One thing I have come to realize in my 46 years is that you have to expect the unexpected. When I was in the restaurant business, the responsibility of running the day-to-day operations was intense. I had a small number of employees, which meant if someone got sick we really had to scramble to fill in for them. Life is unpredictable, which is why I always like to temper everything I predict happening with “if everything goes okay”. As most of you have already come to realize, many times things do not go as planned, so my advice to you is to be prepare for the unplanned.
There are many types of unplanned circumstances that could affect your business operations and, depending on what kind of business you have, you may be affected more directly by some rather than others. One of my biggest predicaments was having the phone ring either late at night or early in the morning and having an employee call off sick. That would immediately throw me into a panic because each employee was a valuable asset and, when the restaurant was busy, we needed all the help we could get. My choices for backup were limited. As a business owner, you can’t have tons of people waiting in the wings to fill the roles of absent employees. But you can do some things to make an absence less tragic. Depending on the extent of employee absence, there is always the option of getting temporary help from an employment agency. Although not ideal, it is an option to fill your absences with a warm body at the least. I also had some friends and family members I could call in a pinch to do some of the easier jobs, such as bus tables, wash dishes and run the cash register. We had to do some shifting in positions, but it was workable. I think the most important thing to do as a business owner in the event of employee absences is to cross-train your staff, prior to the crisis, in areas that are not their primary jobs. Being able to do multiple tasks is a valuable asset, and it builds appreciation for the jobs of fellow employees. For a brief period of time, employees can shift positions and do the jobs of the missing workers. For instance, when our waitress was sick, the girl who answered phones and bussed tables was able to fill in for her. My mother, who was the normal lunch dishwasher, could also convert to being a waitress. If I was sick, my sister became the cook, and we all knew how to run the cash register, answer phones, bus tables, and wash dishes. You get the idea. It’s not ideal, but it works.
Another situation we unfortunately encountered a few times was that of theft. About four times during our years of operation, we came in to work in the morning to find that there had been a break-in. Two of those times it had just been a smash-and-grab. The window had to be fixed, but nothing of much value had been taken. The two other times, though, someone had entered the building, caused some damage, and took some items in the process. This required calling the police and filling out a police report, cleaning up the mess, and boarding up the windows that were broken. What a pain! One thing we did not have was a security system. Had we stayed in business much longer, that would have changed. So I suggest to you, if your business has an actual physical location, you spend the money to install either an alarm system or a motion detection light that would scare potential burglars. It could be well worth your effort.
The last thing I want to touch on is something that did not affect me because we were not computer savvy in our business but is something that would hinder the operations of many businesses these days. Most businesses rely heavily on computer operations. What do you do if they fail? Don’t get me wrong, I think that computers are a great asset to business, but when they aren’t working, you need to have a backup plan. At an essential level, all of your data should be backed up in case of a colossal system failure. You can’t afford to lose all of your information. That would be devastating. At a more basic level, you should have material available that will allow you to go on with business as usual until the computer situation is remedied. Assess your business, plan for what those essential materials are, and make sure that they are available if needed.
Preparing for the unexpected is a challenging job simply because you don’t know what the unexpected will be, but certain precautions can be set in place. Take the time to think about what your greatest challenges could be and then prepare for those challenges to the best of your ability. You won’t be sorry in the long run if you expect the unexpected.