Hold On to Your Business

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We were out in Oregon last week visiting our daughter, Emily, who apparently prefers breathtaking landscapes, super-friendly people, and reasonable rents over whatever the opposite of all that is that we offer here in Massachusetts.

We spent some time in Portland where she lives, but also traveled to Bend, Oregon, which is about three hours southeast.

Bend is in a beautiful desert location, and we took full advantage one day by hiking at nearby Smith Rock State Park. We did the Misery Ridge Trail Loop which, despite its well-earned name, was worth the trek.

The most amazing part? The rock climbing people.

Monkey Face, Smith Rock

More than once during our three-hour hike, I glanced up to take in the sheer beauty of the place, only to see what appeared to be a human being hundreds of feet above me, making his or her way up a vertical rock wall.

Most of these daredevils were attached to ropes – but some of them were not. Instead, they were doing what is known as “free soloing” (from the Latin, meaning, “Are you out of your mind?”), in which climbers use no aids or protection.

I’m no Bear Grylls, but it seems to me that if your fallback position while making your way up the side of a mountain is to literally fall back, then you are several blocks past the intersection of Fun Avenue and Adrenaline Boulevard.

Be that as it may, and despite whatever degree of personal risk you are willing to assume, when it comes to running your business, I recommend taking safety precautions in three areas.

#1. Data

My client Rob Black runs a cybersecurity company. Each month, when we discuss his newsletter, I am reminded of the damage that a virus, malware infection, or worse can do to an organization (of any size).

Is it unlikely that these things will occur? Absolutely. But so is a car accident and I still wear a seatbelt. 

What would happen, for example, if all the data on your computer were suddenly gone or corrupted? You probably back things up regularly using a service like Carbonite or Dropbox (I use both) and that’s an important first step.

But what if your data gets infected and you pass that along to your backup as well? Up until very recently my answer would have been, “uh oh.” That’s why I just added offline backup in the form of a Seagate Ultra Touch hard drive that I use to back things up every couple of weeks. 

It’s not automatic, but since it’s only connected to my computer when I put the two together physically, it’s (mostly) safe from infection.

Keep in mind as well that even if your data is backed up, if your computer is lost or stolen, you are still out of business until you get another one. That’s why I’ve got two that I use interchangeably.

Is my approach the “right” approach? No. As Rob has taught me, the thing to consider is how much business risk you are willing to live with and work from there. 

#2. Clients

There was a time about 15 years ago when I had one client that accounted for more than 70% of my revenue. 

I was making a lot of money, but I lived in constant fear that someone’s budget would get cut or they would simply decide to go in another direction and it would end abruptly.

Luckily, they faded away gradually. But it made me realize that being too dependent on one source of income, no matter how large, is pretty risky (you know, like having a job).

Today, I work with about 15 clients at any one time. I would hate to see any of them go (except for that one, but don’t worry, it’s not you), but I sleep well knowing that no single client holds the key to my survival.

Of course, your business and business model may be different. But whatever you can do to spread the risk among clients and types of services that you offer adds “safety ropes” to your entire operation.

#3. People

Like the Incredible Hulk (minus the torn clothing), I work alone in delivering services to clients. I do, however, depend on several expert specialists who support me in that regard.

Designer, tech person, virtual assistant, accountant, attorney, insurance agent … they are all part of the mix. And, frankly, since I’ve worked with each of them for more than a decade, it would be hard to find equivalent replacements.

That said, I’ve done what I can to minimize my risk:

I have all the passwords to the dozens of online services I use. I know where my web sites, domains, and related emails are hosted and how to log in. And I have an extensive network of other professionals who could recommend replacements if needed.

Here again, the key question is, “What would be the impact on your business if person X suddenly vanished … and how would you respond?”

Here’s the bottom line.

Working for yourself is risky, no doubt about it. Not as risky as free soloing, certainly, but not without its own share of dangers.  

You can hope for the best, or you can take a good look at where you’re most at risk and make plans to mitigate that as best you can.

Either way, the time to think about it is before you lose your grip 200 feet up. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s the furthest distance you’ve ever fallen (extra credit if it was “in love”)?
  2. Which superhero are you most similar to?
  3. What weak link in your business have you recently fixed or made contingency plans for?

Share your answers below…

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4 thoughts on “Hold On to Your Business

  1. Daryl Gerke

    (1) Fell pretty far and hard for my bride 55 years ago. Does that count?

    (2) When in college, I was “SuperEngineer.” Donned a bath towel as a cape, but only after several beers. Faster than a speeding electron, etc…Those were the days 🙂

    (3) Two redundant computers (I do on-line training.) Network Attached Storage and cloud backups to Backblaze. Both save previous backups, but now thinking an off-line backup might be prudent too. Just updated our estate plans this week. Thanks for the tips.


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