By Scott Humphrey

The holiday shopping season is upon us, which means big opportunities for many small businesses. However, this time of year can also bring additional risks. The likelihood of cyber attacks, property damage and a myriad of other risks are amplified as stores add decorations, stock, customers and employees. To help avoid many of the risks that can ruin the holiday season, Travelers recommends business owners pay close attention to four key areas:

  1. Decorate Wisely. While festive window displays can bring in business, decorations like dried flowers, ornaments and crepe paper are highly combustible. Placing them away from open flames and heat sources, including light bulbs and heaters, can help reduce the chances of a fire.
  2. Keep Close Tabs On Your Supply Chain. Having the coveted gifts available is key to success for most small businesses during the busy holiday season. To help ensure that proper inventory is on the shelves or in the warehouse, small business owners need to carefully manage every part of their supply chain and create a contingency plan for when an interruption occurs. Part of the plan should include arrangements with secondary suppliers and options for customers should a product become unavailable.
  3. Prevent Holiday Cyber Attacks. As businesses become increasingly dependent on online sales, the cost of a cyber breach can be debilitating. With high projections for online sales growth this year, businesses must ensure necessary security infrastructure and risk management plans are in place to help thwart cyber criminals. This includes understanding the types and amount of data the company has stored; actively monitoring online sales; evaluating the company’s systems and how to protect them; and setting up an incident response team that can quickly respond to a data breach.
  4. Train Your Seasonal Workers. Seasonal workers can create year-round risks for small businesses due to increased exposure to injury, customer service risks and theft. When small businesses pull extra hands on deck this holiday season, they should take measures to help prevent liabilities by properly training new employees; keeping close tabs on daily transactions; and setting up unique logins and passwords for each employee entering the business’ system.

With marquee shopping events upcoming, including Black Friday, Small Business Saturday® and Cyber Monday, small business owners must be aware of how to handle a serious disruption. Setting up a comprehensive risk management plan early on can help small businesses thrive, both in store and online, this holiday season. This may involve assessing the vulnerability of the facility and the potential impact of an event on employees, property, customers, operations and the environment; identifying the functions or processes that are necessary to provide goods and services to customers; developing a plan that provides controls for preventing incidents that threaten life, property, operations and the environment; and lastly, implementing, testing and adjusting the plan as needed.

Scott Humphrey is the director of technical service, risk control for Travelers.