Business Survival Tips When The Owner Faces a Health Crisis

Guest post by Shari Powell

When my doctor told me I had a fast growing form of lung cancer and needed surgery right away, a host of priorities whirled in my mind - one of which was how to keep our 35-client business going strong during my long-term recovery leave.

Here are "business survival" strategies I implemented, which were very beneficial during my nearly two-month recovery leave:

Key Strategy No. 1 - Customers First!
My top priority was to make a list of all of my customers and their needs, including those I was personally responsible for. Then, I developed a service strategy for each client, and delegated to my employees accordingly.

Key Strategy No. 2 - Develop a Communication Plan
My central communication plan included:
· Personally calling all of my current customers to let them know my status and that I had made arrangements to continue a smooth flow of service. I emailed all customers who could not be reached by phone. 
· Designating a "shining star" employee to be the "crisis" contact point in my absence.
· Having a breakfast meeting to let my employees know what was happening, how long I would be out and whom to contact if they needed help.
· Designating one employee to receive and handle my phone calls, and briefing that employee on processes for handling calls from potential and existing clients, acquaintances, vendors, etc.
· Contacting all of my referral sources to let them know how long I expected to be away, and providing them with a contact person for future business referrals.
· Arranging for a colleague to sit in for me at essential (or required) networking/business meetings.

Business Survival Tips - 2
· Changing my voicemail message, and indicating how long I would be out of the office, and whom to call for assistance.
· Setting up an "auto-responder" for incoming emails … takes minutes to do and helps bring peace of mind.

Key Strategy No. 3 - Know Your Responsibilities
Early on, we structured the company so that each employee had very specific job descriptions and responsibilities - advice garnered from reading The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber. 

Going through this crisis taught me how important it is to have job descriptions in place, and to know exactly what my position is in the company. When it came time for my surgery, it was very easy to decide which of my responsibilities were important, and which could be put on hold during recovery.

Key Strategy No. 4 - Hire Dependable Employees and Let Go of "Undependables"
Because I had dependable employees in place, I was able to rely on them to keep the Atlanta business going; but the story wasn't all so simple. I had to terminate an employee four days before surgery. 

A call from a major client revealed that their account representative had repeatedly failed to complete work on time. I decided that I couldn't take time off with such a major concern on my shoulders, so I made the difficult decision to terminate and reassign the employee's responsibilities. 

Greatest Lessons Learned

Looking back, I see that all of the strategies I implemented for the good of the business ultimately were the most helpful to me. By knowing that good systems were in place, I was able to unplug the phone, let go of company worries, and take time off to heal. The "better case" scenario, of course, would have been to already have a contingency plan in place. 

In terms of changing perspectives, this is the first time in my life that I ever had a serious illness. Now, I see the world in a totally different way. I look at each day, and the challenges that I face during each day, as a gift. 

I've also learned how important it is to manage stress levels - nothing is so important that it's worth jeopardizing one's health.

Finally, I'm reminded about how important it is to "Trust Your Gut." The first doctor that saw the spot on my lung told me it didn't look like anything serious and to come back in six months. My gut told me otherwise, and it was right.