How to ensure your business thrives even when you’re absent

The work patterns we create when we’re all fired up and working at full capacity can suddenly become overwhelmingly hard to sustain when life gets in the way. There are, of course, the circumstances we can plan for, like holidays and house moves. But the ones that knock us sideways, like illness, bereavement, family emergencies and relationship troubles, can instantly turn running a business into something of a nightmare – because we just don’t have the time or mental space.

I know this because it’s just happened to me. Having just been through illness with Covid, I then had to deal with a bereavement that was totally unexpected and utterly devastating. For a couple of weeks I could barely function. At such times, work seems irrelevant and it can be hard to see straight. But if you have customers and a business you’ve worked hard to build, you can’t just drop everything.

Not only do you have to deal with whatever you’re going through, you also have urgent tasks and deadlines looming over your head and you still have to manage and meet the expectations of your clients.

What measures do you need to put in place for your business so you can bounce back quickly and keep trading throughout? Knowing you can take time out when life chucks you a curve ball will give peace of mind. Are there resources missing that could help things go more smoothly? How do you keep things going? Or is it best to just shut up shop for a while?

Move your deadlines
Instead of trying to soldier on when your mind is elsewhere, it’s far better to renegotiate deadlines and reschedule meetings and calls. Be honest with clients about your reasons for rescheduling and give them plenty of notice. Communication and professionalism are vital.

Have a back-up team
Some work projects can’t be parked. If you haven’t already, build a professional support system of people you can outsource and delegate to in times of need. It could be an employee, a friend or family member, a contractor, even a competitor. Creating guidance notes or videos is a good idea if you have complex systems and processes, making handover easier for you and them.

Work out what’s urgent
In Audrey workshops we do an exercise to help work out what tasks have to be done immediately, what can be parked until later, what can be delegated and what to ditch. Helpful at any time you feel overwhelmed, when extended time out is needed, this will help you get a sense of proportion and feel less panicked.

Get covered
How will you keep paying the bills? If you were an employee and had to take a break for illness or bereavement, you’d still, of course, get paid. But if you’re self-employed, you need a contingency fund to fall back on. It’s also worth taking out Illness & Injury cover like this, which is especially helpful for longer-term conditions.

Most of all, don’t bury your head in the sand. We will all, at some point, need to step away from what we do for a living at short notice. Don’t leave it until it happens to find out how you would cope – put some steps in now to help smooth your path.

Words: Marina Gask

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.