Natural disasters could impact your painting business. Are you prepared? In this episode, Michael and Chris discuss preparedness best practices that can help keep your painting company operational, including:

  • How to prevent data loss
  • How to keep working if your office is damaged
  • How to protect your business assets
  • How to maintain financial stability
  • How to communicate with team members and clients

For more information about the tools, techniques, and resources discussed in this episode, please visit:

Episode Transcript

Intro: Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential and industrial painters to grow their businesses and their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters and other trades, and this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.

Chris Raines: All right, welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, the podcast from my name is Chris Raines. I’m joined by Michael Utley. How you doing, Michael? Good morning.

Michael Utley: Good and happy Friday.

Chris Raines: Happy Friday. Happy morning. We want to do an episode today on how to prepare for disasters. Now, by the time this airs or gets posted online, things might look very different than they do right now. Today’s date is March-

Michael Utley: March, it’s Friday the 13th.

Chris Raines: Friday the 13th. We’re in the-

Michael Utley: What else can happen?

Chris Raines: We’re in the middle of the coronavirus scare, which might look different in three weeks when this is-

Michael Utley: Hopefully.

Chris Raines: When this is posted, hopefully better. And we’re in Nashville, Tennessee and we just got hit by a pretty disastrous tornado.

Michael Utley: Yep. A legit tornado.

Chris Raines: Tornado rip through. Missed my house by about a couple miles. Missed your house by-
Michael Utley: 10, by 10 houses. Yeah.

Chris Raines: By 10 houses.

Michael Utley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Raines: So.

Michael Utley: But did not miss our offices.

Chris Raines: Yeah. Did not miss our office. We had some roof damage here. Had to work remote for awhile.

Michael Utley:  No power for a week.

Chris Raines: So Michael, that got us talking about these sort of things happen. Disasters, if you live in the coastal areas, you’re going to get hit by hurricane eventually.

Michael Utley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Raines: There’s floods, there’s all kinds of things.

Michael Utley: Fires in Cali.

Chris Raines: Fires, yeah.

Michael Utley: Our clients have dealt with that.

Chris Raines: So we can’t… To a certain extent, we can’t avoid these things happening. This is part of living in the world and all the randomness that comes along with that. But we wanted to take [an] episode and just talk about A) like how do you prepare as best you can for the inevitable unforeseen emergency, disaster, fire, flood, so on happens? And two, how do you respond to it?

Michael Utley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Raines:You know, most businesses have team members internally, they have clients. If you’re a painting business, you have clients that may or may not get affected, and they’ll have worries one way or the other about the fallout of things. And you have your operations that you deal with. So we wanted to take an episode and just talk about how to prepare.

Michael Utley: Yeah, and this is a two part series. First episode we’re going to cover natural disasters and some of the things that are unique around that. And then next episode, pandemics. And I think these are both relevant and I don’t want to say this is not a real episode. This is totally going to be a real episode of the podcast for our regular listeners, but we’re also just kind of not freaking out, but it’s a lot to process what’s been going on here. And so for us, this is just a chance to kind of talk through how we handled it and what I think so far has been a successful preparation and response for both of our companies. And just sort of how we anticipated and then handled things. And some of the nuts and bolts stuff that’s going to come out of this that I think is helpful for people is going to be what you did beforehand and then the highlights of what to message during, before, and after, internally and externally. So it’s a little bit of an outline.

Michael Utley: So, yeah. So why don’t we jump into preparation. So, Raines, you want to start talking a little bit about prep and we’ll both talk about it.

Chris Raines: Well, the first thing that comes into my mind with prep is now businesses are different. So you know, this might not apply or might apply to varying degrees, but if you need to think about if it’s a natural disaster, your place of business getting destroyed-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Think about what do we have? What information and data do we have at that location that’s not backed up and what can we do to make sure? So payroll information, client records, everything like that. There’s all kinds of solutions out there that you can get that involve remote cloud backup of those things or even physical backup. So one thing you can do if you want to just audit your operations, what’s going on, is take a look at all of your records. What’s absolutely critical that you have and make sure that that exists in another location, either physically or in the cloud.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And you know, years ago my father was an attorney and a lot of his existence existed around paper in terms of sort of having it, and it would be really hard for him to imagine how to go cloud-based.

