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Business culture E-myth Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Small Business Software business strategic planning The Slight Edge

Ask great questions

I’m always looking for better questions to ask.

Good questions educate me about a situation or a mindset someone is in and help me understand where they’re coming from.

Great questions can open the mind of the person you ask the question of. They tend to create discussions that create slight momentum shifts toward changes previously considered “impossible”,  “too costly” or in conflict with existing thoughts, processes and mindsets that are considered sacrosanct.

Asking great questions without belittling or embarrassing the person being asked is an essential skill whether you’re a journalist, salesperson, manager or business owner. Journalists who ask a mix of good and great questions not only get good answers from the podium, but also provoke the listener or viewer to think hard about their position and what formed it.

I suspect you can think of a few questions of that nature related to the social and political issues of the day. What I would encourage is considering what good and great questions you should be asking your staff, your clients and yourself.

Here are some of the useful questions I’ve collected over the years:

  • Why? (often asked repeatedly)
  • Why not?
  • So? (Be careful, this can come off as a bit rude)
  • What if our belief / prediction / estimate is wrong?
  • If we suspend our tightly held opinions for a moment, what else becomes possible?
  • How can I help?
  • What can I eliminate, add, accelerate, decelerate, start or stop that will help?
  • Help me understand.
  • What’s the biggest risk in doing this?
  • What’s the biggest risk in not doing this? This often works better than the prior question because most of us easily identify “Why we can’t / shouldn’t do this” items.
  • If this fails, what is plan B?
  • Why does that matter? This tends to provoke different responses than “Why?” by digging a little deeper into the Why.
  • What does this accomplish?
  • If this works, what’s the next step?
  • If this fails, is that OK?
  • How does this add value to the things we find important?
  • Can you give me a bit more detail on how you got there? Good for digging deeper on an idea or analysis.
  • How will this impact our clients’ ability to deliver what their clients need and want?
  • If this is wildly successful, are we as a company structured to handle that kind of success?
  • Is this designed to handle 10 times the input, output or clients we currently expect if we provide the necessary infrastructure to support that growth?
  • And that’s important because? (often repeated)
  • What challenges must be overcome to pull this off?
  • Can we talk about how we’ll deal with those challenges?
  • How does this impact our key performance indicators? Examples: cost per lead / new client / sale / deployment, support load, lead time, etc.
  • What opportunities does this provide to our partners?
  • Help me understand how this strengthens our core business.
  • Is this in conflict with our values?
  • How does this support our values?
  • How did the pilot program go?
  • What did our clients say about it?
  • What about this is really important to you, your crew and our clients?
  • What data will be used to monitor this project / activity? How will it be measured? Do we know what the decision points are for that data? How were those points determined?
  • Do you have what you need to do this?
  • How can we communicate this effectively to clients and internally?
  • How does this drive our “one number”? Your number might be webinar views / month, the number of after hours service calls, free trials / month, or average days between purchases. A car lot might see a visit to the lot with a spouse as a leading indicator.
  • What are your biggest barriers to success? What’s the plan to deal with them?
  • Who isn’t “on board” with this? Why?
  • If we remove our egos / need to be “right” from this discussion, what changes?
  • What are the weaknesses in this plan? Do you need help with them?
  • Who are your strongest leaders and how are you developing them to handle more responsibility?
  • What are you doing to attract new talent?
  • What expectations does this set?  How will we manage them?
  • What are you doing to identify and develop both new and existing leaders on your staff?

What good and great questions do you ask?

Categories
Business Resources Small Business strategic planning Technology The Slight Edge

Save your bacon: Backup your stuff

Today was yet another one of those days that come far too often.

A day when someone tells me their computer crashed and they have no backups. For months.

This isn’t a computer at home that’s used for email, Facebook and maybe an occasional game. This computer is used to manage their customers’ technical data and no one has bothered to back it up. We’re talking several gigabytes of contact information, among other things.

The stumper for me is this: Despite the fact that a sizable portion of this company’s tens of millions in revenue depends on the data this software manages, they haven’t backed it up for months.

