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Imagine you are in a control room observing multiple screens from surveillance cameras, each focused on different aspects of your business. One shows how satisfied your customers are, another shows employee morale and the next one shows the state of your marketing, finance, legal and so on.
Now imagine those screens going black one by one. That’s what happened in my business in the last two months.
One by one, all essential parts started crumbling: My website went down and my emails stopped sending and receiving (as a PR agency, the ability to chat with our press contacts pretty much IS the business). Then my Instagram account was impersonated. A fake account with my face on it started sending some dodgy offers to my contacts. Then PayPal decided to freeze my account and block access to all the funds I’ve got there. The final nail in the coffin was the freezing of our business bank account, preventing us from receiving funds. Ta da!
I’m not telling you this to complain, I’m just painting the picture and hoping it will get you thinking about what would you do if the same thing (or at least one of them) happened to you. While we occupy our minds with the next big marketing ideas and product development, one serious crack in the foundation can make a whole business go extinct in a matter of days.
And while some of the issues are still ongoing, here are the lessons I’ve learned.
Relationships are the main asset
When my emails went down I suddenly began receiving … texts. No, not WhatsApp messages, but actual texts from contacts abroad. Apparently, people who are really committed to speaking to you. Amidst all the chaos this was a breath of fresh air: Relationships I’ve built are actually stronger than technology.
Do you know the concept of “adding value” to your business partnerships? Here’s the ultimate test to see if it’s working: Imagine your usual communication channel is down. Who would make an extra effort to find you either way? A hint: Those are the people who feel they are benefitting the most from this relationship. I personally believe they are one of the most undervalued assets in a business.
The same goes for your brand: Who in your audience would notice if you stopped posting on social media? Who’d write to check on you if they haven’t heard from you in a while? Or new people who would discover you through other channels and find a way to reach out when your website is down? While my website and Instagram were nonexistent, people found me through articles and podcast interviews I’ve done in the past and reached out via LinkedIn and personal email.
We rely on technology, yet often, even the most secure solution fails us. If you are in it to stay, build relationships and a brand that outlasts any technology that you are using to build it.
Sometimes in business, you’ll need to show your teeth
A bit of a wolf’s grin might be a standard operating procedure for some entrepreneurs, but it was a completely new experience for me. I came to business from journalism, where likability and politeness used to get me through many closed doors. It’s no surprise that it was my standard operating procedure in business.
Here is what happened recently. My bank account was blocked and the company was running out of cash and unable to receive funds. Sixty days of beating around the bush and keeping polite and cheerful conversations with bank reps had gotten me nowhere. Salaries were due in two days. Seeing my desperation, a friend reminded me that my company was, after all, a PR agency. “Tell them you’re going to the press with a story about five Ukrainian women who won’t get paid this month because of them.” That seemed low. But also, it was true. So I asked my inner polite girl to wait outside, I sent an angry tweet to the bank, threatening them with press attention.
I will tell you this much: It worked. A polite girl got nothing but “our team is working on it” in the last two months. A grinning wolf got her business account unblocked in less than an hour. I’m not suggesting that’s how I’m planning to do business now, but let’s say there is a new tool in the toolbox and the confidence that when you have something worth fighting for, there is no shame in using it.
How long can the business run without you?
For two whole months, I’ve been dealing with the unexpected. For two months, I had to prioritize make-or-break issues over business as usual. That meant less attention from me to my team, my leads and even my clients. We’ve made it through two months, but I’m painfully aware that another month without me, as the founder, would most likely break us.
It also showed me the weakest points in my business. Client relationships are strong. The team is well trained but is sometimes lacking independence, the sales process is weak and largely depends on me. Another great test is imagining what would happen if you had to be absent from your usual processes for one month, two or three months. What would break first? How fast would it break? Now that most of the storm has passed, I know exactly where to focus my attention.
You might need more baskets than eggs
One primary server, one primary payment processor and one primary bank to keep the money. What else does a small business need? Before these events, I’d rather spend time brainstorming creatives for a client or polishing a marketing campaign. Today, I’m ready to spend more energy securing the company against unlikely situations. Because when customers have no website to go to see my services, or when I can’t receive payments, no marketing campaign or creatives are relevant.
I feel a bit like an overly-cautious grandma that would put her old pearls into a chest with three security locks, and then hide the chest at the back of the closet “just in case.” My business might be small at the moment, but the responsibility I have towards the clients and the team is no different. If three security locks (or backup servers) is what it takes to keep grandma asleep at night, then so be it.