I don’t just jump out of planes; I fly them. Flying is one of my three favorite pastimes (the others being skiing and surfing). I don’t own a car, but I own several planes. If you follow me on social media, you’ll see a constant stream of photographs snapped from over the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, and other New York landmarks.
Here’s the main thing you need to know about flying: it’s not a casual activity. You can hop in your car and drive off on impulse without thinking much about it. It doesn’t work that way with a plane. Climb into the cockpit of even a fairly small, simple plane, and you’ll notice it looks a hell of a lot more complicated than the dashboard of your car. That’s because it is a hell of a lot more complicated. There are a hundred things you have to check before you leave the runway. Preflight routine is no joke. If you don’t have backup plans for your backup plans, you can end up dead before the day is out.
Running a Business Is a Lot Like Flying a Plane
Again — and this is worth repeating — violence of action does not mean being careless, acting on impulse, or committing to a course of action without forethought. If anything, it’s the opposite. The only way you can genuinely give yourself over to violence of action is if you are as prepared as possible.
Contingency planning is an essential part of any mission because inevitably something will go wrong. In the 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound, the team that went in suddenly lost one of their helicopters. That could have been catastrophic — but it wasn’t, because the SEALs had a contingency plan in place, which they executed. The SEALs didn’t waste any time running in circles or freaking out. They blew up the downed chopper, went on with the mission, and got everyone out without losing a single team member.
Whether you’re flying a plane, assaulting an enemy compound, or launching a business initiative, you want to plan for as many contingencies as you can think of so you’ll know what to do when it all goes sideways. Because if you have to stop and think about it when it happens, you’re screwed.
You find this out really fast when your business is digital and depends on an uninterrupted online presence. Servers crash and hosting issues happen. At SOFREP, we learned really fast that it’s worth the money to pay for excellent hosting.
In 2015, Facebook tightened up its guidelines on who can advertise on its website. At the time, SOFREP’s landing page featured a picture of a Gerber multi-tool with its saw blade flipped open. Facebook interpreted that as a weapon and killed our entire ad set. Not just that ad. Our entire ad set. Even though our landing page was obviously outside of Facebook.
It was maddening. As far as we could see, we were in full compliance with its guns-and-knives policy. But without warning, we were shut down.
By that time, Facebook advertising had become a central plank in our business model, and at the moment we happened to be having a really good run. Having the whole ad campaign shut down cost us a lot of money. It took a few days to get hold of a representative, find out what the problem was, fix it, and get that particular ad back into compliance. It hit our cash flow hard.
Plan for Contingencies!
I know we can’t afford to have that happen again. So we created a contingency plan. We designed a separate landing page with its own URL and an alternative ad set attached to a different credit card on our advertising accounts with plenty of credit on it ready to plug in and go. Now, if anything unforeseen goes wrong and something interrupts our ad campaign again, we can immediately switch on our backup system.
We’re not running these ads. The entire alternate system is just sitting there. We’ll most likely never use it. It’s like having a backup generator in case the power goes out. It took a lot of work to build, but it was worth it, even if all it does is sit there and we never have to use it.
By the way, this is one reason not to be afraid of failure: often failure, crises, and setbacks are the only way you gain that invaluable insight you need to anticipate future problems and design the right contingencies. This is another reason an imperfect plan executed now is so vastly superior to a perfect plan executed sometime in the vague future. Your imperfect plan will lead to some gains and probably some setbacks, too. In turn, this will give you exactly the information you need to design a more perfect plan for your next move.