Online Business Disaster:
Where to Go When the Volcano Blows

image of volcanic eruption

“I don’t know where I’m a-gonna go when the volcano blow.” ~Jimmy Buffett

Ever feel like you’re trapped in a pseudo-reggae song written by a white guy from Mobile, Alabama?

Some days it’s a sick kid, or spouse, or dog.

Some days it’s a key vendor who disappears on you, or a merchant account that freezes a bunch of your funds, or a web host that implodes on launch day.

Some days it’s a choking cloud of ash that spreads over half of Europe.

Rest assured, one day (soon), you’re going to have a crisis in your business.

It may not reach Eyjafjallajokull proportions (and it will probably be much easier to spell). But it’s coming. You can handle it well or you can fall apart.

Here are some ideas for where to go when the volcano blows (and handling it well).

Build redundancy

Try not to have one of anything important.

Are you outsourcing some key processes to a VA? Great idea. But start cultivating a backup person for the day he breaks his leg and is out of commission when you really, really need his help.

Do you have a vendor you trust and love? Do keep your relationship with that vendor, but also regularly use a second vendor who’s maybe nearly as good.

Don’t just have their address handy. Use them. Regularly.

It’s always smart to have more than one way for customers to give you money, more than one backup of your database, more than one power supply for your laptop.

The worst “one” of all? One customer.

No client should represent more than 40% of your business. If that’s the case now, build some diversity, fast. No matter how much that client adores and relies on you, clients can disappear instantly, for all kinds of reasons you have no control over. Don’t let them take your business down when that happens.

Cultivate flexibility

Richard Branson tells a great story in his autobiography Business Laid Bare. He got stuck at a small airport when his flight was cancelled and he truly, seriously needed to get to a meeting.

Instead of doing what I do, which is to drag my carry-on to the bar and sulk, he walked over to the charter company on the other side of the airport and immediately booked a flight to where he needed to go.

Then he made a handmade cardboard sign selling seats on that flight, walked back to the first ticket counter, and immediately signed up enough stranded passengers to pay the cost of the charter.

I’m not that light on my feet . . . yet. But I’m working on it.

When volcanoes strike, immediately start thinking about your available resources. Try to see as many as you can. (You’ll probably never be able to perceive all of them.)

What could be leveraged differently? How could you borrow from Peter to pay Paul, in a way that made both Peter and Paul happy? Where have you got extra bandwidth that you haven’t been using? How could you do something smarter, leaner, more efficiently?

Of course, it’s a pretty smart idea to start asking yourself these questions before the volcano erupts. But sometimes you need to react to the situation quickly, as it presents itself. Practice that.

Get by with a little help from your friends

Have you got some great business and blogging friends who’ll take a bullet for you?

That’s one of the reasons we go to conferences even if we don’t see a single panel. There’s nothing that can substitute for hanging around with business and social media buddies, turning into actual friends, staying up way too late telling embarrassing stories and sharing tales of woe.

If you’re trying to run a business of any size, you probably get “too busy” for friends. I’m as guilty (actually, probably guiltier) as anyone of that.

Bad idea. As Dan Kennedy said in his new biography,

Wives, dogs and horses may come and go . . . but true friendship is constant and certain.

Fortunately, most of my friends are in the same crazy business I am, so when I disappear for a while to get a stack of launch emails written, they know I still love them.

But I’m (slowly) getting better about making time for some standing appointments with friends. Weekly calls. Actually leaving my office to get a coffee with a local social media pal. Spending time with a friend on the phone to chew on business ideas we may not implement this week (or this year), because they’re fun to think about.

And yes, we do have a weird idea of a good time.

Also, little spontaneous acts of generosity can have a big impact. See a friend mention on Twitter that she’s been meaning to pick up a book? Send her a copy. For twelve bucks and ninety seconds on Amazon, you can make a major impression.

The full catastrophe

Life is all about glitches and problems and crises, both large and small. Without them, we get so bored that we go entirely bananas.

