Unfortunately, small businesses are usually very poorly equipped to handle major disasters such as fires, floods, and storms. Small business owners often have enough on their plate without having to worry about planning for a natural or man-made disaster. According to a recent poll by the National Federation of Independent Business, almost forty percent of small businesses experience disaster at some time; ten percent man-made and thirty percent natural. But what steps can you, a small business owner, take to ensure a man-made or natural disaster doesn't mean the end of your business? The answer to that is simple; develop a disaster recovery plan, and develop it now.
For a number of reasons, small businesses are more damaged by a disaster than larger, corporate businesses. Most of the susceptibility comes from a lack of resources. While a large corporation undoubtedly will have many individuals, perhaps even a whole department, dedicated to disaster recovery, small single-owner businesses are usually lucky if they have a general plan. Large corporations also have much more income to throw at recovery projects. Small business owners must be more careful with their expenses if they want to stay afloat. Large corporations may even have more outside resources than small businesses, including other businesses they are partnered with or are otherwise indebted to them. Small business owners may have only the most basic outside resources, such as the fire department or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to fall back on.
The most important thing to accept after you experience a disaster is that your business will never be the same. Natural disasters and some man-made ones can forever change the business landscape of the area. According to the Association of Records Managers and Administrators, over sixty percent of businesses fail within two years of experiencing a major disaster. In fact, many owners will decide to close down their businesses and cut their losses after a disaster, and this may be a smart idea for you, too. If the disaster has ravaged your businesses' neighborhood or prevented you from producing product or providing service, you might want to consider moving on to something else. But, if you do choose to reopen your business, remember that the road to recovery with be a long, arduous one. The best way to keep your head above water in post-disaster situations is to reach out to organizations and companies that make it their jobs to help you do just that.
One of the most important (and also one of the most overlooked) services you should reach out to is a document restoration company. Many small business owners assume that their damaged business documents are not salvageable. This is simply not true and can cost small businesses thousands of dollars in replacement documents and labor. Certain small businesses especially benefit from document restoration; architects, doctor's offices, lawyers, construction companies, tax preparers, and any other business using hardcopy or electronic records, x-rays, or pictures. Being able to pick up right where you left off before the disaster is essential in getting you back on your feet.
There are two main characteristics you should look for when searching for document recovery specialists. The first is timeliness. Further damage can occur to important books and documents if the restoration process isn't started immediately; therefore, choose a restoration company that is known for rapid service.
The second characteristic to look for is the company's technology. The best document restoration companies use state-of-the-art desiccant air dry distribution systems, an energy-saving technique that not only dries documents but also allows customers access to their documents as they are being recovered. Another technology you should search for is the vacuum freeze drying system. This technique uses a cold vacuum environment to remove moisture from books and documents. Be careful, though; some vacuum freeze systems result in warped books. Make sure you look for a company with a system that distributes air pressure evenly inside the vacuum chamber.
There are a number of other outside agencies you should reach out to during the document restoration process. You will obviously want to be in continued contact with your insurance company. Working closely with your agent or provider will help smooth out the financial recovery process. You will want to also look into disaster loan assistance programs, but don't assume you will be able to qualify for one. Keep an open mind, and don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family members, and your community if you're in dire need of financial help.
Whatever you do after a disaster, it is important to keep your cool. Many business owners become overwhelmed with the obstacles they face after a disaster and because of that, a lot of businesses unnecessarily die out. Keeping a sharp, methodical approach to disaster recovery is the best way to get your business through hard times without feeling stressed, frustrated, or otherwise beaten down. If you have yet to experience a disaster, now is the time to develop a disaster recovery plan. With a little preparation and a lot of hard work, small businesses can not only survive after a disaster, but eventually return to a state of prosperity.
~Ben Anton, 2008