Computers can come and go – it’s the data that matters. Except for specialty units like servers and such, many of the computers that do what this one does could be replaced by new, much faster hardware for $300-$400. But none of that matters much if you don’t backup your business data.

Every time I think I should give clients a choice about backing up the data created in systems I create, one of these situations pops up to remind me that no choice is necessary.

I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

It happens.

Know anyone whose dog chewed through a computer’s power cord? I do. Ever had the power fail while you were doing something important? Did it mess up your data? It will.

Ironically, I lost power a few hours after I wrote the outline for this piece.

Ever had a client call and tell you their computer was stolen and their backup media was sitting on top of the computer – and it’s gone too? I have. Don’t make me nag and wag my finger at you. Backup your stuff

Backup your stuff

Take your business data seriously. Yes, it’s one more thing to do, even though you can automate it – just be sure those automated backups really do work. Do it every week, if not every day for stuff that you truly cannot afford to lose. Don’t be that person who calls and says “…..and we haven’t backed up since…”

The second most important thing about backups is that you can restore them. Save a copy of the backup on a different device – not the same drive your data is on. If your backups are on the same hard drive as your data, you’re doing it wrong. If that drive dies, your backup dies with it.

At least once a month, try to restore on your backups to a different computer. If you can’t, you’re no better off than the businesses who don’t backup at all.

That electricity thing…

I’m a little NASA-ish when it comes to backup power systems. I have an APC SmartUPS uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with automatic voltage regulation (AVR) on every computer as well as the TV. Yes, I really do mean every computer.

While I rarely watch the tube, I don’t want to replace it if I don’t have to. The UPS units are why I have servers that still run after 10 years.

Computers like stable electricity. They, like your data, are an asset. Depending on what type of computer you use, you might be able to replace it for a couple of hundred dollars – but you can’t replace the data.

You can’t get the time back that you’ll waste replacing hardware, reinstalling software, reconfiguring your network and finally, re-keying your data – if you have it.

A $200-300 UPS will pay for itself with the first outage. Having even two minutes to close files and shut things down normally before firing off an email saying “losing power” etc is worth every penny vs. having it all shut down in a millisecond with no notice, damaging data as it goes down.

If and when electricity spikes or failures cream your machine or your data, there is rarely anything your computer person can do to make things right. Quite often, it’s time to replace the computer and start over.

Sound like fun? It isn’t. Save your bacon. Backup your data. Test your backups by restoring them to a different machine. Sleep better at night.

Worth saying twice: I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

Categories
Business model Customer service Employees service Small Business strategic planning

Earning return business

When you make client service decisions, do you weigh the cost of losing the client in your decision?

I’m talking about the hard cost of losing that client, not the often fuzzy, sometimes made up, and frequently inaccurate cost of a loss, that usually includes the 10-20 people (on average) that an unhappy client will tell after a poor experience – even if it’s their fault. While that does tend to happen, it’s this unhappy client I’m focused on, not their friends, family and coworkers. That’s the one you’re almost sure to lose in a badly handled situation.

What will it cost you if that person never comes back? Not their friends, not someone who reads what they say on Facebook, but them.

Let me describe a recent adventure at Best Buy to give you some context.

Best Buy?

A couple of months before the iPhone 5S came out last year, Best Buy (BB) had an offer to upgrade from an iPhone 4 to a 5 at no cost. The only catch, which I didn’t view as a catch, was that we had to renew our cell contract with Verizon.

We’re happy to reward their early investment in Montana cell infrastructure by remaining with them, at least until they give us a reason not to. As such, renewing was a zero friction event. More like a two free phones event.

BB has a different device insurance than Verizon and we felt the coverage was better, so we put BB insurance on our phones. The one part of Verizon we aren’t a fan of is the corporate stores, so handling all warranty/damage claims in BB seemed like a much better idea. Little did we know…

Earning return business sometimes means bending the rules

My phone recently developed a loose charging socket, probably from me catching the cord on something too many times. Near the end, I had to get creative to get it to charge. So I go up to the nearest BB store and show it to them. The guy at the counter starts the replacement process and checks their records. He says our insurance was cancelled for non-payment.

