Handling Your Small Business when the Lights Go Out

As I write this, I am staring out my office window at what was measured to be 8 inches of snow.  We had a blizzard in my county last night, and it shook the house, dumped ice on the power lines, and kept my internet on edge throughout the early morning hours.  We were lucky.  This time, we did not lose power, and my business resumed as usual (at least from the viewpoint of the client.)  This is not always the case, however, and it prompted me to review my rules for keeping your shop open -- even when the weather won't cooperate.

1.  Have an alternative method of communication.  I have an iPhone with a $85/mo unlimited data plan and enough minutes to more than conduct business with.  I rarely use it -- in fact, it sits on the charger when I'm not traveling.  When my internet goes out, however, (and this has been happening more frequently with our wireless provider), I have my phone as a backup to check emails, Tweet from client accounts, and stay up-to-date on what my blogs are doing.

I recommend having a similar way to reach out online in the case of no power or internet.  Whether it's a neighbor with wi-fi that will let you hop on their network or a dial-up plan that allows you to pay as you go, it's wise to have a plan B for the worst case scenario.

2.  Communicate.  Yes, deadlines are important, but you know what's more important?  Keeping clients informed.  So if you can't keep a deadline, ship an order, or made good on a promise, be upfront and honest.  Use your alternative method of communication (or better yet, pick up the phone) and let people know that you're working by candlelight and hope to be back online soon.  I've never met a person yet that wasn't sympathetic to my situation and didn't offer leniency.

3.  Come back strong.  So, you missed a day's worth of blog posts (or a week, if it's really bad.)  When you do get back online, apologize and hit it harder than before.  You can play catch-up, although it may be tiring.  Do your best not to let the set back keep you forever behind schedule.  (It's the best way to keep your annual earnings as high as possible.)

4.  Plan for the next time.  After you've recovered fully, examine what happened and develop new ideas for mitigating damages for when it happens again.  Could you perhaps keep 2 days completed projects in the hopper that can easily be sent via your mobile?  Do you have an online storage solution that allows you to keep your photos, documents, and important info at your fingertips, even if you're working from the local laundromat?  Make a wish list of all the things you couldn't have when you were facing your emergency and see how you could have gotten them if you had planned better.

Whether it's a hurricane, illness, or a lazy internet provider, you will experience unexpected downtime in the course of your career.  Meeting it head-on is the best (and only) way to see it through.

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