November 21, 2011 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:28 pm
EXPERT CORNER

Small-business owners can take control of risks

Michael Keane

Running a small business is no easy task. Most business owners spend eight, 10, 12 hours a day doing what they love, and then, put in more time as the heads of facilities management, procurement, marketing, information technology, finance, human resources, legal, compliance and more.

With a limited amount of time, business owners are careful to focus their energies on those things that matter most. In almost all cases, insurance should be treated as a priority, to ensure that they won't lose their hopes, dreams or business if something goes wrong.

The first step is easy. Business owners should discuss their coverage needs with a local independent insurance agent who has experience working with small businesses and expertise in their specific industry. They will talk to you about the most common business insurance policies, such as general liability insurance, property insurance, workers' compensation and professional liability insurance.

But, beyond basic coverage, it is a good idea to ask your independent agent about carriers who specialize in small business insurance. These carriers will work closely with your independent agent to add distinctive value beyond basic coverage, with complimentary programs that help manage and reduce risks.

Here are some areas business owners should address with their insurers:

Auto Losses — Even if you don't own a company car, if your employees run business-related errands using their own vehicles or are reimbursed for mileage, or if you occasionally rent cars for business travel, you could be at risk. The best agents will ask these questions, will not only make sure you're are properly insured and will work with a carrier to help you build a strong risk management program that will ensure that your company has clear, written policy on the business use of company and employee vehicles.

Slips and Falls — Every time you or your employees interact with customers or the public in almost any setting, you are at risk for slips and falls, which are common and potentially expensive. An effective maintenance and inspection program can reduce such injuries.

Theft Prevention — With small businesses relying on as little as a laptop computer and mobile device to stay in touch with customers and vendors, even the loss of a smart phone can bring a business to halt. A management program can help you to develop and implement security controls that will protect your physical assets, as well as intellectual property.

Data Security — If you process credit card sales, use a flash drive, or if your computer files include any customer or employee names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, or bank account information, then your business should implement a full data protection plan and procedures.

Strains and Sprains — Statistics show that strains and sprains often are caused by the most common and seemingly benign motions — picking up a carton of printer paper, or accepting deliveries of product inventory or supplies, for example — and may still result in lost time, lost productivity and lost wages and earnings. It's important to identify and mitigate the material handling risks in your business, however small they may be. A risk management program can address ways to improve ergonomics.

Mechanical Breakdowns — For business insurance purposes, mechanical breakdown crosses over to include almost any electrical, heating, air conditioning or pneumatic system keeps your company running day-to-day. Your agent can advise on specialized breakdown coverage, while working with your carrier to suggest preventative measures.

Product Liability — If you sell, install or repair something that someone else manufactured, or if you import any products, then your product liability exposure extends to how your products or service operations may cause injury or harm to others. The right coverage and risk management can provide peace of mind, so that you can do your job with confidence, knowing your business is protected against possible claims.

Severe Weather — The most powerful and damaging weather is not associated with hurricanes and tornadoes, but snow, hail, lightning, rain and high winds, which can occur almost anywhere, often with devastating results. Planning for, and protecting your business against the impact of severe weather should be part of your basic risk management plan.

Water Protection — Even a small leak that finds its way into your computer can cause thousands of dollars of damage in a short amount of time — to say nothing of the headaches you will have trying to restore data files. A large leak from a broken water main may cause significant damage and interrupt normal business operations for an extended period. A risk management program can include a template or sample a schedule of regular inspections of plumbing, heating and sprinkler systems that will be effective at preventing these types of losses.

Minimizing exposure and risk in your business begins with taking the time to properly evaluate and understand it. Most important of all, it means not discounting the most unlikely of risks. Working with your local independent insurance agent to review your needs, will help you gain that piece of mind that you have the right policies and procedures in place to protect your business — no matter what happens.

Michael Keane is president, small business insurance, at The Hanover Insurance Group, an insurance company with a regional office in Glastonbury. Reach him at mkeane@hanover.com.

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