Hmm. We dig further and find that our debit card number changed in February. We didn’t think about the connection when that change occurred, and they couldn’t charge the insurance to the old card, so the cancel was legit. Unwise, but legit. After a single email to get our attention – they cancelled it.  The email went to an account that gets a lot of spam and isn’t one that I monitor, so it was missed.

While still in the store, I ended up on the phone with the BB insurance guys. Staying mellow paid off, as the agent was willing and able to reinstate the insurance without paying back premiums, setup future payments with the new card number, tweak the email address and allow us to continue the warranty replacement process.

Yes. You read that right. They didn’t even charge the unpaid months in the past.

Preserve and Protect Lifetime Client Value

The potential lose-a-client error, in my mind, was them allowing the insurance to cancel after a simple email. Are you that willing to let a recurring charge client go away? Pick up the phone, people.  One email is not enough effort.

Here’s why: Had they denied the claim, which was clearly their right, I would probably never do phone business with BB again. If they handled it poorly enough, they could have lost all my BB business.

But that isn’t what happened.

Someone is presumably training the folks at BB insurance to think about the long term and what marketing people call LCV – lifetime client value.

The question you have to ask is “Is the incremental value worth the lost lifetime client value?”

In BB’s case: Is it worth the incremental replacement cost of a phone, minus the payment of insurance premiums, to keep a BB client? I think it is, particularly compared to the cost of losing a client, perhaps forever.

In my case, it could have added up to decades of purchases by my wife and I, and perhaps our kids. I suspect that would add up to more than an insurance company’s wholesale price of a refurbished iPhone 5.

Are you thinking about the incremental cost of the service you provide vs. the lifetime client value when training your staff? You should.

Categories
Amazon Automation Business model Competition Improvement Leadership Small Business strategic planning Technology

Accelerated change redefines your market

Last month, Harvard Business Review’s Brad Power wrote a short piece about something software people have known for years, even if they ignore it: The rate of change is accelerating.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/how-the-software-industry-redefines-product-management/

An excerpt from Power’s piece:

I spoke with Andy Singleton, CEO of Assembla, a firm that helps software development teams build software faster. He told me the story of Staples vs. Amazon. As you might expect, Staples has a big web application for online ordering. Multi-function teams build software enhancements that are rolled up into “releases” which are deployed every six weeks. The developers then pass the releases to the operations group, where the software is tested for three weeks to make sure the complete system is stable, for a total cycle of nine weeks. This approach would be considered by most IT experts as “best practice.”

“Best practice”? Not really, but let’s continue:

But Amazon has a completely different architecture and management process, which Singleton calls a “matrix of services.” Amazon has divided their big online ordering application into thousands of smaller “services.” For example, one service might display a web page, or get information about a product. A service development team maintains a small number of services, and releases changes as they become ready. Amazon will release a change about once every 11 seconds, adding up to about 8,000 changes per day. In the time it takes Staples to make one new release, Amazon has made 300,000 changes.

While this situation is old news to software businesses and even to some non-software businesses that develop their own software, the thing you need to be aware of is that this accelerated rate of change and implementation stretches far beyond software.

You may have heard the phrase “software is eating the world“. In many cases, that’s about software disrupting and improving businesses and sometimes eliminating jobs. It’s also about technology and accelerated change in businesses that haven’t traditionally depended on technology.

This rate of change is reaching into many other niches – some faster than others. The question isn’t “Will it touch yours?”, instead the question is “When?”

Consider Amazon

You might be thinking that Amazon is a relatively new company so it was easy for them to start off producing systems as Power’s piece described. Trouble is, that isn’t the case at all.

While Amazon Web Services (aka AWS – the cloud services side of Amazon) has been around since 2006, Amazon has been around since the mid ’90s. They had to remake themselves to pull this off – but they chose to do so before someone else forced it on them.

Three dimensions

A few years ago, if you were in the engineering prototyping business, you might have a turnaround of a few weeks to a month, depending on the type of pieces you prototype.

