6 disaster planning tips for small businesses

Disaster planning

Disaster planning tips to help prepare your small business for the worst, and how a hair and beauty salon owner has responded to unexpected change.

Recent years have seen Kiwi small businesses persevere through earthquakes, cyclones, bushfires, flooding and health crises such as COVID.

These events have reinforced the need to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies, not only to keep operating but also to limit the impact of increased operating costs and supply chain issues.

An emergency plan is a health and safety requirement, but it can seem like a big task to tackle if you’d rather focus on your customers and revenue. So it’s worth taking the time to prepare so you’re able to retain those customers and continue to build revenue when disaster strikes – whether that disaster is a blocked pipe or a national emergency.

Here are six tips for small business disaster planning.

1. Talk to your staff

Gather everyone in your team to brainstorm what could go wrong in your business and how you’d respond if the worst happens. Your staff may come up with scenarios you may never have considered, so it’s best not to do this on your own.

Make sure you also know what your team member’s families have planned in an emergency so you know how to contact them.

2. Create a plan

If you’re a tenant, your landlord should also provide emergency procedures for various types of events. At a minimum you should have documented procedures, nominated assembly points, appointed wardens and at least one staff member trained in first aid.

There are lots of online resources to help you with disaster planning, including these guides from Resilient New Zealand and business.govt.nz.

3. Back up your data

You probably already back up your accounting data, but consider backing up your staff details, customer and supplier contacts, procedures and contracts, and insurance documents. If you have all this on the cloud, consider what happens if you can’t access it and whether you should have a hard copy, and make sure you are not the only person who knows how to access those backups.

4. Connect with other businesses

Anthea Digby-Smith, owner and director of Sable, says having a good relationship with other salons has been an important part of pulling through the various disasters that have struck New Zealand in her 17 years of business.

“After the 2011 earthquake, we didn’t have any water in the building, but because we had built relationships with other salons we were able to work in another salon space for a week,” she says. “I’ve always been a big believer of being nice to other businesses – if staff leave us we’re always happy to pass on their details – so when I rang the owner of that salon, he was more than happy to open his doors to us.

“Then, after the last lockdown, we ended up with some people coming to work with us, because their salon was too crowded and their staff needed somewhere to work where they could social distance. So we were able to help another business in need.”

Anthea says it was important to have the contact details of other businesses in her building. When her landlord became unresponsive, she found it valuable to contact fellow tenants for updates.

5. Test and review

Don’t wait for a real emergency to test your plans. If your staff don’t work remotely, try out the plan to identify what needs to be fine-tuned. Also consider what your staff could be doing if they can’t do their usual jobs.

Anthea realised that, after the last lockdown, her stylists could have been doing more from home.

“I could have written a work plan for them,” she says. “I wouldn’t expect them to do 40 hours a week, but they could have created content such as a blog or a hair tutorial video.”

6. Look for opportunities

No matter how dark that long white cloud might get, there will be a silver lining. Sable also has an online component, which meant that during lockdown, online sales nearly tripled. But Anthea also had a plan for the salon clients.

“We knew that our hair colour clients were going to do their own colouring at home, so we offered hair, eyelash and eyebrow colouring kits for purchase online,” she says, adding that staff guided their clients via online chats.

Depending on your business type, planning how you’ll manage supplies if demand surges – or what you‘ll do with stock that expires – should form part of your plan.

So get your team together and start ticking the boxes in your emergency plan.

Ask a Prospa specialist about how a Prospa Line of Credit can help support your business to make the most of growth opportunities.

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