Last week, I wrote the first of a two-part article called “How to create a resilient business” and I promised the second part this week which will be called “Creating a resilient climate in your business”.
This isn’t it!
So, those of you who were looking forward to continuing reading about how to create a resilient climate in your business – well you’ll have to wait and come back to the blog huh? Got you!
No, seriously I will be publishing the second part next week but I thought I’d interrupt the flow with an on-topic real life story.
Something happened to someone close to me (not me, so I won’t share it with you) that meant I suddenly had to take time off work, several weeks in fact, and without a great deal of warning. In many, less resilient businesses this could have been catastrophic to the conduct and flow of the business, let alone your income. You could be going along nicely, or at least coasting, when – WHAM! – a crisis happens and you find that you have a choice as a small business owner. You can do what’s right and take time off to look after the personal crisis or you can carry on working in the business and cause whatever damage to your personal life and relationships.
Before you answer that your business is your livelihood and you would need to look for a compromise, let me remind you of two facts that I’m sure I share with you – first, some crises cannot be compromised, second you started the business to achieve a good life/work balance. Right?
So having to suddenly take 6 weeks off – and doing so successfully – what lessons have been learned by me that you can benefit from in crisis proofing your resilient business?
I did it by having built two components to my bricks and mortar consulting business:-
- The use of technology
- The development of a virtual team.
First, let’s talk about technology.
I designed this phase of my business 4 years ago when I started developing my online consulting business, developing books, internet products and training and webinars.
My bricks and mortar business was (and still is to a large extent) my money lifeline and my credibility builder. I couldn’t just let it go. However, I knew that I would be travelling a lot, and in order to build the online business I also needed to work on it while I was away from the office. In time I expected to be away from my office a lot, enjoying the benefits of an online and virtual business “buying” me lots of free time!
So I started to develop the technology to allow me to work as if I was in the office surrounded by all the resources I would be if I was actually in the office.
Now I’m not a tech guru but I do know my way around computers – so I relied on my common sense and some help from IT professionals. You can too. You know what you need. You probably know how to use your computer quite well or you wouldn’t be reading this either in an email, on the blog, or by following my social media feeds. All you need to do is to engage your common sense and marry what you need with what’s out there to get it.
The first thing I did was to build a reliable connection to my office server. That meant an up to date and very fast server with a very fast internet service, and the ability to log into it from any of my devices, including my phone, and through a web portal from any other computer. Your IT professional can advise you on that but I chose a Windows based system for the office because of the specialist Microsoft-based finance software that I needed, but I also use an Apple Mac at home, a Macbook when I travel, along with an iPad and an iPhone. This meant my office server had to cater for all platforms.
I won’t bore you with the finance and accounting based software I loaded into the server, but I also had a good CRM (customer relationship management) and document management software installed so that all records of contact with clients and their related documents could be found in one app. These are all installed into the server which I log into remotely, as well as access while in the office, but in time I will be looking for cloud based solutions for my powerhouse apps.
However I already use cloud based productivity and work apps so that I can work on any mobile device. Mainly I use Evernote (to store searchable notes, website cuttings, documents, photos etc.), Dropbox (to store longer documents, references and to share large projects), Hightail (to send large documents by email), Microsoft 365 so that my Outlook, while Exchange based, along with all the Microsoft Office software is available remotely. The subscription for 365 also gives me an allocation on Microsoft’s cloud server, but having an Exchange server as the base, and with the use of Dropbox, I’m not using it.
To allow me remote access, I carry an iPad with enormous memory, my iPhone also with enormous memory, and a wifi hub that allows me to create a wifi access network anywhere with mobile phone access. At home I’ve ensured I have a very fast internet connection, a wifi network all through the house, and a reliable VPN connection to the office.
Finally I had to ensure that our telephone systems could be configured in such a way that appeared seamless to clients who called in and get put through to me wherever I am. We installed VOIP systems that allowed transfers to mobiles and other numbers. Our system also allows handsets to be taken offsite and plugged into a server or PC and work as if it were in the office.
I know you’re not running a bricks and mortar consulting and accounting business, but an explanation of what this technology allows me to do will give you an example of what you can do:-
- All contact information, demographic information, historical records, accounts, tax information, correspondence, billing history, product/service history of all my clients is on my server in the CRM database, which allows anyone in my business access to client knowledge – anyone can take calls and answer questions
- My team can work on client accounts and records from anywhere by remotely dialling in
- I can share documents from anywhere to anyone, including people who don’t have access to my server
- I can work on the beach!
Now let me talk about the development of a virtual team.
In the old model of my business, I had a problem I shared with most traditional services businesses – I had to hire a team of people who sat around in the office and spent their time either looking for work because there wasn’t enough to go around, were too busy because too much work came in at the same time and caused bottlenecks and client service delay issues, or just had the right amount of work to have everyone busy and working continuously.
It will be no surprise to you that the third scenario very rarely happened.
I spent 20 years struggling with the age-old problem, how do you even out the workflow? I spent money and time on project management software. I scheduled times when clients should bring their (predictable) work in and sent them reminders and calendars. In the end I found out the answer to that question – you can’t!
So I also spent time trying to answer the other corresponding question – how do you staff your business correctly so as to have the right amount of staff on hand at any time? Again I tried scheduling software and played with part-time or casual staff but hit on the other related problem. When I needed staff, the part-time or casual staff were busy also and couldn’t spend time on my clients. Or those that were available just weren’t of the right quality.
Four years ago I started the development of a virtual team that I believe has now solved the problem.
Over my years in the business I have employed over 20 staff, some good, some not so good. Of those that were good, a good proportion either were not working full time anymore (kids, and so on) or were looking to spend more time off work. I found that this included the 5 staff I had on the books at the time. So using the demands and resource I created a company where interested current and ex-staff took shares (I own none) and elected their own Board, to take on a contract from me. I would feed all my work into this company of ex-staff for an agreed proportion of the final fee to the client. They trusted me because having worked in the business before they knew what I charged. In time I referred more and more of my colleagues to this company who also now use their services.
The staff were able to work from home (or anywhere else) using the technology I had built to upload and download their work and individuals were able to take on what work they wanted. As it turns out none of my work is left waiting and has an average 2 week turnaround – something that was impossible to promise in the old model.
This brought me the following advantages:-
- I was only paying for work done, not for time to sit around
- Staff were happier because they could work whenever and wherever they wanted and could achieve a great life-work balance
- The quality was standard because either they had worked for me before and knew all the systems, or if they were new to the company, received a manual from me that set out step by step what I wanted and how to present it and in what format
- It did not even out the workflow but it does ensure that all work is done on time
- It allows me to not have to be constantly present in the office.
As I said the development started 4 years ago, and it’s still ongoing. I’m learning how to do it better every day.
However it’s at a stage now where I can be met by a personal crisis – and not be worried about taking time off. Oh, there is a third element to my business that allowed me to take that time off, which I will talk about in a future blog post, and that’s the system of manuals and procedures in the business that allows anyone to walk in and follow each step to the way we do it here.
What lessons did I learn?
- What I designed works, so I’m going to keep working on it
- Resilience is built, not naturally occurring – you can build it, you have to build it, it can be built
- Use technology and all the tools that can make your business processes seamless
- Create a team, a real team.
If you want to know more about the tools to build a business like this, subscribe to the blog and get all these free ideas about how to create strategy, provide leadership and grow your business sent directly to your inbox.
There are a lot of downloadable tools of thousands of dollars of value available at no charge on the website teikoh.com
Oh, and don’t forget next week is the continuation of last week’s article – look out for it, or better yet, subscribe so you don’t miss it!