Backup Your Business for the Real World

The spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID19 has disrupted businesses and industries worldwide. The disruptions highlight the importance of having backup plans in your small business.

Now I’m not talking about digital backup plans, which you should already have in place. I’m talking about emergency or disaster backup plans. A typical plan assumes normal situations while a backup plan is specifically for unique situations that can cause major disruptions in your business procedure.

It’s important to have a plan for emergencies so you and your business can stay productive. When emergencies hit, the keys to making a backup plan work with minimal loss or damage are preparation and communication.


Years ago, I worked part-time in a retail store while I was studying for the bar exam. One day when I was working, the power went out in the store. Once it was apparent that the power was going to be out for most of the day, several of my coworkers started speculating that the managers would have let at least some of us go home early. With the power out, the registers weren’t working and we couldn’t ring up customers’ purchases or swipe their credit cards for payment.

Not so fast. We were shocked to find out that the store managers had a backup plan. With an efficiency that still blows my mind today, the store managers pulled out everything we would need to ring up purchases and process credit cards manually. Each cashier was given a solar calculator, sales slips, and a credit card imprinter. For those of you who don’t know what a credit card imprinter is, it is a non-electric, manually-operated piece of equipment that uses 2- or 3-part sales slips to make an imprint of the raised numbers and letters on the face of a credit card.

photo of manual credit card imprinter
A manual credit card imprinter and sales slips

We had everything we needed to continue to ring up purchases. At some point in the past, someone, or several someones, figured out what tools would be needed to ring up customers manually and gathered those tools together in preparation for the day when we might need them to keep the business open.

Lesson: Ask yourself what tools you would need to run your business in an emergency. Get the tools together and put them somewhere accessible, but out of the way of your day-to-day activities.


Perhaps even more important than the calculators and imprinters was the communication from the managers. Not only did they take the time to show us how to calculate sales tax and use the imprinter but they acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances and reassured us that it was okay if we made mistakes like math errors or listing the products incorrectly on the handwritten receipts. The priority was to keep ringing up customers. Having the correct price or item number was secondary. We were able to keep our store up and running while neighboring stores sent customers away.

Lesson: Communicate the instructions and priorities of your backup plan. Explain what is the priority and what is secondary.

So what’s your plan to keep your business up and running through the unexpected?


  1. I love this post. In my prior career, I was a television program director, and making sure our master control operators knew what to do during unexpected circumstances — going off the air, a lost satellite feed, technical difficulties due to bad weather, etc. — made the difference between success and failure in the eyes of viewers. After preparation, I think communication is key, because we communicated with our master control operators and made sure they (and the phone receptionist, during regular hours) knew how to communicate with viewers. You’ve identified the keys to good leadership to insure against inevitable kerfuffles!

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