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Preparing Your Business for the Things You Can’t Control

You may have heard, there’s a hurricane headed this way.  The news is full of multi-case scenarios, with the only solid information being to “prepare.”  All of this preparation has now led to gas and water outages, more than four days before the storm is even scheduled to hit.

 

The drama, the panic, the what-if scenarios.  The Plan A or Plan B or Plan C.  It’s all extremely distracting.  There was already work to be done.

 

Clearly, a category 5 hurricane that is 400 miles wide coming our way is something so far outside of my control that there is not much I can do to stop it from happening. But there are definitely things I (and all business owners) can do to make sure I am ready for the storm.

 

  1. Finances and Insurance: Gather up the important information for my business: business license, bar card, access information for business accounts, business check book, business insurance… anything that has to do with the banking and insurance part of my business.
  2. Taxes: Find that big envelope of receipts. No matter what, I need to keep that safe and dry so that come tax time I have the information handy.
  3. Mail and Packages. We had a significant mail delay after the storm last year.  I know there are a few things that could be mailed to me in the coming days.  I’m going to proactively ask the senders of those items to hang on to them until the storm has passed.  Same thing for UPS  — I will be putting a hold on our location through my “MY UPS” account so that packages aren’t delivered or attempted to be delivered right before or right after the storm.
  4. Use the cloud. Don’t risk losing the all important flash drive or document on your hard drive.  Save your data to the cloud (iCloud or Google Drive or DropBox).  You can access it later, even if your location or equipment is damaged or lost.
  5. Electronics and Equipment. If you can, take your computer or other vital equipment with you. If you can’t secure it – keep it up off the floor.  Unplug monitors and computers in case of power surges.  While insurance can replace these things, the process can take time and keep your business from being operable longer than necessary.
  6. Information Security: Secure the important private information of others that I have in my possession. In my case, it’s birth certificates and a few social security numbers that are in my files.  But you may have credit card information or something similar.  Even if there is a disaster, even if your office is looted, you still carry some liability if that information is taken from you and used to harm your clients or customers.
  7. Work In Progress: Even in the middle of the chaos, I am still responsible for making sure deadlines are met. I am still responsible for completing things in a timely fashion – or for communicating any delays.  I will be taking some time today to touch base on a few ongoing projects to make sure any major milestones are met.  I will also be letting my clients know that I may be out of touch for several days at the beginning of the week.
  8. Pipeline: To keep the cash flow going, the work must go on. Don’t use the hurricane – or any event you can’t control – as an excuse not to follow up on future work.  It will likely only take a few minutes, and honestly, your future self will thank you.

 

I know some of these things are common sense.  But it can be all too easy to be sucked in to watching the news and Facebook all day, and focus on only taking care of yourself, your family and your property.  If you own a business, you need to remember to handle a few details for it as well.

 

Stay safe out there!

 

 

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How Urgent Is It?

A long time ago, one of my bosses was a fan of the 5 minute morning meeting.  The idea was that at 9 am, the whole team would gather for a 5 minute pow-wow to see what we were all working on and how we could help each other.

While it was sometimes a stretch getting back from by coffee run in time to make the meeting, it was overall a really good idea.  It helped keep the team focused  — and in a world where we all spent most of the day in our individual offices, handling our individual workloads, it reminded us that we were all a part of a team, and encouraged us to work together on certain things.

One of the most memorable of these meetings for me was when my boss introduced the quadrant.  He read about this in a book – basically that all tasks fall into one of four categories: Urgent / Important; Urgent / Not Important; Not Urgent / Important and Not Urgent / Not Important.  The goal, of course, was to focus the majority of your time on Not Urgent / Important tasks – like outlining the brief that isn’t due for two weeks, and not on things that aren’t important, like finishing the crossword puzzle or things that really should be delegated – like replacing the toner in the printer.

This came to mind this week in particular. My long-time assistant left at the end of July to pursue a full time position.  I have found her replacement, but she hasn’t started yet.  Three weeks into this situation, I am reminded why I need an assistant in the first place: without one, I am constantly living in “Urgent” land – and my stress level, and eventually my level of fatigue, really can’t stay there for too long.

Organizing your thoughts and tasks so that you spend less time on urgent matters and more time on not urgent matters ultimately makes you more productive because you are spending less mental energy on the stress of the deadline or the urgency – giving you more brainpower to address the task itself.

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How hard is it to do business with you?

How hard is it to do business with you?

As business owners, this is a question we need to consider regularly.  If it is too difficult to do business with us, potential clients may walk away and find another provider.  Conversely, if we make it too easy to do business with us — particularly service providers — we may find ourselves in difficult situations where we can’t win, no matter how hard we try.

I started thinking about this recently when I applied for an online service for my business that costs $25/month.  I have several services that I use in my business that are similar to this price point.  The others all allowed me to create an account online, select the service level I desired for my business, enter my payment information and move forward.  It was very easy to do business with these companies.

But this new one was much harder — especially when you consider that it is only a $25 / month cost.  I wasn’t able to fill anything out online.  I had to call, talk to a sales representative, print a contract, gather documentation that proves that I actually am a business, provide credit references…. the whole shebang — all for a $25 monthly service.

As I was going through the third round of questions from the company, I started to seriously wonder if it was even worth continuing to attempt to do business with them.  After all, at that point I’d spent more than two hours trying to get this set up — two hours that I could have billed out for much more than $25.

It made me think about my business.  What barriers are there for my clients to do business with me?

  • Telephone access.  Since I’m in court 20 or more hours each week, reaching me on the telephone can be a significant barrier.
  • Face to face appointments.  With my court schedule and other responsibilities, I also have only a few appointment slots available each week.
  • Cost.  While some clients might say my services are reasonably priced for the market, others find legal services to be cost prohibitive.

This of course leads to the question – How can we maximize the opportunities for the right clients to do business with us?

Knowing your ideal client, and how he or she likes to contact you is a great start.  Knowing your market helps you price your services – but shouldn’t be the only factor.  Keep in mind that each service provider is unique and has special skills or training that they bring to the table.  With services in particular, cheapest is rarely best.

What barriers to you have?  Do you need to keep them in place?  Or are there ways to reduce the barriers so you can increase your client base?