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Utley: Even though he was working in an environment that was starting to digitize and he was on sort of the forefront of that actually. In the late eighties had the ability to submit court cases electronically, pre-internet, very innovative. But man, they had so much paper in that building. But these days we’ve got options for that.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: We don’t really have to live that way. And so yeah, you really, at this point in the game, if there’s a filing cabinet that you’re terrified of losing, you need to reduce that threat level. Whether it’s fire damage or water damage from a fire-

Chris Raines:Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Utley: It’s unacceptable this day and age to function with a filing cabinet that you cannot lose. In a fire safe, with a handful of your personal stuff that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a system for on an ongoing basis, critical documents being scanned to the cloud.

Michael Utley:And so what we do at GoEpps, the parent company of SearchPrimer, is we maintain full backup of all working documents in the cloud. Not on a monthly or quarterly or annual backup basis to kind of make sure that we’ve got records. No, no, no. Everything we do as soon as it’s received, it’s scanned and we move it into a digital environment to work with it. And because of that, we don’t really have to worry.

Michael Utley: And let’s take this one step further. And we’re going to talk about hardware, and office space, and stuff like that and what your business is. But when you have computers that people are using, it’s okay to have desktop computers. It’s okay to have laptops, but every piece of hardware needs to be treated like something that could be dropped in a lake, and it’s just a matter of making sure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands to make sure that that piece of hardware sort of closed out, in terms of access to any records. You do not need to have any material functioning on a desktop computer or a laptop that you cannot lose. It should always be cloud based at this point.

Chris Raines: Yeah. And the action step there is reach out to… You know, GoEpps doesn’t do IT management or anything along those lines, but reach… There are local companies in your area that deal specifically with IT.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And they can set you up with an ironclad plan for backing up everything offsite and things like that.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Nashville audience, since we’re headquartered in Nashville, even though we both work with clients coast to coast in the USA, we would recommend reaching out to Affinity Tech Partners and talking to Sean and Betsy over there. But yeah, but you really should not be living day to day with the fear of losing a computer or a building because of the documents.

Chris Raines: Yeah. And Michael, the other thing, another thing I’m thinking about is just cash reserves. I mean, this is something we talked.

Michael Utley: It’s hard. It’s hard. Let’s talk about that.

Chris Raines: Yeah. I mean this is something that we look at with family budgets. You know, do you have an emergency fund? Like the Dave Ramsey, like have… What is it? Three to six months of expenses? The same thing should apply, if at all possible for your business.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And you can weather a lot of storms that way. So how do you look at cash reserves?

Michael Utley: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think 90 days is kind of a minimum for everyone’s thinking. And what you want to avoid is you want to avoid that any little bump in the road is going to suddenly put at risk your relationships with your staff through payroll, but also with vendors. If you’re that party who can continue to pay during a crisis, that’s going to go a long way with vendors, and they’re going to see you as stable. So it’s really sort of a separation of the wheat and the chaff as far as key vendors are concerned.

Chris Raines: And cash creates confidence too.

Michael Utley: That’s right.

Chris Raines: It creates confidence internally in yourself as a business owner if you know that if you got zero clients over the next four months, five months, that you could pay all of your obligations. That creates a tremendous amount of confidence and it also creates confidence with your team. I mean I would encourage you to communicate that with your team. Like “Listen guys, this is tough, but we have 400 days,” and that’s a lot. It’s longer than a year. But like, “You know, we have four to five months of cash reserves. If zero business comes in, we’re paying all of our bills.”

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So just so… And that creates confidence because your team’s going to be looking to you as a leader to set the tone. And if you’re not confident, it’s going to be harder to project confidence.

Michael Utley: Yeah, and cash is one of those things that is the best insurance policy, which let’s also talk about insurance. But yeah, cash is hard because everyone wants to… A lot of our clients are kind of rapid growth companies and they’re into sort of growth hacking and how can I put these pieces together and grow as fast as possible. And that’s good, but that generally sucks up all the cash. And so a good rule of thumb is to have goals and milestones and work your way through them. I say have 90 days in cash on hand and then have six months. You know, work through those objectives and just, you know, I mean you may even be at kind of 15 days and need to work to 30. Wherever you are Just continue to make progress and work your way up to as much as is reasonable. And at some point it’s prohibitive because you know you should be reinvesting more and faster in the business. But I think 90 days is a good kind of benchmark of like, okay, we can breathe.

Chris Raines: Right. Let’s talk about insurance. This obviously applies to natural disasters.

Michael Utley:Yeah.

Chris Raines: You know, I don’t know what my thoughts are on that.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: I mean if you own a building, obviously make sure that your policy covers any kind of likely natural disaster that’s going to occur in your area. So if you’re on the coast, make sure hurricanes are checked off.

Michael Utley: If you’re in California, make sure earthquakes are included, or Memphis.

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Yeah. So what else insurance? Just make sure your-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: We’re not really skilled in the insurance industry here. You can talk to a professional about that.

