As I watch Hurricane Sandy vacillate between a last-minute detour to Rehoboth Beach and maintaining her scheduled appearance at the casinos of Atlantic City, I am reminded of a friend whose careful planning saved his firm from similar catastrophe.
Like the Fisher Law Office, this lawyer’s staff worked out of a small office. Unlike the Fisher Law Office, this lawyer’s staff showed up one morning to find the small office had largely burned to the ground. (It was a small town; the volunteer fire department had done what it could, but often they are only able to arrive in time to save the surrounding buildings.)
So he took the day off, understandably.
The next day – apparently regarding the destruction of his workplace as merely an annoying detail – he showed up for work as usual.
Only this time, it was at the office of a competitor who had offered up his conference room as a temporary business shelter. His secretary put a computer on one end of the conference table; he set up at the other end. Once they had figured out how to organize everything into efficient (if not exactly tidy) piles, business hummed along.
To their hand-cramping chagrin, this attorney had made virtually all of his clients sign a second copy of the legal documents he had prepared for them. As one set of original records burned away, the other was safely stowed in his attic, garage, and whatever spare house space he could find that wouldn’t inconvenience his wife (no small feat if you’re familiar with the sheer volume of space such documents can occupy).*
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley ordered people off the road for at least 36 hours starting Monday. The office landlord advised our business of standard storm preparation, including unplugging for power surges and protecting equipment near windows. Both are wise warnings since people historically take the Alfred E. Newman approach to these sorts of things: “What, me worry?”
Jim Ludwick, a financial planner from Main Street Financial, sent out some useful tools help businesses prepare that I am passing along. The first is free inventory software that will help you account for items in your home or business. The second is a link to the IRS for a copy of their disaster workbook. These items are helpful if you are “in harm’s way,” a phrase which seems encompass the entire northeastern United States.
But even if you are not directly “in harm’s way,” it’s important to be prepared.
There are three basic principles to disaster-proofing your business.
First, record the key elements of your business. Amidst chaos, you may not remember such essentials as passwords, operating codes, even key client names, so make sure you have a record somewhere accessible if you can’t reach the office. Furthermore, this record should not be stored only on your work or home servers, but backed up by a cloud service provided you should lose those servers to a surge or similar complication. Remember also to keep note of your regular bill payments.
As an example, I may have this months rent in the back of my mind, but what about my vendors I pay on a regular basis? What about my state bar dues? Essential software subscriptions? If I am to keep working, I need these vendors to continue supporting me.
Second, build a small amount of reserve cash. Some experts recommend from three to six months worth – not exactly a treasure horde, but enough to keep your business financially above water even if your office is physically beneath it. This relates back to the first element of recording the key information: It does no good to keep track of the bills you need to pay if you have no money saved with which to pay them.
Third, insurance. There is traditional business-interruption insurance, but there are also other products, as well. These vary by situation, so consult an insurance professional for yourself.
Since Sandy is now even more generously watering our garden, it’s time for me to go and make sure every thing is as – or where – it should be. In the meantime, stay dry, stay safe, and remember the sage advice of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “This is not a time to be stupid.” Let the emergency management people do their job now so you’re able to do your job later.
Until then, good luck and good hunting. (We normally post on Tuesdays. We decided to post tonight because we were tired of storm news. We’ll see you on Friday.)
*(The Fisher Law Office does the same, though mostly we let the client store the second sets so our cats don’t mistake the boxes of stern legal contracts for boxes of inviting kitty litter.)
The Fisher Law Office is renowned for its experience in estate planning, probate administration, asset protection, and business law. Annapolis attorney Randall D. Fisher has practiced for over 20 years, maintains the highest peer review rating for ethics (AV Preeminent) by Martindale-Hubbell, and is a sucker for long walks on the fairways. Click image(s) for source(s).