Any young entrepreneur who has paid attention to the news recently knows that small businesses were among the hardest hit during the COVID lockdown. Sadly, not all those businesses survived. Those that did had a few things in common. They pivoted. They got creative. They saw opportunities to solve some of the new problems that grew from a nation of adults who suddenly had to work from home.
Did these small business owners have a time machine so they could travel back to the beginning of the pandemic and figure out what would need to be done? Did they have crystal balls in 2019?
Nope. They knew how to emergency-proof their businesses. And you can learn how to, as well.
From natural disasters to cyber-attacks, all small business owners should take time to emergency-proof their operations. Doing so could mean the difference between letting a short power outage ruin your enterprise, and becoming a hero just when everyone needs you most. We know you can’t possibly 100% prepare for 100% of emergencies. However, at the very least you can make sure you have the tools necessary to face the most common emergencies. Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Meaning: the better prepared you are now, the less you’ll have to recover later.
If you have customers, you have sensitive data. This might include names, email addresses, credit card information, and your own private information. Neither you nor your customers want any of that leaked, right?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a section on their website called “Start with Security” that breaks down the ways you can protect your sensitive data. While it may seem overwhelming to read the whole thing, this document is worth at least a quick skim for some valuable tools and advice on protecting your data.
No matter where you live, there is some type of natural disaster you need to prepare to handle. In South Florida you have hurricanes. After living there for any length of time you already know the drill come hurricane season: stock up on bottled water and canned food, have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand, and always have gas in the car.
What about your small business? Being a young entrepreneur, you probably run your business out of your house. If you sell a product, consider investing in heavy-duty, airtight plastic bins that can hold your stock in case of flooding or roof damage. Make sure your online system business is backed up to a cloud so you can access it from anywhere. All of this will help minimize your loss when you’re ready to get back up and running.
For those of you with employees or team members, this is especially important. How will you contact one another before, during, and after an emergency? If your data does get breached and leaked, how will you handle it?
This is where a solid communications plan comes in handy. If you are the boss and you lose power for days at a time, do you have a way to contact a team member or employee? Can that person run the business for a short time? At the same time, have a plan in place in case of hacking or data leaks. Think about how to contact your customers and what you will say to them.
Make sure the chain of command is clearly understood by everyone on your team as well as with your customers. This will avoid people scrambling around and possibly spreading misinformation or panicking.
Small businesses aren’t usually started on huge budgets. That’s why, once your business starts to make some profit, it’s a good idea to stash some money away in an emergency savings account.
Let’s say you were the neighborhood’s most sought-after babysitter before Covid. Once the lockdown happened, parents no longer felt comfortable inviting people into their homes to watch their children. In the short term, an emergency savings account can help you by giving you the time and space to create an alternative business (say, online tutoring or socially distanced backyard playtime with your clients).
MAKE AN EMERGENCY CONTACT LIST
Do you know whom to call if your entire inventory gets destroyed by a flood? Do you know what the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) can do for you?
Making a list of federal and state emergency websites and phone numbers can help you get back on your feet sooner rather than later, should the worst happen. For example, FEMA offers assistance to individuals and families during and after major disasters. The Small Business Association (SBA) offers disaster loans. Ready.gov has an entire section of their website devoted to disaster-proofing your business.
Keep these websites on your phone so you can reach them even if you need to evacuate without your laptop.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Obviously, as a teen entrepreneur, there is only so much you can do to prepare for a disaster. And no one expects you to navigate through miles of red tape and bureaucracy just to run a business. Babysitters and lawn mowers generally don’t need insurance or licenses.
But just because your business is super small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the worst. Making lists and having backup plans is important to most areas of life. Not many people have lost their businesses because they were *too* prepared!
This shouldn’t take up a lot of your time, either. We know you are a busy teen with plenty already going on in your life. Try to devote about 10 minutes a day to things like backing up your files, securing your data, and stocking up on emergency supplies. This way, all your hard work, planning, time, and energy won’t go to waste with the first major thunderstorm of the season.
If you are a high school student in Florida with a passion for entrepreneurship, click here to find out more about the Kantner Foundation’s college scholarship program.