Michael Utley: Yeah, but I would say that for the folks that we speak to and we work with, I think insurance for a lot of young business owners or people who are just getting started out, insurance is one of those things that feels like a tax on being up and running. It really feels unfair when you’re starting to buy insurance for the first time.

Chris Raines: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Utley: It’s really hard to write that check because it is not something that’s generating value.

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Utley: And so yeah, I think at the end of the day you have to treat it sort of like taxes on profits. It’s a good problem to have. And so if you’re up and running, especially if you have staff, especially if you have people who depend on you, you need to think through continuity of operations, and just ask yourself the question, “Wow, if the building got hit or if we lost all of our equipment, what would we do?”

Michael Utley: And that could be trucks, it could be equipment that you’re using to do commercial or residential projects. It could also be just communications equipment. And if you have a home office in it, depending on how much material you’re depending on there, everything you’re dependent on, you need to know if all of that got erased over a period of 20, you know, overnight, what would we do tomorrow to get back into operations? And then how much money do we need to do that? And then that’s how much insurance you need to have. And again, we’re not professionals, but we’re just speaking from experience. So disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer. But, yeah, that’s absolutely a mark of a professional company that’s up and running is to be properly insured.

Michael Utley: And let’s talk. One more thing on preparation operations. Let’s talk about continuity of operations. Why don’t we kind of take turns on this. After the recent tornadoes hit here in East Nashville, we lost lots of lives in the state of Tennessee. And Chris, I didn’t personally know anybody who died. Did you?

Chris Raines: No.

Michael Utley: Okay. And our homes, we’ve talked about that, were not hit. We have a lot of friends who lost homes. And then the office here on Main Street was hit and we lost power. The building had an HVAC unit picked up and then dropped back on the building, which came in through the ceiling partially and caused water to pull into the building. And then we just got power back and were able to reenter the building yesterday. So let’s talk about continuity of operations. How did you keep things up and running through a tornado? And we’ll both take turns on this.

Chris Raines: Yeah, well, I mean both of our businesses are at a leg up on continuity of operations because almost everything we do doesn’t require anything physical. It’s all digital. We’re digital marketers, digital advertisers.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So for me it was simply, you know, I take my computer back and forth to work. Right?

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And I think you do too.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: And so I just did my work in a different location. And so my work involves building things online, and building campaigns, and monitoring campaigns. So you can do all that as long as you have a wifi signal.

Michael Utley: So everything for you cloud-based. You were able to just keep going.

Chris Raines: Yeah, yeah, pretty much. What about you?

Michael Utley: Yeah, our experience was close to that, but not exactly. Since we’re a little bit of a larger footprint than your company in terms of staff, for us success, this last week came down to a handful of factors. Number one, we buy equipment for people that they can take with them. We use Mac computers that are laptops, they’re portable. We pay for everyone’s cell phone. We don’t use desk phones. We use iPhones and we pay for everyone’s iPhones. So the trade off there is we expect them to have their phones with them and to be available if a website has an issue or there’s a client emergency.

Michael Utley: The other, the big thing that we did was communicate expectations for disasters beforehand. And I would say we were caught a little bit flatfooted on that. We had been communicating around coronavirus and thought we had more time and we’ll talk about that more in the next episode. But then the tornado hit and it was like, “Hey, activate coronavirus plan.” We had a couple of laptops that were in the office and so we were able to get in. Our production leader, Gina Medlin and I, were able to get into the building and grab those laptops, turn off or take some food out of the fridge so that we didn’t have a big issue when we came back to the facility and then evacuate the building. And then we were out of the building for a week.

Michael Utley: So yeah, I think having a plan for everyone. Well number one, here how I would take it. Oh, let’s do this. Number one, understand your business and understand what continuity of operations are possible without your location. If you’re in a location-based business and you happen to be listening to this, your situation’s going to be very different. But for a lot of our clients who are team-based and truck-based going out to commercial and residential sites and factories and you know, going out and doing construction, you’re really more based on are the roads open and can we communicate with one another? And so in that case, what I would do is really think through, okay, what would it be like not to have a home base for a while? And then say-

Chris Raines: Just work through a typical day.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, and think about things like, “Well, do we have a board where everybody gets their jobs for the day? Are we like the police department where everybody checks in at home base for the day and gets assigned to a team and goes out?”

Chris Raines: And can we replace that with a Google sheet or something like that where everybody can go to one place?

