It was a few years into my business that I finally developed an operations manual. At the time, both of my sisters were working with me in different capacities. My sister, Amy, began the document as she recorded her work as my bookkeeper/accountant. My sister, Jill, didn’t call it an operations manual. In her work experience, she had heard this document referred to as your, ‘Hit by the bus’ document. It’s a little dark; the idea is that if you were “hit by a bus” one day, how would your employees know what to do? How would your business continue to operate without you?
Fast forward several years and I began working with coach Fabienne Frederickson of BoldHeart.com. In one of our meetings, she asked, “What would it take for you to go on a vacation from your business for 1 year?” Less dark and more ‘growth’ oriented, this question still boils down to: How would your business continue to operate and grow without you?
Most business owners cannot imagine being away from their business for a day (sometimes it’s hours) without being needed for critical decisions and work to be completed. The idea of taking 1 day a week or a few days a month to step out of the business and work on deep thoughts for problem solving and growth is a pipe dream. Most entrepreneurs would immediately squirm in their skin at the thought of being completely incapacitated or 100% unavailable for a year, let alone just a few weeks.
What happens when disaster strikes?
You need not plan for the worst to at least make a plan. However you want to frame the question, ‘hit by the bus’ or ‘a year vacation’, today is the best day to start asking it. Start documenting your business in the hopes that when you step out for a few days, a week, a month or more, or when disaster strikes or an opportunity arises, you will be ready.
Today I was hit by a bus, now what?
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." It may be the case that disaster has already ‘struck’ for you and now you are furiously trying to plant trees and put systems in place to keep your business afloat while you handle the emergency. There is nothing like a flood to test the water-fastness of your boat! You will quickly see the holes and areas that need to be addressed.
When the worst happens, it helps to clarify the tasks that are absolutely the most important. If you are available to make any decisions, you will be choosing the highest priority items (i.e. urgent and important) and not worrying about answering your 20,000 emails. It will become glaringly clear what must get done to keep the business moving along.
Consider the Gift
We are often thinking about ‘planting trees’ and setting up systems but never really getting around to it. Things are just too busy with the day to day work. However, imagine the worst case scenario happens. For me, a “worst case scenario” has actually occurred several times in the lifeline of my business. Every time, there has been a tremendous gift that has come from the forced downtime to recenter. Most recently, one of my children was hospitalized for 3 weeks, pulling me and my husband out of our work to care for his needs, our other children, and ourselves. This time, systems were in place to ensure that marketing still happened; yet there were scheduling snafus and other issues that cropped up that I will be seeking to remedy quickly.
In addition, I have a new found desire to strip away the excess, again, and focus on the most important, client-relevant work.
For business owner Ryan O’Ramsay Barrett, founder of O'Ram Corporate Advisors, disaster struck when he was playing with his children. In what can best be described as a ‘freak accident’ he damaged both his knees simultaneously, was rushed to the hospital and then underwent surgeries and weeks of rehabilitation. One day he was planning the next networking event to find his ideal client and the next he was staring at a hospital ceiling trying to remember how many days he had been in the hospital already. His thriving business depended on his presence and now he would not be back in the office for months, at best.
What gift came out of this disaster? Ryan said, “I realized how much I was holding on to that my staff were ready to take on. Because I could not go to the office, it gave me a chance to refocus on the business instead of working all the time in the business. I am finally creating the systems that I have been meaning to work on for years. Surprisingly, the business did not diminish in my absence.”
Start Planting Trees
Here are a few questions to ask to get your “operations”, “hit by the bus”, “year vacation”, “backup” plan in place:
1 - What absolutely must happen on a daily basis in order that my business make money?
2 - Who is responsible for those tasks? Who can be responsible for those tasks?
3 - Where am I storing information that others may need if I were not available to provide the answer?
Start by planning for 4 hours off per week, in the middle of the week, when you will be 100% unavailable to complete client work or answer questions for your staff. Expand this to 1 day a week and then 1 week a month, 1 month a year. During this time work on your business to create an option for you to step away for your business for up to 1 year.
If you are stuck, not sure where to begin or need help documenting your processes, just reach out. I am here to support you.
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Hi! I'm Nettie Owens, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization and Productivity Consultant.