The very tragic events in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast got me wondering what I would do if my business were wiped out. You need to ask the question about your businesses too. Your customer list should be stored in a secure place off site; and in light of recent events, maybe even out of your state.

Your customer list is a gold mine. If you have your customer list, you can start your business over because you absolutely know the names, telephone numbers, e-mail and physical addresses of your customers and potential customers.

These are the people who write your paychecks. These are the people who can help you, and most likely will help you get started again. Why? Because they trust you. You've done work for them in the past and they know that you will take care of their systems. They'll trust you before a company they've never heard of, especially in times of crisis.

Many contractors I work with have thousands of names on their active and inactive customer lists. There is no way that you can remember all of their names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

You've got to keep that information in a computer somewhere.

For those few of you who still keep all information in file cabinets, the experience in the Gulf should propel you to computerize it and store that data offsite!

Likewise, your accounts receivable list is critical. These companies and people owe you money for new construction, installations, service agreements/contracts, and potentially service work too. Cash flow is critical at all times. However, it is even more critical to know who owes you and the exact amount they owe. Again, there is no way that you will remember everyone and how much they owe.

And It's Not Just Lists

Inventory? If you are in a devastated area, it's gone. Make sure that you have insurance to cover the replacement cost of all your inventory. That's right, replacement cost. If you have inventory sitting on your shelves, it can depreciate. You want the replacement cost because that's what you'll have to pay now to replace it.

Fixed assets? Keep a list of all of your trucks, their VIN numbers, and other assets of the company. Again, have insurance to cover the replacement cost.

And, in all fairness, you need an accurate list of all the company liabilities. Contact your creditors and communicate what is going on during times of dire need. Work out long-term payment plans if you don't have insurance to cover these debts.

Storing your company's asset information offsite is critical when disaster hits. Hopefully it never will. However, it is much better to be prepared than be out of business.

Ruth King is director of HVAC ChannelTV. She can be reached at 800-511-6844,; or visit

Publication date: 10/10/2005