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Wyoming Business Tips for July 31-Aug. 6

July 25, 2011

A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Susan Jerke, Wyoming Entrepreneur SBDC Regional director/former business owner

"How can I prepare for an unexpected disaster at my business? Mary Ann, Riverton

Disasters always happen to someone else, right? We read about tornadoes, earthquakes and floods, but seldom take the time to prepare to deal with our own catastrophes.

Disasters can and do happen just when we think the road is clear sailing for our businesses and lives. Here's a personal experience about dealing with the "what if's" that can and do happen to real people and businesses.

One hot July morning several years ago, it was "work as usual" in my family-owned print shop. We were concentrating on the week's big project, printing a family history book that was due in just a few days. Without warning, the skies opened with a Wyoming downpour, accompanied by one-inch hail.

Amidst the din of the storm, a new, horrible sound erupted -- creaking, crashing and screaming, followed by a streak of employees rushing out the front entrance. The rear of the concrete block building had collapsed. The down spouts were blocked by ice and the roof had filled with water, like a swimming pool. Unable to bear the weight, the whole roof caved in, releasing a tidal wave that swept from the back of the building where our paper was stored, through the darkroom, pressroom and reception area.

How could we have planned ahead for such a disaster? Businesses that recover quickly from catastrophes are those that plan in advance. Consider a proactive strategy for your company before disaster strikes. Here are some tips:

-- Be aware. Minimize the risk of damage in advance of an emergency by examining your structure and identifying potential issues. Although we thought we were prepared for a "normal" flood (all inventory was stored on shelves above the floor), we had no idea that the building was poorly constructed and would not handle a heavy load of water or snow.

-- Develop a plan for handling a disaster. Communicate with your employees and develop good relationships with your competition. The positive attitudes of the employees were crucial in creating a team that worked to reopen the business quickly. Our competition, other local print shops, offered to complete our jobs to help meet critical deadlines.

-- Review your insurance plan. Be certain you have sufficient coverage to pay for indirect costs of a disaster, the disruption to your business and also the cost of repair or rebuilding. Our insurance company worked closely with us to find a new building, remodel it and hired a moving crew, making sure we were able to continue business with minimal disruption.

-- Consider your key partners including relationships with your lenders. Our business loan payment was due on the day of the disaster. Our banker assessed the situation and allowed us to take two months off from the regular payment schedule, to ensure cash flow stayed positive during the rebuilding process.

-- Develop a disaster recovery plan. Review all the components frequently. Remember to consider fire safety and emergency preparedness measures, business continuation and building repair plans, along with your insurance program. Learn from others who have been through disasters. Take pictures of the property, keep accurate inventory and note potential dangers.

Although a business owner would not choose to experience a disaster, preparation for the "what if's" can build positive continuity strategies that will carry the business forward with greater strength, determination and teamwork.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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