Preparing for the unexpected is a key element of small business ownership. The Bank of America spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report found that many entrepreneurs are taking steps to prepare their business for unexpected events, but there’s still room for improvement. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Bank of America Head of Small Business Sharon Miller shares tips on how to prepare for unexpected events including disasters, cyberattacks, reputational crises and more.
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Gregg Stebben: Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, I'm here with Sharon Miller. She is the head of small business for Bank of America, we're talking about the new Small Business Owner Report that Bank of America just released. Sharon, welcome.
Sharon Miller: Thank you, Gregg, for having me.
Gregg Stebben: Really a fascinating report here, among other things, you asked small business owners how they're preparing for the unexpected. Things that could potentially disrupt their businesses like natural disasters, cyber security issues, reputational threats. Give us a summary of the things you found.
Sharon Miller: First of all, the good news is a majority of entrepreneurs do have a continuity plan in place. Entrepreneurs are recognizing the need to prepare for disruptive events, like you talked about. Whether it be a natural disaster, maybe a cyber breach, so they're thinking about it, and nearly two thirds do have a plan in place, but that still leaves one-third without any planning at all, which is troubling.
Gregg Stebben: We're going to talk here about some things that small business owners and entrepreneurs can do to put a continuity plan in place. Let's dive into some specifics here. First of all, accidents and disasters, like a fire or a flood, what should I be doing? What should I be thinking about? What steps should I be taking to prepare for that?
Sharon Miller: When you think about protecting your business, first of all for a flood, for a fire, or other natural disaster, you want to make sure that you have an insurance policy in place. And what we found, was about half of the small business owners that we surveyed did have an insurance policy in place. But again, that leaves half that did not. Also, you want to be thinking about backing up your files, because what if a flood happens? What if something damages your computer system? Make sure that you're continually backing up your files, because you've got all your records, you've got your clients, all the things that you need to understand what's happening with your business, your tax records. Make sure that you have them backed up.
And then, the communication protocol for employees. Those entrepreneurs that have employees, make sure that you've got some type of calling tree. So, if something happens who calls who? And making sure number one, all of your employees are safe, and then from there, what happens to report back to work? Is the business open? So that you have that open line of communication with your employees. Those are some of the steps you can be taking, and we want to make sure that entrepreneurs are thinking about it. Because, you've got to plan for the unexpected, you never know when it's going to happen.
Gregg Stebben: Obviously buying fire insurance, accident insurance, flood insurance, those are pretty obvious things, even if you're not doing it, you know you should. I think backing up your systems is essential, and there's lots of tools available today that make that very easy and affordable. I love you bringing up the idea of communications protocol, because I think that's something that would escape many, many businesses until they hear it, like in this interview with you, or frankly until something bad happens and they don't have a communications protocol.
Sharon Miller: That's exactly right. And I think about Bank of America. In Houston, we had the hurricane, and that was the first thing we go to, the communication. Check in on our employees. Are you okay? What's happening? Because we want to make sure, for the safety of our employees, and again we didn't anticipate a hurricane coming, but you've got to plan for the unexpected. And the safety of our employees is of the utmost concern, that's the number one thing for any business. Making sure they're safe, and then giving them the instructions on what happens. Will we be closed? When are we going to reopen? How do you report back to work? All of those things are necessary.
Gregg Stebben: Now, for accidents and disasters, like fires and floods and things like that, it seems like the steps are pretty obvious. Especially, now that we've talked about them. Buying insurance, making sure you're prepared in advance, backing up all your data and your systems, having a communications protocol. I love that idea. The next thing we're going to talk about is a little harder to prepare for, it's a reputational crisis. What happens if something happens to your company's reputation? What should we be thinking about there?
Sharon Miller: Reputational management is so important, and it's critical to business success. And what we found on that front as well, is only one quarter of small business owners have a crisis management plan in place. And it is something that absolutely needs to be developed to address reputational issues, and at least three quarters that don't. So, how are you actively managing your social media? How are you making sure that you are out there visible and ensuring that there are good reviews?
We asked about reviews in this report as well, and what did business owners think about reviews, negative versus positive. By and large, the business owners told us, “We think the positive review is much more effective for our business.” And I think they're missing a big piece, because something written negative about your business, just one person, that can have a rippling effect through people reading social media, can create doubts about your company.
So, it's important that you consult, whether it be for cyber issues, cyber security specialists, there are companies out there managing social media, so all of those things are important to the reputation of your company and your brand. You're building a brand for your business, and so you want to make sure that there's nothing detrimental out there, and when it is, that you're able to take action and address it. Because you're always going to have issues. There're going to be service issues, there's going to be things that go wrong. And what I always say, “It's not that things will go wrong, it's how you fix them and address them when they do.” Because consumers know, everything is not going to be perfect every day. But it's when you make a mistake, how do you recover, and how quickly can you recover and make it right for that client?
