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How to Navigate a Business Tragedy

Growing up, my mom wasn’t too strict, but she was an absolute stickler about teaching us one thing when it came to bills: always pay for insurance! That probably seems like an odd thing to instill in your child, but hey, it was her thing. She would say it was the most important bill in the house. “Because if something goes wrong and that insurance bill isn’t paid, you’ll find yourself in a tremendously difficult situation.”

As a kid, this obviously didn’t mean much, but as most things, turns out mama was totally right. Fast forward 20+ years and thank god my mom taught me the importance of insurance. Because if you’ve seen my Instagram stories over the past couple weeks, you know why. I’ll explain if not.

Corri McFadden navigates a business tragedy when her store floods.

Last week, I got a phone call that ended up being one of those tremendously difficult situations my mom warned me about. One of the managers from my retail store (my luxury consignment business which operates online and with a brick-and-mortar in Lincoln Park) called and said there was water damage to the space. He said it was bad, but let’s just say I had no idea how bad bad could be. After all, I’m a very resilient independent women and figured “I got this.” Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.

Heartbreak is probably the best way to describe how I felt when I walked through the door of my store moments after that call. The back end  2,000-square foot workspace was drenched and falling apart – electronics fried and the biggest hot mess I’d ever seen – all in my precious store aka my first baby! The photo space had 6-7″ of standing water, the ceiling was legitimately falling in, and bottom line, the damage was way, way worse than I could have ever anticipated. It was BAD. As it turns out, a water heater in the condo above us had exploded, resulting in over 10,000 gallons of water flowing through my space.  

After walking in and seeing my career life’s work in ruin, I knew I had a choice. Basically, I could cry in the corner or I could react in the hard-working way I know how. I chose the latter. I thought about the phrase, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react” and in that moment, made a choice. I decided that the best thing I could do for myself, my team, and my business was to go into action mode. Right then, right there, in the massive puddle that was my store, I got to work.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and now that I’m in a different head space, I want to take a minute to offer some tips on how to deal with unforeseen circumstances and a tragedy like this. Because if this information helps even one business owner, then it’s worth it to put my story out there.

How to navigate a business tragedy when you're an entrepreneur. 1. Document Everything

No matter what your tragedy is—document it. Take photos, take videos and take note of all the details. Keep track of things like time, the circumstance in which it happened, the date—everything. You don’t need anything fancy equipment-wise, it just needs to be captured. Go through your space and start snapping before clean up starts so insurance can get a clear picture of what happened. You can even ask someone on your team to do this if you’re handing the crisis in another way. Take inventory of what’s happened, even the smallest things, and then put it all in one place. (Dropbox, a folder on your phone, etc.)

2. Notify Insurance

Do this immediately! For one, you’ll feel better just knowing you’ve reported it, and two, you have insurance for a reason. Let them go to work for you. I know it’s stressful, but just communicate with your agent or whoever your agent puts you in contact with and let them do their thing—it’s their job.

Corri McFadden experiences a major tragedy at work. 3. Remove Any Emotion

The emotional aspect of these situations are hard to avoid, but you have to put on your strongest face. You have to go into straight up survival mode, as I like to call it. You’re going to have your moments (many of them), but for the most part, try to remain as composed as possible. Deep breaths help and so does removing yourself from the situation to gather your feelings – even if you only have 30 seconds. 

4. Take People Up on Their Offer to Help

The people in your life are going to offer to help because that’s what friends and family do when they see people going through a tough time. And thank God! Whether it’s financially, labor-wise, picking up dinner for you, watching the kids – take people up on their offers. Even if you think you can do it better or feel bad, let people help you. You’ll need all the energy you can get to get through the admin of the tragedy.

But here’s the trick, do not stand by and micromanage. Assign people to certain tasks that you know they’re capable of doing and will do a kick-ass job at, then keep moving forward.

Corri McFadden shows readers a major business set back.5. Look for Silver Linings

If you’re going through something tough right now, you probably don’t want to hear this, but silver linings exist in everything. I promise. For my situation, seeing my staff step up and be absolute rockstars has been amazing. It’s been very fulfilling for me.  I knew I had a stellar team before, but this just puts it on another level. As much as I have my team’s back, they clearly have mine. Heck, we all need a really stiff drink together as a company once things are settled!

Another silver lining? We’ve been able to completely clean out the store (not in the way I would have hoped, but hey, it is what it is). I’m trying to see it as a fresh start, or a forced spring clean if you will.

Corri McFadden shows readers how to handle a business disaster.

Those are my main tips on actually dealing with the tragedy, but there are also some detail and proactive tips I want to leave you with. Because they’re equally as important as the big-picture ones:

  • Review your insurance coverage. I’ve been with my insurance company, Meisrow Insurance, for 14 years and I’m so thankful for them. Form a relationship with your insurance agent if you’re a business. Talk with them about EVERY circumstance and make sure you’re prepared. Questions to ask: Is relocation included in your policy? Is loss of income included? Is your inventory insured if it has to be fully replaced? I also recommend not just taking the basic insurance required for your lease because that’s primarily for your landlord. Make sure the business (YOUR BUSINESS) operating within the space is covered, too.
  • Always pay your insurance bill. Put the payments on auto so it’s impossible to miss. Listen to your mom!
  • For every bad person out there there are five more shining behind them. Focus on the good (which is what I repeated to myself over and over). Spend your time thinking about the community surrounding you and getting you through this. It’s really just remembering the positive and setting aside the negative.
  • I’m a firm believer that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t get through. Rally in the community you’ve built, find the momentum to move forward and it’ll all be OK – I promise. Look – I’m even smiling in one of these pictures!

I’d love to hear if anyone else has experienced a business tragedy in their own life. Anyone else deal with your business being pretty much ruined like this? How have you dealt? What did you learn?

And one more shout-out to my incredible team for stepping up! I’m so thankful for you.

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