Small Business: Contingency Planning, Ten Topics to Review

by Lily White
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I see way too many small businesses that are solely dependent on the CEO / owner, and that typically overlook the need to have a contingency plan. Whether it's pushed to the side because it's not perceived as "mission critical" or whether the owner refuses to face the reality that disaster can strike ("I'm Superman and my will to move forward overpowers the ability to get sick"), the fact remains that a small business could be crippled by the owner having serious health issues.

Undertaking contingency planning may seem daunting and complex. But taken step by step it becomes much easier and manageable. Ten topics to review and get started on a Contingency Plan:

  1. Access to financial documents and accounts. Does someone have knowledge of and access to your financial records and key accounts? If more than one person, do they have access to one another? Do they trust each other?
  2. Immediate cash on hand. Do you have a "rainy day" fund or liquid assets (both personal and business)? Does the same person (or people) listed in topic # 1 have the ability to liquid assets?
  3. Cash flow. Typically in a small business the president / CEO is the public face to the clients (oftentimes the key salesperson). Are your clients exposed to the breadth of your team, not just the depth of your abilities? Do they know your team and trust their abilities?
  4. Insurance. Do you have life and disability insurance to provide financing to the company for a transition? For example, allowing the company to hire additional executive / s to help run the business until things stabilize.
  5. Operations. How dependent are day-to-day operations on you, your knowledge, and your efforts? Have you documented your processes? Have you delegated your key functions and transferred your knowledge to others in your organization?
  6. Advisors. Have you defined an executor to follow through on the contingency plan? Do you have in place a strong group of advisors (eg, lawyer, accountant, estate attorney) for the executive to turn to for assistance? Have you had this difficult conversation with each of them?
  7. Employee accounting. In your absence will your employees continue business as usual, will operations slowly degenerate over time, or will the employees work aimlessly? Will your team come together and continue forward (almost) seamlessly? More importantly, are individual employees accountable to you – is this a job for them? Or are they accountable to the entire organization – are they supportive of the vision and mission?
  8. Leadership. Who takes the reins when you're out of the office (on vacation or taking a sick day)? Do you trust them fully with your vision? Are they a temporary replacement or potential successor? If a successor is not lined up, what would that person look like?
  9. Vision. Have you shared your long and short-term visions with your organization? Is it embroidered and embodied by everyone? Is there a clear path of action in the short-term?
  10. YOUR health. Do not forget to take care of yourself: eat well and exercise. It's important to remember that your health not only affects you and your family, but impacts the business which has a domino effect spanning beyond your employees and their families to vendors, creditors, clients, and anyone who really transacts with your organization.

It's never easy to discuss these types of "What if" scenarios, but having a contingency plan helps ease the burden and becomes one less thing to worry about.


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