Getting your Pet Sitting Business Disaster Ready
1. What to have ready before a disaster happens
Routine monthly (at least) backup of all data files to external storage device.
If you have to leave quickly, chances are you won't have time to sit down and figure out what files to keep and which to take with you.
Having your data saved in as many safe places as possible increases the odds of it surviving a disaster. Don't just keep your backups at your house or office. If your home is destroyed by fire, flood or natural disaster, so is your backup.
Additionally, external storage devices and media are light and small, making them easy to take with you in an emergency situation. Data storage methods include USB, CD, DVD, external hard drive, cell phones.
Have a comprehensive client e-mail/contact list printed out and stored in a safe location at all times.
Who knows how much time you'll have to work on a contact list before having to evacuate or head for shelter? If worst comes to worst, you at least want to able to get in touch with your clients. Most of us have some information stored on our phones, but why risk being caught without essential data? Print a list of your clients' names/address/phone numbers and put it in a plastic bag near the front door of your house or keep in your car. Also, make sure to update your e-mail contact list continually. In a time and age of constant communication, the quickest way to get in touch with all of your clients is shooting off a mass email-this won't work if it's been two months since you last updated your e-mail list.
Have an evacuation plan and an emergency/disaster plan:
As small business owners, your clients are going to want to know where you're going and what your protocol is for caring for their pets as well as when you'll be coming back. Most of the time this won't come up until a disaster actually happens; you're going to have trouble holding onto your clients if you seem disorganized when push comes to shove. Conversely, if you're sharp and end up being an asset during an emergency you're less likely to lose that account, no matter what is going on with the economy. Also, use your disaster plan as a selling point. Clients often shop around for a sitter, so make yourself stand out by letting clients know that you have a plan in the event of emergencies. Consider using a blog or voicemail to let clients know of the status of your disaster plan (more on this below) once it needs to be executed.
Have a mobile container for your keys and a key protocol-One of the biggest responsibilities we have is maintaining access to our client's homes. A nightmare scenario would be coming home after an evacuation to find that your home/office has been broken into and someone got hold of clients' keys. Have a sturdy container with labels/plastic baggies for quickly storing and transporting your client keys should you need to leave in a hurry. Keep " your client records and keys separate. If you keys are lost with your client records a person might be able to match keys with records and gain access to a client's property. Make sure your clients know what your procedure is for an emergency and it will make you seem even more prepared and professional.
Do a dry run with your employees/contractors regarding what to do in an emergency.
Whoever you have working for you needs to know what is going to happen in . Having up-to-date mobile contact information and emergency procedures in place should all forms of communication fail is essential. What to do with the animals they are caring for. Give them a copy of your procedures they keep it with them (under a seat in the car is a great spot).
Encourage clients to develop a disaster preparedness plan for themselves and their pets.
As sitters, we're a natural resource when it comes to clients caring for their pets. Ask your clients to have their pet’s microchipped and tagged to allow for early identification. Also, discuss what they would do with their pets in an emergency and encourage them to keep you informed. Communication is the key, and knowing what the plan is in advance will keep everyone safe.
Prepare a checklist for what to take with you. It will save you much grief later.
What to do for your business when a disaster is happening
Get out your emergency/disaster plan.
This is why you put this together, after all! Sticking to the plan is key. Communication is difficult in an emergency so changing the information and procedures you've previously disseminated to people at this point can be a disaster.
Communicate with your client early and often. (I can't stress on this enough)
Let them know what your disaster preparedness plan is, send them a copy of it when even the hint of a disaster is on the horizon. In hurricane country, the start of hurricane season, along with every forming hurricane is a good excuse to shoot an e-mail to your clients with a copy of what your protocol is. It may seem annoying to some, but they'll thank you one day.
Stick with one modality of distributing information.
If you decide to disseminate information in 10 different ways, chances are someone will get left out of the loop and it may cost you a good client, or worse. Pick one way to communicate with people and stick with it.
3: What to do for you business after a disaster has occurred
Decide on your system for resuming services and what you will use to determine when it is safe to do so. Use an objective standard, preferably from a specific government agency, to determine when it is safe for you to resume services. Resuming services for pets whose owners are away is much more critical than regular pet 'exercise' type visits.
Let clients know how the resumption of their services will work and if you anticipate any lack of service due to damaged roads, bridges, etc.
Verify that all your data and supplies remain intact and promptly file any insurance claims necessary.
Take care of your personal issues first-if you don't have your own act together you won't be able to help your clients any time soon.
Gather feedback after the incident to see how you could have improved your response to client's needs. You will have to weigh these suggestions against your own ability. Take time to modify your disaster plan to anticipate issues in the future-your disaster/emergency plan should always be a work in progress.
Article published by NAPPS www.petsitters.org By Carlos Portu, Co-Owner, Gables Pet Care, Miami, FL