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Preparing Your Business For A Natural Disaster

Parts of this post are excerpted from an email sent out on August 30th.
Our thoughts continue to be with everyone impacted by recent weather events.

A major disaster is not the time to try to figure out “Wait, what is going to happen to my business?”

I don’t just mean that when your house is flooded, the time to get insurance and upload data to the cloud is past.

I also mean that when you’re in a stressful situation with anxiety rising, your body says “OK, I’m going to get ready to get the heck out of here” and starts making decisions for you.

Like it or not, when your heart rate rises, your fine motor skills begin to deteriorate (you fumble getting a key into a lock) and your gross motor skills are enhanced (you’d get a boost at running).

As that heart rate continues to rise, your mental capacities diminish, and your mind starts to exaggerate the threat, further increasing your physical and emotional response to it.

Meanwhile, skills that involve planning, accuracy, and other kinds of higher cognitive processing are diminished.

(You can read more detail about all this here.)

In short:  When you’re anxious, your body primes you for immediate action, but not necessarily smart action.

Here’s the glimmer of hope, though:  Just like pilots have flight simulators and can practice reacting calmly to all manner of red-light-beeping-scariness, we can think through what would need to happen and make plans.

So, here is your own personal “Official Business Disaster Prep Flight Simulator” –

Eight critical questions to ask to walk yourself through what you need to do NOW to be ready THEN.

If you do this, when something nasty strikes, you feel calmer because you’ve already planned for it.  (And if something struck and you didn’t feel calm, you’d still be better off because you’d thought this through previously – no need to muddle through with diminished critical thinking!)

Question #1:

If you lost all your computers and devices, could you still quickly and easily access all your vital data? 

There’s advice aplenty for “backing up your images,” but will you still be able to find things like:

  • Contracts
  • Client records and contact information
  • Business formation/structure and tax documents
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Invoices (both those you send and those you receive)
  • Bank and retirement account information 
  • Lawyer, CPA, and other service providers’ contact information

Some items might be accessible from an online account already.  Others might need to be photocopied and (securely!) stored in a single “grab and go binder,” or possibly uploaded to a secure cloud situation.  Whatever you choose, make sure you’re not relying on a single location to access these items.

Question #2:

Do you have a list of things to grab if you had to evacuate, and is a business vital documents binder (plus any other needed business items) present on that list?

You can address this question without even leaving your chair.  If you had to leave your home and set up business somewhere else tomorrow, what would you need to grab?  Write it down, because you WILL NOT be able to think of everything in a stressful moment.

I keep a list on the Reminders app on my phone, and you can also print one out and tape it to the inside of your desk drawer to find it quickly.

Question #3:

If someone else (like a spouse) were in charge of packing for an evacuation, would they think to grab any of your business items, and would they know which items and where they are?  

That list you just made?  Share it with a trusted fellow household member and make sure they know what they’re looking for.  Takes ten minutes to show them.  (Could potentially save you entire months of work plus thousands of dollars!)

Question #4:

Do you have a secure place or method for keeping your usernames and passwords – for all business accounts, platforms, and social media? 

This will help you get up and running from a new computer at a safe location.

And though I don’t like to mention it, were something to happen to you, this info will help your spouse or loved one locate and suspend, cancel, or close everything on your behalf.  (Remember, this is our flight simulator – we can prepare for things even if they’re extremely unlikely/sad to think about!)

Question #5:

If you have online backups in place, have you checked them recently to verify they are actually working and backing up what you think they are? 

Remember that video went around awhile ago telling how Toy Story 2 got deleted during development, and they only then discovered that the backup files had not been working properly?  Facepalm of facepalms!  Actually check to see that your systems are working the way you think they are.

(I like Backblaze for keeping backups simple and easy to check.  That’s my referral link, but I recommend them highly because it’s so easy to use, and I’ve had two friends successfully restore entire lost drives through them.)

Question #6:

If you have a virtual assistant or independent contractors, have you talked to them about what might happen if you couldn’t access your work for a while?  

Can your assistant step in and complete any necessary work or make payments on your behalf where needed?  Are they empowered and trained to do whatever you need them to do?

Question #7:

Do you have a financial reserve in place to replace lost gear, keep your payments current with a sudden loss of revenue, and/or deal with failed client payments? 

If not, what can you do to start building that reserve?  

Just a note:  Not all regular home insurance includes flooding protection, and not all insurance covers more expensive items unless they are listed in policies.  Check your home and business insurance and add coverage where you feel exposed.  Keep asking questions until you get all your answers.  You don’t want to think you’re covered financially, only to have something happen and realize you aren’t as covered as you thought.

Question #8:

What do your contracts say about service interruptions? 

It’s true that in a major event, your local clients will probably be just as distracted as you are.  But think it through anyway:  What if a disaster (or personal disaster like an illness) prevented you from delivering products on time?  Are you protected, and are your clients protected? 

This is where #6 comes in again:  Is there someone who can step in and complete any necessary work or payments, and do they have access to the info they need?

Bam!  End of flight simulator.

If thinking through this list feels overwhelming, simply add one question per week to your calendar to consider, and complete any steps that stem from it.

At the end of two months, you’ll have a wonderful foundation – and you probably barely noticed it while you did it.  Yes!  I love easy, high-impact things.  Get on it.

Note:  Every business is different, so you may need to ask yourself additional questions to be ready.  Hopefully this will help trigger those extra, needed questions!

Big natural disasters aren’t the only thing to be ready for in business – small things like a nasty Google review or someone stealing your work can wreak real havoc in your life.  This post helps you get ready for those things and teaches how to respond effectively and with poise.


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