Michael Utley: Yeah, you need to be in a point with your business where whatever the level of in-person this is that’s needed for day to day operations that you’re comfortable with, you need to be comfortable with one click, less face-to-face interaction. So if you could imagine being a hundred percent virtual and cloud-based, figure it out and have two clear modes. If there’s normal operations where it’s easier to do some things face to face, have that as a regular business mode. But I’ll tell you this, for GoEpps, parent company of SearchPrimer, going forward we will always have two modes that we’re working in: standard operating in the office mode and what we’ll probably just call coronavirus mode. And that’s because all of our training that we did before the tornadoes that got used for the tornadoes was for our planning for coronavirus and that’s remote mode. And so if it’s a different job board, if it’s a different, anything that’s physically needed.

Michael Utley: And then besides that, I would just… I think a lot of it’s about setting expectations with the team. This is a big one. I think there’s a snow day mindset that can kick in with workers and employees that owners don’t feel. And I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the people listening to this right now are owners and the two of us are owners. And so being an owner means you’re taking responsibility for the unexpected. And I think part of doing that is setting expectations. So I think having this plan and communicating it before the disaster hits is the number one key. And identifying how you’re going to maintain operations during a natural disaster to keep money moving is something that can be trained.

Chris Raines: Yeah. And one big, you mentioned snow day mentality and that’s very real I think. And I think the way you combat that is you increase. So do things like if you have a… You know, a lot of companies have a standing like a standup meeting or agile meeting every day-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Where you take 15 minutes and say “What are you going to work on today that’s going to get done?” And then there’s accountability built in because the next day-

Michael Utley: Right.

Chris Raines: You say, “Did you get that done?”

Chris Raines: So implementing that, if you don’t have that already will help. And maybe everybody gets on a call-

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: At 9:00 AM if you’re all remote.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: You get on a Zoom call or a Google Hangout and say, “All right, what’s everybody doing today?” You take it down. Then the next day you check in.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And that if people have that, if they know that that next day is coming and say, “Hey, we had this on your to-do’s yesterday, did you get that done?” They’re less likely to just kind of kick back and turn on the TV and view it as a snow day.

Michael Utley: That’s right. Yeah. It’s all about setting expectations. And if you set expectations before disaster hits and say we’re going to choose to continue to function, even if bad things happen, then everyone’s sort of there. And so yeah, taking a play and this gets into our next… We’re going to wrap this up with comments on team communications and then client communications. But in terms of team communications, I think the highlights are what we just covered. Setting expectations. Also telling people it’s going to be okay and checking in with them, making sure they’re okay.

Chris Raines: Right.

Michael Utley: When there’s a natural disaster, there’s no getting around the human element. So let’s talk about that.

Chris Raines: And not just them. Somebody might’ve had someone close to them. Even if you know that their house is okay, they didn’t get hit by the tornado.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: They might know someone that got killed, so it’s being sensitive on the front end.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Not going into work mode.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: You know because these are people. We’re all people, you know. And so [crosstalk 00:19:53], talk to them as a person first.

Michael Utley: Start with a question, how are you doing?

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: And that’s… If you’re in a natural… So, okay, so now we’re going to talk about client or team communications. If you’re an owner or if you’re, you know, a head of operations. If you’re someone who’s actively leading and managing people, here’s your number one job. Take care of those people. And they are humans first. And they may be standing there looking like they’re ready for action, ready to go. You have no idea what’s going on. So start with, “How are you doing?” And that might get messy, but guess what? They’re not going to do their jobs until they’ve been able to process stuff that’s going on. If they’re trying to do their work and show up for work and be present and they haven’t communicated something, gosh, just make sure. Just check in and start with that first.

Michael Utley: But yeah, but I think client communications comes down to what we talked about, prep, prep beforehand, and setting expectations.

Chris Raines: And I’ll add one thing-

Michael Utley: For customer… Staff communications. Sorry.

Chris Raines: I’ll add one thing for client communication, and this is less client and more just like communication in general. Check anything that you have scheduled to go out either in social media or email.

Michael Utley: Oh, that’s a good catch, yeah.

Chris Raines: Audit all that stuff. And it’s probably okay. It’s probably going to be fine, but you never know something that you thought that was funny prior to an event happening and now is very inappropriate because of a thing that happens.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So scheduling is convenient and good for social media and email and all that, but it can catch you if you’ve got a communication that because of an event that happened becomes a bad tone or not the right thing to say or outright offensive.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And we can talk more about that on our coronavirus episode, but yeah, I think social media that’s prescheduled, if you have a number of things that are set and it could be something innocuous. For example, you could be a tree service company that does tree work and if you have a tornado go through and see an overwhelming response from the community. Nashville had this amazing volunteer response and I think Cookeville is probably been the same way. I haven’t heard as much news about that because I live here in East Nashville. But the overwhelming response was volunteers were out. There were people, disaster crews coming in from out of state saying, “We showed up and all the work had been done by volunteers. We’ve never seen anything like this.” And that’s Tennessee, baby.

