Happy New Year! Yes, it’s January, that month when many of us think about what we want our lives to be like. We ask ourselves, Do I need to lose weight? Do I want to quit a bad habit? What do I want to accomplish most? We all know the “resolutions” drill.
But if you’re a freelancer or you run a business, there’s an urgent question that you may not be asking: Do I have an emergency plan for my business?
Any month is a good month to safeguard your business, but I’ve decided to devote this January to blogging about my emergency-preparedness plan for my translation business. Today’s post is all about the first step: admitting that eventually, there’s going to be a problem.
According to PrepareMyBusiness.org, “Major disasters, such as earthquakes and large-scale power outages, are rare. Smaller disasters, such as server failure, burst pipes and fires however happen every day. Companies often prepare for the worst but forget the everyday challenges, which can be just as crippling.” We need to understand that some disaster, however big or small, is eventually going to impact our businesses. The way to make sure they don’t destroy our businesses is to plan for them.
Step 1: Ask, “What can go wrong?”
In my mind, these “famous last words” are a great question to ask yourself before you put any new plan into effect, and in a disaster plan they’re literally the very first words of the plan itself. What can go wrong that would affect your business? You need to know that before you can plan.
You can tackle the question in two ways: identify possible hazards and figure out what effect they would have on you (“I could lose power, which would mean no internet”), or identify the minimum resources your business needs to function and list hazards that could interfere with those resources (“I need the internet, which I could lose if I lost power”). My approach is to identify hazards, then think through my minimum resources in case any hazards I haven’t thought of yet could affect them–including hazards like my own forgetfulness.
You can see a good list of both natural and man-made hazards if you go to http://www.ready.gov/risk-assessment, scroll down to “hazards” and click the icon to its left to expand. You can also see some additional examples and their anticipated effects on this risk assessment form.
Here’s my “What can go wrong?” list from listing hazards:
- Natural disasters like severe storms, floods, tornadoes, freezing weather, etc. (I could lose internet service, phone service, HVAC, power and/or water; I could be forced to leave my business location or be trapped in my business location; there could be damage to person or property)
- My place of business could be robbed (I could lose documents, property, data and/or data security)
- My place of business could be damaged in an intentional or unintentional fire (similar to 1 and 2 above)
- I could become sick or injured (either short-term or long-term, which would have different effects)
- A malware attack or hacking could compromise my IT
- I could lose internet connectivity and/or power through a simple outage
- My phone or computer hardware and/or software could fail (I could lose data, be unable to access programs & files I need to work, or be unable to contact clients)
- My car could break down (loss of mobility)
- One or more things could go wrong while I’m traveling (Real-life example: I once lost connectivity while traveling, then got it back in time for my laptop battery to fail, etc., etc.–more on that in a later post!)
Then I thought through the minimum that my business needs to function:
- Data on my clients, outstanding projects, outstanding invoices, payments, and other administrative essentials
- A working computer with Japanese-language functionality, audio & video functionality, and critical programs like MS Office
- A working phone
- An internet connection for receiving & delivering projects
- Dictionaries & other resources (ideally online under 4 above)
- A means to be in touch via email, whether internet or phone
- My reasonably sound mind and body
And of course you can quickly see from this list that my business’s functionality could be crippled by “disasters” in the form of me forgetting to pack something, me dropping my laptop and breaking it, etc.
Your lists will probably be different. Since I don’t have a physical supply chain or physical production process, I don’t have to worry about those. I’m also currently my only employee, so I only have to worry about myself. Each business has its own circumstances, so each list will differ.
Now that I have a good idea of what could go wrong, I’m in a good position to come up with a plan for business survival, which I’ll walk through in later posts.
Have you asked yourself what can go wrong? If not, now’s the time–you’ll be glad you did!