How quickly can your company get back to doing business after a tornado, fire, flood or computer crash? Every year, thousands of companies are unprepared. The US Department of Labor states that over 40% of small businesses that experience a disaster never reopen, and of the remaining companies, at least 25% will close within 2 years. These statistics are probably even higher now considering the economy and difficulty for small business owners to access money when it’s needed. Even the smallest of disasters can create a financial chain-reaction that could cause the doors to be locked for the final time.

There are some simple steps towards being prepared that can help protect your business. Each can lessen the burden if you face a disaster, no matter how small.

1. Have a continuity plan. Most business owners agree that having a plan is important, but too few take the steps to prepare. Plans vary according to each individual company’s needs, but the basics are the same no matter the industry, size or location.

Identify what types of emergencies – from a temporary electrical outage to a large geographic catastrophe - could affect your company, the likelihood of each happening, and how they could affect your business. Then, with that in mind, determine your needs. Once this information is collected, it is easier to put a plan in place to help resume operations.

The SBA website includes some very helpful articles to help you get started.

2. Determine your immediate needs. What data do you need the day after a disaster? Check with your IT provider on availability. Does your telephone service have emergency options to ensure you don’t miss any phone calls? Have your customer, vendor and employee information readily available so you can contact them. Just knowing you’re still in business will give customers a feeling of comfort and they won’t “assume” you’ve closed.

Can you run the business from a different location? Develop relationships with other companies so you can set up temporarily. Also, create a relationship with a competitor you trust who can meet your customers’ needs short term. This will help you maintain your relationships with your customers even when you are not able to provide the product or service yourself.

Have back-up vendors and shippers in place in case your primary ones are disabled. Establish relationships in advance and maintain them. Place occasional orders so that they regard you as an active customer when you need them. Keep extras of hard-to-replace parts or supplies on hand and store them off site.

3. How secure is you information? Many companies store their important files in a safe or on an external hard drive in the office. If the building is damaged or items stolen, it is highly likely your data will be, too. Online backup is a safe, low-cost option. You can establish frequency of backup, which will allow you to resume doing business quickly.

4. Have adequate insurance coverage. Review your policy with your agent so you understand what is covered and what is not. Do you have Cash Value or Replacement Value coverage? Is this coverage on your building or contents or both? Do you have flood insurance? Should you? And don’t forget about coverage for water backup of sewers, drains, or sump pump failure. Another area many business owners don’t consider is Business Interruption Insurance. These are issues only you and your agent together can address.

In conjunction with your insurance policy, compile an asset inventory with photographic records and a written report. Knowing what you own, when the items were purchased and the cost will help reduce the painstaking process when filing your insurance claim because it will help you remember everything you owned. Even if you have adequate insurance coverage, most policies require a detailed list of what was lost, damaged or stolen. During the stress of recovering, you will most likely forget many items, and the time savings is imperative so you can begin rebuilding your business and receive your insurance settlement quickly. Be sure to secure this information off site, and update the inventory annually.

Disaster may never strike, but if something does happen, having plans in place will help you through the transition and increase the odds that a temporary business interruption does not become a permanent one. According to the SBA, small businesses provide nearly 45% of the nation’s payroll. A commitment to being prepared will support your employees, customers and the local economy.

Author's Bio: 

Cindy Hartman is a Principal of Business Continuity Planning Specialists, a BCP/DR service designed with the small business owner's time and budget in mind. She is also President of Hartman Inventory, LLC, a personal property inventory service provider and a woman-owned business. Cindy and her husband Mike also own Hartman Inventory Systems, LLC, a complete inventory turnkey business package to help others start an inventory business quickly and professionally.