Chris Raines: Yeah, volunteer state, man.

Michael Utley: And it’s true. That’s how we do things. And I think we’ve kind of lived up to the name to a degree, but I also think it’s, I don’t know, maybe kind of a southern thing. But people show up. You know, guys drive up in trucks from Alabama with chainsaws and get stuff done.

Michael Utley: But if you’re advertising tree services in a disaster zone, it looks like self-promotion and preying on victims. So yeah, it could even be something that’s not even a joke. It’s just normal stuff.

Chris Raines: Yeah, so you change-

Michael Utley: You’ve got to look at it through a different set of eyes.

Chris Raines: That’s a really good point. So if you’re doing tree services and you’ve got a regular social media ad campaign.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Maybe you don’t have to stop advertising, but change the tone-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And say, “Hey, we’re with the community. We’re here for you.”

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: “We understand.” You know, just changing the tone can be-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: I don’t know how many roof ads I’ve seen on Facebook in the last… And most of them have an appropriate tone I think.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: I’m back and forth on, well how I feel about just them in general because it’s just kind of, I don’t know.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: But yeah, audit everything you’ve got that’s going out.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And then maybe a last point on communications. We talked about team communications. You know, treating people as humans, checking in with them. You know, showing care and leadership. And then on the client communication side, here’s what I think really matters. And here’s how we handled the tornado. When Jeana and I got into the office, we realized, “Hey, this is an actual emergency that we’re in. Where we’re going to have to give ourselves some space to function here.” So we immediately decided we’re closing today and starting tomorrow we’re remote. And we are going to be at 100% operational readiness starting tomorrow. And what I decided to do was go ahead and send out a clear, succinct email to all clients to say, and this was after we had checked in with everyone, knew everyone was safe, to let everyone know that we were safe because we knew they were going to see this on CNN and know that we were directly in the path. You know, we’re down, we’re right in Main Street in Nashville. You know, sort of… I mean, I don’t think I’m exaggerating, ground ground.
Chris Raines: Our building literally got hit.

Michael Utley: Our building got hit. You know, we lost power, very, very disruptive. But we clearly communicated that we would be out for the day, and that we were all safe, and that we had a plan, and that we were not stopping. And I’ve only had a couple of clients offer to tap the brakes on stuff. And we said… And we immediately responded to those separately and just said, “No. No, there’s no reason for us to slow down. We’re up and running and we’re not going to let a tornado hurt our ability to deliver services to you.” Now, depending on the situation, that could be impossible or whatever, but it’s always important to be proactive with communications and give yourself space to do two things. Number one, take care of your team. Give them space to deal with whatever they’re having to deal with. But number two, you don’t want to lose the momentum.

Chris Raines: Momentum, yeah. If you have an-

Michael Utley: And strength of a company because you just didn’t get an email sent out.

Chris Raines: Yeah. And I would, yeah, I would go through all the estimates you have over the next week.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And first of all, make sure that they’re… Send an email that says, “Hey, I hope you’re fine and you hope your house didn’t get hit,” if you’re doing residential or commercial.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: It doesn’t matter.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: And then say, “We have an estimate scheduled for next Tuesday-”
Michael Utley: Yeah.
Chris Raines:”At 10:00 AM. Will you still plan on coming? Let us know if that’s okay.”

Michael Utley: Yeah, and I would even go further in customer and client communications and say, don’t just communicate a request for patience if patience is needed. Demonstrate that you are on top of things even if there’s going to be a delay. It’s okay to let them know we’re going to close for 24, 48 hours and then we will be functioning in remote mode, or we will be functioning in from a separate location, but we have your estimate scheduled and we don’t expect more than a 24 hour delay.

Michael Utley: Whatever is realistic that you’re not going to disappoint. You don’t want to disappoint later either, but it’s really important to proactively communicate realistically if you intend to maintain operations after a disaster.

Chris Raines: Yeah, that’s good. Well that’s all we have. We’re at the 29 minute mark right now. But yeah, hope that was helpful and we’ll see you on the next one.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Thank you everybody and we’re all good here in Nashville. And really if you hear this and you’re a client, thank you for all the well wishes and for sticking with us. It’s been a crazy week here in Nashville and we’re really thankful for each and every one of you audience members and clients. Thank you.

Chris Raines: Represent.

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