How Vulnerable Is Your Business?
I just lost my administrative assistant after just a couple of months on the job. She developed serious back trouble and was out for five weeks.
If you have your own small business, I probably don’t have to tell you the effect that’s had on me and our operations here.
I was patient. I know how hard it can be to be immobile and in pain. But after a few weeks of her being out and my not getting a clear sense of how she was progressing or when she might be back, I couldn’t help but wonder if she might not be coming back at all.
I trusted my instincts and posed the question to her directly. She confirmed she wouldn’t be returning to work. My shoulders just slumped. I was already exhausted from doing her job for weeks.
And, I had to make a difficult decision to postpone the launch of a new venture that was all ready to go … that I’d been working toward for over a year.
We’re leaning on other members of the team – and my partner, Tom – to pick up some of the slack. And I’m taking on the bulk of her work … all while maintaining a full coaching practice and a packed speaking schedule.
But enough of that. You don’t come here to hear about my problems. You come here to gain some insights into running a small business.
Well, here’s insight number one:
Most small businesses live on the edge in many ways. And, I’m not just talking about those struggling financially. As my situation shows, the loss of a key person can throw you for a big time loop.
So, what can you do about it? You’ll always be vulnerable to some degree, but there are a couple of key things you can do to help keep things in the road while you find and train a new person.
The first is to cross-train the folks you have to do different jobs, so that if someone is injured, gets sick, or has to leave for any reason, you aren’t left completely in the lurch.
You need to build in as much redundancy as you can afford. You need to have at least some backup capability and contingency plans in place for what to do if the unexpected happens.
I hadn’t planned for that intentionally enough.
The other thing you need to do is have a procedures manual where you detail the steps involved in the various jobs that get performed by the folks working with you and for you.
If it’s all catalogued and easy to follow, it makes filling in for somebody so much easier and gives the new person in the job written direction vs. having to teach and reinforce everything in person yourself.
I’m leaning on our manual now myself to guide me through tasks I haven’t done in years.
But creating a procedures manual takes a lot of time and work … and it costs money to pay someone to put it together and keep it updated. Is it really worth it?
Yes, otherwise the loss of a key person can mean you’ve just lost the “institutional knowledge” that’s in that person’s head and you’d be starting from scratch. And that can be a gut punch when you already have your hands full serving your clients.
In my case, my first assistant and I started out from day one to create a procedures manual. If it were a paper document, it’d probably fill a three-inch binder.
There’s a lot that has to be done and a lot to know to keep this business running, and am I ever glad we’ve documented how we do things.
We’re getting by pretty well all things considered, but it hasn’t been fun.
The silver lining?
I just hope my story causes some of you to assess your own vulnerability and moves you to take the necessary steps to protect yourself against a shock to your system the best you can.
And, I’ll be better protected as well.
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