, figuring out how to get some time off – but it is probably safe to say that disaster preparedness and planning for the unexpected, is not near the top of the list.


Or, more appropriately, maybe not even on the list.


And that is too bad because a little preparation can go a long way. Let me give you an example:


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A few years ago I was in Cleveland visiting a well-known local market that was famous for various reasons. Aside from the fact that it was just one of those places that people loved, it also happened to be seen of as sort of community “savior.”


You see, back in 2003, there was the “Great Blackout” along the East Coast. While most markets had food spoil, this particular market had planned ahead; it had set up a backup power system a few months before and boy were they Pull Quote June 25.pngglad they did. When the blackout hit, their system kicked in, and they were the only market for miles around to have any fresh food. They became a sort of command center during the crisis, and the goodwill they created lasts even to this day.


So yes, a little preparation goes a long way, especially in this era of Superstorms like Sandy.


Here are some easy preparations that you could make to be ready for the unexpected:


Capital: The Small Business Owner Report found one of the biggest impacts an unexpected disruption has on a business is revenue loss, with almost half of small business owners affected by a significant business disruption experiencing reduced revenue. Following an event, finding capital is important for some basic reasons:


  • You need money to rebuild, maybe over and above what insurance pays
  • You need money for operations
  • You need money for payroll, etc.


So let me suggest that you get a line of credit at your bank. You don’t have to use it, but if you ever need it, you will be happy it’s there.


Backup power: In a store, the need for it is obvious, but less so in an office. However, consider this bad scenario: Your power goes out unexpectedly in the middle of the day and you lose everything you all have been working on.


One solution is an Uninterrupted Power Supply, a giant battery connected to your system that gives you 10 minutes or so to properly save and power down.


Backups: Of course you know the drill – you need to regularly backup all your data. It is better and smarter if you do so remotely, regularly, with a cloud-based service, but even if you do it manually, do it.


Communications: Whether you’re experiencing a temporary business closure or in the midst of staffing changes, it’s imperative to have open dialogue with your employees, customers, vendors and others with whom you do business. While unexpected events can be stressful, as a small business owner it’s up to you to lead by example. Being honest and transparent is a crucial step in that direction.


Finally, videotaping, for insurance and police reasons, the premises and all property at your business is a very good idea.


Has your business been impacted by an unexpected interruption? Share your story 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

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