Don’t Panic – Plan For Disaster

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know all about the “hit by a bus” scenario. What happens when key members of your team leave? Is there knowledge sharing among the team? Can your business function effectively while you scramble to find a replacement, and if it truly is a “hit […]

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If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know all about the “hit by a bus” scenario. What happens when key members of your team leave? Is there knowledge sharing among the team? Can your business function effectively while you scramble to find a replacement, and if it truly is a “hit by a bus scenario,” are there resources and artifacts available to get the new person up to speed on the immediate tasks that must be completed to keep your business moving forward?

I’ll admit that this topic was triggered by an article I read this evening about the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster that takes place next week on February 6th. 23 people died, including 8 first team players for Manchester United. The manager was hospitalized, and the assistant manager who wasn’t on the plane had 13 days to rebuild a competitive team before their next game. Disaster planning is also a topic that’s been raised many times throughout my career, and is generally more of an issue within small companies due to the lack of available resources.

Let’s start off with what you should be doing now, and then move into what you should do when that bus comes careening recklessly down the road.

Proactive damage mitigation

As much as people hate to take the time to write things down, the need for them to document processes and client interactions is vital. Using a good project management tool and getting the team to buy in to using it will save you many headaches down the road. In the past I’ve used Basecamp, which seems to be a favorite of other SEOs that I’ve spoken to, but these days I use a product called ClockingIT, which has the added benefit of being free, so there’s no excuse not to use it. There are plenty of other project management tools out there, and as long as you use one of them and not a collection of white boards in the hallway you should be fine.

If the team truly is a team (that is, it’s not a team of one), there should be cross training and regular project and process meetings to ensure that you have a functional backup for each team member. In larger teams, each member most likely has a functional speciality—analytics, SEO, SMO, etc. Having team members be backup for different areas gives them more of the bigger picture view of the team, allowing them to appreciate the impacts that the various functional areas can have on each other. Don’t forget that at the very least you want to be able to let your team members take vacations and sick days when they need to, without severely impacting your schedules. Cross training gives you the support to be able to allow them to do that.

Post-loss—the solo shop

For a company that has an in-house staff of one, two weeks or less will most likely not be enough time to find the right candidate for the position and get them trained. Sure, it may happen—but that depends on the supply of qualified candidates in your area willing to jump in right away. Your best option may be to bring in an agency to bridge the gap while you look for the right person; you could even involve the agency in the interviewing process, as they may be able to identify functional gaps that you may not have known to look for. Assuming there is a two-week notice, the outgoing SEM can train the agency staff member with any domain knowledge that they will need to have to complete the tasks. The documentation that they created proactively will go a long way to helping with this transition, and the one from the agency to the new hire, when you do find the right person.

Post-loss—the in-house team

If you’ve cross trained the team, and the potential capacity is there, then the team should be able to pick up the urgent short term tasks while the hiring process for the new team member moves into top gear. Once the new member is hired, the documentation and the current in-house knowledge should bring them up to speed quickly.

As long as you plan for the certainty that you will lose team members, you will find that you minimize the disruption to your projects and your company. As for what happened in 1958: the assistant manager patched together a team out of reserves and bit players from other teams, along with the few players that eventually recovered from their crash injuries, and that cobbled together Manchester United team went all the way to the cup final.

Simon Heseltine is the Director of Search at Serengeti Communications a McLean, Virginia based digital marketing agency, runs the Virginia Search Marketing Meetup group and writes for Endless Plain. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Simon Heseltine
Simon Heseltine is the Vice President of Audience Growth at Trader Interactive, a leading provider of digital marketplaces for vehicles (Including CycleTrader, RVTrader, CommercialTruckTrader, EquipmentTrader, Trade-a-plane, plus several others). He was one of the first columnists on Search Engine Land in 2007, writing primarily about in-house search marketing, and has won several industry awards for his expertise in managing teams at previous companies (AOL, ForRent).

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