Last October, Florida was under threat by a potentially devastating hurricane. Usually a pretty minor thing for us down here, but Hurricane Matthew threatened to pummel directly into West Palm Beach as a solid Category 4, meaning we were definitely on track to lose power for a few weeks. As I boarded up my apartment and readied the yard I realized something – I didn’t have an emergency plan for my business!
Most of Quill & Co’s clients are in Florida leaving us all out of service, but as for my clients out-of-state I was about to leave them high and dry. I even had one client on schedule to launch a website in a few short days.
I hastily brought my emergency plan for my house to completion and set to work coming up with a plan for my business. Most of the website was already wrapped up, but I knew there would be edits and revisions, as well as a compliance test the site needed to pass within a week. I was quickly running out of time and needed to tie up all loose ends fast.
The Small Business Emergency Plan
// Should I Stay or Should I Go
The way I saw it, I had one of two options: rent an Airbnb and hightail it north or give my clients a apoint of contact. While an extended road trip sounds pretty tempting, I had no clue how long I would have to be away for – and that can cost a pretty penny pretty quick. I knew I had to stay. So I was left with one option: finding my client a point of contact.
// Use Your Contacts
I dove into my little black book of networking contacts. Though it had been a while since I had spoken to my friend and prior intern-in-crime, I knew Sean of Vivo Creative was up for the job. Aside from being a bomb graphic designer and pixel proficianado, he just so happens to live in the same city as my client. I quickly got him on the phone and low and behold he was more than happy to help.
While I got lucky in circumstance for this emergency, I should have aligned my ducks in a row long beforehand. So today I give you this challenge: open your little black book of networking contacts and start dialing. Call up old co-workers, networks and business friends whom you trust. Do it right now! Divide them by service and ask them if they would like to help out
Here’s an example e-mail you can use:
I hope all is well. I’ve followed your Instagram page and your websites are turning out amazing! I know its been a while since the old days at Satchel, but I’ve begun my own business and would like to ask you for a favor. I was wondering – in case of a future emergency – if I can add you to my list of contacts to help me out with clients. We’ve always worked well together and I trust you more than anyone else to help me in a pinch.
Anyway, just thought I would ask. Let’s catch up next time I’m in town! Coffee?
No need to be formal, a casual talk amongst friends is sufficient enough. More than likely, your friend will be flattered that you trust them enough to hand over a client in dire need, not to mention an opportunity to grow their network. To have faith in someone says a lot in terms of respect. So go ahead, don’t be shy, make the ask.
// Come Up With A Plan
Pretty obvious, I know, but don’t be like me. Don’t wait until disaster is at your doorstep to make out your emergency plan. By that point it’s just a rescue mission. Life throws you curveballs, each different from the last. Sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm every single little thing you can think of that could possibly go wrong in your business. Maybe it’s a power outage, the death of a loved one, anything that’s going to take time and attention away from your business that otherwise would have been devoted to your business. Now figure out how you will still run your business through these tough times.
// Back It Up + Keep Em’ Informed
Chances are you have a backup + organization system in place already. Personally, I’m a big cloud fan and keep my client files in a system between DropBox and Google Drive. As for those GB hoarding design files? Those are in a hard drive. When an emergency strikes, you’ll need to update your backup contact on your client in a pinch. What’s going with the project? When are the big due dates? What tasks need completion immediately? What’s the best way to contact the client?
Get in the habit of keeping detailed records of your clients. Not only does this give you a reference on prior work, but will serve you well to quickly update your point of contact. They’re going to need access to all imagery, client notes, site credentials/passwords and other tangibles. Keeping these files in the cloud allows you to simply send an access link to the client folder and they’re in.But what about those giant Adobe design files? I like to use WeTransfer when sending those big, one-time files. It allows access to the download without eating up valuable space on your cloud account.
// Show Gratitude, Offer Payment
The emergency is over. Client crisis has been averted. Not only that, your contact did a great job of keeping everything on track in your absence. In fact, your client is raving over the scope of your professionalism to have the foresight to keep them a top priority even in the midst of life’s curveballs.
Don’t neglect your hero. Even if they weren’t needed, show your gratitude for them showing up and being willing to take on a responsibility they didn’t have to. Depending on how much of their time was occupied, be sure to send them some form of payment. If none to very little of their time was taken, then a handwritten note or small gift will suffice. But if they ended up having to jump into your project on your behalf, then a portion of the project’s payment belongs to them. More so, give credit where credit is due. Give them a shout out on social media and include a mention in the project’s portfolio on your website.
// Develop a Plan C
If Plan A is your normal, undisturbed, chaos-free day-to-day, then Plan B is the emergency plan. But if Plan A can go under, then so can your Plan B. For those times when life becomes the worst of the worst, it’s good to have a Plan C. For my hurricane situation, Plan C was to head out of town if my power ended up being down for too long. I didn’t know exactly where I would go or where I would stay, but luckily there’s a Starbucks with free wi-fi in just about every city and small town in America. Plan C doesn’t need to be as detailed as Plan B. In fact, it could be considered “just winging it,” but at least have something in mind. With some forward thinking, strong support system, a little ingenuity and a positive attitude, you can overcome any obstacle.
I got out of this little pitfall, as one: it didn’t hit us. Two: I have a great network. Three…I got lucky. The experience really was a wake-up call for me with running this business. I’m blessed to be one of those “go with the flow” types who enjoy the immediate moments in life, but it can get my in trouble when it comes to planning. I’m not a planner; never have been, don’t pretend to be. But business is business and getting down to tackling your weaknesses head on is a requirement.
I hope it’s sunny where you are and that today you put together your emergency backup plan long before the rains hit.
Download the small business emergency plan worksheet. Fill it out and hand to your point of contact for those worst case scenarios.