Lessons I learned after something went wrong with my work

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Imagine that you are in a control room watching multiple screens from surveillance cameras, each focusing on different aspects of your business. One shows how satisfied your customers are, the other shows employee morale, and the other shows the status of marketing, finance, law, etc.

Now imagine those screens turning black one by one. This is what happened in my work in the past two months.

One by one, all the essential parts started to fall apart: my website went down and my emails stopped sending and receiving (as a PR agency, being able to chat with our press contacts is pretty much a business). Then my Instagram account was impersonated. A fake account with my face on it started sending some dodgy offers to my contacts. Then PayPal decided to freeze my account and block access to all the money I had there. The final nail in the coffin was the freezing of our commercial bank account, which prevented us from receiving the funds. ta da!

I’m not telling you this to complain, I’m just painting the picture and I hope it makes you think about what you would do if the same thing happened to you (or at least one of them). While we occupy our minds with the next big marketing ideas and product development, a single serious crack in an organization can lead to the extinction of an entire business in a matter of days.

And while some issues are still ongoing, here are the lessons I learned.

Related: Want to lead a tribe of winners? Share your epic fail!

Relationships are the main asset

When my emails went down, I suddenly started receiving… text messages. No, not WhatsApp messages, but actual text messages from overseas contacts. Apparently, people who are really committed to talking to you. Amid all the chaos, this was a breath of fresh air: the relationships you built are actually stronger than technology.

Do you know the concept of “adding value” to your business partnerships? Here’s the final test to see if it works: Imagine your usual communication channel is down. Who would go the extra mile to find you either way? Hint: These are the people who feel they benefit the most from this relationship. Personally, I think it is one of the most undervalued assets in the business.

Same goes for your brand: Who in your audience would notice if you stopped posting on social media? Who will write to check on you if they haven’t heard from you for a while? Or new people discovering you through other channels and finding a way to connect when your website is down? While my website and Instagram weren’t there, people found me through articles and audio interviews I had done in the past and communicated with them via LinkedIn and personal email.

We rely on technology, but often, even the safest solution fails us. If you want to stay in it, build relationships and a brand that will outlast whatever technology you use to build them.

Related: 5 steps to turning experience (and failure) into wisdom

Sometimes at work you’ll need to show your teeth

A little wolf smile may be a standard operating procedure for some entrepreneurs, but it was a whole new experience for me. I came to work from journalism, where the likes and literature kept me going through many closed doors. Not surprisingly, this is my standard operating procedure at work.

Here’s what happened recently. My bank account was blocked and the company was running out of cash and unable to receive funds. Sixty days of bushwalking and polite and cheerful conversations with the bank’s representatives got me nowhere. The salaries were due in two days. When I saw my desperation, a friend reminded me that my company was, after all, a public relations agency. “Tell them you’re going to the press with a story about five Ukrainian women who won’t get paid this month because of them.” That seemed low. But this was also true. So I told my polite girl in me to wait outside, I sent an angry tweet to the bank, threatening her with the attention of the press.

I’ll tell you this often: it worked. A polite girl who has had nothing but ‘our team is working on it’ for the past couple of months. Smiling wolf opened her trading account in less than an hour. I’m not suggesting that’s how I plan to do it now, but let’s say there’s a new tool in your toolbox and trust that when you have something worth fighting for, there’s nothing wrong with using it.

Related: 5 lessons to learn from your mistakes

How long can work last without you?

For two whole months, I’ve been dealing with the unexpected. For two months, I had to prioritize recovery issues or downtime as usual. This meant less concern for my team, potential clients, and even my own clients. We made it through in a couple of months, but I painfully realize that another month without me, as the founder, is likely to break us.

It also showed me the weakest points of my work. Strong customer relationships. The team is well trained but sometimes lacks independence, the sales process is poor and very dependent on me. Another great test is to imagine what would happen if you had to miss your usual operations for a month, two or three months. What can be broken first? How fast does it break? Now that most of the storm has passed, I know exactly where to focus my attention.

You may need more baskets than eggs

One primary server, one primary payment processor, and one primary bank to hold money. What does a small business need? Before these events, I prefer to spend some time brainstorming creative ideas for a client or polishing a marketing campaign. Today, I am ready to spend more energy to secure the company against unforeseen situations. Because when customers don’t have a website to go to to view my services, or when I can’t receive payments, there is no relevant marketing campaign or designs.

I feel a bit like a very careful grandmother who would put her old pearls in a box with three safety locks, then stash the box in the back of the cabinet “just in case”. My business may be small at the moment, but the responsibility I have to clients and the team is no different. If three security locks (or backup servers) are what it takes to keep Grandma asleep at night, so be it.

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