An increasing number of business continuity professionals and disaster recovery experts are discovering that the most vulnerable links in the continuity of operations chain are the people a business serves and the people who serve them. While this seems intuitively obvious now, for decades resolving the fragility of technology has been the exclusive focus of the industry.
This series has explored in detail why both employees and customers are prone to staying away from business sites, gathering their “tribe” close and effectively voting businesses off the island. The last month, this series explored Gathering: Tactical, Intellectual and Societal Needs, discovering that businesses could not only survive, but also speed their own recovery by supporting and promoting the recovery of their employees.
“A” is for Altruism
When a disaster strikes, many businesses and individuals are eager to volunteer and assist those in need. They want to help rebuild the damaged homes and businesses, and they often donate the necessary materials and manpower to do so. Unfortunately, the resources that arrive on a volunteer and donation basis typically run out much sooner than expected. Very often, those businesses who gladly gave their time and resources to those in need feel guilty charging for additional services when their volunteer time ends. So they pack up and leave the area, proud of their good deeds, yet leaving those in the disaster area with few recovery options.
A great example of this is what happened in Port Charlotte, Florida after hurricane Charley. Initially after the hurricane, a large number of contractors went to the area, donating services, supplies, and other things needed to rebuild the community. The federal government also came in and paid many of the rebuild bills, even things not normally covered by FEMA. Then the money started to run out, and the majority of the volunteers went home. The residents of Port Charlotte did not want the contractors to leave and would have paid the contractors their normal rate to stay and finish the disaster recovery efforts. It was the contractors who originally came on a volunteer basis that felt guilty about taking money from disaster victims. As a result, even two years later, many Port Charlotte residents were still seeking reputable contractors to help them rebuild. It is an unfortunate situation that does not have to happen.
So does that mean it is possible to maintain an income during a disaster and not feel guilty?
Those businesses that are able to help a community after a disaster strikes and offer a needed product or service can even profit handsomely…and ethically.
3 Ways to Serve the Community
When it comes to profiting from disaster, most people think of price gouging or profiteering. Price gouging is not only immoral and unethical, but in every state and every territory, it is also illegal. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, unscrupulous storeowners sold generators that normally retailed for a few hundred dollars for several thousand dollars. All those people received jail time or fines, and their business licenses were revoked. Such people are seeking to profit from misery.
There are essentially three ethical ways to make money after a disaster.
- Volunteer and Donation. In this scenario, you volunteer your time and donate your products or services. You cover all your own costs and accept nothing in return, other than perhaps food and lodging. In return for your time and materials, you get the warm fuzzy feeling of doing something good for the community. You become an everyday hero. If you are visible during this time, you also get great publicity, which could lead to business down the road from those who remember your good deed.
- Discounted Services. This is the most common scenario, and just as the name implies, it means that you offer your products and/or services to the community at a discounted rate. Those who opt to go this route figure out how low they can price something without the decision being a burden on the business. Realize, though, that no one in the community asked for the discount (although none will turn the discount down either). Often, the business owner gives the discount because he or she has some level of altruism.
- Full Price. In this scenario, you come into the community and bid a fair market price for a product or service, roughly equivalent to what other companies would charge during non-disaster times. And because it’s a fair market price, people are more than happy to pay it. This is completely moral and ethical. Unfortunately, few businesses make the transition to full fare after starting out as a volunteer. However, if you really want to grow your business, this is the way to go.
From Free to Fee
Give that the ideal situation for every business in a disaster stricken community is to move from volunteerism to regular business operations as the disaster life cycle turns, how does a business make the transition from a volunteer to a paid consultant or contractor? Here are some suggestions:
- Be upfront. State how long you can offer your products or services for free. For example, tell people, “I can afford to volunteer for two weeks. I can afford to bring X amount of materials. If we run out of materials before two weeks, you supply the material and I’ll stay the remainder of the time I stated.” After the two weeks are up, before you pull out and leave, talk with the people you have been helping. Explain again that you can only afford to volunteer for two weeks. Very often, at that point, they will ask you to bid the remainder of the work. Then you can offer a fair market bid. If you get a “yes,” then why would you not stay? You are already there, and now you are making money. If they say “no,” then they are taking responsibility for their own recovery. At that point, you can go home and tend to your business, knowing that you have done a good deed.
- When your community does its disaster relief plans (before a disaster hits), put your company on the list of businesses available to aid in the recovery efforts. Businesses can work with their local communities to be “first-called” in the event that a disaster strikes. What does that mean? Assuming that the business is capable of responding, that business will put the community recovery at the front of the line.
- Be proactive and contract to provide recovery services before a disaster strikes. A client company contracts with you and pays a retainer fee so that in the event of a disaster, you will put that company at the front of the list. In return, you get the contract for the other work the company needs done. This is completely ethical. In fact, it’s a win-win solution. The company gets the repairs they need done and you have guaranteed work. What could be better?
Strive to Thrive
The bottom line is that businesses need to understand the different ways they can help, and they need to get over the stigma of charging for services during a disaster. Realize that the people receiving your products or services do not mind paying for them. In fact, nobody on the receiving end of the products or services expects to get everything free, and most of them will gladly pay a fair market price for anything you offer. So take full advantage of this profitable market segment. By doing so, you will be helping people in need while helping your own business grow.