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Small business cannot afford to go dark. You must be at the shop or in the office--at the convenience of your clients and customers.
Voice mail is a good example of backing up yourself. When you absolutely cannot answer the phone, your voice mail backs you up.
Beyond that, employees call in sick. Equipment breaks down just when you need it most. And suppliers can suddenly stop supplying.
Example: Eric runs a rug and carpet cleaning service. He serves a residential and commercial client base. Jobs are scheduled days in advance, and Eric sends two employees to each job in fully equipped vans. He cross-trains his employees in cleaning techniques and the use of equipment. (For more on cross-training, see yesterday's blog on Emergencies.) Eric juggles his employees according to the requirements of the job and according to availability. Sometimes, employees can have an emergency at home or call in sick. Before the vans head out in the morning, Eric might have to substitute employees. When there is an especially tough job, or when he runs out of substitutions, Eric goes himself to the job.
There is never an excuse good enough that you let the client/customer down. They have a life too, and you must fit into their life. Backing up your employees ultimately falls to you--either make arrangements or do the job yourself.
Example: I have experienced the backing up problem--with both employees and equipment. In the printing business, I was a stickler for back up. My employees were cross-trained to the extent possible on various types of equipment. And the equipment was backed up--multiple presses of the same type and duplicate computers. The whole idea was to be able to handle the jobs one way or another. I took it to the next level as well. I had a standing arrangement with a competitor--in an emergency, his shop would serve as back up for me, and vice versa. Both of us realized that never letting a client down was more important than being competitors.
If your business depends on equipment, you need back up. When equipment breaks down, it can usually be repaired--but this takes time. In the meantime, your back up equipment turns out the jobs and keeps the customer happy. Remember, they don't care about your problems.
Example: Sheena specializes in finishing kitchens and baths with tile, granite, marble, slate and other materials. Most of the work is with ceramic and porcelain tiles imported from all over the world. Sheena must know and stay in contact with many suppliers who can vary widely in products, availability and price. She has made it part of her business model to keep abreast of the market and maintain alternate suppliers. A client-specified porcelain tile might be in inventory at one supplier at a high price, but it can be delivered in two weeks at another supplier at a much lower price. Sheena juggles suppliers against need and schedules.
Backing up your internals can save your business. Employees who can only do one thing can represent a danger in a small business. Depending on one piece of equipment is also dangerous to business health. And a single supplier can go bankrupt tomorrow, leaving you scrambling.
You gotta produce. Repairers repair. Bakers bake. Therapists do all sorts of things. With back up, you've smoothed the road ahead and possibly saved your business from disaster.