Lessons learned when Mother Nature shut down my small business

The Oct. 29th snowstorm made for beautiful scenery but brought disaster to Western Mass.

Last week, I took an unexpected holiday from blogging…and from just about everything else. The freak snowstorm that hit the Northeast on October 29 brought my business –– and modern life as we know it –– to a screeching halt here in Granby, MA. For just over five days, we lived without electricity and running water. We had no phone or DSL service for seven days and we didn’t even have cell phone service for the first two days after the storm.

Much time was spent watching the birds munch away at the suet we’d put out for them during the storm. That and dozens of sudokus got us through…oh, and the gas fireplace that warmed two rooms of our house.

Here are the business lessons what I learned from this experience:

Lesson learned: Just because you made backup plans some years ago doesn’t mean those plans are still in effect.

Experiences like this reinforce not only the value of being prepared for the unexpected but also the importance of periodically checking your backup plans to make sure they’re still viable.

For example, we still had phone/DSL service on Sunday, the day after the storm; we didn’t lose that connection until early Monday morning when a tractor trailer came by and tore down the badly sagging wires. So on Sunday, I thought I could alert my clients via e-mail that I might not be able to work for a few days. Although the electricity was gone, I had a computer backup battery that I thought would provide more than sufficient time to send out these e-mails.

But, alas, the backup battery lasted a very, very short time, not the hour that I had expected it would. Not knowing that the battery was going to quickly die, I wasted precious time checking out news stories on the storm before starting to do what I really needed to do – send the e-mails to client and transfer work-in-progress to a flash drive to use with my laptop. Then bam, the battery died before I could get all the e-mails sent. So clients, some of whom are as far away as Texas and even Denmark – where our snowstorm wasn’t exactly big news – were left wondering what happened to me. Upon checking the backup battery’s owner’s manual, I learned that a piece of the backup battery needs to be replaced every three to six years, something I had failed to do since purchasing the battery about six years ago. If I’d had a system in place to periodically check my backup plans, I would have known that.

Lesson learned: Relying only on technology can come back to bite you.

My Danish client and I communicate via Skype and e-mail. I never bothered to store his actual phone number anywhere because I knew it was right there on his website if I ever really needed it. Of course, when I actually did need it, I had no access to his website!

Technology, especially the Internet, is such an integral part of daily live that I think we assume it will always be available to us. But when it isn’t, you’re quickly brought back to earth with the realization that some very basic precautions, like writing down an important person’s phone number, should be done as a routine thing. There is something to be said for having an old-fashioned Rolodex.

Lesson learned: The world will go on without you and your business. Five days of enforced relaxation was, in some ways, not that bad a thing, although I surely did appreciate that first hot shower last Friday morning. Now, with all systems back in place, I am reminded that life went on without me. The world didn’t skip a beat and neither does it seems did my clients, although the ones located in my neck of the woods were suffering the same indignities I was.

It’s good to be reminded occasionally that we are not indispensable. I know many people who put so much stress on themselves (and those around them) because they think what they’re doing is the equivalent of brain surgery. But the reality is that most of us out here aren’t in the life-saving business and the pressure we put on ourselves is often out of all proportion to what the situation really requires. Sometimes it’s good to just relax and watch the birds for a while.

So that’s what I learned last week when Mother Nature decided to bring life as we know it to a screeching halt here in Western Massachusetts. If you have experienced this disaster or something similar in the past, what small business lessons did you take away from it? Please share.

6 comments

  1. Trish says:

    Going to download and PRINT out my address book Jeanne. Thanks for the reminder. (Glad to have you back online.)

  2. JeanneYocum says:

    Good idea, Trish! I had to cut down more trees to print stuff, but an experience like this reminds me of why some things are critical to have a hard copy of.

  3. JeanneYocum says:

    Liz, the car charger is a great idea! I'll have to check that out.

    • Liz Provo says:

      Enercell 150W inverter w/ 3 wall plugs and one USB port, cute little fan. Radio Shack for under $50. I got it originally so I can work at the shore and not have to go to McDonalds! Added tethering to my ATT plan ($15 extra./mo. on data plan) and I now have a portable office anywhere my lawnchair goes.

  4. Oh, I am so glad you said these things! As a small biz owner, I always have to balance the desire to get my work done with letting myself realize that I'm not indispensable.

  5. JeanneYocum says:

    Glad you enjoyed the comments. I have worked with some very "high-powered" Type A folks in my career and it took me many years to figure out that I should not let them take over my life and that neither they nor I was indispensable. I think we all need a reminder of that from time to time…I just wish it hadn't required going without electricity for five days! 🙂

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