Leadership

How to Survive Every Entrepreneur's Worst Nightmare

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Every entrepreneur has had the nightmare: A disaster strikes or an emergency comes up that demands your immediate attention, forcing you to step away from your business for a while. How would your team handle you not being there?

When I started Influence & Co., a mentor, Susanne Bylund, told me to document everything I did, from my processes to the rationale behind them, so someone else could easily step in and keep things afloat.

I followed her advice, and as I get ready for a five-week recovery from neck surgery, my preparation will soon face the ultimate test. Through this experience, I’ve learned important lessons about documentation, knowledge management and organization.

Documentation

Write out processes while you do them. Writing out processes might sound time-intensive, but it follows the old adage that to save time, you need to make time. Documenting every step of your processes will save your co-workers hours and challenge the why behind what you do.

Related: Go With Your Gut: How to Use Your Intuition to Succeed in Business

Don’t make assumptions. Don't assume others will understand an abbreviation or know who to send a document to. Even if it’s obvious to you, include every detail in the process document so there’s no confusion.

Encourage people to go off-process. We have a rule at Influence & Co.: We only follow processes that make tasks more efficient, and we encourage employees to go off-process if they find a smarter way. You have to call this out, though, or your team won’t be challenged to explore new efficiency hacks.

Knowledge management

Invest in knowledge banks. A knowledge bank is a system for organizing the internal knowledge of your company, so your entire team can access it. If you’ll be MIA for a few weeks, a fully stocked knowledge bank can help employees answer burning questions from potential customers, investors or journalists, just as you would.

Keeping secrets is irresponsible. Hoarding knowledge will only impede growth. You need to document information to keep your team growing.

Guest contributing can help you store information. Documenting your natural thoughts can be an incredibly painful process. Instead, sharing that educational information in article form is a more enjoyable way to record and distribute your insights among a broad audience. Writing guest content also forces you to refine your ideas.

Related: 10 Approaches to Handle the Burden of Leadership

Content organization

Easy access is everything. If you document your knowledge, saving the information on your personal, password-protected desktop is counterproductive. Use a free service such as Google Docs to organize the content.

Put emergency plans in place. If your information is hard to understand or not fully fleshed out, you’ll put a strain on your team. Make it simple for others to take over. Part of this involves creating contingency plans. Think through worst-case scenarios and write a couple of sentences addressing each to guide your team through difficult situations.

Although these suggestions are helpful, you need a team of motivated, intelligent and caring individuals to keep your business plugging away. I’m grateful to have a supportive staff excited to tackle the work while I’m gone.

If you never plan on taking a day off, these are still useful practices. Multiplying yourself through process documentation and training will make scaling your company much easier. As long as you trust the capable people you’ve hired, getting behind the concept of documenting processes should be easy.

Related: If Chaos Is Your Startup's Default Setting, Inconsistent Leadership May Be to Blame