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contingency

Brilliance in contingency planning!

Unfortunately, we have seen many instances supporting contingency planning this year – earthquakes, floods, fires, tsunamis.

Wendy Davie has shared a tip from a Christchurch client which I think is great. Having a disaster kit somewhere accessible but protected could be highly valuable in a natural disaster or other catastrophe, and Mary’s idea of using a wheelie bin is blindingly simple.

I wanted to say I love how we all respond to someone grabbing the obvious as a solution to something. A wheelie bin has obvious advantages for a disaster kits (waterproof, portable, easy to get, affordable) but how many people actually thought to use one like that? I see it as a good reminder to stop over thinking things, maybe step away completely and be a little creative – you never know what you’ll come up with!

While Mary’s idea was about life-saving disaster supplies (water, blankets, first aid, and so on), a similar concept could apply to business, especially businesses in disaster prone areas or at least in areas on high alert. If a disaster occurs during business hours, the same materials will be important (water, first aid kits, batteries, pen & paper) for the safety and comfort of you and your team. But, as a business, you may include a few extras such as a list of contacts (including contacts for all employees and their families), a copy of your contingency plan and checklists and weekly back up discs (if your kit is secure enough).

What’s your ‘wheelie bin’ idea for contingency planning?

Natural disasters

With floods in Victoria, NSW and especially in Queensland, fires in WA and cyclones in Queensland, we are experiencing natural disasters across Australia.

Aside from any emotional reactions and personal needs, this is clearly a time to prepare our businesses for the worst. For those in affected and threatened areas, you may not have the time or energy to do much now but I believe the rest of us should take this time to protect our businesses so we can stay strong to help those who are loosing so much.

To help you prepare, here are some previous blog posts where I have written about contingency plans and actions:

Risk acknowledgement

Chain reactions…

Prepared for a chain reaction?

Protecting the essential

Crucial planning ahead for problems

What’s essential?

Website hosting security

Chain reactions…

I came across a blog post about the domino effect and it got me thinking.

Obviously, one little thing left undone can cause another little thing to happen and so on until there is a problem – for example, miss one weeks back up of your computer doesn’t seem like a big deal until you have missed many weeks back ups and then your hard drive fails…

This is where contingency plansand attention to detail are important. Sometimes we get busy and it is easy to leave things until later (and the reality is that with only 24 hours in a day, some things have to be left until later) but we need to watch out for the important things not being forgotten. Maybe a set time each week to review important things could be a valuable use of time.

Here are five things I think should be regularly checked before they become a problem:

  1. overall safety – broken chairs, loose power cords, overloaded power points, faulty machinery can cause serious damage if left to get worse
  2. back up systems of data and software
  3. suppliers – little issues may build up until you are left unable to fulfill client needs so check suppliers are on track before it gets critical
  4. customer service – if you have staff, are they treating customers the way you want? are you keeping your word on things like sending out newsletters? how long does it take to reply to emails?
  5. accounts – is data processed with some regularity? do you pay invoices on time every time? are you aware of those customers who are slow payers?

Of course, not all domino effects are negative, so I’ll post about that tomorrow!

What’s essential?

With the bushfires and floods, the global financial crisis and swine flu, every business should be thinking about having contingency plans in place. I gave some tips on preparing for a distruption to your business and being prepared, but real contingency planning requires even more effort.

A key step in ensuring your business can survive a major issue is understanding what is essential. Protecting and replacing the essential is what helps you survive – other things may be important  but are of little use if the essential factors are missing.

For example, it is important to have the Word Constructions website online but it is essential that I have a computer and software for preparing documents (yes, I can write with pen and paper but it isn’t very professional to hand that to a client!)

So what is essential in your business? Think about the essential equipment, skills, people, services and resources you rely on.

Imagine a dentist’s surgery without a dentist, an engineering firm with no engineers, a dressmaker business with no sewing machine, a hairdresser with no scissors and a referral agency missing its directories.

