Keeping Your Business Afloat When Sh*t Hits the Fan
In an ideal world, nothing would go wrong in business. Sales would always be up, clients would always be satisfied, and there’d never be any delays in delivering our product. Sounds lovely, right? Sure, but that’s just not reality.
The truth is, things do go wrong in business. No matter how experienced or successful you are, nothing is always perfect, all the time. While over time you can use your experience to minimize issues that arise, you’ll never hit a point in your business when nothing ever goes wrong.
The key, then, is not to avoid issues arising, but to learn how to deal with them.
Do a SWOT Analysis
One of the best ways to mitigate issues in your business is to do a SWOT analysis on a routine basis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and gives you better insight into the areas in your business that are working and those that aren’t. To start, identify these areas
Strengths: These are things your business is doing well. Look back over the past 1-2 years and identify what has worked well. Think through the roles of your team members and their contributions to projects. Where you’ve had accomplishments, evaluate what contributed to their effectiveness.
Weaknesses: Now do the same analysis, except for things that did not work well. What “failures” or losses did you experience and what factors led them to exist? For each of your weaknesses, consider if you can fix them or if you need to stop what you’re doing.
Opportunities: This is the exciting part. What ideas or prospects exist that will bring more success into your business? This could be a new product line or service offering, a new partnership or a big prospective client.
Threats: These are external factors that can affect your business negatively. This can be anything from a potential data breach to your competitors. Understand what these are and the potential impact on your business. Where you can take immediate action to mitigate these, do it. In other cases, develop a plan to manage the damage if it occurs.
Once I’ve completed my SWOT analysis, I’ll turn it into an action plan. Using my strengths I’ll craft my goals and strategy for the year. I’ll minimize areas that touch on my weaknesses and implement systems to mitigate the ones that I can’t get rid of. I’ll also include tactical steps to capitalize on my opportunities
For my threats, I’ll take it one step further. I like to rate my threats based on two factors – 1) how likely they are to happen and 2) how extensive and expensive the damage will be if they do happen. A competitor disparaging my company may be less likely to happen but very damaging if they do, whereas theft of inventory may be very likely if I don’t have good security systems in place but may not be that damaging if I don’t keep a lot of inventory on hand. Once I have my threats ranked, I’ll prioritize them – those that are most likely to happen and highly damaging/expensive if they did rank first, with those that are least likely to happen and not that damaging/expensive at the bottom. Once I have this list, I’ll start at the top and create action plans to work through each item.
Be Upfront and Honest
OK but what if sh*t has already hit the fan? The first and most important role is to be honest. Whether you’ve had to check out due to a family crisis or your client data was stolen, the best rule of thumb is to be candid with your team and your clients.
So what does it look like to tell your community that things aren’t going so well? Keep it straightforward, simple and don’t overshare. Use this outline to craft the perfect message:
State the problem clearly and simply. Don’t over embellish and don’t add in extra details that aren’t relevant to your audience. For example, say “There was a hack in our system which accessed our client data” vs. “Because we did a poor job of setting up our security because our tech team are slackers someone broke into our system via a file they sent us in an email and got all of our client data.”
Show compassion. Different issues are going to affect your community in different ways. If it means a delay in a client deliverable, show that you understand how this inconvenience affects your client. If it’s a breakdown in one of your systems, empathize with the frustration your users are experiencing.
Show the solution. It’s not enough to disclose there’s a problem; you need to show your community that you are doing something about it. Again, short and simple is the winner here. You don’t need to go into all the details of how you’re fixing things. The goal is to make it clear that 1) you are fixing the problem and 2) provide only the details about the solution that are relevant to your community. For example, if a tech breakdown is going to require your clients to create new user accounts, tell them. If you’re going to have to change back-end systems with no direct or obvious impact on your clients, keep that to yourself.
Provide a point of contact. Give your community a way to get in touch – whether it’s to share their concerns or ask questions. If a family issue is taking you out of the office unexpectedly, tell them how they can get their issues resolved in your absence. Don’t ever leave your clients hanging. Even if you have to be unavailable for a period of time and don’t have a back-up, give them as much notice as possible and make it clear exactly what will happen during that time as well as when you return.
Minimize the Consequences
No matter the issue, work to minimize the consequences to everyone involved – that includes you, your clients and your team. Think through how the issue is affecting each group in particular and what steps you can take to reduce the impact on each.
When I’m in this situation, I like to start with a blank piece of paper and create 3 columns (or more, depending on your business). At the top I’ll put each affected party for each column – my business, my clients and my team. In each column, I’ll write all the ways each party is affected, leaving space underneath or next to each one. Then, I’ll go through the list and try to come up with a way that I can minimize each consequence. These lists form the beginning of my “solution plan.”
Find the Learning Experience
Problems suck, but there’s always an opportunity to learn. Through all the stress, pain and tears, look for the opportunity to learn. Every bump I’ve experienced has helped me create a stronger and more durable business.
Although the last thing you want to do after a crisis is relive the crisis, I like to take a few minutes to reflect on what I’ve just experienced. I keep a Google doc of “lessons learned” for each year; after dealing with something tough I’ll open it up and write down what I learned when it’s fresh in my mind. It’s never fun and the pain is often still raw, but I find that capturing this valuable data is crucial to preparing myself for future issues and ensuring my ability to manage those in a more effective way.
Return to Your Why
When sh*t hits the fan and everything feels really, really tough, go back to your why. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out Simon Sinek’s Start With Why here). Remembering WHY you started your business has two important benefits. First, it reminds you why you’re fighting so hard and will give you the motivation to keep going. Second, it will help shape the decisions you make in crafting your “solution plan.” There are often multiple solutions to every issue but you want to make sure the one you choose is in line with your goals, strategy and ultimately, your company’s WHY.
Dealing with tough stuff in your business is never fun but it is inevitable. Understanding where issues can arise, creating a plan to deal with them, and effectively managing them when they do happen is the best way to ensure that your business stays strong through any challenge that arises.
What is the toughest challenge you’ve dealt with in your business?