As part of our preparedness planning series, we're going to be talking about inclement weather policies today. Now I know that sounds formal, but it's something that we should be thinking about as business owners, no matter the size. As solopreneurs, it’s important that we keep these things in mind because we need to make sure that we are communicating the right things out to our customers.
Additionally, this is a holistic topic because it not only addresses your business, but your household as well. Just like in your business, you need to have an inclement weather policy at home too. The policies of other businesses like your kid’s school, your full-time job, your doctor’s office, etc.) can impact your household and day to day activities, so you need to keep that in mind.
Before we get too deep into the topic, I want to level set as to what I'm referring to when I’m talking about inclement weather. When I use the term Inclement weather, I’m referring to any weather condition(s) that are unsafe or undesirable for outdoor events or activities that can cause bodily harm. So, this could be hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, snow, sleet, frigid temps, high temps, high winds or heavy rain. All of these are inclement weather activities.
Now, I want you to identify how many of those weather events identified above impact the area where you live and work. I also want you to think about how these events impact the areas of your clients. Now, if you live in an area like Middle Tennessee, you may have a lot of these. We have tornadoes, snow, sleet, frigid temps, high temps, heavy rain and recently 70 mph winds. We don't typically have wildfires, but the smoke from the smokey mountains often affects our outdoor areas making breathing outside very difficult. We also don't have hurricanes, however when the gulf coast is hit, we can experience heavy rains from that. In all the situations above, including the hurricanes and wildfires, our area is affected in varying degrees. Some of these effects are predictable and some aren’t, so having a plan is vitally important.
If you run a virtual business, your client-base is infinitely larger. I, of course, have a virtual business and because my clients are all over the United States, inclement weather can impact my clients when it’s not impacting me and vice versa. I have clients in Seattle that are affected by the wildfires, and I have customers in Florida along the coast who are directly affected by hurricanes, so it's important for you as a business owner to not only think about how your business is affected, but also how your customers could potentially be affected as well.
Now that you have a list of inclement weather that typically affects your area and the areas of your customers, you need to rank them in order from most to least likely to occur. This will help you identify and prioritize the things you need to do in order of importance.
So, for example, when tornadoes hit the Middle Tennessee area, what happens? How far in advance do we typically anticipate this is going to happen? Do we get some kind of notice before a tornado has hit our area or surrounding area? What has that done to my business, area businesses or the resources I’m used to using? Will your supply chain be affected? Does electricity typically go out for the area? Does your Internet typically go out? Is it hard for you to drive around or get out of your neighborhood?
These are all examples of questions you need to ask regarding your business and your customers in the event of inclement weather. For my virtual business, if the electricity goes out that in turn knocks my Internet out. Knowing this, it was important for me to identify a backup plan for internet service. So, my main backup plan is my cell phone hotspot, but truth be told, if electricity is knocked out sometimes it will impact your cell service too because the network is flooded with others trying to access it at the same time. This also depends on your cell phone plan and carrier. If a tower or service center is knocked out, you may not have cell service for a while, so what will your plan be then? Remember to think past the obvious...and try not to lean on the thought that it has never happened to you.
I think back to Nashville’s 2010 flood. A flood of that magnitude had never happened in Nashville. Who would have anticipated houses floating down the interstate, but it happened shocking residents and businesses across the Middle Tennessee area. It also didn’t discriminate between big corporations, single owner businesses or mom-and-pop shops.
My rule of thumb is to plan now so you don’t have to figure things out later. I’ve been in too many situations where I urged my project teams to plan for specific circumstances, despite the nay sayers, and low and behold we had to use those plans. My teams quickly learned not to second guess those “what if” scenarios, because they often save their butts in an emergency.
Ultimately, what you are doing now is thinking through the various scenarios and determining what you need to do your job or to do whatever it is that you do in your business? What is it that you need to know or need to have in order to do that? Even if you must go back to the manual way of doing things. You also need to know when it’s time to make the decision to postpone deliverables, cancel appointments or monitor your third-party vendors. You also want to ensure you have addressed your inclement weather policy in your terms of service to reduce the likelihood of lawsuits due to missed deliverables.
As you begin to go through all of these scenarios, you're going to begin to paint a picture of what you need to communicate to your clients. While you are doing this, you want to make sure that you are setting expectations with your potential customers and for your clients. Going back to the advanced notice situation I mentioned above. Typically, how far in advance are you going to know about this incident? Using tornadoes as the example, our meteorologists tend to tell us at least seven days ahead of time that there's potential for a pop-up tornado or two on this particular day. So, theoretically you could use that as your decision point, to let your customers know.
