I think of myself as a pretty healthy person. I eat well, I’m not overweight. I exercise regularly and drink very little these days. I generally don’t get sick, bar the occasional cold. And if I do, I tend to soldier on regardless, confident my immune system will do its job and fight it off pretty quickly.
Last week though, my chutzpah in my Teflon-coated health took a rather savage beating when I found myself being taken to hospital by ambulance with extreme abdominal pain. It was not fun, I can tell you, and I am still in a significant amount of discomfort now. In case anyone’s wondering, it’s gallstones that I didn’t even know I had. They were utter agony and I’ve never felt pain like it (and I’ve given birth twice!) What complicates matters is I am six months pregnant with my third which means they can’t give me a whole heap of medication or do much about it until after the baby is born in May.
So, quite naturally, the doctors told me to rest as much as possible. Easier said than done when you have a family to look after. Even harder when you throw a growing cake business into the mix.
Don’t let your business suffer too
If you’re a micro business like me with just a few employees or a one-man band, it’s all too easy for your business to suffer if you’re not constantly at the helm. And if you’re not careful, it could even go under for good.
It’s so important to have plans in place for different eventualities that can help you cope in a crisis. After all, particularly with thing like cakes, deadlines for celebrations and weddings can’t be moved no matter how ill you are.
I’m not talking full-scale disaster and recovery planning, for what small-scale business owner has time for that?! But having some idea of how you would make sure those cake orders are fulfilled if you were incapacitated or if your business suffered a fire for flood, for example, is important.
Don’t keep everything in your head, write it down!
When you run your own cake business, it is often far too easy to keep everything in the grey matter or, if you’re anything like me on little scraps of paper, old envelopes, a random receipt or a used parking ticket – you don’t have to be a genius to realise this isn’t a great filing system.
If something happens to you, how will anyone else make head or tail of your business dealings, orders and what happens next? Getting all your processes on paper is important. Yes, it is time-consuming but once you have the bare bones, you can add to it as your business and processes evolve. Plus, it also helps if you plan to grow your business because eventually, you’ll need to explain to other people how things are done and if you already have it down in the form of a company handbook, it makes things a lot easier.
I like to think of it in terms of the McDonald’s model, systemisation, franchising even if you’re not a franchise and have no intention of ever being so. But it’s the idea that you are creating an easily repeatable process that anyone can follow without you needing to hand hold them every step. Think about how your processes are done and how you would explain them to a new member of staff, then get it down on paper.
Make the most of the tech available
I know I’ve waxed lyrical before about how much I love Xero for accounts, but it is a truly great system and one that I personally find easy to understand, especially when I hate accounts. By getting fundamentals like that online you have an accounting system in place which other people (with your permission of course) could log into and see what’s going on with your business if you’re incapacitated, chase invoices and make sure your cashflow doesn’t dry up. Obviously, they haven’t invented the online tech yet to make your cakes for you but it can certainly help take care of the admin.
It’s not just for accounts though that you should consider doing this – I use Breathe HR for my HR admin, Workflow Max or Monday for project management, Dropbox for storage of everything and Todoist to keep track of what I should be doing on a day to day basis. If I am not there, staff can have access to those systems too and see at a glance what needs to be done. There are lots of different platforms out there to perform different functions but those are the ones I prefer.
Get a good team around you
Even if you don’t employ anyone or have just a few members of staff, getting people on board who can help you in your business, pick up the slack and ensure continuity is so important. Make sure they have access to the relevant systems and the ability to complete jobs or orders in your absence. If what you do is highly specialised and there is no one to fill in for you, they can at least contact your clients and explain the situation, smoothing over those troubled waters. People are generally understanding as long as you explain why things are happening – it’s when you leave them in the dark it all goes to shit!
But if you really are on your own…
For long time, I did work alone and a lot of the cakes I do, without wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, require a high level of skill which not many people are capable of creating. Fortunately, I became friends with another cake maker doing similar stuff not far from me, so we were able to pass work each other’s way whenever we were unable to fulfil orders or too booked up. It was a quid pro quo thing based on mutual trust, but it worked, and it meant neither of us was ever left in the lurch. We have also recently launched a range of party cakes which, from a business perspective, are far more easy for the people who work for me to execute.
Try and meet others, maybe through networking, in the same field as you and build a relationship with them that would allow you to hand over work and ensure continuity in a crisis. You might want to formalise this agreement with commission payments and a contract which ensures neither of you poach the other client, whatever works best for you and your cake business.
Critical illness insurance
Hopefully you won’t get sick at all and if you do get sick or injured it will be a short-term thing. But life, no matter how much we try and control it, will throw some of us the proverbial long-term sick curveball. I have had friends succumb to cancer or chronic diseases which have affected their ability to work for the foreseeable future. It creates an added layer of worry for those who thought they were invincible and never planned for such an eventuality, which is the last thing you need when you’re battling a serious illness or injury. Critical illness insurance isn’t cheap, but I think if you run your own business it’s a good investment.
In the event you become really ill, the insurance will pay out a lump sum, so you can focus on your recovery rather than worrying about your business and paying the bills. Some policies will pay out lesser lump sums for less serious conditions so it’s worth checking what’s covered and what’s not. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably still worry about work but at least you can do so in the knowledge you’re not going to be bankrupt as well as sick.
And finally, you really do need to rest
You’re the powerhouse behind your cake business, the driving force that makes the cake fabulous and the business what it is and yes, all these measures will make it easier to manage in a crisis but what really helps is getting you back in the saddle fit and healthy. No, that does not mean dragging yourself to your desk with an antibiotic drip still dangling out of your arm or making conference calls from the operating table.
What it does mean is accepting you aren’t very well and taking the time out to get better or you’ll ultimately just make the situation worse. I suck at this big time and have been trying to work through my current situation, but my body is telling me to take a break – even a walk around the shops yesterday wiped me out. It’s a work in progress going at a slower pace, and hopefully only a temporary one, but I am getting there and if you should ever find yourself in a similar position, you should take note and rest up too.
At the end of the day, nothing is more important than your health – not your business, not your clients, not answering calls or making money. No one ever got an epitaph saying what a great business man or woman they were because they were at their desk every day at 7am come rain or shine. So, take care of your health. Chances are nothing bad will happen to you, but if it does, and you’ve put some of the measures above in place you’ll hopefully be able to ride out the rough period a lot easier.