Want to hear a fun story? I am going to share with you one of the worst moments I ever had in business… and tell you what I gained from it.
In my first year of operating my first store, it was a whirlwind of excitement. Business was good, and I was insanely busy but I also had a fantastic manager to rely on. I felt secure knowing she was there handling the store, so I could actually start taking time for my own life.
One morning, I got the call no entrepreneur ever wants to get: my store had been broken into. It’s a lousy feeling, knowing someone has attacked your business. It feels like your baby–you put your heart and soul into your shop and it’s sad to imagine a person willfully targeting it, smashing the windows and taking whatever they can get.
I could take comfort in a few things, at least. It happened late at night after the store was closed, so my staff were all safe. The cost of the damage would be taken care of by my insurance company. And I knew we would only have a small amount of cash in the store, and it would be locked up in the office safe.
Except… it turns out I was wrong about that last point. When I called my manager to tell her the bad news about the break-in, she gasped. As it turned out, she hadn’t gone to the bank in days to make deposits, so there was actually $18,000. on hand. And she suddenly had a strong suspicion she’d forgotten to lock up the cash in the safe.
When we got to the store, it turned out the worst was true. The money was gone. My heart sank. I felt ill. Only a few thousand would be replaced by my insurer.
The police suspected my manager of taking the money, yet I couldn’t believe she would be capable of doing such a thing. I’d trusted her implicitly. I chose to take her at her word, and focus on moving forward. No one was more surprised than she was that I didn’t blame her. She broke down in tears of gratitude when she realized she wasn’t fired.
So what did I learn from this giant mess?
- My manager felt stressed out and overworked. She never told me this, so I thought everything was fine. I had a great relationship with my manager so I expected her to just tell me if she was having a problem. But she didn’t want to disappoint me, or complain, or make it seem like she couldn’t handle the job. And what happens when people are tired and stressed? They make mistakes. Now, I make a habit of checking in with my staff on a regular basis. I encourage them to tell me if they’re feeling overwhelmed, so we can find solutions.
- I needed to have a firm policy in place around making deposits. I thought we had an understanding about it, but that’s not good enough. When it comes to anything involving money, you need hard and fast rules in place. You better believe I created a very clear policy the day after this incident!
Bottom line, I had to take 100% responsibility for this happening. As a business owner, you need to anticipate what can go wrong. Break-ins happen, so you need to be prepared for them. Policies need to be in place. And you need to be asking your employees on a regular basis how they’re doing, and create a space for them to be honest with you. If you don’t have a storefront business or a staff, you’ll still have other worst-case scenarios to plan for. I don’t want you to be pessimistic–just prepared.
And if you’re wondering, yes, the police did catch the person responsible for the crime… and it wasn’t the manager. I’m so glad I went with my intuition, because if I’d fired her that day, I would have given up on two principles I really believed in: trusting my intuition, and taking 100% responsibility for my business.