Gregg Stebben: I'm really glad you said that, and in fact in an earlier interview, which you can hear as part of the Heartbeat of Main Street podcast. We talked with a company called PSP Diesel, and we talked about exactly how you can use your reviews to build your business, and what to do to be prepared in the event that you have a bad review. So, that's another great podcast to listen to. We're talking with Sharon Miller about the new Bank of America spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report. Sharon is the head of small business for Bank of America. We've been talking about things like natural disasters, fires and floods. We've talked about reputational crisis, let's talk about cyber security. Do you have any tips for things we should be thinking about, to make sure that our businesses are secure?
Sharon Miller: Absolutely. Well, the top three actions that we find for business owners, when it comes to cyber and making sure that you're prepared for a cyber-attack: one, make sure you're installing security patches and updates. This is a pretty simple step. When there's a security patch, when there's an update, make sure everything is up to date. Make sure you're securing your customers’ data, you've got to make sure that data is secure, that is a trust factor with your clients, and making sure that all the data that you have on them, for them, about them, that it is very, very secure.
And then as you have confidential documents that are floating around your office, that you have as a part of doing business, you got to make sure they're securely disposed. You can't just throw them away, you make sure that they're shredded, that they're securely disposed, picked up, however it is that you are filing those things away. It's got to remain very, very confidential, because yes, cyber we think of the security on our computer, but it's also papers that could be laying around. All of those things have to be secured and have to be disposed of properly so that you can protect your clients’ interests.
Gregg Stebben: You know what's really interesting to talk about here, relative to cyber security, that you brought up, it's not just cyber security, but security includes being aware of and handling appropriately what you're doing with physical paper as well. The great news that I think about that is, that you can outsource that. There's lot of best practices, you don't have to invent this for yourself, you just have to go and find the vendor, or the partner that can handle it for you. And know that you're in good hands, because it's their area of expertise, it doesn't have to become your area of expertise.
Sharon Miller: Not many companies have the luxury to hire a chief technology officer or a cyber expert. So, it's important that you go and contract with other vendors that have this specialty, and that's what small businesses do. You can't afford to not invest in this for your business, and whether it be through the computer or for the physical papers that you have floating around in your office, it's important that they're handled correctly. Because when a reputational issue hits, sometimes it's not recoverable.
Gregg Stebben: We're talking about Bank of America's new spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report. We're talking with Sharon Miller, Sharon is the head of small business for Bank of America. Sharon I want to ask you one last question, because we're talking about things that businesses need to do to be prepared for all kinds of unexpected things. And the last thing I want to ask you about is another type of event that small business owners have no control over, and that's an economic downturn. What should we be doing to be prepared for that?
Sharon Miller: Business owners are not as optimistic about the local and national economy as they have been in the past. But they are optimistic about their business, and their prospects for growth over the next 12 months. No matter how you feel about your business, it's important to make sure you're preparing for the unexpected. So, number one, make sure you have an emergency fund. Things may not always be going great. The number one reason why businesses go out of business, is because they're not managing their cash flow appropriately. We just launched out Business Advantage 360 platform, for business owners this first quarter and over 400,000 business owners have already gone on this platform and what we're hearing is, “Wow, this is great information. It’s great tools, it's helping us manage our cash flow, which is a huge concern.”
So, make sure you've got an emergency fund, and that you're appropriately managing that cash flow. Two, make sure you've got some alternative business plan, reducing your overall expenses. Because when times get tough, you don't want to have to close the doors. You can cut back a little. How can you reduce expenses? How can you be managing that P&L, so that you're able to stay in business through the ups and the downs? And then, opening a line of credit. Most people come to a bank to open a line of creditwhen they need it. To me, it's part of a foundation of smart credit.
Read next: 10 Cash Flow Tips for Small Businesses
Get a line of credit established, even if you don't need one, because there may be a time when you do. And when you do need one, that might not be the time when you can qualify. So, as you're planning your business and as you're managing your cash flow, be sure you're working with a specialist, with a banker that can help you think about these things. So that when times get tough, because it's not if, it'll be when. History repeats itself, there are cycles that go on in business. So, you've got to make sure that you're working with a partner who has seen these cycles and who can help you plan for the unexpected.
Read next: Creating a Balanced Cash Flow Cycle
Gregg Stebben: Sharon those are really great tips. Thank you so much. These all come as a result of the spring 2019 Small Business Owner Report from Bank of America. She’s Sharon Miller, she's the head of small business for Bank of America, and for more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at BankofAmerica.com/SBC. Sharon, thanks so much for joining us.
Sharon Miller: Thank you, Gregg, for having me.