This week I was struck down with a flu… my first since going freelance last year. When I was an employee and got sick, it was relatively easy to take a few days, even a week, off. There was always someone to handle my client deadlines for me or at least manage expectations until I got back. And the financial impact was minimal.
It was a very different scenario this week. I’m a sole trader so everything in my business depends on me. I had client deadlines, meetings to attend and calls to make. And obviously any time spent not working in my business is time not earning income.
So how did I manage it and still come away with deadlines being met, clients still happy and my sanity intact? In this week’s blog, I give you my 6 seamless steps to keeping your solo business ticking along while you’re sick. These steps also apply to any situation which calls you away from your business unexpectedly.
1. Prevention is better than the cure.
It’s a no brainer that eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and practicing work life balance, greatly reduce our chances of getting sick. We’re all doing this on a regular basis, right? Well, maybe not always. But it’s great advice we should all try to do most of the time.
2. Create a contingency plan.
Best practice business management includes doing a risk assessment of your business and creating something called a “business continuity plan” or “BCP”. This identifies your critical people, processes and systems and details what actions you need to take in the event of a disruption to any of those things.
As a soloist, you are pretty critical to your business and most of what you do will be critical to the ongoing success of your business, so it’s a good idea to put a BCP in place. Or at the very least, do a simple risk assessment of your business.
Some examples of simple risk mitigation actions for a sole trader might be:
- find a trusted professional in your industry to whom you can delegate/refer critical work, or
- have a VA contact or assistant on hand who can provide reception duties or “business babysitting”.
The first two steps were all about prevention but what happens when you actually get sick?
3. Get yourself on the road to recovery.
Take care of your health first. Go to your GP, head to the chemist, start taking whatever medications and start eating whatever food and drink you need to get you on the road to wellness as soon as possible.
But before you go to sleep for 5 days straight, do a few more things. They shouldn’t take long and you’ll be in bed before you know it. If you have a VA/assistant already lined up for these scenarios, they can do some or all the next steps for you.
4. Notify your important clients and contacts.
Get an email out to all your clients and contacts who are expecting something from you or meeting with you within the next week.
It doesn’t have to be an essay. Just a short note saying you’re unwell and not able to meet the deadline/attend the meeting/call them back until you’re better. In the case of meetings, say you’ll reschedule when you are well again.
Also don’t forget to set an out of office message on your phone and email for any callers. You don’t want to lose potential new business because you don’t answer the phone for a week with any explanation.
5. Scan your To Do List and delegate.
Before your head hits your pillow (I know you want to go but do this one more thing…), take a quick look at your To Do List. It’s sometimes worthwhile just checking if there are any items that you can delegate or refer to someone else, e.g. a super urgent job that you can refer/delegate to a trusted colleague in your field of expertise.
This is not always possible or appropriate but don’t dismiss how happy some clients will be that their project isn’t delayed just because you are out of action. Clients have deadlines too and sometimes your delays can mean a world of pain for them within their own organization.
6. Now just relax and get better.
Now you can go rest and focus on getting well, assured that your clients have been informed and urgent projects are being taken care of. Be realistic about when you need to be back to work but don’t unnecessarily rush it.
Getting sick can be very stressful for sole traders. We often feel pressure to keep working even though we know we should stop, rest and recover. However with some basic planning and these few simple steps, you’ll have peace of mind that your clients aren’t beating down your door or, worse still, running straight to your competitors while you’re on the road to recovery.
* Images sourced from Gratisography, Shutterstock and jay mantri.
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About the Author: Angeline Zaghloul is an expert in business strategy, client management and business processes, and is the Principal of Peer Business Consulting, a Sydney-based consultancy providing strategy and operations support to startups and small businesses.
* Portrait by Markus Jaaskelainen.