It’s the ultimate entrepreneur nightmare: you’re doing well, business is good, and your customers want what you’re offering. Then, out of the blue, something terrible happens that affects you or your close family, and you have no choice but to give this your full attention rather than your business.
This is without doubt one of the most difficult situations an entrepreneur can find themselves in. Just when you need to be most able to think clearly about your work, you are likely to be preoccupied in dealing with the problem you or your family is facing.
Fortunately, there are five key steps you can consider ahead of time to give yourself a framework for coping with such crises, and getting back on track. Let’s have a look!
1. Devise a Crisis Strategy
It pays to think ahead when it comes to crises, to ensure that you have a strategy worked out to cover any problems. A good strategy means you and your staff won’t have to start from scratch at a difficult time, and you’ll know what needs to be done to keep the business afloat.
A crisis strategy has to be straightforward, and it needs to recognize all the potential vulnerabilities of your business. You should firstly work with senior staff to identify any possible problems that could affect the company if you or a key staff member is suddenly taken out of the process. From there, you can follow a number of logical steps to get a handle on any problems going forward:
- Create a list of actions required in each instance, and the staff who will be responsible for each stage and each action.
- Ensure flexibility by naming alternative staff for each role, and make sure you keep the list current – there’s nothing worse than facing a crisis and finding your key named staff left the company a year ago!
- Make sure all staff know where your this list of actions is kept, and how to access it.
- Name a staff member and an alternative who will be responsible for triggering the crisis plan.
- Ensure everyone knows what to do should neither of these people be available.
Of course, getting on top of a crisis isn’t simply a case of telling staff what to do if the worst happens. How you apportion your (dwindling) available time is just as crucial.
2. Plan Your Time Management
Spending your time wisely is one of the key issues when dealing with a crisis. You are likely to find you don’t have the time you need for your business, so any available time has to be used to the best effect.
You should start by creating a list of essential ‘to-do’ activities, so everyone around you has a clear idea about what needs to be done and when. Remember, it’s important to make sure the list is practical and manageable.
It’s also important to ensure everyone knows what isn’t essential. It’s easy to focus on entirely the wrong pursuits simply to feel like you’re doing something, so make sure you carefully analyze what you do in a typical day.
To create both lists, as you go through an average day, write down what you actually do – everything – then before you clock off, look through your activities to separate the essential from the non-essential. If other activities occur on a less frequent basis, don’t forget to include them, as well as the intervals at which they need to be done.
Above all, make sure you (or your temporary manager, if you’re the one who’s ill or injured) avoid time wasters. You need your business to focus only on what’s truly important. This means that if a prospective client starts stalling or haggling, or stops communicating, you stop chasing.
If necessary, politely explain that you’re not currently able to accommodate their requirements. Yes, it goes against the grain, but you don’t need this additional demand on your time right now.
3. Consider Your Business Options
Before a crisis hits, you need to do what’s called a ‘gap analysis’. In normal circumstances, this is a comparison between what your company’s currently doing and what it should be doing. However, you’re trying to do the opposite – work out what your company won’t be able to do if you (or another or your key staff) are not available.
This means identifying vital points in your process and who’s responsible for them. Ideally, for maximum flexibility, any truly critical role will have at least two people who can undertake it.
If you’ll need to bring in temporary staff in particular situations, make sure that the contact details for the agency or people who might be required are in a known and easily accessible place.
Next, ensure your staff have all of the information they need to be able to carry on smoothly. This is where your list of essential and non-essential tasks will be invaluable, because it can be used as a guide for others needing to step in and help if you’re out of action.
In the best situation, you’ll also try to run through various scenarios with your staff to see how they actually cope, and identify and smooth out any issues.
4. Cover Your Domestic Options
If the crisis affects you personally, you may also need to consider options to help you with your home life. It’s important to consider what will happen if you’re unable to fulfil any of your usual roles.
If you have young children or other dependents, you may need an au pair, nanny, or nurse, so again search out contact details for agencies and find out how long it will take to deploy help should you need it.
Of course, if you have a close and supportive family who will rally round to help, that’s the ideal situation. Whoever you need to rely on, make sure you do a similar analysis to the one you did for your workplace, so that whoever steps into your shoes knows what they need to do to keep your home running smoothly.
5. Consider Postponing Your Business Activities
Ultimately, you have to consider the possibility that you may encounter a crisis too big to simply plan round. If such a disaster occurs, you may have no choice but to delay your business activities.
While you can’t fully predict what might happen in such circumstances, you can do some basic research based on your current clients and activities to gauge the effect of being out of action for a week, two weeks, or a month.
Possibly the best thing you can do to prepare for such an eventuality is to ensure the business has funds to carry you through such a situation. You should also make sure your insurance is comprehensive and up to date, and check out the US Small Business Administration’s disaster preparedness advice for further guidance on creating a crisis plan and disaster recovery.
If a personal crisis strikes, you may have no option but to give it your full (or at least most of your) attention – so it’s essential you plan ahead for every eventuality that might affect your business.
To ensure your organization has the best chance of surviving, you should consider implementing some key actions:
- Create a crisis strategy with your key staff.
- Plan to manage your time wisely.
- Consider what you’ll need to do to keep your business ticking over.
- Ensure your domestic situation is covered.
- Consider the effects of postponing work if the situation is serious.
Have you ever had to deal with a crisis while running your business, and how did you cope? Let us know in the comments section below!
Image credit: Geralt.