Summary:

How can you prepare your business for a forced closure? In recent weeks in my home state of Louisiana there’s been a threat of severe flooding. When you’re anticipating a natural disaster, you can’t help but get a little nervous.

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How can you prepare your business for a forced closure? In recent weeks in my home state of Louisiana, we’ve been keeping a watchful eye on The Mighty Mississippi, as there’s been a threat of severe flooding. We’ve seen areas in and around Memphis, Tennessee and Tunica, Mississippi become engulfed by the rising waters of the river, and we know we’re next. Although it seems that my particular area will probably be OK, when you’re anticipating a natural disaster and you’re anywhere near its path of destruction, you can’t help but get a little nervous. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), with a yearly hurricane season, we’re fairly accustomed to preparing for natural disasters, and as with hurricanes, an impending flood provides a small window for getting my business affairs in order before having to ride out the storm or, in this case, rising waters.Here are a few things you can do to prepare your business for a forced closure:

  1. Save for a rainy day. If you know that you’re going to be on a “forced vacation” for a while, the blow is softened if you can save a little in advance. Try to get as much outstanding work and projects completed in advance of the closure so that you’re that much less behind when things are restored to normal.
  2. Warn everyone in advance. Let employees, sub-contractors, and customers know as soon as possible before the event that you anticipate a business closure. Let them know how long you expect to be down and what you will do once things are restored so that they’re as confident as possible that you will communicate with them as soon as you’re able, as well as the method in which you will do so.
  3. Set a backup point-of-contact. For Hurricane Gustav, I elicited the help of my trusted accountability partner to be my point-of-contact after the storm. She would be the first person I contacted to let everyone know I was safe, and since past experience let me know that text messaging was the most reliable form of contact post-storm, I made sure to get her cell phone number and let her know that would be my method for contact until I had phone or Internet again. Once she heard from me, she would then communicate with clients that I was safe, as well as any estimate I had at that point for regaining power and communications.
  4. Prepare backup contact methods. In the days after a natural disaster, it’s very likely that you will not have power, land line phones, cell phones or Internet, so it’s important to anticipate limited communication methods beforehand. Write down the phone numbers and email addresses of all important contacts and put them in a waterproof place, like a Ziploc bag. Should you be able to send text messages or make phone calls, the numbers will be readily available to you and not locked away on your computer or the Internet.
  5. Hire a sub-contractor. If you have enough notice, you may wish to outsource some of your work to an assistant or sub-contractor so that you at least have some income during the closure. Be sure to work out terms in advance and communicate on your website how clients can reach the the sub-contractor while you’re away.
  6. Create an emergency code. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of knowing that a disaster is threatening to disrupt our businesses, so as a safeguard, you may want to establish an “emergency code” with a trusted business contact, assistant, or sub-contractor. Plan in advance that, if you send the code, they’ll take certain steps for you, and be sure to provide support documentation, user names and passwords, and necessary contact information so that they can act on your behalf.
  7. Set up outbound messages. Just before you hunker down, set up an auto-responder within your email program stating that you’re away in preparation for the event and that you’ll respond to all incoming messages as soon as communications are restored. You may also wish to communicate your emergency point-of-contact. Be sure to post a similar message to all outposts, including your website, Facebook page, and any other place where business-related contacts communicate with you.

Certainly, in an ideal world, we’d all be able to operate from satellite phones and Internet, with backup generators, but even that’s not always possible after a natural disaster has occurred. And as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, it’s not always “business as usual” immediately after the threat of danger has passed. Sometimes it can be weeks before power and communications are restored, making it next to impossible to get back to work or even connect with the outside world, which is why it’s so important to prepare for the likelihood of a business closure well before disaster strikes.

What tips do you have for preparing your business ahead of an emergency?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Tammra McCauley

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