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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Paper Doll Shares the Gospel: Creating A Business Bible

Here at Paper Doll Central, we tend to fixate on personal paperwork -- the documents that keep us financially and legally on the straight and narrow, medically protected and personally safe and fulfilled. We also focus on the papers keeping our homes and possessions well-tended. Sometimes, the business side of things gets short shrift.

Over the next few posts, we're going to delve into some topics to help professionals cover their paper bases. Today, we start with emergency preparedness.

Years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Paper Doll was a television program director. TV can be a loud, wacky, disorganized place to work, but my office was a sea of calm. Shining like a beacon on one dedicated shelf, there was a three-ring notebook emblazoned with the title: If I Get Hit By a Bus.

This magic wand of a notebook detailed locations of vital items (blank satellite schedules, contract templates, updated film fault inventories, etc.) and whom to contact (and how) in case of certain types of emergencies. Most importantly, the book contained a painstakingly comprehensive series of bulleted procedures for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks, from filing quarterly FCC reports to manipulating satellite schedules.

Thankfully, I never got hit by a bus, but I was once grounded on a tarmac at a large mid-western airport, in the days before cell phones. Using the notebook, my assistant was able to switch out the week's satellite feeds, reschedule appointments, and generally, keep things moving forward until I could take flight.

It's scary to think about what kinds of unexpected situations may face us as professionals or small business owners. Rented buildings may be unexpectedly closed for extermination or repairs of structural, plumbing or electrical damage. Floods, forest fires and severe, inclement weather can keep us from getting to our offices and power outages may render that inaccessibility a moot point. And, as much as we hope and pray otherwise, we are not immune to illnesses and accidents ranging from the merely annoying to the life-threatening.


For years, I talked about the use of a Business Bible in the abstract and helped clients create their own. But in recent years, I've been able to refine my suggestions based on personal experience.

In 2009, I was hospitalized several times, mostly unexpectedly. And earlier this year, in the aftermath of a series of tornadoes, I had no electricity, telephone or internet service for the better part of a week. In the first case, my business was there, but I was unavailable. In the second, I was available, but all business operations, including communications, had ceased. In both situations, I needed someone to be me and represent my business when I was unable to do so.

In a corporate structure, there are supervisory, supporting and lateral positions delineated to cover when an individual is unavailable. The solopreneur has no such luck. If you have an employee, a spouse or an adult child, you have built-in solutions; if you're on your own, make time now, before an emergency, to think through your alternatives. For example, you could authorize:

-- A trusted friend or relative (outside your immediate geographic area) to pick up the pieces. You would need to brief this individual, in advance of any emergency, on your general procedures and he or she would need adequate business savvy and strong communication skills to act on your behalf.

Can the person you select handle complex tasks for extended periods? How would you cope with an error made by a loved one volunteering to help? Are you comfortable giving someone access to all your passwords and trusting that bills will be paid and funds transferred properly?

-- A virtual assistant whom you would pay to accomplish essential tasks. This is a relationship you would want to put in place prior to any emergency so that you could trigger assistance quickly and easily.

Depending on the nature of a crisis, Emergency You may need to take hours, days or weeks to accomplish what must be done. No matter how loved or trusted, can your best-friend-since-college or sibling-in-law carry this load without struggling to tend to his or her own obligations? Does a fiduciary relationship, where you'd be paying a VA, absolve you of any stress or guilt you might feel in foisting the load onto a loved one?

The question may be, "Can I afford a virtual assistant?" or it may be "Can I afford not to involve a virtual assistant?" Avoiding the decision is no solution.


Creating a Business Bible is a way of securing all the information that is absolutely essential for you to keep your business afloat in the face of disaster. Let's look at the essential elements.

1) Contact Information:

In the event of a crisis, identify multiple methods (office numbers, cell numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, etc.) for contacting:

--Independent contractors/Outside sales personnel
--Hot or warm prospects
--Support team:
  • Corporate banker and/or branch manager
  • Attorney
  • CPA
  • Bookkeeper
  • Web designer
  • Professional organizer
  • Delivery service
  • Off-site storage service
  • Payroll processing company
2) Financial Essentials:

In an emergency where you are unable to get to your office, would you be able to access all of the following data?

