Startups and business owners who have been around for more than 10 minutes know that the only real marketplace constant is change. And that “expect the unexpected” is a cliché for a reason.
To ensure your business is ready for the next set of challenges and not just the most recent ones, here are six ways startups can prepare for the unexpected.
1. Have a Plan
External events that can impact your business range from global pandemics and unrest to sudden changes in an employee’s personal life.
Having a plan for contingencies like this can prevent uncertainty from negatively impacting your startup. If your essential workflows and services are documented and each employees’ scope of work is clear, you’ll be able to keep operations running smoothly through transitions or challenges that would sink other new businesses.
2. Don’t “Landlock” Your Data
Many startups today already have their data in cloud-based storage and tools. Software as a Service (SaaS) and other internet-based tools have made running and growing a business possible from just about anywhere.
There’s another benefit to these tools, however, which has become even more clear as remote work and marketplace uncertainty have increased. Ensuring that you don’t need to be in the office to access your data is more important than ever.
By moving your sales database, project management, digital marketing assets, and other crucial information to the cloud, you can protect your startup’s most valuable assets. Keeping files online can also reduce the possibility of catastrophic loss due to a computer crash, theft, natural disaster, and other unforeseen circumstances.
3. Setup Mobile SOPs Beforehand
Startups and established businesses alike usually have an employee onboarding process and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for completing projects, communicating with clients, and other common systems.
If you’re adapting to remote work or some other unexpected conditions by moving your data and tools online, you’ll need to move your SOP and onboarding programs online as well.
For some companies, this might include creating remote access for proprietary email servers or databases. If you choose to go that route, check with your IT or tech department to ensure the proper security protocols are in place before you allow logins from third-party locations.
4. Get Comfortable With Virtual Meetings & Tools
If you want to keep your startup humming in uncertain times, you’ll need to start by outfitting and empowering your employees with the tools and technology they need to get their jobs done.
For example, this might mean buying laptops for workers who work remotely or split their time between the office and off-site locations. It might also mean paying for premium tools or subscriptions that cut down on busywork so your team can be more effective and productive.
That said, you’ll also want to establish rules and expectations for services or equipment that your company invests in to prevent employee misuse and limit your liability.
And finally, spend a little time making sure you know how to use the tools and programs you’ll need to check-in and hold employees accountable as well. Appearing professional and knowledgeable on a video call, for example, can reduce client and employee worries about larger issues.
5. Find Growth Opportunities in Adaptation
Sun Tzu said that “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” When your startup is forced to adapt to unforeseen situations, a growth-focused approach can create new avenues to success that you might not have seen before.
For example, a lot of businesses pivoted to remote work as a necessity during the recent pandemic. But startups that are able to function effectively while working remotely can turn this pivot into a positive with the right mindset. Companies may find that remote work is more productive and choose to reduce their office footprint to save money. Others might expand their offerings by outsourcing or mediating work that wouldn’t be possible in-house.
The opportunities will be different for every company, of course. But keeping an eye out for new ways to grow, instead of just reacting to the latest news, could create unique advantages that leave you in a better position than you were before the uncertainty started.
6. Address Concerns Proactively
So far these tips have mostly dealt with shoring up your internal processes and keeping operations afloat. But you’ll also need to communicate proactively and effectively with your employees and your customers to show that you’re handling a given situation the right way.
For employees, this might include visibility into company metrics, an explanation of the reasoning behind policy changes, or an open forum to share and talk through concerns.
For customers, effective communication can include coordinating website copy, email campaigns, social media posts, and other collateral to present a clear message to your audience.
You can detail the steps you’re taking to address a given situation, explain any production or shipping delays, and provide an easy way for customers to reach you with specific concerns.
7. Preparing For The Unexpected Starts Now
Sometimes, uncertain situations can produce clarity in ways you didn’t expect.
In other words, crises have a way of clearing up what is or isn’t important, what does or doesn’t work, and who is or isn’t reliable.
If you’re smart, however, you won’t wait until the next emergency or high-pressure situation to start answering these questions. By building out your systems, safeguarding essential operations, and proactively responding to concerns, you can do more than prepare for the unexpected — you can thrive in it.
Sean Brown is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of G O VC, an investment firm that brings startups’ visions to life with a unique mix of capital and expertise. A proud husband and father, Sean lives in Orange County with his wife and two children.