Make a list of what is essential for your business, and perhaps a second list of what is very important but non-essential.

Crucial planning ahead for problems

Contingency planning and being prepared are important steps for a business owner – but steps that are not urgent so can easily be left behind in the day to day busyness of business and making a profit.

I was reminded of this topic today when I read an article called ‘When bad stuff happens’ – being about small business owners needing to think ahead to potential problems. And having procedures in place to cope when problems do arise.

Back in 1999, I had a contract to prepare some contingency plans for a major Australian company. We did various things, but one key task was preparing a checklist and contingency plan for the morning of 1 January 2000 – the day computers were going to fail and planes fall from the sky! The checklist included things such as ‘turn on a light switch. If it doesn’t work, try a second switch. If it still doesn’t work, look at neighbouring buildings and street lights – do they have power?’ We thought ahead and gave staff options to get all the information before emergency procedures were put into place.

So what sort of things do you need procedures for in your business? Obviously, that depends on your business, but some simple procedures you could start with are:

  • make sure someone else has a list of key contacts in case you are suddenly out of action. For example, my key clients and contacts are on a list with my husband so they would not be left wondering about me if I disappeared for a while
  • give someone else access to your PO box, or at least permission to get your mail redirected
  • prepare a list of essential business passwords so someone else can manage things – for instance, passwords for your blog, email and online shop administration
  • if you send out products, writing a procedure on how to package and send them is crucial for another person to be able to pick it up for you
  • if you are a service provider, establish some relationships now so there are people you can refer clients to or outsource work to if you can’t complete promised work
  • give your bookkeeper, accountant or a trusted person the means to be able to complete IAS/BAS statements for you, including how to pay any tax owing, so you avoid fines and problems with the ATO while you are ill or unavailable
  • prepare some standard responses to emails so the same message can be sent out even in your absence. Think about adding some of that common information to your website, too, to reduce how many people ask the same question – much easier for someone trying to fill in for you, but also a great time saver for you in the mean time!

If you start implementing some of these plans into your business, I’d love to hear about it – although I hope it never becomes necessary to use the procedures for a negative problem (using them because you win a trip around the world is a different story!)

Use your words and time wisely!

Be prepared

Back in April, I wrote about cuboree – a camp for Victorian cubs and leaders. I wrote that I expected to be able to use cuboree as examples in business behaviour and strength.

As I mentioned, cuboree was affected by strong winds that have since been called a cyclone. The entire campsite of about 4,500 people (mostly 8 – 10 year olds) was locked down for an entire afternoon.

It was certainly an experience to remember and thankfully there were no major injuries, but it wasn’t something anyone had expected or hoped for!

There were various things put in place over the storm period that kept us all safe. For instance, leaders were told a storm was coming the previous night so we could prepare our campsites and warn the cubs in the morning that there would be strong winds. Programs were adjusted to suit the conditions and regular updates were provided to pack leaders. The fact that there were high wind rated marquees available, as well as permanent buildings,  shows how the organisers had planned for problems. The cuboree website was already in place so it was simple for the camp to keep parents and others ‘at home’ informed about the cubs, rather than having 3,000 parents ringing or visiting the campsite.

In business, being prepared for possible problems is called contingency planning and is very important. Planning doesn’t mean you think the problem will arise, but makes it easier to deal with the problem if it did arise. It’s like having some paracetamol in the cupboard – you may never get a headache but if you do, you want the medicine quickly.

Contingency planing depends on the size and potential impact of the problem. For instance, running out of ink for the printer is probably covered by having a spare cartridge in the cupboard and ordering a new spare once it is used. However, the plan for how to cope if your business premises are burnt in a fire will be a lot more complex and detailed.

Some contingency planning is simple and practical – having spare ink for printers, spare light bulbs and a first aid kit – while others are much better if written out and added to the procedures.

How much contingency have you planned for in your business? Have you done this formally or just built up a supply of spare materials for instance?

I would love to hear some examples of how contingency planning has saved your business in some way, too.