Many of us didn’t need a little groundhog in Pennsylvania to tell us that winter is here to stay. . .at least for another six weeks. We’ve been waking to sub-zero temperatures for far too long now.
And while snow, wind, and wreak havoc on travel, they may pose larger dangers for small businesses. Here’s a look at how to manage cold weather risks for small businesses that you will you face as a business owner. Following these tips could help prevent your revenues from dropping as fast as the mercury.
Top Winter Risks that Threaten Small Businesses
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Icy parking lots and driveways, floors wet with melted snow, bunched-up doormats, electrical cords snaking out from the space heater – these are wintertime staples in much of the country. They’re also risks for small businesses in that they’re safety hazards. The National Safety Council reports that slips, trips, and falls trigger 9 million trips (PDF) to the emergency room every year. If one happens at your business, you could be on the hook for the cost of the ambulance and associated medical bills.
Manage it: Shoveling and salting walkways, mopping spills, putting up “Wet Floor” signs, and keeping all floors clear go a long way toward preventing falls. If one happens, general liability insurance can pay for medical costs if it’s a customer or delivery person who’s injured. If it’s an employee, Workers’ Compensation insurance may do the job.
The snow that hammered New England and the Chicago area earlier this winter forced more than a few businesses to close their doors unexpectedly. That means they weren’t able to bring in revenue during the storm. But even if your business is based in a warmer part of the country, you could be impacted if one of your suppliers is walloped by a storm and unable to deliver your inventory.
Manage it: Have protocol in place for dealing with bad weather, including a system for alerting your employees about whether they have to come in. Develop a backup supply chain so that you can keep the shelves stocked no matter what.
In some industries, you can’t open if you don’t have employees. In others, your team can be productive from the snowed-in safety of their living rooms. If you’re in the latter camp, the news is good. A new study suggests that employees can be highly productive when working from home. The caveat is that productivity only starts once they’ve worked out the “teething problems” of network connectivity and logging in.
Manage it: Before bad weather starts, have a clear work-from-home policy and let employees give it a test run so they can be productive from afar.
During cold and flu season, sniffles can spread from one person to another at lightning speed. Sickness is one of the top cold weather risks for small businesses because this can have a disastrous effect on productivity.
Manage it: Encourage employees to get flu shots to prevent getting sick. When someone starts showing signs of illness, have them go home so they don’t spread their germs to everyone else.
Home-Based Businesses are at Risk, Too
If you work from home, you may be happily thinking that these winter woes won’t affect your business. But before you cue the hallelujah chorus, make sure you’ve taken steps to manage the following risks:
Icy Driveways and Sidewalks
Whether you’ve got clients visiting or are expecting a package, ice can cause problems. A delivery person or client who slips and hurts themselves on the ice could legally hold your business liable for the cost of treating the injury.
Manage it: Shovel and salt or meet the delivery folks at their trucks.
Snow or ice storms can lead to power outages. If you rely on a computer for your home-based work (and who doesn’t?), having no power creates a whole new set of problems.
Manage it: Most home improvement stores sell generators you can use to power your business in a pinch. Also, consider staking out nearby coffee shops or public libraries where you could work if your electricity is out and there’s isn’t.
Damage to property from burst pipes should be covered by your insurance, as long as you have the right policy in place.
Manage it: Insulate properly and leave taps dripping in very cold weather. Check with your agent to make sure your home-based office and business equipment are protected. It’s important to remember that most homeowners’ policies exclude damage to business property, so you may need a commercial policy).
While winter comes with a lot of messy problems, the good news is that most of them can be managed with a little planning. By thinking ahead, there’s no reason you should lose a lot of revenue this season, no matter how much longer it lasts.
Snowblower Photo via Shutterstock