Emergencies that force you to stop trading, like earthquakes, floods or fires, come with little or no warning. To give your business the best chance of survival, you need a contingency plan. Make sure it includes what happens after disaster strikes, when less — or no — money might be coming in.
Contingency plans benefits
It’s all too easy for time-poor small business owners to put off contingency planning. Many small businesses never reopen after a disaster — in the US it’s estimated a quarter don’t. So having a plan that could help your business survive should be on your must-do list.
There are benefits. A contingency plan is a plus for potential buyers and investors, as it shows you’ve thought about other scenarios than simply business-as-usual.
Keep your business contingency plan handy and update it regularly — especially if you make changes to the business, eg adding staff or changing location.
What to put in your plan
Include any obligations you may have to meet even if your business closes, temporarily or for good.
If a major disaster happens, you still have to file tax returns — even if you can’t pay. Contact Inland Revenue (IR) about your situation, they may be able to suggest payment options to help your business survive. Tell IR as soon as you can if you have lost or damaged records.
If you have staff, you’ll have to keep paying them through any unforeseen closedown period unless your employment agreements state otherwise.
If closure stops cash coming into the business, this could make it hard to pay wages. And if you need to make people redundant as a result, there may be redundancy costs, depending on what’s specified in their employment agreements. You might like to talk through different scenarios with a business advisor and include any solution you come up with in your contingency plan.
You can only use an unforeseen closure as a reason to end someone’s job for a legitimate reason, eg an earthquake has destroyed your workplace.
If your business relies on its staff, you’ll need them to stand by you in and after a crisis. Research shows organisations are more likely to survive a disaster if they have loyal staff and plan for their wellbeing. The best thing you can do is discuss this with them and feed your findings into your contingency plan.
Staffed or Stuffed: Creating Resilience Through Your People — Resilient Organisations booklet
Make a list of any bills or other expenses you may need to keep paying even if your business is forced to close for a while. It’s worth looking at agreements to see what your payment terms are in the event of a forced closure. These could include:
- debt repayments
- capital expenditure
- vehicle leases.
Work out realistic costs to keep your business going, eg daily or weekly, and factor these into your contingency plan.
Shut Happens: Resilience for Small Businesses — Resilient Organisations booklet
Get Ready Get Thru — Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management