Returning to something approaching normal can seem a monumental task in the aftermath of a disaster like a major fire, but statistics show the sooner you can resume trading the more likely your business will be to survive.
According to Forbes, more than 40% of small businesses never open their doors again after a disaster. Acting quickly is a critical factor in survival.
You will probably have to work under entirely different conditions – the structure of your business may be entirely transformed ‒ but the ability to adapt is key. Changed circumstances can unearth new opportunities.
You will need to make important decisions and access appropriate support in the form of funds or concessions, which can be a challenge when you’re still grappling with shock and trauma, but there are resources available to help. Here are some guidelines for making a start.
Initial action plan
Communicate with key stakeholders
Get in touch with your staff to ensure they are unharmed and find out what their position is. Be sensitive about making arrangements to stand them down temporarily and let them know what you are thinking in terms of continuation.
Also contact your key business customers and suppliers. This serves a twofold purpose: ascertaining whether they are suspending operations and providing them with the information they need about your intentions. Be honest about your ability to fulfill existing orders or provide usual services.
Assess the damage
Make the most complete list that you can of what has been destroyed or damaged, with estimated replacement costs. Photograph and store what you are able to. All this information will assist your insurer in preparing your claim and it will also help you calculate the cost of getting your business up and running again.
Do a reality check
Think about your business’s finances, enlisting your accountant if necessary. How profitable was it before the fire and are you confident about it being viable in the future? Are you prepared to invest the effort required to reopen? This is the time to consider whether you should make changes to how you operate, enter into a partnership, relocate or sell off all or part of your business.
How have your customers and suppliers been impacted? In terms of the market are there opportunities for a collaborative arrangement or meeting new needs arising from the effects of the fires?
Make a list of what you need to resume trading: premises, equipment, supplies etc, and estimate the costs involved. Look at your debts and what you are owed. What can you project for your balance sheet, going forward?
Find out what practical support is available
The Business Council of Australia is establishing a five-year Community Rebuilding Initiative for businesses to work with on programs with state and federal authorities and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
Businesses needing funds immediately can contact the Department of Human Services to obtain information about financial assistance available through government and corporate programs. Grants, loans and advice for affected SMEs are available through state governments, and there are also provisions for farmers.
The Australian Taxation Office will defer lodgements and payments and the big four banks are waiving some charges and fees for existing customers.
Make a recovery plan
Your recovery plan should address what your future business is going to look like and how you can meet the costs involved.
What staff, scale of operations and logistics will you need? How will you finance these costs? Are there available resources you can draw on? What will your insurance payout cover?
Calculate the cash flow you can anticipate and a provisional balance sheet that shows what you need to break even.
Other things to consider might include whether you or your staff can work remotely, and who should be responsible for what.
Once you have established how your plan will work you should aim to start trading again as soon as possible – and let your customers know that you’re back in business.
Update your cover
Bear in mind that insurance cover for your reopened business needs may require substantial changes from when you originally took out the policy.