Small Business Recovery Lessons from the Joplin Tornado

Updated: May 19

In January of this year, I relocated my family and business to Joplin, Missouri. Just as we were settling in COVID-19 hit and small businesses, vibrant with life when I arrived, suddenly went dark and empty. While the shutdown has been labeled as “temporary,” the effect on many small business owners feels much more long-lasting, if not permanent.


While I was not living in Joplin when the Tornado of 2011 hit, in hearing firsthand accounts from friends and neighbors and from additional research, I believe there are some parallels we can apply now during COVID-19 as we work to get our businesses back on track.


The World Has Changed, So Must We.


When the Joplin tornado hit, in 30 minutes, this community was forever altered. What was true the day before did not matter in the hours, weeks, and months that followed. A new reality had dawned. There was a situation of such magnitude that it required everyone’s immediate and undivided attention.


Sound familiar? This same shift today is happening all across our nation. People are concerned with their health. Their livelihoods have been shaken and ripped apart, perhaps even destroyed. They are separated from friends and family. Their places of community and worship have been closed.


For a business to survive during moments like these, it must first recognize this shift and then quickly adapt. Adapting to this new reality will take on many alternative forms. It might involve moving sales online, changing product offerings, or developing new systems to make customer service seamless, even if not face-to-face. It might mean having to find new ways to communicate with our teams and motivate them. It might mean redoing the budget and making some difficult decisions. In any case, the world has changed. Recognize it. Don’t be stuck in yesterday. Adapt. None of us knows how the world will look tomorrow, but we can be sure it won’t be going back to yesterday.


The opportunity at this moment is that we can help create that new tomorrow. Those who adapt and make themselves indispensable for building our future reality won’t just survive, they will thrive. How will you and your company become a part of that rebuilding effort?


Our Clients Felt Needs Have Shifted; How Will We Meet Them?


The biggest shift that has happened, isn’t for our companies, it is for our clients. Believe that. Whenever a disaster strikes, the felt needs of our clients are drastically transformed.


Immediately after the Joplin tornado, people were dealing with shock, grief, and the loss of family, friends, homes, and livelihoods. They were wondering where to get food and water, how they could find loved ones, and how they could rebuild their homes.

While our current situation has not caused physical devastation as that tornado did, the devastation it has caused in the lives of our clients is just as real. If we as business owners are going to adapt and even thrive during this occasion, we must become completely focused on our client’s point of need.

That begins, most importantly, with just being a good neighbor and friend. People are hurting. When we listen, empathize, and offer to help, even outside the lines of our business, it earns us and our business trust.

Being focused on our client’s point of need might also mean we need to make some changes to our line of products and services, or at least to our marketing. What do our clients need right now? How can we speak to that? Home offices are being set up. Established businesses are hiring firms for sanitation or buying products to do it themselves. Businesses are reconfiguring their spaces. Individuals are transitioning in their careers.

What might your companies offer that would meet your clients’ felt needs in this unique moment? We have all read of various companies who have quickly adapted to make hand sanitizer or other needed products. There are opportunities for our companies as well. When we identify those products or services our company could offer, and when we speak to the immediate felt-needs of our clients, we can transform this moment from a tragedy into an opportunity.


Community Matters.


A blessing that came out of the Joplin tornado was bringing the entire community together. Strangers became close friends. Lives became intertwined.


Anytime there is a disaster, it has this effect. COVID-19 is no different. People want to come together. However, because of social distancing and stay-at-home rules, it can’t happen. What this isolation has created is a vacuum where people are craving social interaction.


Think about that for a moment. Social interaction is something almost any company can offer in some form, including your company, for virtually nothing!


Ask yourself, “How might I create community and social interaction by leveraging my brand, or by creating a social interaction opportunity around a particular product or service?” If you find that answer, you have almost surely found a winner! Just this week I heard of one exercise company that offered a free outdoor, socially-distanced exercise class for their community in their parking lot. It followed all the guidelines and it was jam-packed!

So, what about you? Can you do an in-person, socially-distanced get-together around a product or service you offer? If not, how about doing it online? Zoom, Facebook, and others offer free opportunities to do this.


Getting people together sells right now. Those companies who meet the “I want to be with people” need are going to hit gold over the coming few months. It might as well be you.


Its Time to Get to Work.


You may not do what you envisioned as the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020, the situation may not be ideal, but apathy is deadly. The truth is, hidden in the rubble there are opportunities for your business. Find them. Make some decisions. Get to work!

Nine years after the EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, the community is thriving. Your business will too.


Develop a game-plan. Trust God. Believe that you have got this! You really do. Now go out and demonstrate the leadership that is already in you, leadership your business and your community desperately need at this moment! I’m wishing you well!

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2910 N Michigan Ave

Joplin, MO  64801