SCORE

It’s 86 degrees outside in Southern California as I write this—but for many of the nation’s small businesses, the past few months have been a time of unrelenting snow, ice and storms. Some 77 percent of small businesses in a new survey by OnDeck Capital were hurt by the severe winter weather; almost 73 percent closed their doors for up to five days, and 14 percent closed down for 10 days or more. No wonder that two-thirds (67 percent) saw slower-than-normal customer traffic, while almost half report sales dropped by 50 percent as a result of bad weather.

Severe weather is just one of many factors that can bring your business to an unexpected slowdown or halt. Long-term construction that keeps customers from visiting your location, problems with suppliers, fire or theft are a few of the other unpleasant surprises that might hit your business at any time. Are you prepared?

Almost 70 percent of the entrepreneurs in the OnDeck survey made it through their business slowdown or closure. Here are some tactics they used, and other ideas you can implement to protect your business.

  • Adjust your hours. Consider opening earlier or staying open later than normal so customers can get to you.
  • Reach out online. Let customers know what’s happening by staying in touch through your business website, social media and email. That way, they won’t be disappointed if they drive 20 miles in a storm to find out your business is closed. Consider offering services online or by phone instead of in-person, if that works. For instance, a consultant who normally visits clients’ offices could set up a conference call instead.
  • Use the downtime productively. If business is slow or you have to close down, figure out the most effective use of the time. Can you catch up on administrative or organizing tasks, reach out to sales leads or do some big-picture thinking to identify future growth opportunities?
  • Seek short-term financing. If a disaster puts your business in a temporary cash crunch, there are many short-term financing options available to meet your needs, such as invoice-based financing, merchant cash advances or short-term loans.
  • Review your insurance coverage. Make sure your business has adequate insurance for the types of problems likely to affect your area. Where I live, wildfires are a big problem at certain times of year. Your issue may be floods or hurricanes. Also ask about business interruption insurance, which can provide income if your business is forced to close down temporarily.
  • Be prepared to work remotely. If you haven’t already, set up systems so you and your employees can communicate with each other, your vendors and your customers from wherever you are. That way, a snowstorm that keeps you out of your office won’t keep you from doing business.

Your SCORE mentor can help you ensure your business is ready for anything. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor now.