Then one day, a 3D printer showed up on a local doorstep. Without a massive capital expense, delay and shop build out, a local engineer could now start turning out prototypes your clients could touch and feel in hours or for larger items, a day or two.

Perhaps you can work with that person to partner on projects and you both win. If you don’t, who will?

You can have a 3D printer on your doorstep tomorrow. What makes you different from the lady down the street who owns one?

The choice

Today, you probably have a choice in the matter.

You can either determine what needs a remake or restructure and make those changes (and experiments) on your terms, or you can wait and let someone else determine the time frame and terms for you. Most of us would prefer not to have someone else calling the shots.

I know, you’re busy. You’ve got this fire and that fire to put out. You’ve got soccer games to get to. I get it. I have those too and so do many other business owners.

It might be hard to justify any sort of disruption, even in thought, if your business is humming along on all cylinders right now.  That’s exactly what the disruptive businesses want. Keep doing what you’ve always done, because it’s still working.

Meanwhile, someone out there is fighting the same fires, perhaps as their business hums along, and all the while, they’re restructuring their business for this new reality.

What if they’re in your market? What if you did it first?

Categories
Automation Competition Economic Development Entrepreneurs Small Business startups strategic planning

Why small business should care about Meeker’s slides

Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report came out today, so I thought I’d offer a few comments about it and how its findings are likely to (continue to) affect small businesses, including small software companies.

The Slideshare version is rather slow right now,  so I suggest you check out the PDF version of the Meeker report.

Psst, thank you Mary.

Tablet sales

52% annual year over year growth. For software companies, this matters just a bit. Web apps that work great on phones don’t always translate to the tablet form factor. Do the work to make your UX good on both.

Context: There are 789MM laptop users globally and 743MM desktop users globally – this is after decades of computer sales. Tablets – despite the modern tablet only having been around for a few years, there are already 439MM globally. Ignore them at your own risk.

KPCBMeeker2014Tabletuse

 

Advertising media

Meeker2014AdSpend

When reading the “Print is over-indexed” comment, keep in mind that most businesses who use print do so very poorly. They carpet bomb rather than snipe and they don’t track lead numbers or ad/media performance. I suspect they will do the same when advertising on mobile ad platforms and will complain that, just like print, advertising doesn’t work.

Don’t be that business.

Hey, nice network!

95%+ of networks are compromised in some way, and small business networks are likely worse than most of the ones Meeker is referring to.

Yes, yours is probably one of them *or could be*. It happened to Target (et al), it can definitely happen to you.

A quote from the slideshow: “Vulnerable systems placed on the internet (are) compromised in less than 15 minutes“. This doesn’t mean the internet is the big bad wolf, unless you have a pile of XP machines that aren’t properly taken care of and operated by staff (and management) who will click on any-old-thing.

Free shipping

47+% of orders include free shipping, vs. 35% five years ago.

Say this 3 times: “Lifetime customer value”. If this hasn’t reached your area – and in many cases, it may be a long time coming, consider beating the world to the punch. Leaders lead.

Cloud computing costs still dropping

A bit of Doctor Obvious, but the numbers are huge.

  • Compute (ie: CPU costs) – down 33% per year from 1990 to 2013.
  • Disk storage costs – down 38% per year from 1992 to 2013.
  • Bandwidth costs – down 27% per year from 1999 to 2013.

Where’s your competition?

Anywhere and everywhere, perhaps.

Meeker2014Competition

Vicarious video living

The highest volume video streaming site is Twitch – a site where people watch other people play video games. Presumably they do this to learn how to play better, I really don’t know why else you would do this. While this is of little specific relevance to me, Twitch’s numbers are certainly relevant.

Twitch has more user viewing minutes than WWE, Ustream, MLB.com and ESPN combined. Yes, COMBINED. 12 billion minutes per month.

How does video fit into your strategic plans?

As of January 2014, 43% of TV content viewing minutes were on non-live-TV. IE: DVR, DVD, streaming, mobile streaming, etc. They want it when they want it, not when someone says they must consume it.

