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The coronavirus has forced many business owners to plan for tough conditions ahead. (Photo credit: NIAID-RML via Flickr)
The coronavirus has forced many business owners to plan for tough conditions ahead. (Photo credit: NIAID-RML via Flickr)

How does one prepare for an outbreak?

First off, refrain from panicking — though it’s certainly understandable, given the headlines dominating the news cycle. But panic — either frenzied actions not rooted in logic, or analysis paralysis propelled by anxiety — is not going to help matters. Deep breaths.

Second, consider that disaster planning is a critical part of running a small business, and there are copious resources for confronting crises of all sorts — whether they’re man-made, natural or, in the case of Covid-19, a combination of both. Entrepreneurs have been through disaster before, and lived to tell the tale. Read our contributor Deborah Sweeney’s story about how she and her company, MyCorporation.com, survived the Southern California Woolsey Fire. The Small Business Administration offers disaster advice; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation offers this roundup of tips. Something to remember: Unlike a tornado or earthquake, or a terrorist attack or computer hack, the coronavirus epidemic is effectively a disaster happening in slow motion. There is still time to plan.

[Related: A 5-Step Checklist for Your Disaster Recovery Plan]

With that, we’ve asked women business owners to tell us how they’re preparing.

Monitoring, monitoring, monitoring

At Berardi Immigration Law in Buffalo, N.Y., owner Rosanna Berardi is watching the situation, for herself and her clients. The firm specializes in helping people obtain work permits, green cards and U.S. citizenship so they can travel or relocate to the U.S.

“It is challenging to keep up with the pace of the news,” she admits, but she blogs and posts developments to the firm’s Facebook page. She’s also monitoring her staff’s travel concerns — they often visit clients in other parts of the country — and she’s preparing to rely more on Skype and other technology (popular options include Zoom or Google Hangouts) to meet with clients.

Putting public launches and publicity on hold

Anne Zeiser, a media strategist and founder of Azure Media in Boston (disclosure: she conducted strategic planning for this site many years ago) is also concerned about business travel and event participation. But she’s also grappling with the fact that coronavirus is dominating the news cycle.

“It’s not an opportune time to be launching anything into the marketplace — whether it be a film, product or a story idea,” she says. “So I’m advising clients, where they can, to put public launches and publicity on hold until the timing is more appropriate.” She’s also counseling clients to check posts for context. “Make sure that an ad or social media campaign created at a different time isn’t suddenly in poor taste,” she says.

And don’t connect your product or service to coronavirus in an awkward or self-serving way. “Any messages about coronavirus should be in service of public information,” she says.

Making a contingency plan

At Par Avion Ltd. in Houston, Janine K. Iannarelli is in the unusual business of selling pre-owned business jets so “company travel is a constant in our world,” she says. “I jokingly say if you are not on the road, you are not selling.”

While she has not yet canceled plans for upcoming international travel, she is finding that prospects are reluctant to travel overseas to view select airplanes for purchase. “We can accomplish a lot via email and other file transfer resources, but at the end of the day, one has to see the asset in person before making that multimillion-dollar decision.”

With customers worried about traveling or getting stuck overseas, she began advising sellers last week to relocate aircraft to the U.S. to mitigate damage. “This is a contingency plan only,” she says. “There is a lot of advance planning that needs to go into a move like this, but at least now the client is thinking in that direction.”

Preparing to dip into savings — sparingly

In Paris, Cynthia Coutu runs Delectabulles, a Champagne networking club for women. “Like everybody else in the travel and hospitality industry, my biggest concern is that I will lose most of my business from tourists over the next few months,” she says. In the French capital, many small companies are still recovering from the transit strikes in December and January. “I predict a lot of French companies in food and hospitality will have to put the key under the door at the end of 2020.”

She estimates at this juncture that she will lose about two months of income. “The only resource I can turn to are my savings, and I will have to use them diligently,” she says. “I hope that governments will do their best to abate fears, contain the spread of virus, and that quarantine will no longer be needed in the very near future.”

And in the meanwhile, she will sip Champagne. “Onwards and upwards, like a Champagne bubble,” she says.

[Related: After a Disaster, a Winery Starts Anew]

This post was originally published March 3, 2020.

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