While you don’t want to become a crisis junkie (I’ve seen it, not pretty), you can safely embrace the fun side of working your way through a crisis.

You’ll discover a lot about your own resilience. On-the-fly problem solving will bring out some of your best qualities. And when you work with other people to figure out a path around the volcano, you come closer together.

How about you? What do you do when volcanoes erupt in your business? Let us know about it in the comments.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (57)

  1. says

    Well written article with a nice thought. you can also thought that
    > what will happen to your blog after your death?
    > what will happen to your blog if a natural calamity occurs?

    There are so many questions which can’t be answered by anyone and most of the time these topics become debatable.

  2. says

    While I don’t live near a single volcano – I can totally relate to this – and it’s your creativity for solving problems and flexibility that will see you through.
    Instead of crumbling, I break things down into tiny bits – into what to do I do first, second… when you get busy trying to solve the issue, you often find you have no time left to sulk. Before you know it, the smoke and ash are clearing.

  3. says

    Hey Sonia,

    Nicely done!

    You got me thinking if something were to happen what would I do. I do have friends that I run to that now about blogging and internet marketing inside out. But even that, now I question what kind of back up plans I need to put in place.

  4. says

    I have a question, maybe off topic, apologies in advance.

    I want to know how do you make sure that your ebook won’t be available for free when you start selling your own ebook online? Just like darren rowse selling 31 days…. How does he make sure that someone won’t upload it to a file sharing and make it public? I have a plan to sell an ebook of my own, but I’m really tensed about this.

    Any help from Copyblogger will be appreciated.

  5. Andrew Billmann says

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from two separate sources on two separate occasions: One was a surgeon, the other was a professional performance musician.

    “Only amateurs freak out.”

  6. says

    In the world of freelance, it’s important to build friendships and also redundancy. There are times when you may have a major project due or are supposed to meet with clients but something happens… you get sick… a family death… etc. If you’ve built good friends, they can spot you in situations like that or if you have another freelancer that you work closely with, they can spot you too.

  7. says

    How does he make sure that someone won’t upload it to a file sharing and make it public?

    There are certain DRM measure you can take, but anyone who knows what they’re doing can get around it. I know it’s hard to swallow, but the best way to deal with it is not to worry about it. Most people are honest, and if you have a good relationship with your following, they’d rather pay you than steal from you.

  8. says

    @Kiesha, you may not live near a volcano, but neither do millions of people in Europe whose businesses got all cattywampus with the Icelandic volcano. :) Sometimes stuff happens that’s just whack.

  9. says

    Most of the people that steal it wouldn’t buy anyway, so just consider it a way to spread the message :)

    Great post Sonia…ripe with experience, and something I could definitely learn from. Having a backup of your backup…been there (needed one, couldn’t find one).

  10. says

    Great post Sonia! I live in the land of natural disasters (earthquakes and wildfires) – Southern California. But is my business prepared to survive a disaster…hmmm…rather not answer that one today!
    Thanks for the nudge!

  11. says

    Hey. I’m that vendor guy in VA. I’ll be sure to let my clients know to have a back-up ‘me’ ready when I break my leg. No, really, I will.

    Great post. I live by the line “Try not to have one of anything important.” Backups are insanely important when designing and developing websites. Everything gets a revision number every time it’s touched, then gets backed up to hard drive and DVD.

  12. says

    That’s a timely post 😉

    Especially if you actually are from Europe and you couldn’t take that flight ;(

    But how can you train for that ? I always try to diversify my streams, being too dependent on one or very few people can seriously break your business neck in the long run.

    It comes down to intuition for me – if it feels right, I do it, no matter the future possibility of a volcanic eruption.

    I hate back up plans.

  13. says

    One thing I’m learning that Sonia reinforced for me is that sometimes the best option is not to keep your head down and keep plugging away the way you’ve always done before.

    Flexibility is the key; doggedly hanging on to the one way you know works might see you survive, but it’s unlikely to lead to significant personal or professional growth.

