When flooding occurs it is important that businesses are able to maintain their critical operating functions. Planning ahead to minimise disruption can often have significant business benefits at relatively little cost, but what happens if you don’t have a plan in place? For most small businesses the next steps can be crucial in continuing their business.
Maintain 'business as usual' during an emergency
During business recovery it will be necessary to continue operations as much as possible. Your key aim will be to ensure your business continues operating and that you can retain an income. What's the minimum you need to continue trading - premises, staff, stock, tools, communication, cash? Depending on your situation, you will need to ask yourself some key questions.
The questions below are aimed mainly at small businesses and sole traders but some of the principles apply equally to larger companies. They are in no particular order or priority as they will depend on individual circumstances.
- Is it beneficial to seek advice and counselling?
Don’t hold back on seeking professional advice and support. Talk to a business advisor and possibly other businesses who have had previous experience. If time permits, and it’s practical, consider forming a peer group with other businesses in the immediate area.
- Do you need temporary premises?
Consider if re-opening is a viable option or do you need to relocate to temporary accommodation (business centre, hotel, home, market stall). Make sure you and staff can work effectively from any temporary premises.
- Will a virtual office be beneficial for maintaining a professional image?
For telephone answering, mail forwarding, or other office services. This can be particularly useful for a service-based business.
- What essential services do you need (communications, energy, water)?
Severe disruption may make it impossible to trade from flooded premises. How long before services can be resumed, can ‘mobile services’ do the job or do you need to move? Don’t forget relevant health, safety and environmental requirements.
- Does your business rely on transport?
If your service and delivery vehicles are unusable consider if you need them short-term or do you need to hire.
Could hiring vehicles be a short term solution?
- Can you maintain adequate cash-flow?
Understanding your cash-flow is essential at any time but even more so during an emergency – see separate article on cash-flow.
- Are the right staff, skills and tools in place to maintain key business functions?
Make sure staff are allocated the most appropriate roles in the current situation, they understand what’s required of them and they are appreciated. Some staff may excel with skills you weren’t aware of and some may need to take up other activities. They will all need tools to do the job and make sure they can be paid.
- Have you sufficient stock to see you through?
You will need sufficient stock to ensure customers will still be interested in buying but are there opportunities to dispose of damaged stock?
- Are there alternative ways to sell your products?
E-commerce website, online auction/sales tools could provide a short-term solution if premises are a longer-term problem. If this is an unfamiliar area for you ensure you take advice from a professional and reputable service provider. How’s Business can help with this.
- Can you still provide an adequate level of service?
This may be the mainstay of your business (trade services) or a ‘nice to have’ (customer service). Although many customers may be loyal and empathise with your circumstances if you can’t satisfy their needs they will go elsewhere. Deciding which is important to your business will determine priorities.
- Do you have ways of taking payment?
If you’re heavily dependent upon card payments then ensure you have facilities in place, or that you fully understand implications of not being able to offer this service.
Can you offer alternatives to card payments?
- Are your business records fully accessible?
If not, you will need to decide which records are essential and a priority for short-term trading. Consider customer information, financial, stock control, invoicing, creditors/debtors to name but a few.
- Do your customers know what’s happening?
Even if you’ve estimated you’re going to be out of action for a few months customers are more likely to be loyal if you keep them informed (newspapers, mailshots, email, word of mouth). Let your customers know what's happening as soon as you have a recovery plan. Prioritise contact with customers particularly if there is ongoing work that is affected.
A final note about the future
It may take time but once you are back on track give some serious thought and take time out to develop recovery and continuity plans for the future.
Department for Business Innovation and Skills
0300 456 3565