The coldest winter for three decades last year saw many businesses suffer as a result of torrential snow, with more than a quarter of staff across the UK failing to get to work due to treacherous conditions.
Many restaurants temporarily closed due to lack of supplies, while hotels in the countryside saw room bookings and conference cancellations rise.
Michelin-starred Belfast restaurant Deanes lost £120k in bookings in January this year when a frozen pipe burst, flooding the premises.
More snow on the way
Now forecasters have predicted similar temperatures will hit the UK this winter, causing more of the disruptive snowfall that cost small businesses across the UK around £230m per day.
The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is urging small companies to learn from their experiences last year, and prepare ahead of time this winter.
“I think it’s fair to say that last winter’s extreme weather conditions caught out many small business owners,” said FPB spokesman Phil McCabe.
“A lot of small firms struggled to continue trading as employees failed to make it into work, deliveries were cancelled and freezing temperatures caused heating equipment to fail, leaving their premises unusable.
“Obviously, in the current climate, small firms can ill afford a similar expenditure this year so we’re urging business owners to think about their contingency plans now to ensure they aren’t put out of action by another icy winter.”
According to a YouGov poll, 58 per cent of small businesses said their companies were negatively affected by last winter’s snowfall, despite 78 per cent claiming they were sufficiently prepared.
Business Link has suggested businesses take the following steps to ensure they stay operational throughout the coming months:
Get an expert to check that gas fires, boilers and central heating are in full working order. Ensure that any portable heaters are working and bleed radiators where necessary.
Leave heating on in empty buildings to maintain a temperature of at least four degrees Celsius, to prevent pipes from freezing and cracking. Check the timers on your heating to ensure it turns on and off at the right time.
Repair any dripping taps. If the weather is cold enough, drips can freeze before they drain away, causing pipes to block and burst.
Ensure that internal and external stopcocks are accessible and labelled properly, in case water pipes burst and you need to turn off the supply to your building. Advise staff of their location.
Reduce heat loss and save money on your energy bills. Fit draught excluders to seal any gaps around windows and doors. Ensure that pipes are properly insulated. Consider replacing old windows with double-glazing – you are likely to keep in 25 per cent more heat.
Assess your energy use and take steps to improve your efficiency. The Carbon Trust's free online Action Plan tool can help you identify the steps you need to take to make your building more energy efficient.
Allow as much natural light into your premises as possible. This can help boost staff morale and prevent conditions such as seasonal affective disorder. Using natural rather than artificial lighting will also cut your energy bills.
Make sure you have adequate contents insurance and utilities service cover so that your premises are serviced quickly in the event of a breakdown or if you need emergency repairs.
Inspect your roof for loose tiles and ensure that guttering is clear from blockages. Check nearby trees for low-hanging branches or unstable root structures – they might damage your building.
Move stock and equipment above flood level. If your building is prone to flooding, consider buying items such as water-absorbent cushions, flood alarms and airbrick covers.
Review and update your business continuity plan. Consider what you would do in the event of a disaster. Get hold of insurance company details and ensure emergency contact staff have copies.