As a young and vivacious business owner, a personal emergency that might take you out of your role for four
weeks to six months or more is probably the last thing on your mind. But as a fellow business owner, CPA and financial coach,, I’m here to remind you that the unexpected does happen. And yes, it could happen to you! Think about the impact it would have on your business if you went MIA for just a week with limited access to email, without warning. What would happen? How long would it take to dig yourself out?
Unfortunately, I have had clients come to me in this exact predicament: they had a medical emergency themselves, or something happened to their child or a close family member, and they couldn’t touch their business for an extended period. Some processes ground to a halt, and some of their automated transactions kept going—and they have to re-trace what happened to sort things out after the fact. It’s a hard puzzle to back together, especially with a few pieces potentially missing.
The good news is that you are probably not in emergency mode right now, and there are some pretty simple steps you can take to put a plan together…just in case. Your emergency plan will likely be split into three major sections, regarding your clients, your team and your finances. But before we get into those, you’ll need to understand a bit about your own business structure and what kinds of tools work best for you. Not everything needs to be hand-typed into a spreadsheet anymore. Recording voice notes and Zoom calls might work better for you, and that’s totally fair. What’s important is it gets done!
What type of business are you?
- Solopreneur/single-member LLC
- There’s no legal process for dissolving your business; your business finances are a part of your estate.
- Do you work with subcontractors or employees?
- If your subcontractors or employees are client-facing, they may be able to handle more of these processes in your absence.
- Are you incorporated as a multi-member LLC, S-corp, or another type of entity involving other people?
- Your partnership agreement likely includes a section on how it might dissolve, but these can be vague.
- Voice note recorder
- Transcription software
- Task management software (great for reminders to review annually)
- Team drive
I suggest you carve out some time to put this documentation together or have these conversations soon and then remind yourself to do a thorough review as part of your mid- and end-of-year planning in the future. Things change, and your important processes and contacts might not look the same in six months to a year.
Almost everything in your emergency plan will stem from the question: How will my clients be impacted if I am absent? And how will that affect me staying in business? So not only will you need a plan for handling client engagements, you’ll need a plan to notify someone that the plan is going into effect (i.e. you are out due to an emergency). Ultimately, you need to decide what communication needs to happen, who will be responsible for it, when it needs to happen and how.
- What close friend or family member can be your “emergency contact” to notify your team (or business contact) that you’re out?
- Who is a trusted “business bestie” in your industry that can step in to manage any client relationships you have in progress or take over early-stage projects you’ve agreed to?
- Where can this person find a current client list with contacts to reach out to?
- How will they determine what projects need to be referred out and what client responsibilities they need to take care of personally?
- What do they need to know in order to assess your clients’ needs and concerns while setting clear expectations? What approval processes should they be aware of?
The biggest priority for most solopreneurs I work with is identifying those two important people: your family emergency contact and the business buddy they will reach out to. Then have those conversations and make sure they are okay with taking on that responsibility, should the worst happen!
Your organizational structure will likely determine where and how information gets disseminated to anyone else on your team. Who is next in charge, and what other teammates and processes are they responsible for? The last thing you want is for your team to be caught like a deer in the headlights, unsure of what they’re allowed to touch or what critical pieces need their attention first. I like to tell my clients that the level of authority for each of their teammates should match their level of responsibility; when one of those things changes, how does it affect the other?
- What do you really expect from your team while you are absent? How do you envision them shifting responsibilities or working together to get those things done?
- What decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis? Who will do this, and how?
- What tools are you using and how would you grant access to the right people? Do you need to set up backup admins now or can you do it as needed?
- What bottlenecks might stop information from smoothly flowing, or projects from moving forward?
- If you have W2 employees, could any of them step up into a management role to do some of that communicating and delegating for you?
- Again, the golden question: how will your team’s performance (or their ability to get things done at all) affect your clients?
- Helpful tip: Note the date in the file name so you can see at a glance how recently the information has been reviewed.
You may not have all these answers yourself! The best approach may be to think about it alone for a while, then have a conversation with your team to get some of their feedback, find out what their concerns are and identify where they need additional support. Remember, you can try to provide as many answers as you can in your emergency plan and process documents, but you’ll never get every single detail. Processes change, and it’s not going to be perfect. Give yourself some slack!
This last portion of your emergency plan should outline your cash flow: how bills get paid, what channels your money is flowing through and how to get enough money into the right accounts to prevent overdrafts, late fees and stopped services. Autopay is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not there to generate income or receive payments into the right accounts, you may run out of funds sooner than you think. Also, if any of your accounts require 2-factor authentication to access, your point person may not be able to get in.
You may be able to add a co-signer to your accounts, but that gives the person a level of authority over your finances; you won’t be able to dictate what they can or can’t do. It’s critical to clarify expectations in a discussion or a contract with whoever is managing your money while you’re away.
- What types of payments do you make each month, and about how much do they amount to? What needs to be paid through debit, ACH, cash or other methods, and who has access?
- If you hire independent contractors, who can review invoices and approve payments?
- If you have W2 employees, who can handle payroll processes such as submitting and approving hours, issuing payments and covering payroll taxes?
- If you use any time tracking or project management software, who has access to run reports?
- If you need to refund any projects you have agreed to but cannot complete, how should that be handled, and by whom?
At Monarch, we handle accounts payable and receivable for some of our clients, so we already have access to things like ACH payments. In some cases, we are part of their emergency plan!
You can see how putting this plan together will make your business stronger, even if you never have to use it. The peace of mind you’ll feel when you know your clients, team and finances won’t spin out of control if you’re not there to handle them is worth it in itself. And the bonus is you’ll already have procedures in place if you want to take a much deserved vacation or plan time off for parental leave!
As for the process of returning from leave and getting your head back in the game, start by determining what’s most necessary for you to pick back up first. Start talking with your point people about return only when it becomes clear when that will happen, and only take on a reasonable level of commitment for your time and abilities.
Ready to get started? Use this free template to start organizing your plan, and watch out for more information about my strategic planning course coming up! We’ll be covering a lot of this material, and I’d love for you to learn more!