How does *on-demand* video fit into your strategic plans?

The world is flat

As of January 2013: 9 of the top 10 producers of internet content are in the US, yet 79% of their monthly visitors are outside the U.S.

As of March 2014: 6 of the top 10 producers of internet content are in the US, and 86% of their monthly visitors are outside the U.S. 4 of that 10 have effectively zero US-based visitors. Yes, China.

Alipay’s “Yu’E Bao” asset management startup went from $0 to $89B in managed assets in 10 months. It is now one of the top 3 global money market funds based on assets under management. TEN MONTHS.

60% of the top 25 tech companies in the US were started by 1st or 2nd generation Americans. 1.2MM employees as of 2013.

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Competition Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Small Business Software business strategic planning The Slight Edge Uncategorized

You aren’t the business owner you need to be

A while back, I had a conversation with the CEO of a $60 million software company that hit me pretty hard – and the lesson is one that all business owners need to keep in mind.

This CEO was talking about how he feels constant pressure to improve himself so that he can be ready to run the company that will be waiting for him in six months or so. Given their growth rate, he fully expects the business to be 20 to 30 million larger a year from now.

Despite the proven skills he’s demonstrated for years – and used to get his company to where it is today, he still feels intense pressure to be ready to run the company his company will soon become.

What hit me hard is that despite the fact that I regularly invest a fair amount of time and cash to expand my education, I was talking with a guy who also spends a lot of time and money improving his skills and education – and he still doesn’t feel ready.

Are you ready?

Think about that for a minute. Are you preparing yourself so that you’re ready to lead the company your business will be in six, nine or 12 months? Are you learning enough to be ready to manage your own company’s needs?

This isn’t just about software companies and it isn’t limited to companies with double-digit millions in revenue. Every business owner will face this challenge. Every business will push us to improve or it (and we) will pay a dear price for that.

Imagine how your staff, family and others will react if your company is being run by someone who doesn’t have the skills to run it. It’ll be patently obvious – even if you own every single penny of it.

What would happen if you weren’t ready?

It’s particularly serious for companies experiencing serious growth, or for those whose growth suddenly stopped, regardless of the reason.

Our businesses change rapidly. Other people, our own people, the market, clients, competitors and our own growth (or lack of it) all have a way of “moving our cheese“.

Be there to meet the cheese

Years ago, Wayne Gretzky was asked about the difference between a good hockey player and a great one. He replied that “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

Somehow or another, Gretzky would often be where the puck was going to be, ready to do something others could only observe. Some may never have figured out that Gretzky was like a great chess player who visualized the next umpteen moves in his head and as such, knew where to be on the ice.

Running a business isn’t much different. If you aren’t ready for your business when it arrives at that future spot, it could slide right by – just like opportunities (and the puck).

What areas need attention?

You may have run your small business for years, nurturing it from the time when you did everything with nothing and slowly built it to the stable, if not growing, situation you enjoy (I hope) today.

So what do you change to be ready for the company yours will become next year? What do you learn? What do you need help with?

For large companies like the one discussed earlier, finance is where the learning usually needs to occur. But not everyone is looking to create a business that large.

What if you’re not planning to be that big?

The things I see that hold businesses back, or keep them from being able to take advantage of opportunities zipping by are the ones I frequently talk about here: sales, marketing and operations – and things that cause big, sudden changes in any one of those.

Do you have a sales staff? If so, do they have a process for working leads? How would your process hold up to a 20% increase in leads? How about a 20% decrease?

Is your marketing planned, consistent and strategically thought out or does it happen at random?

Are your operations ready for a 20% change in volume? If your best salesperson got a massive multiple location deal tomorrow, how would that affect your ability to deliver?

These are the things a business owner needs to be ready for.

 

 

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attitude Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Small Business strategic planning Trade Shows

What to do at that trade show

Something to think about before your next trade show, convention or industry event…

Come to the event with an open mind. The worst waste of time and money will occur if you arrive there with a mindset that what you’re doing now is not subject to change.

Look at EVERY thing you see and ask yourself “How can that help my business, even if I have to tweak it a little?”

