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The waters may be subsiding but what would you do to keep your business afloat in times of disaster?

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Businesses throughout Australia are currently grappling with how the floods have affected and will continue to affect their operations in coming days, weeks, months and even years.

Some are teetering with optimism for the construction and commodity stimulus that rebuilding and repairs undoubtedly will bring, while others are wretched with horror as they try to understand how they can ever recover from the enormous blow of losing shopfronts, factories, warehouses and workplaces.

And then there are those we forget: the businesses who are being closed out by a rapid change in market conditions that are difficult to predict, and challenging to accept.

Consider the bait and tackle shops around Moreton Bay, who now must struggle under an indefinite fishing ban, and the restaurateurs in Milton whose suburban customers are now so busy dealing with their personal circumstances that they may change their leisure and dining habits for quite some time.

Even architects and developers throughout Brisbane are wondering whether proposed major developments on flood plains will be postponed indefinitely.

Like in times before, there are winners and losers from disasters. Those unaffected by water are already winners in the eyes of many, but what we forget is that 13 January 2011 changed the drivers for many businesses in SEQ, and turned customer buying behaviour unexpectedly on its head.

In this process, many businesses have been or will be caught out and, in effect, may become victims of the flood, without ever being water-damaged.

If such an upheaval happened to you, what would you do? How would you respond?

Here are five top tips to keep things moving in tough times.

1. Communicate with your clients.

If your business is affected by a natural disaster, tell your clients. When it gets back to operating normally (or almost normally), tell them this news too. If things are not going to plan, tell them what to expect. In three words, communicate, communicate, communicate!

2. Care for those who need it.

It is important at this time to reach out and offer leadership and support to your staff, clients and industry colleagues, particularly if you have not been affected yourself. For example, Brisbane, like most Aussie cities, is a parochial place with a long memory. And what many individuals forget is that the community around you is what your business is built on.

3. Reconsider the target audiences for your business.

It is important that after any sudden market shift you a long hard look at your business, and understand whether the event has driven a shift in sentiment within your target markets, potentially changing the way you promote and sell your services?

4. Understand what is making people buy right now.

The reasons people are buying your products and services for this week, for example, and for the foreseeable future may be very different from the reasons they were buying them two or three weeks ago. Think about the buying motivations of your target audience and how you can connect with them in light of their current and changing needs.

5. Step up and tackle the challenges with generosity and care.

It is one thing to sit back and analyse the risks that a major event, like a flood, could have on your business. It is another to step up to the challenges and make decisions that will change the way the market reacts to your company and your products and services.

While it is completely inappropriate to exploit other people’s suffering, it is not inappropriate to offer help and generosity.

So consider putting your business front of mind with the markets that matter to you by reaching out to those who need it with an experienced helping hand, or the things they need at a discount. It’s a mantra we live by, teach in our workshops and firmly believe in for honest business success: “Give generosity first.”

Rebecca Wilson is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Stretch Marketing, and the Co-Founder of Flood Discounts, a volunteer venture to bring together all of the discounts available for flood victims in the 2011 national floods.

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