  14. says

    A great post is one I wind up not planning to but read right to the end…and want to then steal it.
    This was one of those posts. Great ideas!

    I have found that one cannot plan for all problems…but if you believe there is an opportunity hidden in every single problem, you just look for it when disaster strikes. That gets you focused on a solution… and not the problem.

  15. says

    I loved this article, Sonia. Not only did the recommendation to go out and meet people really resonate but it gave me validation as a small business owner. Your advice not to have a single client could apply to anyone with any job – when you have a traditional employer and no back up plan you essentially have a sole client and are in just as much jeopardy as entrpreneurs. Love your articles!

  16. says

    Great article! Always having a backup plan–and one that’s not just on hold somewhere, but actually waiting in the wings rehearsed, and ready to go on if needed–is invaluable advice that I hope my clients will take to heart! I’ve seen too many good companies sink because they placed all their eggs in one basket.

  17. says

    I signed up for the daily notices of Copyblogger’s blog posts. Boy, am I glad I did that so I don’t miss gems like this post.

    I always get a bit nervous for people when they say they have a business yet only have one client. Eep. Good advice here.

  18. says

    @Tracy, yeah, there’s sort of a magic combination of stubbornness and flexibility. Keep trying, but don’t keep trying the same thing, and know when to take some breaks and get perspective. Branson actually epitomizes that to an incredible degree, pick up his book if you get a chance.

    @Shayna, I love that point, that having a “real job” = having one customer. Genius. :)

  19. says

    I simply have to “thank you” for these wise words of wisdom…and for writing them so they hit home…hard.
    This could not have arrived in my inbox on a better day. I will be printing it and taping it to my desk.

  20. says

    This also goes back to the importance of multiple streams of income. If you rely on one vendor, one customer, one ANYTHING to bring home the bacon, you are only one step away from disaster.

    Redundancy comes in many forms, some can be for quick fixes, and some are critical to the lifeblood of your business. There are way too many ex-factories in the midwest that depended on a single supplier to write the paychecks.

    There is nothing wrong with treating your top 20% of customers like gold, but if you aren’t bringing in income from more than one place, it can be a scary ride.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  21. says

    Hi Brian! I’m really grateful that you answered my question. However, I couldn’t understand what DRM is. If you could take a little more time answering my question again, it’ll be a great help. Thanks.

  22. T.W. says

    Point-Move-React-Learn. Point: Point at your self… don’t blame others. Move: Work harder to put things positive… not negative. React: Real quick… don’t dither. Learn: Shut doors behind… securely locked. Finally: Look back … don’t go back. You would’nt return to an exploding volcano… would you? Ashes to ashes… dust to dust… no fun getting buried alive!

  23. says

    When I saw the URL of the post, I thought to myself: *finally* sonia has done her “volcano-bullet-money-geyser-getter” system. I have begged her to come out with that for weeks. But alas, I get a post on redundancy.

    Probably the most important bit of advice you give, and it’s vital. Even early, making business components about “roles” and not “people” makes life go smoothly.

    When a vendor has leverage over you, they know, and when a client has it they REALLY know.

  24. says

    @Aminul – DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a way to prevent people from copying your stuff, but it also makes it hard for customers to actually use your stuff. PDFs can be protected, for example, but this makes it difficult for legitimate customers to read them on different devices or computers.
    I’d say, ignore the issue – get your ebook on sale and forget about the torrent sites. Someone smarter than me once said: ‘piracy is the tax you pay for being successful.’

  25. says

    @Chris, I’m totally saving that product just for you. It’s mid six figures, which I know you’re cool with.

    You’re right, though, “traffic volcano” makes “traffic geyser” look positively limp.

    @Simon, “piracy is the tax you pay for being successful” is excellent, I hadn’t heard that one before.

  26. says

    In Mexico we have a saying “Don´t put all the eggs on the same basket” :)
    Being more serious: the issues (and losses) arising because of failures on business, systems or people are the main concern of the operational risk management. There´s a formal and systematic way to take care of them. As we study BA, HTML, Marketing, etc. We should learn some ORM.

