A not-for-profit business support group has said small firms should start planning now for harsh winter weather to avoid being caught out by sudden cold snaps – such as those forecast for the next few weeks.

The Forum says SMEs can be particularly vulnerable to the impact of freak weather and should be fully prepared for all types of weather events, the number of which seen in the UK having risen sharply over the last decade.

Recent winters have seen Arctic weather conditions causing havoc for British businesses due to the disruption, and, with forecasts predicting a sharp cold snap for the remainder of January, the Forum says firms that haven’t should start making basic plans now.

“Disruptive weather such as heavy snow and unusually cold weather hampers deliveries, triggers heating and power failures, and can often mean employees can’t get to work," said the Forum’s spokesman Robert Downes.

"Recent winters have demonstrated just how susceptible the UK is to extreme weather, and the cost to business quickly runs into millions. When infrastructure grinds to a halt and staff can’t get to work it can be a body blow to small firms, and those businesses with the least staff are hit the hardest.

"So it’s essential for small and micro businesses to do all they can to mitigate the impact, and being proactive now will mean not having to rush out a reactive plan once bad weather strikes. It can be as simple as allowing staff to work from home if possible. Do they have a computer, can they access their company emails – these are simple things but if they aren’t pre-arranged they can’t happen.

The Forum also warned firms to make sure workplaces were weather proof. "Prevention is better than cure – something as simple as making sure water pipes are lagged could save a business thousands in lost revenue if it has to close because of flooding through a burst pipe." said Downes.

“Businesses need to think about their contingency plans now to ensure they aren’t put out of action by another nasty winter," he added.

Figures from YouGov showed during past winter weather events involving heavy snow, 37% of businesses in the SME category experienced problems because of the conditions; while 13% said they were ‘seriously’ impacted by bad weather.

The YouGov figures, which related to the freak snow from winter 2010, showed 34% of workers experienced problems getting to work, with 10% unable to get in at all at some point.

“At the very least firms which are able to allow staff to work from home should plan ahead. With just a couple of inches of snow able to prevent most people from using a car, this kind of simple pre-planning means staff will be able to do as much work from home as possible. They might not be as productive as if they were in the office, but it’s better than nothing.”

While small businesses will usually get an insurance payout to cover damage to their property after freak events, the Forum says many are highly vulnerable to the steep drop in turnover which usually follows.

“A high percentage of businesses affected by a major event never re-open, or go bust soon after the event," said Downes.

"This is often not due to the immediate loss of goods and premises, which is usually covered by insurance payouts. It’s because the company’s inability to resume trading within a short space of time means clients and customers go elsewhere, leading to unsustainable losses and potentially undoing years of hard work spent building the business up.

“While the weather men often get it wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Business continuity planning is something all businesses, no matter their size, should consider.”