On Tuesday, Oct. 29, APC spoke with Alex Romero, the office assistant at Ross Painting, a residential and commercial painting company in San Rafael, Calif. He was, thankfully, sitting in a lighted room. But that wasn’t the case the day before. “The blackouts began over the weekend from about 8:00 Saturday night and lasted until about 8:00 Monday night,” he said. And by blackout Romero meant “zero electricity.”
For the past few weeks, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric has ordered rolling blackouts for various parts of the state to try to prevent wildfires. Last year was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires. One hundred three people lost their lives, 80 were injured, and 22,751 buildings were destroyed. PG&E equipment was blamed for some of the fires starting; heavy winds and dry air propelled them for miles.
While the power outages may be helping, they are something businesses can’t prepare for. “We’re going to lose power again at some point today,” Romero said, but he wasn’t sure when. No one in the company came into the office on Monday, but some of the painters were able to work as long as they didn’t need electric-powered equipment. “We’re in a busy time finishing a lot of our exterior work, and we’re doing what we can with what we have. We have some gas-powered equipment but not much,” Romero said. That morning he had taken a gas-operated sprayer to a job site since they couldn’t spray on Monday without electricity. If they need supplies, they’re out of luck since the stores, also without power, are closed.
But wildfire is just one surprise Mother Nature throws at us that may affect small business owners. How can you keep your business going through any natural disaster? Brandon Lewis, a consultant and founder of the Academy for Professional Painting Contractors, suggests doing these things:
Build a strong relationship through diversified communication channels to your "in-house" lists. When you consistently communicate with your past clients, unconverted leads, B2B referral sources and commercial clients, you can immediately reach out via mail, email, phone and text to generate additional work in order to mitigate any drop-in demand caused by a natural disaster. Without these direct channels of communication being "on the ready," you are placed at the whims of fate in the larger market. Waiting on the phone to ring or your email to "ding" is no way to cope with a sudden drop in demand caused by events outside of your control.
Be a part of the solution. If your crews are forcibly idled because of floods, fires, tornadoes or power outages, be a part of the solution. Head out to the neighborhoods where your customers reside that are affected by the disaster. Fill your vans with the supplies most needed and go door to door offering relief. If this isn't appropriate given the severity of the disaster, partner with a local non-profit authorized to deliver aid and volunteer your time and crews to help. While pure altruism is noble, it would be foolish not to document your involvement for later use in marketing and sales efforts via photos and videos. Take a cue from national brands that never do a good deed in a darkened corner.
Idle hands are the entrepreneur’s workshop. When your business is placed on standby because of a disaster, you can waste that time or utilize it. Are there sales, marketing or operational initiatives you've placed on the back shelf because they are "important but not urgent"? Remember, these types of system improvements are what make you more money 30, 60 and 90 days from now. Instead of fretting needlessly, identify your toughest problems and largest opportunities then use this additional time to tackle them with the help of your staff and crew.
So far San Rafael has been spared a wildfire, and Romero was hopeful that the only trouble they would face was a lack of air conditioning in the office and a couple of days of missed work. He had to cut short our call as he was getting notification that the power was going to go out soon and he needed to get back to work.