You Own a Business and Duty Calls¹
Military reservists have a slew of life's little details to attend to when they get the call to duty, but small business owners face particularly tough challenges. Not only must these men and women make sure all is in order before they deploy, they also must decide how to keep operations going in their absence.
Fortunately, organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE (Senior Corps of Retired Executives) and various business and industry analysts provide a wealth of helpful information to entrepreneurs heading for active duty - including detailed operational strategies to keep their companies thriving for the duration.
Holding Down the Fort
Advice for keeping a company afloat during the owner's absence abounds, with Internet sites, magazine articles and entire books devoted to the subject. From this bewildering welter of words, one clear message comes through: Make arrangements to protect the company BEFORE donning that uniform.
Legal, administrative, financial and staffing provisions properly and systematically addressed can ensure a firm's viability throughout the owner's deployment. So if you're anticipating a military stint, take a good look at these very practical suggestions:
- Look at the long term. As a reservist, treat routine professional training and weekend drills as you would longer absences. The SBA recommends designing and maintaining a Small Business Mobilization Plan detailing critical business tasks, management responsibilities and legal provisions.
- Plan in advance. Tightening business practices well before a call-up can greatly simplify the period prior to deployment. Fundamental strategies include: establishing an emergency fund for slow periods; obtaining personal insurance appropriate to the situation; updating business plans; devising marketing tactics to implement throughout the deployment period; scouting for key managers; contacting company legal staff; assigning power of attorney; notifying clients and vendors; and staying abreast of emerging technology and other developments. Putting together a complete, documented inventory of assets likewise makes good business sense.
- Seek assistance from support agencies. A range of organizations can help an entrepreneur with preparations for departure, some targeting specific branches of the Armed Services. Two excellent resources speaking to these issues are the SBA Office of Veterans Business Development (http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/1/2985). Reservists should visit http://www.sba.gov/veterans-and-military-families. In the public sector, professional or trade organizations can provide financial and logistic information specific to their fields.
- Prepare the staff. One of the biggest perks of employing good people is their willingness to help during tough times. Many human resource experts suggest asking staffers for suggestions on keeping operations humming. In addition, offering bonuses or rewards for continued excellent performance can do a lot to maintain productivity and high standards of service in the owner's absence. The weeks prior to deployment also are a good time to train employees for additional responsibilities, as well as to establish a communication protocol around e-mails and conference calls, if applicable.
- Consider the customer. Customer loyalty does not happen overnight. Rather, it is a product of an entrepreneur's ongoing attention to service. When military deployment looms, savvy business owners will ensure that clients know well in advance about their impending absence. Short newspaper announcements or personal letters will keep clients in the loop, but a face-to-face conservation is warmer and friendlier. If possible, it's also a good idea to send an e-mail note to your contact list from the field, if the situation allows. Clients will be thrilled you thought of them.
- Refer with care. Referring clients to other businesses during deployment makes for good service, even though you may experience temporary loss of some customers. You can bring them back in the fold later on.
- Communicate with suppliers. Make sure to advise vendors regarding details of your upcoming deployment, and make sure they thoroughly understand changes in procedures or policies. Written documentation of new arrangements is critical.
Face financial realities. How to make money and
manage it properly in absentia presents a huge
quandary for deployed business owners. While nothing
can ease every worry, taking certain actions will
lighten the load:
- Consult an accountant about controlling costs, reducing overhead and employing other techniques to keep the company viable.
- Look into the Military Reservist Economic
Injury Disaster Loan program (MREIDL). Managed
through the U.S. Small Business Administration,
MREIDL's purpose is to provide funds to eligible
small businesses to meet routine operating
expenses in the absence of an "essential
employee" on active duty.
These loans cover only necessary obligations until operations return to normal. They do not apply to lost income, lost profits, refinance of long-term debt or business expansion. Complete information is available online at http://www.sba.gov/content/fact-sheet-military-reservist-economic-injury-disaster-loan-program.
- Address all fiscal obligations. Strategies such as notifying the Internal Revenue Service of an upcoming deployment; contacting vendors, creditors and banks; deferring or restructuring loans; updating authorized signature cards; and reviewing credit ratings can prevent costly financial snarls once your military stint wraps up.
- Consider legal issues. No entrepreneur should leave for military duty without consulting a lawyer. Assigning power of attorney, reviewing insurance policies, updating company contracts and revising wills are among the many tasks a good attorney can make easier.