When Weather Disrupts Your Business
On Feb. 23, I held my first Monday class of the month at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. My previous three classes were canceled when huge snowstorms prompted administrators to close school.
In at least two of those storms, state officials urged people to stay off the roads altogether to keep people from having their cars be stranded and make it somewhat easier to clear the roads of snow.
Meanwhile, the state's public transportation system is operating at way less than full capacity and probably will be that way for most of March.
I was able to make up for missed classes by using an online learning tool called Blackboard in which I assigned students to contribute to a discussion board on specific case studies that we would have covered in class. While I have been able to use technology to get back on schedule, work life is not so easy for local entrepreneurs.
Massachusetts restaurants and retailers have surely suffered from the loss of business when people abided by the governor's request to stay off the roads.
Perhaps there were some winners, though. For example, people tend to spend a lot at grocery stores the day before a big storm. And people who plow snow or clear roofs for a living have been working nonstop.
As a startup CEO, you serve at least three critical stakeholders: your employees, customers and investors. And a weather event of the scale that Massachusetts suffered could happen in your area. Instead of snow, it might be rain, wind, a hurricane or a tornado.
Such large-scale bad weather events impose hardship on employees who might be forced to stay home to care for their children when school is canceled. Your customers may be stuck at home -- and thus unable to visit your store or facility to make purchases.
These problems might cause you to reap lower revenue and profits than expected -- and potentially cost investors money.
Here are five steps for entrepreneurs to handle such events.
1. Anticipate a reasonable amount of disasters.
It's probably too strong to call what happened in Boston this month a disaster. But pretty close to a record level of snow fell in a short period of time.
Snowy winters, hurricanes and sadly even terrorist attacks are possible in Boston. You should anticipate that such events could happen where you operate your startup.
While you can't anticipate everything -- and most business owners certainly never will have perfect foresight about the events expected happen or how severe they will be -- some disasters can be anticipated.
2. Develop plans to keep business going.
With the Boston snowstorms, it is easy to imagine making some plans to prepare. If you know that employees won't be able to drive for a few days during the winter, make a list of the staffers who must show up at your office and those who can work from home.
After determining which employees need to work at the office, create a plan for them to sleep in the office or nearby the evening before a big snowstorm so you can be sure they will be there when needed.
And if a storm is brewing that will affect the number of customers wishing to buy your product, anticipate a drop in demand and adjust staffing accordingly. You might offer customers an incentive to return to your business as soon as the problems are cleared up.
3. Test out plans before their use.
If you make such plans, don't just put them on a shelf.
Instead, hold pre-event drills to ensure that the people who need to know will be comfortable putting into action necessary plans should they be needed.
4. Ensure means of communication.
An important element of a business disaster plan is anticipating how various events might affect normal communications channels.
If you're used to communicating with people via email, reaching people using computers or laptops at home can be tough with an electrical power outage.
In many areas, power sources are in place so employees without electricity can still use land line phones.
Find out whether key employees still have land lines that can be used to communicate with your people when they can't access the Internet.
5. Be ready to improvise.
If you have done all these things, you will be only partially prepared in the case of a weather or other extreme event.
You will almost surely need to think how to solve problems you had not anticipated.
But if you follow these five steps, you will be better prepared for a disruption to your business.