You know the saying: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This is known as “Murphy’s Law,” and it’s got us wondering: Was ol’ Murph a businessman?
Because if you own a small business, then you know—things go wrong all. the. time. And just when you think they won’t go wrong again, they do. And they will continue to go wrong, because hey, that’s just how life works!
And while none of us has a crystal ball to predict the future (Wouldn’t that be nice?), there are steps you can take to protect your small business and help it survive the unexpected blow of a disaster.
First, a little bit About Us:
If you’re new to The Cupcake Bar: hi and welcome! We’re glad you’re here. We are an event-based dessert catering company in Austin, TX, and we’re all about customization (You can read more about what we do here).
We’ve been around since 2007, and we’ll be the first to tell ya: starting a business in the middle of a global financial crisis wasn’t exactly...well, a piece of cake.
So, What happened? The Collapse:
Long story short: In 2018, an overnight rainstorm caused our shop’s roof to cave in. Thankfully, as it occurred in the middle of the night, nobody was hurt. However, we did lose product and supplies.
The building was condemned, and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to recover anything that had been inside. We had an event scheduled for that day in Dallas (a three-hour drive from Austin), and we managed to make it. In fact, thanks to our amazing team and support network, we didn’t have to cancel a single booked event due to the collapse.
In our efforts to rebuild our shop and our business, we learned some valuable lessons that we’re sharing with you today. We know that everyone’s businesses are different, but we hope you’ll find these tips helpful, no matter what your circumstances may be.
Here are five things you can do as a small business owner to protect yourself from unexpected disasters.
1. List your processes now; fall back on them later.
One of the reasons we were able to carry on with our scheduled events is that we already had solid operational procedures and checklists in place. Many of our day-to-day processes, from initial planning steps to cleaning up after events, are written out in checklist form.
We had been using these documents already, but they became even more important in the wake of the roof collapse. In fact, they became a lifeline. In the stressful days that followed, we relied on these checklists to ground ourselves and make sure our clients received the same high-quality experience we always strive to provide.
One of the best things about using checklists? They’re free! So break out your favorite pen, grab a cup of coffee (or a cupcake 😃), and start putting your processes on paper.
2. Be aware of your financials.
We know you’re passionate about your company, but at the end of the day, passion alone isn’t enough to sustain a successful business; you’ve gotta make money, too.
If you’re not already hyper-aware of your financials, now is a great time to start paying close attention to them. What is the minimum amount of cash flow you need to pay your bills? Where can you cut costs if you need to? Think through questions like these, then come up with a plan you can implement in the event of a disaster.
If you already have an established plan for cutting unnecessary expenses, you won’t have to make any rash financial decisions when you’re already overwhelmed with a stressful situation.
In addition, you might consider seeing if you qualify for a line of credit with your bank. Having a line of credit readily available provides you with a financial safety net. That way, if you need a little extra money to pay your business’s bills for a month or two, you won’t have to search for funding in the heat of the moment.
3. Document (and backup) everything.
Take it from us: it’s a good idea to store backup copies of your receipts and important documents in an off-site or digital location. Rain-soaked documents that are illegible aren’t very useful.
In the aftermath of a physical disaster, your mind is running in a million different directions. So if you find yourself in this situation, It may be helpful to have someone else take charge of documenting the scene. Asking someone else to take photos, videos, and collect documentation after a crisis occurs can help you immensely down the line.
4. Lean on your network, and let them know you’re ok.
If you’re invested in your community, your community will be invested in you, too. Make sure you communicate to your team and your customers that you are ok.
The truth is, we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for our incredible support systems. We’re so thankful for our team and the friends, family members, neighbors, and acquaintances who pitched in to lend a helping hand as we picked up the pieces of our ruined shop.
We can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Are you a member of any professional organizations? Reach out to them and see if they can connect you with manpower or resources to help you navigate your next steps. Our peers at ILEA came to our rescue in more ways than one, and we are grateful for all their support!
You can also check out the websites of your local Chamber of Commerce or the US government’s Small Business Administration for information on assistance that’s available to business owners.
5. It’s okay to be emotional, but take action, too.
It’s your business, and we know you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into it. Of course it’s okay to feel the feels when something disastrous happens. We definitely had breakdowns. We know we wouldn’t have been able to move forward if we hadn’t made time to acknowledge the pain, frustration, and helplessness we were feeling.
When you’re ready to start taking action, seek advice and help from professionals who specialize in your area of need, and remember the age-old question:
How do you eat an elephant?
The answer? One bite at a time, of course!
We found that the only way for us to get back on our feet was to break tasks into smaller pieces and take things step by step. It wasn’t a quick process (and it took us over a year to recognize the silver linings of the situation), but we eventually found a way to shift our mindsets and view this challenge as an opportunity.
While it may seem overwhelming (because it is overwhelming), helping your business survive an unexpected disaster isn’t impossible. There’s no official playbook for how to handle these situations (trust us—we looked for one), but we learned that having certain things in order before disaster strikes can help you move forward. Be patient with yourself, trust your gut, and never underestimate the power of a good baseball bat.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide you with a case study of our own experience. It is intended for informational purposes only. We are not legal experts, and this information does not constitute legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.