We back up our computers. Should we back ourselves up too?
Our computers contain valuable information we'd never want to lose so we make sure to back up every day. But what about all the valuable information inside our heads?
Recent life-changing events (for other people) have shown me the need to be honest with myself about how reliant my business is on me showing up every day. It’s the little things I do – too small to outsource on their own, but too important to ignore – that add up to a fairly specialised and complex role.
If anything happened to me, those small but important tasks would grind to a halt.
Not just that. We’ve built a reputation for great customer service over the years. In order to deliver this, consistency is crucial. But, once again, all the systems that underpin that consistency live in my head. Which means customer service would immediately be impacted if anything ever happened to me. Not good.
What would happen to my business if I got hit by a bus? In a nutshell, it would be very difficult for someone else to step in and run things. And this isn’t good. The last thing my family would want to be dealing with at such a time is a significantly impacted household income.
"No one ever imagines they’ll be hit by a bus, but you should, at the very least, have a backup plan in case the unimaginable happens. "
So … what to do?
Well, in the same way I back up my computer every night, it seems like a good policy to create some kind of back up of myself too. Here are five places I could start my back up planning:
1. Password recovery
When I worked at my old job, forgetting a password meant a quick call to the IT guy who could reset it in less time than it took to grab a cup of tea. It’s a different story for my business partner or wife to hack into my laptop if something serious happened to me. I shudder to think of all the various password and username combinations that are required to access my business’s back-end systems – on last count it was nearly 200.
My advice is to consider getting a password manager tool that stores all your login details in one place, and can be unlocked with a master authentication process. There are a range of free and annual subscription products including LastPass, KeePass and DashLane to name only a few. Just remember to tell someone the main login key!
Want more articles like this? Check out the working alone section.
2. Procedures manual
Most people hate reading manuals and procedures, let alone writing them. But considering how long it took to develop your operational systems and processes, you owe it to yourself to document them. This will ensure business continuity in your absence. It may take you a few weeks but this is usually a good exercise in itself to test and improve your business workflow by highlighting redundant tasks and more efficient methods. A useful tool I like to use is Jing. Jing captures screen shots but you can also use it to document a procedure via a video.
3. Stand in
Sit down with your business partner (or a significant other such as your wife or partner) and run through important procedures for your business that only you do:
- How are enquiries dealt with?
- Who is the accountant?
- Where is the supplier contact database located?
- What are the answers to frequently asked questions?
The list might feel endless but it’s certainly worth going through.
4. Outsource or call in the cavalry
You may think you have the resources to manage every disaster, but the truth is, we all could use an extra helping hand from time to time. There are lots of ways to take the pressure off, including:
- Relationships with people in your networks (freelancers, friends or fellow small business owners) could provide the answer if you need help with a project at short notice.
- Hire a temp or student to manage back-office functions, or automate these repetitive tasks wherever possible.
- Find an outsource partner, accountant or family member who may be able to manage critical tasks for a few weeks.
- A virtual assistant is a really cost-effective way to manage inbound calls and other tasks when you’re holidaying, sick, or simply unavailable.
5. Emergency back up plan to respond to a crisis
If you evaluate all the possible risks or events that could disrupt your business – natural disaster, technical failure, personal injury, human error, PR disaster or death – you can (in most cases) mitigate the risk and find solutions. Think about how you would respond to each one – do you have fail-safe systems you can turn on? Finally to cover all bases in worst-case scenarios, check your life and income protection insurance is adequate and also update your Will. Scary thought, but important.
It’s far too early for me to think about my succession plan and I can’t imagine ever needing an exit strategy for my lifestyle business. But right now, a bit of time, thought and pre-planning a back up can safeguard my business for life’s uncertainties and interruptions. Hopefully, I’ll never face an emergency, but I’ll appreciate these extra resources especially if I ever do take that long, lazy holiday someday. The kind of holiday when you can switch on the out-of-office message and completely switch off from work for a few weeks.
Hmmm … Hawaii looks nice …