One aspect of owning or operating a business is being prepared for the worst.
I started thinking about the notion of being prepared while I was swimming my laps at the pool. Two lifeguards are on duty. One sits in the chair while the other circles around all the pools. Both have their flotation device (that’s the official name) in their hands at all times.
They have one job: watch the water. Hours and hours: watching. It can be a dreadfully tedious task, but it requires attention to where everyone is, what they’re doing, how they’re behaving, how well they swim (or not), and who — if it’s a child — is watching out for them.
It only takes a moment, and a four year-old who was there one moment is not there the next. Has her parent turned to talk to someone else and lost sight of her? The lifeguard has to see that and react in the blink of an eye.
Then, something else kicks in: training and preparation; lifeguards are certified in a specialized set of knowledge, skills and physical abilities that they must be able to put into action almost instinctively. There’s no time to plan in the face of an emergency.
You have a set of emergency plans for your business, don’t you? If you have an office or a retail store, you have a set of plans for fire, an injury to someone on the premises. You’ve devoted some effort to training your employees in how to react for a variety of circumstances. You have a list of phone numbers, starting with 911 (in North America), and possibly including your insurance agent, your lawyer, the family members of your employees. You may have a notification system for circumstances like weather that prevents you from opening the office due to harsh weather, so that your employees know whether to report for work or stay off the roads.
If you haven’t reviewed your plan for a year, get it out and read it. Need updates? Do them, and circulate (or post) the revised version.
Do you have communication plans to advise your customers, suppliers and business associates about the status of your business if you’re impacted by a fire or a power outage or — here in California — an earthquake? What if there is an accident at your location: say a motorist drives their car into your storefront? You’ll be incredibly busy dealing with the immediate situation, naturally, because your first concern will be safety of everyone involved, the security of your operation and restoring operations to normal as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, news travels fast in our connected world, and your emergency plan should include a plan for disseminating accurate information as quickly as possible to all the stakeholders in your business, including the public, if it’s a particularly severe incident. Larger enterprises should have a communications staff member prepared with a plan and the means to execute it. The smaller your business, the more effort you’re likely to need in thinking through the reasonable parts of a plan.
If your business is closed by an emergency, do you have some way to advise your customers, especially those who may have appointments? Do you need to advise vendors who are planning to make pickups or deliveries? Do you have an email distribution list you can use to reach your constituents.
Advising your stakeholders of your status as quickly and factually as possible will help secure their confidence in you.
Since you almost certainly have a website, consider having a placeholder article or post that’s already there, requiring only the addition of some details for your to make it live. PRACTICE writing one of these, at least. DELEGATE this responsibility to someone whose job will be to get the facts straight and make it live on the website.
If your emergency consists of a power outage, you still have a means to update your site: your smartphone or tablet. Have you downloaded the app that lets you post to your website, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other social media presences? If not, consider doing so, and get someone on your staff prepared to take that responsibility.
Melissa Agnes, who writes about crisis communications, has posted a list of tips for using social media in emergencies. CLICK HERE.
The lifeguards at the pool don’t have to check with the head office when there’s an emergency: they respond. Your business may not face a life-threatening situation, but the same approach to preparedness, planning and execution can buy you a lot of social good will and cement your reputation as an able business partner with those stakeholders.
Your plan won’t be encyclopedic in covering every possible circumstance. Instead, focus on the key activities of having as many contingencies reasonably covered as possible, and a means to implement them.