  27. says

    Sonia, you are too clever.

    Doing a post with “Volcano” in the title, considering current events, AND considering today is Earth Day, is super bad-ass.

  28. says

    Regarding you saying you didn’t know today was Earth Day, and borrowing a line from the movie Ghostbusters: “If someone asks you if you’re a God, you say… YES!” 😉

  29. says

    Was happily reading your post until I saw this: “No client should represent more than 40% of your business.”

    My top client is 41% of my business. I was sad to read this and realized I had no choice but to quit my business. Oh well, I’d rather be homeless than continue living life knowing that one client was 41% of my business.

  30. says

    :) Thanks, Sonia! I’m glad you were okay with me making a joke.

    On a serious note, I really loved this quote:

    “Also, little spontaneous acts of generosity can have a big impact. See a friend mention on Twitter that she’s been meaning to pick up a book? Send her a copy. For twelve bucks and ninety seconds on Amazon, you can make a major impression.”

    I’m currently scanning Twitter for a friend asking for a book and I *will* be sending one out as soon as I see the request. Thanks for the idea!


  31. says

    @Frankerson, I do my best to keep my sense of humor. Most days I manage reasonably well. Mind you, sometimes I’m not at all sure when people are kidding. (Or not kidding.)

  32. Leon Noone says

    G’Day Sonia,
    What do I do when the volcano erupts? Well…apart from making sure that both my head and arms are covered…., nothing much. But I’ve run a business for over 30 years. I just accept that the earth will erupt beneath my feet every so often. And it usually occurs when i least expect it.
    You see, if I’m expecting it. it’s never more than a minor tremor.
    So…learn to “hang loose” and accept the eruptions. And whatever else you do…..
    Make sure you have fun.



  33. says

    Lovely Article,

    i need to commend you for job well done on this great article i learnt a lot of idea in the article which i think is a good idea for any business owner to make a good backup plan, good relationship with friends in case volcano blow in other to have quick and fast solution.

  34. says

    Living smack in the centre of England, I’ve witnessed the problem first hand – “have Volcano, can’t travel”.

    Everyone is focussed on the people aspect, but there are no supplies moving either.

    The Aviation Authority has now changed the rules, the Volcano is still blowing but Planes are now flying. I guess that captures the essence of your post Sonia, change the rules of your game to survive.

  35. says

    All it really takes is some creative outside the box thinking sometimes to really get the ball rolling on anything in life. Flexibility is very important. To many businesses these days really lack the ability to be flexible.

  36. says

    i think the thing that has gotten me through many of life’s volcanoes is the willingness to reinvent myself and my work
    and as the landscape shifts, to shift and evolve with it. Fighting it only serves to make the ride much more rocky.

  37. says

    Great article!All it really takes is some creative outside the box thinking ,It Really Is A Good Idea To Keep Contact With Your Friends!….Great points, well taken; some of which I will put into action immediately. Thanks. :-) :-) :-)

  38. says

    Hi Sonia
    Great article, How’s Richard Bransons improvisation technique!
    Who honestly would have thought that way. He is amazing, love him or hate him, he is unique and a true example of making things happen. I once heard their are three types of people in the world: People who watch things happen, people who make things happen and people who wonder what happened.
    Great advice also, do not put all your eggs in the one basket. Sometimes laziness takes over, sometimes it just seems to hard to have back up plans in place in case of what if…people who fail to plan, plan to fail.
    Very best regards Steve

  39. says

    Plans we have made before the business run to make the right business map, with the existence of this map we can predict what happens in the future, or even our efforts destroyed by our own hands.

  40. says

    Email marketing seems easier for some folks.But it is rewarding only when carried out in the
    most proffessional.So I would advise you to find a good email marketing program that can help
    you in your email marketing campaign right from a scratch(with a clean slate).

  41. says

    Great post! Great article. you become a better communicator that speaks to your reader on their level. i need to commend you for job well done on this great article. I do my best to keep my sense of humor. Great work.

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