Disaster Recovery: Recovering from an Unhappy Accident

Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on March 11, 2013

Layer Cake CreativeAndre recently posted to our blog about “happy accidents,” when something unplanned serendipitously improves an outcome. Perhaps I’m a “glass half-empty” kind of person, but that got me thinking about the oh-so-UNhappy accidents that also occur as the result of: unforeseen developments, sloppy communication, mismanaged expectations, or (worst) a mistake or oversight. As a business owner, I wish that these accidents – and the unhappy clients involved – were completely avoidable. But while excellent product and proven processes eliminate most snafus, occasionally a perfectly good project becomes a disaster. When that happens, stay calm, put on your Risk Management hat, and implement a sound disaster recovery plan. Here are four tips that save projects, client relationships, reputations – and sanity.

1. Own It. Never, never blame anyone or anything – no matter how tempting it is (and the worse the situation is, the more tempting it is to blame). Even if you firmly believe that circumstances were beyond your control, due to someone else’s incompetence, or rooted in a client’s mercurial temperament or impossible demands, it is unprofessional and unhelpful to take this route. More to the point, as a business owner, every project disaster IS your responsibility, so call the client and own it.

2. Define It. Immediately learn the facts and the ramifications. Assess potential remediation measures for effectiveness and cost. Determine the maximum price you’re willing and able to pay including material costs and unbillable time, but also factoring in the cost of losing the client’s business, or even your business’s reputation. Talk with the client to find out how much it will take to make the situation right – and then outline a remediation plan for the best possible outcome taking all of this into account.

3. Deliver It. Once you have a plan in place, make completing the job correctly a priority. Make sure your team understands that this is not a chore, but an opportunity to earn back a client’s trust, demonstrate your team’s tenacity, and that “we care” isn’t just lip service.

4. Learn From It. Open your mind and change your attitude, and you’ll definitely learn something useful, possibly even profound about yourself and/or your company. The lesson is the silver lining of a disaster, and can be the key to your next great success.



Layer Cake Creative is a strategic marketing agency specializing in communications, design, and strategic marketing that enrich your brand and support your strategic and sales goals.  This Denver marketing firm specializes in promoting professional services such as architecture, construction, engineering, law, finance, and real estate.

Kimberly MacArthur Graham, founder of Layer Cake Creative, is an expert in professional services marketing with 20+ years in the design and building industry.  She’s especially proficient in marketing communications including technical or creative writing and editing, articles submitted for publication, and brand messaging.

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