By Judy Coblentz

If you’re like many small business owners, the New Year brings the promise of new opportunities and the potential to capitalize on improvements you made to your business during the past 12 months. While these investments may tee you up for a successful 2015, they also warrant a closer look to ensure that you, your employees, and your business are protected from the unexpected.

At this time of the year, we encourage all small business owners to ask themselves five key questions to assess how prepared they are for the year ahead. After reviewing the questions below, you may find that you have a bit of work to do, but it’s better to address these potentially damaging exposures now before something unexpected undermines your success.


Recent surveys suggest that small business owners are optimistic about 2015. While growth is ultimately what most businesses want to achieve, it comes with risks. With that in mind, small business owners should ask themselves:

  1. Did we hire new employees?

Adding employees is a good sign that your business is doing well, but these new hires can pose increased risks to your company. Workplace injuries are more common among less-experienced employees, so review your onboarding procedures and make sure new employees are trained properly, especially if they are working with unfamiliar equipment.  You also should review your Workers Compensation policy with your independent agent to make sure your payrolls reflect what you expect in 2015.  This will avoid audit surprises at the end of the year.

  1. Did we purchase new equipment or make any updates to our building?

Business owners should make sure their property and its contents, including shelving, displays, inventory and any new equipment, are properly insured in the event of a loss. Properties should be insured to their full replacement value, including any recent improvements.

  1. Do we have increased exposure to a cyberattack?

Technology and the sharing of information are central parts of both business operations and our everyday lives, which is why it is imperative that businesses understand the many forms cyber risks take, so that they can protect their data, their bottom line, their customers and their reputations. Talk to an independent agent about your cyber risks and the solutions available to shield against them.

Employee Drivers

Many small business employees often are asked to make a bank deposit or grab lunch for the team. Car accidents are a leading cause of injuries, and can leave a business financially exposed.  Small business owners should ask themselves:

  1. Do our employees use their own cars for business purposes? 

Small business owners can be held responsible for accidents or damages caused by employees operating their own vehicles for business purposes during business hours. “Non-owned auto” coverage helps manage this risk and protects business owners if an accident occurs.  Make sure you have the proper coverage for this exposure.

Disaster Plan

Studies have shown that many small businesses fail to reopen after a natural disaster. Beyond major weather events, unexpected circumstances, such as a fire or significant theft, threaten businesses of all sizes.  Do not be caught off guard; ask yourself:

  1. Do you have an effective plan in place to withstand a disaster? 

A business continuity plan, coupled with a comprehensive insurance plan, greatly increases a small business’ chances of surviving a major disruption to operations.  A continuity plan outlines contingencies and protocols, and may include an alternate location for use during an emergency; back-up records of clients, employees and vendors; and a procedure to communicate to your employees if they are displaced during this disruption.

For many small businesses, 2015 will offer opportunities for growth, but sustaining that success will require thoughtful preparation. Now that the holidays are over and we already are looking forward to spring, it is vital that you take the steps needed to ensure your business is ready for what lies ahead.

Judy Coblentz is the chief underwriting officer, small commercial, for Travelers. Follow her at @Travelers.