Are You Managing Your Business Like a Poorly-Run Emergency Room?

In: entrepreneur| running a business

8 Sep 2009

You may have noticed that over the last two weeks, I have managed to write only one blog post. While I often like to share the things I do right on this blog, this time I’m going to discuss something I’ve done wrong over the past few weeks, so that we can all learn from my mistake.

I’m happy to report that my consulting business continues to grow, and I have been taking on new clients and expanding my relationships with existing clients. The downside of this has been the avalanche of work that has followed. And I am ashamed to admit I have let it get the best of me.

Instead of carefully planning and scheduling tasks to best utilize my time, I have been falling back to a pure triage system, attending to things as they come in based solely on severity. While it hasn’t impacted any of my clients, other areas, such as this blog, billing and administrative tasks, etc, have all been affected.

So, here are 3 questions I have been asking myself lately. I share them so we can all better manage our workload.

1. Is This Really an Emergency?
When a patient comes into an Emergency Room, they believe they have the most pressing problem. But in reality, someone’s sprained ankle will have to wait while a patient having a heart attack is tended to. In an emergency care situation, harassing a nurse or complaining won’t get you very far. The same should apply to your clients and customers.

It is important to rationally evaluate each issue as it comes in and decide which is the most pressing. Is one client losing money each minute their site is down? Is another client about to pitch an investor with a product that isn’t working correctly? Sometimes a client is the loudest because their problem is the biggest, but often times, this isn’t the case. It’s crucial to recognize the difference and act accordingly.

2. Are You Planning Ahead?
In any business, there will always be emergencies that come out of nowhere. But the key to handling them is to make sure that the rest of your workload is properly scheduled and managed so that chaos won’t ensue when things change. Planning ahead is key to this. When I have some downtime, I should be writing blog posts to save for the weeks when I’m crushed under work. It seems obvious that we should be taking care of future tasks when things are slow, but it is surprising how few people do this.

3. Do You Have a Process for Handling Emergencies?
When clients come to you with last-minute issues, they can be panicked and anxious about how it will be handled. Having a set process for how you handle emergencies and following a structured plan can put them at ease. For instance, you may create a separate email address that routes to your phone for your clients or customers to use when there are true emergencies. This way they will know that you are prepared and accessible. On your end, you won’t need to worry about monitoring your main email address at all times, knowing any actual emergency will come in via the alternate email address.

Also, establishing a timeline with your client right away will set expectations and prevent them from feeling they constantly need to follow-up or harass you. Letting them know when things will be done, whether it’s minutes, hours, or days, will put them at ease and make everyone’s life easier.

Prescription: Triage Only Works When Combined with Planning
Having a proper triage approach to your business will ensure that emergencies are properly dealt with. But if planning ahead isn’t also part of your process, your business will fall apart under the strain of an increased workload.

Make sure you are prepared in advance and you’ll be able to handle any emergency that comes your way, while still finishing the rest of your work (like writing this blog post).

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.