Having your premises destroyed by a flood is a disaster, but without proper planning it could be your entire business that sinks. Here are a few quick and easy-to-implement ideas for a contingency plan should the unthinkable happen.
'It’ll never happen to me' is one of the most dangerous things a small business owner can think. Six months ago it seemed the chances that your premises would be flooded seemed fairly slim, but today this is a harsh reality for thousands of businesses across the UK.
With one of the wettest winters in 250 years, millions of pounds worth of emergency insurance payments have already been made, and clean-up costs are likely to run into the billions.
Backup, backup and backup again
This one has formed a crucial part of best practice since the 80s and backup technology has now advanced far enough to make it a no-brainer. Everything your business receives and produces must be backed up in some way. And the more times the better!
If you operate an online business this may already be happening without your knowledge. Most email and hosting providers operate some form of redundant backup as part of their service.
Similarly, if you use some kind of online productivity suite like Google Drive or Office 365 all your documents will be safe and sound in the cloud without any further action required.
Other than that, paper documents that find their way into your business should be scanned and backed up online.
Hard drive space is pretty cheap nowadays, so for the ultimate peace of mind you may also want to invest in one or two big drives to keep as a master backup. If you do so, make sure it is updated frequently.
Make sure you can work from anywhere
Business continuity is the name of the game; if something terrible should happen to your premises, you and your staff need to be able to carry on working from home or another location. Every day your business operations are disrupted is a day you go without income, so it’s vital work resumes as soon as possible.
Hosted cloud services which allow users to log in from anywhere are the best way to guarantee continuity of service. Google Apps, for example, gives users access to their email, calendar, the Google Drive productivity suite and many more services with a single login, from anywhere.
VOIP services like Skype can be a great way for an office to carry on functioning remotely. Assembling a team together in one chat will allow you to brainstorm, share ideas and discuss plans almost effectively as if you were in the actual office. If you can video chat too, then all the better.
Make sure your employees are set up on a service like this in andvance and that they have some way of working on a computer from home. If some don't, it may be worth having laptops at the ready to distribute in an emergency.
Keep your customers in the loop
You should never try and hide anything that could affect your services from your customers. After all, they are probably relying on your services, so if the worst should happen make sure they know about it as soon as possible.
Sending a blanket email explaining the situation is more efficient than replying to individual customer inquiries, and taking care of it as soon as you can will mean any customers who you’ll let down have time to make alternate arrangements.
Use social media effectively to keep your customers up to date. Make the best out of a bad situation by posting frequent updates, with pictures if possible. This not only reassures your customers that you're getting stuff fixed, but could also create a buzz around the event, maybe driving traffic to your site.
You’ll be surprised how charitable people can be,especially other businesses. You may even find that many of your customers will come forward with offers of support.
Utilise people power
There are various ways to make good use of your human resources to prepare for the worst.
First of all, get to know your neighbours and set up an alert system. The sooner you know about premises damage the better, and it might not necessarily be you or your staff who know first. If premises are shared, it's also possible that you could strike a deal with your neighbours to share costs for repair etc.
You should also make sure that there is a communication plan between you and your employees. For example, if you are abroad or otherwise unreachable, who is the next point of contact? And who is responsible for contacting customers?
Further reading on business continuity
See also: How to cope with staff holidays