Surviving Whenever a Supplier Disappears

Chris Guillebeau, writer of ‘The Art of Non-Conformity,’ on his comeback from a business crisis.

You will come back from anything. Even if your supplier disappears off the map and you are 5,000 miles away, a creative entrepreneur should be in a position to patch things together. Here’s how I learned this lesson the hard way.

During four years overseas in West Africa, I supported myself through moonlighting, consulting on Google Adwords accounts, and building sites for clients in the U.S. and Europe. In my own third year abroad, a fresh publishing business I had started on a home visit begun to take off as well my volunteer responsibilities were picking right up. Once or twice per month I’d set my noisy alarms to awaken for 3:00 a.m. conference calls by satellite phone, where other participants would marvel at focusing on location from LA and London. I never said a word about being even more away in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

I worked 45 hours weekly on volunteer projects and at least 20 hours weekly on the business. It had been all going well–or at least, and could possibly be expected, but one evening, the duct-taped operation fell apart. I had just returned from an extended day in the field, delivering medical supplies to a village. I went online through the flaky satellite connection and began downloading email.

Then I browse the message titled "Urgent Update" and saw that it had been from my new fulfillment center. The message explained that these were shutting down the business, effective immediately. "Forget about orders will be shipped," the dog owner said, and actually, no orders have been shipped in three weeks. When I frantically called in on the satellite phone to obtain additional info, the quantity was disconnected.

In retrospect, I will have observed the distress signs–inventory not being put into the database, a half-hearted response to inquiries–but among delivering truckloads of relief supplies and helping bring patients in from all around the region, I just missed it. I had an enormous crisis on my hands, very little time to cope with it, and I was doing important work in Sierra Leone that I couldn’t just leave behind to fly back again to the U.S.

Within a couple of hours, other business owners overlooked in the cold chimed in on several online forums to fume at the business that had left people with out a crucial link in the supply chain. The better answer, I knew, is always to focus on a remedy to the problem. I possibly could cope with the negative feelings later.

I called my buddy back in the home. "Ken," I said, "I’m have to your help." My plan was for him to join up as my temporary, one-man fulfillment center while I done a long-term solution. Thankfully, he was up for the duty. Next, I called my printer to order new supplies, three new fulfillment centers to see if indeed they could help, and many some other clients of the failed supplier to look at the brand new options. Over another 10 days, we replaced $20,000 worth of product and found a fresh supplier ready to accommodate several "refugee clients" from the failed fulfillment center.

At first, the procedure of sorting out the mess was extremely stressful. Sitting there when i had made my last telephone call around midnight, however, I begun to experience a deep sense of calm. As strange since it was, I felt that in a few ways the crisis was a good welcome event. It forced me to reevaluate what I was doing, also to think creatively solving the problem.

"This will all be okay," I wrote in my own journal while on hold with among the vendors. "I’ll discover a way to complete this and become better for it ultimately."

And actually, it was okay. My buddy did an excellent job as a one-man shipping agency for three weeks, the brand new fulfillment center took over from then on (providing far better service compared to the first one ever endured), and I gained a fresh sense of confidence that I possibly could handle any issue that came my way.

Paradoxically, when you have the ability to survive an emergency that had "deathblow potential," you’ll often end up more powerful than you were prior to the walls fell down. The very best part of most was that a lot of people around me had no idea that which was going on. My faraway customers were happy, and my non-profit colleagues in Africa never knew about the crisis I was coping with in the evenings. I continued the volunteer commitment for another year before relocating back again to the U.S. for graduate school, and I even slowed up the excess hours I devote as the business continued to grow.

This article can be an edited excerpt from The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau, a writer and world traveler who blogs about his adventures. Follow his live updates on Twitter at @chrisguillebeau.

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