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Productivity / Processes

Beware the ‘man with the gun’ in your business

What if there was someone in your business with the power to bring down the whole shooting match? Chances are there is, and it’s critical to know exactly who has their itchy finger on the trigger.

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The ‘man with the gun’ concept was introduced to me in an interview with Robert Mallet from the Tasmanian Small Business Council.

The basic problem, he explained, is that many business owners leave so much in the hands of others that they unknowingly reach the point where they forfeit control.

Large organisations can generally live through all sorts of damage, like the loss of a key staff member or major client, but small businesses are more vulnerable.

We had a ‘man with the gun’ moment at Flying Solo a number of years back when our then IT supplier required a breakneck-speed shift of our entire website to a brand new system – with a couple of weeks’ notice before the plug was pulled.

In tech circles, this idea is known as a ‘single point of failure’ – where there is one part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working.

"In tech circles, this idea is known as a ‘single point of failure’ – where there is one part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working."

There are many examples of these risks for small businesses:

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  • Your IT platform or business website is owned or controlled by someone else. Or only one person knows how it operates. What happens if that person departs?
  • The bulk of your revenue comes from one customer. Could your business survive if they suddenly switched?
  • Your success relies on other businesses. Such as building a business purely on Facebook or only reselling a third-party product. What happens if they move the goalposts overnight?
  • Other examples are reliance on a key staff member that drives all sales, an investor whose money you depend on, or a shaky partner with equal power.

Most commonly the one with the gun is YOU. It’s very hard to escape this entirely as a soloist, but many businesses will come grinding to a halt the moment you do.

Granted, no business is ever entirely bullet proof, and you will always need to vest a lot of faith and power in trusted employees and partners. But, if the very life of your business hinges on the whim of another individual or unreliable system, it’s time to shore up the foundations.

The first step is to identify any single points of failure in your business, and then take steps to develop back-up plans for the worst-case scenario.

Does your business have a single point of failure, or is it on a solid footing?

Peter Crocker

looks after content at Flying Solo. As part of Business Copywriter he partners with digital agencies and corporate clients on websites and digital content. He's the co-author of Flying Solo Revisited: How to go it alone in business.

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