--Bank account numbers and bank contact information
--Insurance account numbers, agent contacts and the toll-free claims number
--Payroll records (if processed on-site)
--Past three months of balance sheets
--Current aging on accounts receivable
--Current status of accounts payable
--An inventory of all assets, including location(s) -- Itemize assets kept off-site, such as in storage, at a warehouse, in a safe deposit box or at an attorney's or CPA's office.
--IDs and passwords

These days, all but the most Luddite among us keep many of these records digitally. However, if all records are kept solely in one location (on one computer or on a server without outside access) rather than being backed up on flash drives, external hard drives or in highly secure cloud storage, physical destruction of the workplace or inability to reach the workplace yield the same problem: no access to vital data.

Also, I wouldn't be Paper Doll if I didn't mention that, in addition to automated or diligently-scheduled digital backups, I still believe in a carefully curated emergency 3-ring binder. Update it weekly or monthly with major changes and make sure it travels home with you nightly. (Eliminate passwords from the printed Business Bible to decrease exposure between your home and office. Just keep an updated copy in your home safe.)

3) Planning Documents:

Calendar with appointment schedule or bookings, including locations for sessions not on-site -- Site-based locations like beauty salons or dental offices need contact information to cancel appointments when the office shuts down. Conversely, professional organizers or real estate agents may be able to get to clients, but not know how to get there if internet service or cell phones satellite positioning is out.

Chart of major customer, financial or legal deadlines -- These documents need to be updated either weekly, or upon scheduling of deadlines.

List of big upcoming projects and goals -- In the aftermath of a crisis, this will allow you to think about important issues rather than just trying to think of them.

If your office solely tracks this kind of information on paper calendars or white boards, take clear digital photos or scan calendars and upload the information throughout the week to a cloud-based system that can be accessed from anywhere.
4) Templates and Checklists:

If an emergency causes a business interruption, you'll want to get up and running as quickly as possible. However, physical and emotional stress can have a powerful and negative impact on cognitive abilities. You might have asked the same questions the same ways, day-in and day-out for decades, but surviving a crisis (or struggling while in the middle of one) may turn your memory into Swiss cheese. Combat cognitive cheesiness with documents (in digital or paper form) that remember the important issues for you. For example:

Procedural/Task Checklists -- Identify your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks as they relate to marketing, finances and administrative work. You may think you'll remember to enter information into your CRM program on a daily basis or transfer money to cover payroll every Thursday, but sometimes you won't remember that today is Thursday. These kinds of checklists will ensure that you can delegate tasks, not only in emergency situations, but when you decide that life is enough back to normal that you can even take a vacation.

Client consultation questions -- If you don't already have a customer questionnaire you use, but generally ask the same series of questions, committing these to writing has two advantages. Not only does it provide you with the equivalent of a memory bank during or after an emergency, but it's a solid beginning in case you ever want to create training documents for growing your company.

Reply Templates -- Do you get new prospect inquiries, invitations for media interviews, employment applications or requests for donations of services/products?

Every inquiry you get today can probably be answered with an almost identical reply to one you gave yesterday. Look at one of your typical reply emails, then treat each paragraph as a module (greeting, questions answered, information about your philosophy and company, links to further information and a closing). From this, create a standard reply document.

Next, review some responses you've given multiple times in less common situations and create templates for those occasions. For example, I tend to get inquiries regarding general organizing services, requests to buy gift certificates, questions about hoarding and inquiries about how to become a professional organizer. By having general language written in advance, I'm able to customize responses when situations have small variances from the norm, but can still reply quickly. During and after emergencies, having access to these templates will save time, effort and money.

Documents -- Develop templates for anything that requires providing information to others or for them to return information to you, including:
  • Information Requests (e.g., biographical data, insurance information, tastes and preferences, etc.)
  • Invoices and financial statements
  • Client session recaps/reviews
  • Performance surveys
  • Testimonial

Obviously, having a Business Bible is only one step in organizing your company to protect it from disasters. To familiarize yourself with the U.S. Government's advice for businesses, please check out the business division of Ready.gov.

Finally, Paper Doll wants you to consider your answers to the following questions:

Who have you designated to act on your behalf in case of emergency? Have you actually put your delegation plan in place?

When was the last time you backed up your entire computer (including operating system and preferences and not just individual documents)?

When was the last time you tested your backup to make sure it was complete?

posted on: 8/16/2011 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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