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How to Manage a Crisis Before It Destroys Your Business

Entrepreneurs offer their best advice for staying afloat, even thriving, during a crisis.

If there's one universal truth in business, it's that, someday, disaster will strike. You lose your biggest customer; a storm wipes out your data center. So how do entrepreneurs handle a crisis, while ensuring that their companies don't suffer? We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) to provide their tips for weathering the storm.

Never rely on just one client.

"As a small business performing contract work, you [should] have a constant ebb and flow of customers, projects, and in turn, revenue. At one point, I was caught in a position where I lost two clients within two weeks of each other that collectively made up 50 percent of my business! I learned that I couldn't let one or two clients make up that much of my business. We always strive for the 'big catch' client, but in a small business, that can be your biggest weakness. I now strive to maintain a steady cycle of contracts and a mix of clientele."

--Rishi Khanna, CEO, ISHIREO Dallas

Plan for the end, even at the beginning.

"I had to buy my partner out even though he didn't want to be bought out. This included hard assets, as well as the IP that we both created. From the beginning, we had a proper buy-sell agreement with stock certificates and necessary non-disparagement clauses with confidentiality included. I had the foresight to see possible problems and put in place a plan that would allow for the mutual termination of our relationship."

--Jeremy Dicker, CEO, Dicker FitzpatrickEO Los Angeles

Hire a mediator.

"I hired my husband, a software engineer, to help develop some of the functionality of our website. Being a demanding boss during the day and loving wife at night put me in a 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' situation that tested the boundaries of our relationship and the success of the business at the same time. To alleviate some of the back and forth, I brought in a digital-experience specialist who would communicate my vision to my husband. This turned out to be a real blessing, and helped us get through some difficult times."

--Tonya Lanthier, Founder and CEO, DentalPostEO Atlanta

Have everyone's personal contact information, even clients.

"Hurricane Sandy is easily the worst crisis we have faced. The biggest obstacle was the failure of emergency power at our vendor's data center. Having alternate contact information for key people at each client proved essential. Mobile numbers and personal emails allowed our engineers to keep clients in the loop about the problems at the data center and discuss plans to get them back up and running."

--Scott Wilson, Founder and CEO, Marathon ConsultingEO New York

Cut overhead, even if it means changing your business.

"Before the 'Great Recession,' our trucking company shipped construction freight and had a transportation brokerage for national loads. Then the construction loads went away as our shippers' businesses dried up. We had fixed costs whether or not we had any loads. We had to be open to looking at what was and wasn't working, so we decided to reengineer ourselves. We concluded brokerage was better because we only incurred costs when we had loads. We reinvented our company, sold assets, laid off employees and refocused."

--Cheryl Biron, President and CEO, One Horn TransportationEO New Jersey

Focus on your niche.

"When housing prices started falling, our real estate investor clients were cutting every expense they could to stay in business. As a result, we lost 60 percent of our clients within a single year. To survive, we asked ourselves, 'What is it that only we do, and what other markets could we serve with our expertise?' The answer came in shifting our focus to the home owner. They still needed to sell fast, and if investors aren't serving that need any longer, then their next best option would be to work with a real estate agent."

--Jeremy Brandt, CEO, We Buy Houses; EO Fort Worth

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