That could be your trigger to prep your communication and schedule it to go out five days before the incident to your mailing list and to your social media accounts. You may go ahead and send it out with a reminder set to go out the day before the potential incident with updated information. If you have collected location information for your customers/potential customers, you could segment your mailing list and only send the information to the affected area(s). This would be good if the inclement weather will only affect a small segment of your client-base. If it is affecting you, I’d send it to your entire list so they understand there is a possibility of disrupted service.
Let's say you are in the beauty industry, and you’ve learned that tornadoes are expected around the area of your business. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
Are you going to be trying to deliver service in the middle of a tornado?
How quickly can you get out of the area if a tornado watch is issued?
Will you be too distracted to work worrying about your family?
What if the tornado warning or watch isn’t in your business area, but is in your home area, will that matter?
For your clients, where can they go to see if you are still open or to reschedule their appointment?
Do you give alternative options for those who are canceling due to inclement weather versus those who just want to cancel for the sake of canceling?
If your customer lives in the north side of town where the tornadoes are predicted to hit, and you are in the South side of town, do you offer them the ability to cancel their appointments so that they can deal with their families? This may be in direct conflict with your day of cancellation policy, so do you have alternative language that accounts for day of rescheduling/cancellations due to inclement weather?
As you can see, asking key questions and thinking through scenarios will help you determine your inclement weather policy as it relates to tornado warnings and watches. Once you determine how you want to proceed you can then develop and communicate your policy.
The other thing you want to think about is your return policy. Will it be adjusted if inclement weather were to hit? Regardless, this needs to be addressed in your cancellation policy and/or your terms and service. What about your no children policy or your late arrival policy? Each business has its own policy structure, so you want to consider how your inclement weather policy will impact the other policies you have. You may also identify some policies that need to be developed as you begin to ask the right questions in relation to inclement weather.
This is something that I need to do a better job of myself and that is regularly reminding your clientele of your inclement weather policy. A few ways you can accomplish this is to
Provide the information or link to the information during your onboarding process with new customers.
You can send out a reminder at the beginning of the season of inclement weather to your mailing list.
You can post it on your social media channels
You can post it on your website.
If you can add banners or feeds to your accounts, don’t be afraid to use that to update your clients.
You could also add a frequently asked questions section that answers questions related to specific inclement weather events.
If you have a scheduling tool, after they book their appointment, add a link in the footer to notify them of your inclement weather and/or cancellation policy.
The key is to be proactive and notify your customers, new and old, so they are fully aware of your policy. Think through the questions that you would have as a customer? How can you then just answer those questions before they're asked? For me, anytime I’m dealing with a company that does this in advance I am amazed and happy. I recognize good customer service and the fact that they are thinking about their customers’ needs.
All right, the next step is to think through when, who and how you are going to communicate the activation of your policy. Don't just think about communicating before, but during and after an incident as well. Depending on the type of business you have, you may not need to notify people during an incident, but how you communicate before and after an incident is going to be important. This is especially true if you know your client base or someone in your client base is in an area affected.
As I mentioned earlier, Inclement weather policies are not just for businesses. You should have one for your home as well, because inclement weather affects you too. Make sure you are considering the policies of your third-party organizations and services and how they impact your in-house policy as well. Does your child’s school close when there is inclement weather? If so, how does that impact your home and/or workday? Do you need to account for that in your business’ inclement weather policy and pattern yourself in the same way as the local schools?
Do you have a communication plan for your family to check in before, during and after an incident? Do you have alternate plans for your household if your electricity goes out as it relates to taking care of the necessities of life? What if the family is in different areas of the city during an incident, what is the plan then? Where is your safe space?
All these things are important, and they don’t have to take a long time to implement. Start crawling before your walk. Take incremental steps to put your inclement weather policy and procedures in place and it will give you peace of mind.
There is much more to share in our preventative maintenance series, so I encourage you to continue listening to the Organized Holistically podcast and checking out the various resources we will make available to you in Organized Academy.
The Organized Holistically podcast strives to teach side-hustling solopreneurs how to manage a successful business and life using holistic systems. I help you develop, implement and streamline unique and organic processes and organizing systems. I do this by helping you identify the right systems and processes so you aren't spending money or time on unnecessary things and instead can spend that time and money focusing on the things that are most important to you, your family.