Is your small business prepared for the next national emergency? These steps will help you keep your doors open, even in the face of public fear, panic and prolonged social distancing.
Whether it’s the coronavirus outbreak, an earthquake, or another threat – your business will lose money if disaster strikes and customers vanish. The coronavirus panic has brought this into sharp focus for many SMBS.
People aren’t going out as much, public gatherings are being cancelled and economists are already speculating about an upcoming recession.
Understanding crisis prevention and what to do during times of public emergency will insulate your business against loss, liability and tragedy. It’s a smart move to take steps to protect yourself and your customers so that you can keep running during these trying times.
Here’s how to keep your business open when a national or global crisis is unfolding. Take these disaster preparedness steps to guarantee that your small business survives.
Step 1: Don’t Panic
It’s important that you and your employees keep a level head during a crisis. Keep informed about the facts surrounding the situation, not the hysteria.
The novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) for example, prompted thousands of uninfected people to buy disposable surgical masks for no logical medical reason. In Australia and Canada, the fear curiously manifested as toilet-paper hoarding.
As a small business owner, it will pay to not be reactive or susceptible to disaster hype. As many businesses have done with the coronavirus outbreak, a simple email addressing concerns and outlining policy is all that is required to keep customers, and employees, from over-reacting.
Step 2: Be Your Own Disaster Response Coordinator
Once you’ve managed the hype, the next step is to be your own emergency response coordinator.
This means sitting down and outlining exactly how a disaster like novel coronavirus could impact your business, and what steps can be taken to minimize the financial damage for your company and its employees.
Consider these pressing COVID-19 questions:
- How will you keep employees updated on developments as they unfold?
- When will you postpone events and social gatherings?
- How can you minimize contact to make your customers feel safer? (Tap cards, disable signature payments on your POS systems, do more mobile payments for example)
- How will you communicate refund rules to customers to prevent unnecessary returns, chargebacks and complaints on cancellation?
- How can you be creative about online communication to keep your business going? (video chats, live video, start a website blog, do social media updates)
- How could you move your event online? (Yoga teachers do online classes, virtual appointment sessions for therapists)
- How can you visibly show customers that you care about their health? (Install hygiene stations, keep sick employees at home, enforce a hand-washing policy, space your tables further apart in the restaurant)
FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends that all businesses take disaster preparedness seriously, by developing a business continuity plan and a disaster protection plan. The answers to these questions can be incorporated in your plans.
Step 3: Develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan
After considering the impact that the crisis will have on your small business, you’ll want to focus on creating your emergency preparedness plan. FEMA says that 40-60% of small businesses close permanently after a disaster.
Your plan will help your business recover quickly, which is key to staying open. Plans don’t have to be long or complex either, they can scale to suit your needs.
- Know the risks that threaten your business
- Assemble a small team to take action during emergencies
- Document the plan in writing and share it with your employees
- Have important contact numbers available
- Make sure procedures to follow are outlined
Remember that crisis prevention is a vital part of your plan, and that above all, your goal is to keep your employees and customers safe.
This means having on-going communication with internal and external parties throughout the crisis. During the emergency, update your trading hours on social media and be transparent about how you’re taking action in light of the current circumstances.
Step 4: Review Emergency Business Continuity Policies
One of your main goals with disaster planning is business continuity through times of turmoil. This is best managed with strict continuity practices that have been outlined in a plan.
Your document should detail emergency planning and preparation, crisis management, response and recovery – or the essential steps required to keep your business running during different emergency situations. Spend some time either reviewing or creating your plan.
Your plan should include:
- Collections of important resources
- Specific actions to take in specific scenarios
- Procedures to follow that have been tested
- Names, numbers and details of stakeholders and partners
Here is an example of an Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity Plan.
If your business loses electricity, or internet services are switched off – your business continuity plan will tell your staff exactly what backup processes to follow. Above all, your plan should be tested so that you know it works when disaster is on your doorstep.
Step 5: Provide the Necessary Employee Training
A top-notch disaster preparedness plan is something that is built into your workplace culture. Running regular drills is key to training your employees for these crisis moments.
The US Department of Labor recommends that you run drills that alert your employees to danger, prompt immediate procedural action, and execute orderly evacuation or prolonged shutdown plans.
In the case of the coronavirus this means:
- Having alert emails ready to go
- Having remote work practices in place in-case of shutdown
- Having a reduced workforce ready (contractors, temporary workers in place)
- Having infection and injury control supplies available
- Having an infectious disease plan (and what to do in case of on-location contraction)
- Having a detailed FAQ available to employees detailing travel, pay and sick leave issues
Any natural disaster or pandemic outbreak can result in employees being told to stay at home. When this happens, you want everyone orientated on what is happening and why.
Step 6: Encourage Alternative Income Generation
The final step is to prompt your customers to keep buying from you, using alternative means like online shopping. E-commerce and delivery of food and consumer products will be critical to the survival of your small business during something like the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Keep your customers up-to-date on health practices for deliveries, and take steps to amplify your online sales when you know you won’t be experiencing as much foot traffic.
According to MIT, COVID-19 can only last a day on cardboard, so as long as no employee is infected your deliveries should be safe to send.
Your website and social media platforms will be essential tools for reassuring your customers that ordering from you is safe and effective during a national disaster.
For your business to keep running through novel coronavirus panic and other natural disasters in the future, these are the steps you need to take.
Don’t panic – get the facts first. Be your own disaster response coordinator and rollout your emergency preparedness and business continuity plans.
Train your employees and familiarize them with your crisis response steps, and take action to ensure that your online business is amplified during times of social distancing and reduced foot traffic.
Working with an all-in-one provider of online small business services like Yahoo Small Business can make a difference. We’ll help you send emails, prep and manage your website during times of crisis. Together we’ll make sure that your SMB doesn’t lose the online business that keeps you open.