If you aren’t willing to do that, why are you going?

Categories
Automation Business culture Business model Competition Customer relationships Customer service Getting new customers Recurring Revenue Small Business strategic planning systems Technology

What if you actually followed up?

Ducks In A Row

Does your business follow up with your clients and prospects like you should?

You should probably consider what “like you should” means, before deciding whether you follow up properly or not.

Having done that, let’s define “follow up” as continuing the conversation with that particular prospect or client, in exactly the context they are in with your business, in a timeframe that makes sense to the client.

This isn’t about you. It’s about them, where their interests lie, what needs they have right now where they are in the flow of things in their life and/or business. Not where you are.

Let that sink in – this is not about you, what your sales staff has on their mind today, where you are with the month’s cash flow, whether or not you’ve made your weekly nut, etc. Thing is, if you do this right, it’ll help you worry a whole lot less about that last one.

Figure out the right whens

If you’re trying to start doing this right, it would help to start with the basics – identifying when to follow up with your clients and prospects. I call these “touch points” (meaning when to reach out and get/keep in touch), but it might make it easier to think about if you view them as events in the timeline your clients and prospects follow as they meet you, become your client and continue down that path until they are no longer your client.

One more reminder, this is about the right time for them, not you.

Here are a few ideas for touch points:

  • Someone becomes a new lead by calling, emailing, filling out a web form, etc.
  • Someone clicks on a link in an email.
  • An existing lead contacted you for info.
  • A lead bought a new product or service.
  • A client bought a product or service for a second-nth time.
  • A client had an interaction with your service department.
  • A client paid a bill on time.
  • A client paid a bill late.
  • A client paid a bill late for the second/nth time.
  • A client fails to buy something on their normal purchase schedule that they used to buy from you on a regular basis.

Take a few minutes to consider what your touch points / events are. You may have a lot more than that, but I would be surprised to find that you had fewer.

Now what?

Let’s analyze the why behind a couple of these so that my comment “Thing is, if you do this right, it’ll help you worry a whole lot less about that last one” makes more sense.

Think about how things work in your business today.

If a client who usually buys something once a month doesn’t buy this month, are you aware of it?

If you aren’t, it’s possible for them to disappear and stop being a client without your knowledge. How many clients do you have that buy something every month? How many of them disappear each month? Do the math and figure out what that could be costing you.

That’s the possible return on investment of being able to follow up when this event happens.

If this purchase doesn’t happen and you know about it, then you can turn your service or sales team loose to make sure nothing is wrong or that conditions have changed for your client. Maybe they don’t need to continue buying that product or service anymore. So be it, but they may need something else. Or you may have had an unfortunate interaction with them.

Whatever the reason, knowing is a ton better than not knowing. You might find out that you will lose them and can’t do anything about it (changes in their needs, etc), but at least you’ll know.

One more example

If a client pays a bill late, do you grumble and add a service charge to their next bill without any conversation? Does the service charge get added automatically?

There are plenty of ways to talk to a client about a late payment without coming off like a jerk. Maybe they need different payment dates, a different payment method or they just missed the invoice somehow because someone was out sick.

Personal follow ups like these can keep a relationship going for years, rather than letting them sour because of a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge.

Categories
Automation Business Resources Entrepreneurs Habits Management Resources Small Business strategic planning Technology

What happens if I refuse?

Minnesota Guard removes floodwall, opening Minot bridge

Yesterday, we talked about backups.

Did you do anything about it?

If you didn’t, think about this: What would happen to your business if the hard drive containing your customer list, orders, accounting and communications with customers and vendors failed? What would it cost if you lost that data?

I asked startup CEO Doug Odegaard from Missoula for a quick angle on the cost of not keeping good backups. He said “Add up how much people owe you and how much it cost to build your business and that is how much it is worth.

