“Winter is back,” according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The popular publication predicts “frequent snow events” this year for many areas of the U.S. In light of the series of smashing winter storms to hit various parts of the country the past few years, it’s only smart to prepare for the worst. There’s no preventing sub-zero temperatures, ice storms and piles of snow from blasting your property, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize risk and stay profitable despite rain, sleet and driving snow.
Inspect and winterize your building and equipment
Don’t wait until winter’s cold winds blow. Inspecting your property now will give you time to proactively prevent potential issues. Check that your roof is structurally sound and your gutters and downspouts are clean. Seal any air leaks in your building envelope, and install storm windows and doors. You’ll also want to inspect and service your HVAC equipment, check your smoke and CO2 detectors, turn off outdoor plumbing and protect pipes from potential freeze issues. Finally, mark your property with poles to prevent plow damage, and be sure your snow-handling equipment is well serviced and in good repair.
Calculate potential losses
Winter storms are proven profit killers: A single snow day can negatively impact a state’s economy by up to $700 million. What would happen if blizzards forced you to close for a week? Or if winter storm damage puts you out of commission for three months? Knowing what you could lose can help you prepare for the worst. Think about worst case scenarios and calculate their financial impact on your business. Consider opening a line of credit or building up a reserve of cash you can draw on in the event of an emergency.
Consult with your insurance agent
Once you’ve crunched the numbers, it’s time to meet with your insurance agent. Scott Huber, a Farm Bureau Insurance agent in Marquette, Michigan, suggests taking the time to meet in person. “Make sure your agent has actually gone out and inspected so you’re not underinsured. And sit down with them instead of just doing it over the phone. That way it’s on them, [and] they feel more responsible.” It’s especially important to make sure that your insurance will cover winter storm issues. “I normally recommend special-form endorsement coverages, which specifically cover ice dams and ice and snow,” Huber says.
Protect your supply line
Even weather in another part of the country can adversely affect your business. Highway and business closures can result in disrupted schedules and delayed delivery of necessary items. Don’t leave it to chance. Make a list of items your business can’t do without. Stock up on supplies you need and use regularly. If you depend heavily on a single vendor to supply these items, consider placing an occasional order with one or more alternate vendors based in another area of the country from your main vendor, just in case.
Create a wintertime operations routine
Proper preparedness prevents accidents and can keep your business chugging along smoothly despite inclement weather. Before the snow flies, create a wintertime protocol. Decide in advance what tasks will need to be done (shoveling the walk, spreading salt, knocking down icicles, etc.) and who is responsible for them. Be sure all employees are aware of the tasks and how to do them safely. It is also a good idea to create and post a written checklist of routine wintertime tasks as well as storm preparation items.
Build a communications plan for employees
Winter weather can cause many changes of routine. Maintaining good communication among your employees will help minimize disruption to your business. Be sure they know your winter weather expectations, including how you plan to inform them of closures or delays. It’s also very important to have contact information readily available for all employees. In addition to email and phone, consider having their alternate email address, spouse contact numbers, and even their Twitter, Facebook, or other social media contact information handy.
Keep your customers in the loop
It’s at least as important to communicate changes in routine to your customers as it is to your employees. It’s also more challenging. Leverage a variety of venues to notify customers of your status. If you anticipate issues, notify your customers in advance what to expect and how to reach you in the event of weather delays. Many radio stations will announce business closures. Facebook and Twitter are both excellent ways to send up-to-the-minute updates. For regular service customers, a personal phone call will ensure they get the message, and it is sure to be appreciated.
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