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Protect your ability to keep working, no matter what happens: Part 1

Posted in Business

What I need is staff. Young, responsible staff. (Not to mention heirs…) Sigh.

Let me muse a bit about how lives change, and what that can do to our one-man businesses.

I've been retired for a few years, but I'm still in my 60s and healthy. I spent my career building and running small tech companies, and I've spent my life with computers. My indie publishing business, Perkunas Press, is just the latest (about 10 years old) of my various tiny businesses and similar pro-bono activities.

So, naturally, I feel both seasoned and competent to set up and maintain bookkeeping and tracking systems for all my various activities. The only professional services I pay for the businesses themselves (as opposed to, say, buying book covers) is a tax accountant to take my final numbers and put them in the right places on the forms.

I run everything from my primary computer (a laptop), back most things up online on Dropbox (rural bandwidth prevents me backing up everything across a network), and run full system backups weekly locally, with a secondary PC.

What could go wrong? 🙂

Mind you, at this point it was already a challenge remembering all the software I use and the particular usages of each product, especially the tricks of integrating them. The range of products is depressingly varied, including such notoriously complex things as Photoshop and expert-mode Excel, and the businesses each used a loose software-based integration of several products. Some businesses, like photography (not currently active) were easy to coast with — provider services exist to make that a turnkey product, where you feed them an image and they take care of absolutely everything else from there to the bank account. Others were pro-bono and I could just work on them at will, by and large, though the automated management support (ManageWP) for a couple of dozen websites has its own complexities.

Then stuff happened…

First, I had health challenges about two years ago (all fine now) which involved brain-fog effects that lasted an unexpectedly long time. I hunkered down for a while to wait it out but then… My primary laptop died (killed by a hospital power-surge, ironically). I swapped to my secondary PC, and it died, too. I didn't lose any data (my backup systems worked), but I had to reinstall dozens of products on replacement devices, and upgrade software versions as needed (when the software still existed for the updated operating system versions).

However… my most important active business, indie publishing, has dozens of moving pieces. There's no one distributor, but several. Marketing is a jungle and a machete is essential. Revenues come from both sales and affiliate-type activities. Newsletters are a semi-automated system. Data travels from point to point via little fragile automations. Tracking is only semi-integrated. Bookkeeping is always behind (when this started, I was late with a final submission for one tax year and trying to do the next one all at once).

Worst of all, I've had to create my own tracking systems to evaluate the success of my indie publishing: a complex set of spreadsheets and procedures for integrating all the sources. And not all of this was actually written down anywhere, since the external elements were always being changed by others — I was used to remembering all of it.

When I reached for my memories of how it all hangs together, they replied, “Sorry, napping. Come back later.” No, really. I felt like I'd lost 20 IQ points. My physical health came back nicely, after a lengthy delay — even better than before (weight loss) — but the brain fatigue was quite long-lived. Only in the last couple of months have I felt quite fully recovered. Until then, I've been limping along dreading year-end bookkeeping for tax time.

At this point, I have to rebuild/resurrect everything (now that I can) and this gives me the opportunity to rethink my support systems with the benefit of both years of experience and a vivid and somewhat shocking reality check of just what my limits can be. My current mantra as I approach this work is “pretend you might be sick when you try to implement this next time.”

Because there will be a next time. I have learned that lesson.

None of us is getting any younger, and we all come to the same end, so in a way I actually welcome this timely opportunity to better future-proof my working environment for my businesses. The creative work of writing can always be interrupted at need (I'm very cautious about public deadlines) but the business reckoning has no time-out (ask any accountant).

So, what (specifically) am I doing? I'm resurrecting more seriously one of my old tools: Getting Things Done (GTD). I think I've been scared enough to stick with it, this time.

Part 2: GTD

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