Canada’s small businesses learned a tough lesson in business continuity readiness this month when Canada Post locked out its workers and snail mail came to a full stop.
The mail is an essential service for many businesses even in a world where more business is being done electronically all the time. Until 3D printers are combined with quantum tunneling technology by some sort of genius mad scientist to invent teleportation technology, we’re stuck wrapping stuff up in thin brown paper, taping it up, and sending it off in the mail. When your business is in selling physical goods, it doesn’t do you much good to be taking orders online when you can’t fill them.
A couple of businesses we talked to this week felt some real pain over the Canada Post stoppage. A St. John’s collectable coins eBay seller estimated that he lost $10,000 in sales, and an Ontario sports memorabilia seller says he missed out on an expected 60 orders per day of hockey merchandise related to the Stanley Cup final. No wonder Vancouver fans were rioting – they couldn’t get their Luongo jerseys!
Joking aside, businesses that felt the sting of a critical service being yanked out from underneath them should take this opportunity to evaluate their resilience. Whether you blame Canada Post or the Canadian Union of Postal Workers on who was right, the fact is that the mail stopped and it was out of your control – so what to do if it, or something similar, happens again? To quote the Boy Scouts, “Be prepared.”
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Communication with your customers is key. Use your Web site and other online channels to let customers know that you are affected by the service stoppage and let them know what alternatives are available. In the case of the Canada Post lockout, customers could be offered the option to pay for shipping by a private company like FedEx or Purolator. Or perhaps their order can be processed and the goods shipped as soon as the strike ended.
Diversifying your business can also help alleviate some pain. If you rely 100 per cent on shipping goods in the mail, and the mail stops – you’re in trouble. Evaluate what other types of products or services you could offer to customers that are outside of your traditional focus. Having alternate streams of revenue will not only fortify you against unforeseen service stoppages, but it could make your day-to-day business more profitable as well.
If diversification isn’t an option, really consider how to best use your time if you’re not making sales. Is there some business maintenance task left on your to-do list that you’ve been meaning to finish? Are there some former customers that you could reconnect with? Does your staff need to be trained on a new process? Think about what might give you a boost once you get back to your normal day-to-day operations.
There’s no time to start preparing like the present. After all, small businesses may not be free and clear of the threat of a mail stoppage – postal workers are challenging the federal government’s back to work legislation in court, saying it discriminates against new employees.