I and many others have written articles for this magazine about the importance of planning, and all of those articles were right on target. We must plan in our businesses. There is a saying that goes, “Success comes at the intersection of planning, preparation, and execution,” and that is still true. But how do we react when something unplanned confronts us? As some of you know, I am an IndyCar racing fan. Attending the first race of the season, it occurred to me that there is another step beyond planning. That step is “Planning for the things in which you hadn’t planned.” A race team has all winter to plan and prepare for the first race of the season. But what happens when something occurs on the parade lap and all the plans are changed? By the way, that happened to Andretti Racing’s Ryan Hunter-Reay when, on the parade lap, he was unable to accelerate. Although that certainly wasn’t in their plans, he returned to the pits, and some fast-moving crewmen recycled the car’s computer systems. Although he started last, he ended up finishing in a very respectable fifth place.

Hunter-Reay’s team obviously had to make some changes to its original plans. That is something we as HVAC contractors basically have to do on a daily basis. As a result, I would recommend putting some time into addressing those unplanned things that may occur and severely hurt your business. The first of these to consider is the sudden need to fill a particular position. This could occur for a number of reasons. An employee suddenly gets seriously ill, or  you have to terminate an employee on short notice. In any of these instances, you need to be prepared to have someone fill in the open position at least on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement is found. Think of a live theater production that has understudies for the major parts. You should put on paper a list of the key people in your organization and how you would replace them in a moment’s notice. This may include hiring a temporary employee, borrowing someone from one of your vendors or trade partners, or some other manner. The point is to at least have given some thought to what you would do if an unfortunate situation arose. Trust me, it can happen, and it will when you least anticipate it.

Another issue we as contractors face on a regular basis is the loss of a major customer. This may be your company’s fault, but it is more than likely a result of situations out of your control: for example, the customer just closed their doors, they decided to move all of their business to one of your competitors, etc. You should have already been thinking about how you will go about replacing that customer. If that is not possible, how you will adjust your business to operate without the income from them?

Similar to losing a customer, you need to be prepared in case something would happen to one of your major suppliers. Your ability to make a move in this situation may depend upon how you have dealt with various vendors in the past.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that it is never a good idea to burn bridges with a vendor or a customer. If you leave a vendor cordially, you should have little trouble engaging that vendor again. It’s very likely they’re still interested in earning your business.

A more difficult type of unplanned occurrence would be some type of catastrophe, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, etc. If you’re susceptible to tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods based on your location, I urge you to have a plan in place regarding how you will proceed and recover.

As far as a fire is concerned, this is one of the most frightening to me, because it is so hard to do any preplanning. The most important thing is to make sure that you have backup copies of all of your important documents, especially accounts receivable, stored off-site somewhere safe so that you will readily be able to access that information.

These are a few of the more major unplanned happenings that can occur in your business. The important thing is to not completely ignore the fact that these things do happen. If you have at least done some thinking and preliminary planning, you will be in a lot better position to survive through the situation.