Taking care of business, even when you’re sick


My family teases me mercilessly for the amount of Purell, Clorox Wipes and Lysol I go through in a week. Getting sick is no fun for anyone, but as a small business owner and the primary bread-winner in our family, if I get sick, it can be more than just uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Fortunately, I learned some valuable lessons from a cancer diagnosis a few years ago. Since then, I’ve put some measures in place to keep my business moving in the event that I or a key member of my team faces a serious illness. These tips aren’t just helpful for small business owners, though–whether you’re an award-winning journalist or a partner at a law firm, having a plan to deal with unexpected illness or injury gives you the peace of mind and flexibility to deal with whatever curveball life throws at you. Here are some strategies:

  1. Embrace the truth that no one is irreplaceable, not even you. At least two people on your team need to know how to perform each job function, and someone besides you needs to know where all the important files (like contracts, proposals, leases, passwords, etc.) are kept and how to use them. Be as thorough as possible with your list– for example, if you maintain a professional social media presence, include the password, posting frequency, and other essential information. I have a “kick the bucket list” on my desktop that outlines where everything is, who to call, etc. in the event of an emergency.
  2. Make technology your friend. With smartphones and the connectivity afforded by the internet and scores of productivity apps, most of us can do our jobs from anywhere, including a hospital bed, a doctor’s office, or a comfy couch at home while recuperating. The key is to have all of that set up in advance. Take the time to research which productivity app might work best in your field and with your teams’ needs., My team uses the customer relationship management program Capsule, as well as a shared Google calendar and the Trello project management app, as well as a daily team rundown email, to stay connected so that we all know what everyone is working on and the status of all projects at any given point.
  3. It can be scary telling clients about a major illness or injury. But I recommend being straight with them about what’s happening. While clients will appreciate being kept in the loop, the main thing is to assure them that work on their behalf will continue at the same level. We introduce clients to the whole team at the start of an engagement, even if they won’t be working directly with all of them. This way, if something happens to their main contact, they’ve at least had a passing acquaintance with the team member who will take over.
  4. In the case of a major illness or debilitating injury, be sure to research all the options for financial assistance to help pay for what your small group policy or individual healthcare insurance doesn’t cover. For example, some states provide emergency Medicaid coverage based on the severity of the diagnosis, rather than on the patient’s income. Also, some healthcare providers are open to negotiating a lower rate for their services. They rarely volunteer this information, but many respond positively if asked.

I’m happy to say that I am 100% healthy now and just celebrated my 8th anniversary of being cancer-free. You can read more about my story in this article in Entrepreneur and this one in Good Enough Mother.

While there’s never a good time to be sick, implementing the strategies mentioned above can keep your business going, even when you may need to rest and recover.

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