Rethinking small business contingency planning
Imagine you are a small-business owner with multiple projects on the go and business partners in three different time zones.
Now imagine that you wake up one morning and realise that you are too sick to work.
Would someone be able to step in immediately and cover for you for a couple of days, or would you just have to let things slide, reasoning that you could catch up as soon as you were back on your feet?
What if “a couple of days” turned into a month-long stay in the ICU followed by a lengthy and complex recovery?
Given that the success of your business literally depends on your presence, how confident are you that your business would be able to survive this prolonged absence?
That’s the situation currently being faced by Roxanne Bruce, a small business and agriculture consultant based in Maine, who has just recently returned home after spending weeks in hospital battling Covid.
“Dr Rox”, as her friends call her, is no beginner when it comes to small business contingency planning.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010, she has long advised her small business clients to compile a standard operating procedure manual so detailed that someone else could take over their daily operations in an instant.
“Of course you need to outline what you do each day and what your customer expectations are,” she says. “But you also need to include detailed billing, accounting and banking information.”
These days it’s not enough to simply provide someone with your username and password. In the era of two-step identification, you also need to consider how someone can legitimately act on your behalf if you are sick and any attempt to log into your website or e-mail needs to be approved by means of an app on your phone.
“My partners had the username and password for our website, but they weren’t able to make any updates without a security code generated by an app on my phone which I took with me to the hospital,” she said.
“I thought that I was well prepared, but this adventure with Covid has made me rethink everything that I do, and I am passing on what I have learnt from this experience to my clients.
“My experience with my phone, for example, made me realise that everyone needs a plan regarding what they will do if their phone is damaged or lost.”
To supplement their contingency plan, Dr. Rox also recommends that every small business owner make sure that they have adequate insurance, and a means for someone else to pay bills if they are unwell.
She also strongly recommends that sole proprietors take whatever steps are necessary to make their business profitable enough that they could hire someone to step in for them for two months if they were suddenly unable to work for any reason.
Pivoting a business for any reason in the Covid era is not for the faint of heart.
“It takes a lot of brainstorming, and you have to be very blunt with yourself,” she says. “It’s critical that you ask yourself what you can still do well and what do you know you are going to fail at – and then figure out how to focus rebuilding your business around what you know you can do well. Equally so, you are going to have to figure out how to restructure or eliminate what you know you cannot do in order for your business to survive.”
Being a sole proprietor is a challenge at the best of times, but illness – however caused – makes the task so much more difficult. Contingency plans and instructions (which need regular updating) are not only essential, but critical. Why put off making a plan that will work for you?
Robin Trimingham is the chief operating officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a virtual presenter, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://bit.ly/3nSMlvc or firstname.lastname@example.org