Pratik, a tech business owner from New Jersey who also owns a restaurant, added this: “and don’t forget the good will and revenue loss until operations can resume again“, then reminded me of his experience with a fire:

Mark, if you recall when we had the fire caused by lightning at the pizzeria, I had the entire customer base with purchasing and sales history synced to my home. Insurance company had the first check cut in 10 days of the claim. This practice is so important. We had our standing corporate catering resume in one week from an alternate commercial kitchen which kept revenue coming in as well as routed our VOIP phone service to my mobile for those customers that tried calling. Made recovery a bit easier.

What’s it worth?

That metric Doug offered merits consideration. If you can’t wrap your head around the cost of starting over, doing inventory from scratch, calling all of your customers (assuming you have their contact information somewhere) and asking them to tell you what they orders, how much people owe you and so on, then ask yourself this:

How would you like to go back to the day you started your business and start over?

Ask your insurance agent how many businesses survive a fire or flood if they don’t have these things taken care of.

Categories
Automation Business Resources Entrepreneurs Habits Management Small Business strategic planning Technology The Best Code Wins

Put your mask on first

Fire Smoke IndyW 1428

Professional development mentors remind us that we must take care of ourselves first.

They advise that we improve ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally – in other words, attend first to our overall health – so that we’re better prepared to perform well in our roles at work, at home and in our community.

Personal finance mentors do the same when they remind us to pay ourselves first. If we don’t, something will always come up that consumes those funds, leaving us ill-prepared for our future.

Airline flight attendants ask us to put on our oxygen mask first, then help others sitting near us, because we can’t help our kids or significant others if we’re unable to breathe.

Here’s the technology version of putting your mask on first:

  • Backup your business data.
  • Test your backups regularly to be sure you can restore them.
  • Rotate your backup media off-site so that a theft or on-site fire or water damage don’t render your backups useless at the time you’ll need them most.
  • Document your backup and restore process so that you can restore and get systems running again even though your technology wizard is on a 16 hour flight to Australia.
  • Investigate, plan and implement real-time disaster recovery for your business data, particularly if your business model has little downtime tolerance.

This may seem like a hassle. It may seem like unnecessary overhead. Don’t be tempted by those thoughts.

Fact is, if you put your mask on first, you’ll be in a better position to help your customers solve their problems, grow their business and keep paying you. Why? Because your business will be more resilient.

Look back at the business impacts from an event like Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina. If you were impacted by those storms, how would you service customers who weren’t in the storm track? If you can’t, you know they’re likely to find someone else who can.

Your “Someday” is coming

These kinds of things that happen when your business can’t take a power outage, a hard drive crash or similar disruptions. The question is… when?

No one can point to a date and declare (in their Darth Vader voice) that “Your systems are going to fail on this day.”

What I can guarantee, even without considering Katrina, Sandy, Boardwalk fires, blizzards and ice storms, is that it’ll happen…Someday. These things happen to electronic, mechanical devices. You can either be prepared for them or not.

At least once a week, I hear from someone whose “Someday” has arrived. Three times last month I saw it happen to businesses who didn’t have backups. Like a TV show involving the Kardashians, it’s drama you don’t need.

You might think that hardware failures happen more often to businesses that don’t have backups. The reality is that businesses with good backups simply restore them and keep working, so we don’t hear much about their hardware problems. One result of this is that making backups is ignored until it’s too late.

This puts the security of your clients, your employees, your clients’ employees and the families of all these people at risk.

If your most important database disappeared right now, how would that impact your business? How would you recover? How long would it take to get back to where you are right now, productivity-wise? When did you last test your ability to restore your data from a backup?

If you don’t know the answers, ask your technology people. Don’t do it in an accusing fashion, just explain that you’re concerned about the possibility of hardware failure and natural disasters, so you’d like to know what the backup and recovery plan is and how long the recovery period will take for your business. These are things management should know.

Remember, it’s an asset

While there is no good time for this to happen, history suggests that failures are likely during your busy season, or during financial month / quarter / year end.

The good news is that if you have your backup and restore act together, you might lose some time and productivity when your Someday comes, but you’re far less likely to lose your job or your business.

Backup your data. Test your backups to make sure the restores will work. Schedule these tasks.

Care for your data like an irreplaceable asset.