There is no shortage of information and advice for small and micro business owners when it comes to dealing with the ins and outs of running your business. Articles and posts on the subject of money management, marketing, dealing with uncertainty and growth are abundant, if not consistent. However, there is little material out there that talks about how to deal with personal situations that effect your business. Sadly, that leaves many of us unprepared when we’re faced with one or more of those situations as a small business owner.
On November 21st I experienced this first-hand when my mother passed away unexpectedly in our home. Although I had dealt with personal loss as a business owner three years ago when my Dad passed, this time was different in a lot of ways. I had moved back to Maine in part to be here for my Mom. I had a plan in place for making time to accompany her to doctor’s appointments and helping her to regain some mobility she had lost in recent years. Owning my own business gave me the flexibility to do those things, allowing me to work an extra hour in the evening to make up for the time spent with her. I had no such plan for dealing with my own personal loss and grief.
When my Dad passed, my Mom shouldered much of the decision making and other details in the days that followed. I was living hundreds of miles away, took a handful of days off to travel back but was able to compartmentalize my grief, especially once I got back to my own home office in North Carolina. This time the decision making and details were mine to shoulder, and the loss of my last remaining parent refused to be compartmentalized. I tried to handle business the same way I had 3 years earlier, contacting my clients to let them know and revising my work schedule to take off only those days which I felt I must.
My wonderful clients all responded the same way, stressing that I needed to walk away from the business and deal with my loss. They were right. So I took their sage advice and pretty much unplugged from my business. It was terrifying. It was unsettling. It was needed.
As I returned to my normal business schedule today it felt like it had been months, not merely a little over a week, since I’d tackled work related tasks. It felt good to be back and to have something familiar to focus on. It also made me realize that as small business owners no one ever prepares us for dealing with this type of situation. With it still fresh in my mind and heart, I decided perhaps it was time someone did.
When facing a personal crisis as a business owner keep the following in mind:
- Communication is critical. Clients are just people, and believe it or not they understand that you are too. They will be understanding of your need to take time to deal with your crisis, but only if you communicate with them. The day of my mother’s passing, I wasn’t in any shape to draft an email to my clients, but when my daughter asked what I might need her to do I was able to give her a list of clients with ongoing projects so that she could email them on my behalf. A couple of days later I sent an email to all of my clients explaining the situation and outlining when I would and would not be working. The fear of clients being angered because you have to deal with a crisis is irrational, but don’t expect them to understand if you don’t find a way to communicate with them about the situation.
- Don’t under-estimate the effect the crisis will have on your ability to work. Not only may the crisis require your time to deal with details, chances are your ability to focus will be impaired to certain extent as well. Keep both in mind when trying to determine what your work schedule will be during the crisis or crisis aftermath.
- Treat yourself like you would an employee. When you were an employee the loss of a loved one or dealing with an illness came with time off from work. As a business owner recognize the fact that you deserve the same concession yourself. Take the time without feeling guilty.
- Shut off the business computer, business email, social media accounts, etc. This may be the hardest thing to actually do. It’s tempting to check that business email on your iPhone or check your business Twitter feed during some down time. Don’t do it. It will only make things worse. You took the time off to deal with your crisis, which means you have plenty on your mind already. You don’t need to add worrying about work related stuff to it. Take a real break. Whether you realize it or not, you need it.
- Ask for help if you need it. The outpouring of support I received from friends, family and clients was incredible. Many of them offered to help in any way they could. If there are business related things that really can’t wait until you can return to work, ask someone to help. It will help take additional stress off your shoulders and they’ll be glad for the chance to help in some way.
Remember, even when you do feel ready to go back to your regular work schedule, you will probably still be dealing with the aftermath of your personal loss or crisis. Be good to yourself and understand that you might need a little extra time to do things or that you might need a few extra breaks throughout the day. No one else expects you to bounce back as if nothing happened, so don’t expect it of yourself.