For the past four days, Entrepreneur's e-mail has been out of whack. It started innocently-sort of-when the phone company came to our building and cut some wires as they "improved" our service. (That would have been fine, if they had bothered to tell us first.)
After that situation was rectified, everything seemed to fall apart. I still don't really understand why, but due to a convergence (the anti-harmonic kind) of several factors, including equipment and worms, we couldn't send or receive with reliability. I don't think we realized how dependent we are on e-mail until this happened. Even the Luddites among us (and there are still a few) were completely thrown by this. For us at Entrepreneur, e-mail is not just a communications tool, but a vital part of our production process. Freelance writers, photographers and illustrators who send their "products" via e-mail weren't able to get through. People working at home couldn't reliably communicate with us here at the office. Newsletters we count on to keep us informed were lost in space. It's four days after the you-know-what hit the fan, and things are still not back to normal.
By the time you read this, I'm sure we will have recovered. But I'm just as sure that new challenges will crop up. Stu, my would-be entrepreneur brother-in-law (as opposed to my never-to-be-an-entrepreneur brother-in-law), has a new favorite quote from author John A. Simone Sr.: "If you're in a bad situation, don't worry; it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry; it'll change." That about sums it up. And it perfectly illustrates the entrepreneurial life: Stuff happens, you fix it and new stuff happens. It's a never-ending cycle of action and reaction. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that-generally, the action moves you and your business at least one step forward. In our case, we're getting (or will have gotten by the time you read this column) a whole new e-mail system.
What really counts in situations like this is your reaction. How do you and your employees handle the problem? Keeping your staff informed is key-something many entrepreneurs forget to do. Sharing a problem can often lead to creative solutions. A crisis can give a heretofore overlooked or underutilized staffer a chance to shine. It definitely creates a "we're all in this together" mind-set, which is generally good for employee camaraderie.
At the time we had our e-mail breakdown, we were not only winding up production of this issue of Entrepreneur, but also in the midst of creating a very special magazine (which only helped exacerbate our stress). Almost everyone knows about the phenomenon of eBay. Many of you have likely bought or sold products on the site. But how many of you know there are nearly half a million eBay entrepreneurs in the United States alone? Yes, close to 500,000 people look on eBay not as a hobby, but rather as a way to earn a living. So we've teamed up with eBay to produce a magazine that explains how anyone can start an eBay business. Entrepreneur's eBay Startup Guide will be available on newsstands and in bookstores across the country. Look for it September 21.
I know this magazine says September, but most of you are reading it in the dog days of summer. So remember, when things go wrong, as they invariably will, keep your cool. As Julianna Conley, a special 4-year-old friend of mine, explained the other day when she tried to spell my name and mixed up her v's and z's, "When you make a mistake, it's important to look how you can change it and make it better." Exactly!