Hardships happen for small businesses—though it’s the unexpected ones that always hit closer to home. Through this difficult time, we hope that everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey’s landing in Texas has found safety and shelter.
And to all small business owners across Houston, you’re in our thoughts. We understand that your business may not be your number 1 priority right now. But we know that in due time, together, you’ll rise back up on your feet. After all, everything—including heart—is bigger in Texas.
Chris Schultz, CEO of Launch Pad and long-time FreshBooks customer has gone through this kind of devastation in the past. Running his company in New Orleans, he worked and fought hard so his small business survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
We’re all in this together. Houston was really helpful and took in a lot of New Orleanians during Katrina and we want to return that favor now.
According to Chris, small business owners in Houston can expect to go through three phases:
We chatted with Chris about some of the lessons he learned going through the experience of Katrina. We wanted to learn and share how to cope with the reality of a natural disaster when you’ve got a small business. And—for those of you watching from safer ground—ways to protect your business during these unexpected hardships.
First things first: Ensure your safety and evacuate accordingly. Chris encourages people to take care of their family, loved ones and pets first—your business second.
“In Louisiana, we were trained on how to evacuate in the event of a hurricane,” he explains. “In an event like this, you’re always asking yourself the question, ‘what if I can’t come back in the next couple of weeks or months?’”
Though it may be difficult to cope, it’s best to keep panic to a minimum—but it all starts by ensuring your own safety first.
Just like you would care for your family and loved ones, you want to ensure your team is safe and sound too (especially if you’re all based in the affected city).
“Be in touch with your employees and go through the same checklist that you’d run through for your own family,” says Chris. “Be deliberate, so that you’re aware of any stresses that they have.”
Something that’s affecting them may be a personal thing, so they’d be hesitant to bring it to the workplace normally but, remember: this kind of situation is not normal.
“For instance, immediately after Katrina,” he explains, “one of my employees moved to Las Vegas and we worked that out together. You’re talking about people’s homes and families now, not just the office and where they go to work.”
Computers, printers, phones and office furniture can cost quite a bit to replace. In the event of a natural disaster, you shouldn’t have to worry about spending thousands to replace your assets.
Some people who work from a home office often think they’re covered under their homeowner’s insurance in the event of a fire or other disaster—but it may be wrong to assume this is always the case. Certain homeowner insurance policies provide limited coverage for business property. What’s more, losses because of floods or earthquakes may not be covered at all.
“Ensure you have business interruption insurance,” says Chris. “Now’s the time to start to think about that. One piece of advice I have is to take care of this earlier. At the end of the day, all of your claims really stack up.”
From the news, your clients will soon be able to piece together why you’ve been unresponsive. It’s important to understand that you might not be able to get back into action as quickly as your customers expect you to be.
“After you’ve collected yourself, this is when you want to start thinking about things like working remotely and understanding these projects still need to get done.”
Also, consider any business-related contacts you may need to touch base with. Do you have easy access to your client’s phone numbers, so you can follow up? Ensure that you have access to important phone numbers so you can start reaching out.
You think short-term and that you’ll be back next week, but you quickly realize you’ve got to do some contingency planning.
Having an emergency fund is a common financial tip. But have you thought about diversifying the location of your savings?
Scenarios that impact an entire city or county can have a devastating impact on your savings as well. A local financial institution may be unable to dole out cash immediately after a tragedy. Securing money in multiple locations can help you access important funds in a pinch.
If you do most of your banking with a local bank or credit union, consider setting up a savings account with a national or online bank. Wherever you keep it, make sure it is highly liquid.
An emergency fund won’t do much good if you need to wait until the stock market recovers from a dip to get your money. A savings account may not yield high returns, but at least the money will be there when you need it, regardless of what the stock market is doing.
Once the intensity of the hardship winds down, you’ll need to slowly transition back to work. But returning to work doesn’t always mean you’ll be sitting at the same desk in the same office. Depending on the severity of the storm, the unfortunate truth is there may not be a workspace to return to.
“The unusual thing with Katrina and perhaps now in Houston, is that you might not be going back,” says Chris. “You think short-term and that you’ll be back next week, but you quickly realize you’ve got to do some contingency planning.”
For Chris and his team in the aftermath of Katrina, there was no going back. “The office I had prior to Katrina never reopened. I luckily was able to go in there and get all my stuff, but eventually our lease was cancelled.”
In some cases, in order to get your business back up and running, you’ll need to be flexible with your team.
“At the time, my employees were all in New Orleans but became remote after,” Chris explains. “One of the things that are important to immediately think about is how to be comfortable with people working remotely—and with them doing so for some period of time. I think it’s a critical thing to understand.”
Remember: You and your employees may still be taking care of personal issues following the storm. Being flexible can help reduce stress, so everyone can be more focused and productive as they ease into work.
“We’re all in this together,” Chris stresses. “Houston was really helpful and took in a lot of New Orleanians during Katrina and we want to return that favor now. If there’s anything I can do or if Launch Pad can do, I’d love to help.”