When the weather gets foul, as it has recently here in Portland, business can grind to a halt. Service-based businesses, however, can use it as a chance to get a leg up on their less-prepared (or less-committed) competition.
The general guideline to keep in mind is that your clients are encountering big hits to their routines and likely their own profitability, efficiency and stress levels. You can help ease their weather pain. A well-prepared plan of your own can make you stand out from the competition by providing special attention to your clients, while 'snow-day' time can allow you to catch up for the end of the year.
When you see storms coming, make sure you've at least:
- Printed out hard copies of critical documents needed to maintain business function (directions, calendars, deposit schedules, etc.)
- Prepared for your own needs at home (food/water, weatherizing, emergency supplies and childcare plans, to name a few)
- Ensured access to transportation (bus schedules to critical appointments, etc.) and communication (mobile access to email and phone with fully charged batteries)
- Notified key business partners (especially banks and other institutions whom you may not be able to pay in a timely manner)
- Planned communication to employees regarding office opening times/snow day status (consider linking your snow-day status to a nearby school until the weather becomes less difficult)
- Use time from cancellations of networking meetings or other routine events to create new value for your clients. For example, could you bring your business to them, rather than have them come to you? If a client who typically comes to your office can stay warm and safe at their own office or favorite coffee shop while you brave the weather on their behalf, it lets them know how committed you are to their business and their needs.
- Catch up on past-due work or do 'extra credit.' If you have assignments which are near-due or past-due, use 'snow day' time to finish them up and deliver them while your client has time to review them more carefully than normal. If you find market info for them while you're cruising around the net, save it and send it in a courtesy email.
- If your client is overburdened by managing the weather, lend a hand. If you have a weather-worthy car and give a ride, or have extra supplies around, offer yourself to your clients. Could you be the sand-man and bring salt or anti-slip grit to your client's doorstep, perhaps with a note?
- Be proactive about keeping appointments. My partner and I have been leaving twenty minutes earlier to get to the office, and I have been confirming every appointment which might be affected by travel, adjusting timelines to ensure that I can get myself there on time or that my client isn't rushed in bad weather.
- Catch up on correspondence, blogs and social networks. If you are on Facebook, Linkedin or any other sites, use the fact that many more people will be home on the net than usual; start conversations with new contacts and catch up with acquaintances you haven't been in touch with recently.
- Don't surprise your clients with a bill if they're not expecting it. If your clients normally pay you in person or from their office, but you know they're stuck at home, make polite arrangements to collect in advance. Framing the conversation with "So that you don't have to brave the weather…" or another statement which will genuinely provide value. I've let trusted clients know that they can put off their retainers a bit, or offer to come pick up their check. Especially if the bill is unexpected (eg, not a retainer or subscription), consider the other expenses your clients may be incurring to deal with the weather, and think about delaying until after the storm.
- Be clear about cancellation policies, and revise them prior to the next storm.