Sorry, Miss. I was sick. Can your business survive sudden illness?

Sneezing Woman with Umbrella
Do you feel like you have to work through illness?

This week’s blog post almost didn’t happen.

I’ve been sick. Not hospital sick but definitely ‘call my mum’ sick. I shrug off most illnesses going around but last week a very nasty head cold wiped. me. out.

Now as a business owner I have a disaster recovery plan… somewhere. A plan that outlines how I mitigate the risk of my office being destroyed. Things like regular backups, cloud storage, blah blah blah.

I also have a plan for when I’m going to be unavailable for a designated period of time.

Case in point: Last year I went offline for a few weeks on maternity leave and I enacted a partial shutdown during that time. It was well planned and, if I do say so, very well executed thanks to the help of my awesome VA, Kirsty.

But this time I had no notice.

I went from feeling great on Monday to a bit tired on Tuesday to being unable to get out of bed on Wednesday. I had a full week of work planned. I was part-way through booking in some new clients and in mid-conversation with some prospective clients.

But with a fever and my sinuses trying to fold themselves out of my skull (at least that’s how it felt), I needed rest. And there was the small matter of a baby to look after.

Writing was out of the question.

My planning and check lists were all put to the test as my body took over and took me offline for five days. Not long enough to get the sirens going but long enough to delay projects.

Long enough for the radio silence to seem rude to new clients.

No one gets bravery award for turning up sick.

We’ve all known that person.

The one who drags themselves into the office with their own pity party going on. I’m soooo illlll but I didn’t want to let the team down cough cough sniffle. Yeah, well you’ve not only spread your germs around, you’re being unproductive and will take twice as long to recover.

Sure, my office only has me and my pug dog, Fenris, but the last two points apply. When you need to rest, you need to rest.

No one gives out business awards for ‘The most days worked when ill’.

True story.

As a business owner, the best thing you can do for your clients is take the time you need to get better then get on with being awesome with all pistons pumping.

So I reached out.

I hate having to chase people up asking, Did you get my email? Just a quick acknowledgement or update makes all the difference to me and I pay that forward to my clients.

I knew I couldn’t do much but I could shoot out a few quick emails letting people know what was happening.

1. I identified the projects that I was working on and wrote a (very) short email, letting my clients know there were going to be some small delays but that I’d be in touch once I was back on board.

2. I briefly responded to people I’d started talking to, letting them know that I received their email but I was ill and wouldn’t respond until the following week.

And what happened?

I gotta lotta love back, that’s what.

Clients who are busy running their own businesses appreciated the update and said so. Some wished me a speedy recovery. Some let me know their copy wasn’t a huge priority so I wasn’t to worry.

With each response, I was able to sleep easier and actually recuperate.

And here I am writing this week’s blog post.

Heavily medicated but I’m doing it.

I’m all caught up for the week ahead and while I may not be 100% I know that my clients are still happy with me on their team. I took five days off and the world didn’t stop turning nor did my business collapse.

I’m a copywriter but I’m also in the business of relationships.

The relationships I build with my clients from the very first email exchange are the reason I get to tell them, Sorry, Miss. I was sick. And have them be ok with that.

So. Here’s your homework (not really).

What’s your plan if you need to go offline unexpectedly?
Are you fostering the kind of client relationships that make it ok?

Let me know.

The Copy Detective


  1. says

    Last year I had emergency surgery. I was admitted to hospital on a Sunday and the result was it was impossible to even send an email to my clients to let them know what was going on. Luckily my fab husband let everyone know what had happened and kept in regular contact with my clients. I too was amazed how supportive and understanding they all were. I only lost one client during the whole six week recovery period, which I reckon speaks for itself. :)

    • says

      You popped into my mind as I wrote this one Bridie as I remember that. Some clients will need to go somewhere else and you can’t take it personally but it’s so nice when you’re investment in the good customer relationships is shown back to you in kind.

      And good on your husband for stepping into the breach for you!

      Here’s a question: Have you formalised a process in case it ever happens again? Not you going in hospital with any luck but suddenly being unavailable…..

  2. Cara says

    Ive been trying to get a small gardening business up and running .in between Unitec courses and find that its a work in progress.And even with the very little amount that Im bringing in I constantly worry about that factor.

    • says

      Hey Cara – thanks for stopping in. It’s a very valid concern and it’s definitely worth taking the time to think through because when you have a process documented, you don’t have to THINK – you just have to DO.

      Some things you might like to do is imagine a few scenarios:
      – you’ll be unavailable for a short period of time
      – you’ll be unavailable for a longer period of time
      – you have some notice (like a planned holiday for example)
      – you have no notice (like an illness)

      Then ask yourself:
      – who needs to know (customers? team members?)
      – what will their concerns be (deadlines missed?)
      – how can you mitigate those (get help? or just delay?)
      – how can you communicate with them (email? phone?
      – how can you prepare (scripts? email templates?) so others could do it for you

      I have a checklist, email templates and my logins all documented so if need be someone else can step in go through the list of people to contact and do that without it being unprofessional or way off brand.

      I hope that helps. All the best with your business!

  3. Emily Read says

    Great post, Belinda. It’s always nice to read something that’s 100% original rather than regurgitated information :-) And glad to hear that you’ve (mostly) recovered!
    Obviously I’ve given some thought to the whole “what do I do if I’m too sick” scenario in the past, but your pointers and suggestions are great, and fill in a lot of what I hadn’t thought of. Thank you!

  4. Ruth Dettman says

    Good to hear you are on the mend and that you did take the time to be kind to yourself. Such a timely reminder, thanks Belinda. I am going to build in your checklist into my planning. Also my elderly parents live back in Canada and there is a real possibility that I might need to jump on a plane from Perth at short notice. For me also comes down to how mobile I am (laptop vs desktop), access to networks overseas, etc.

    • says

      Thanks Ruth! I can guarantee it will be a weight off your mind if you think it through and write it down. I’ve found that the first time you run through a new process, you find gaps. But you plug them and the next time, it’s pretty smooth.

      Hopefully you never have to run through this kind of process too often – and even rarer when we’re talking about family members – but it happens and being prepared is all you can do to free your brain and heart up to focus on what’s important.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  5. says

    Hey Belinda
    Good to see you are now back to work and doing great. This is part of our every day life we gets charged and then gets unwell to be out of hast because we never plan to take a break that is why our body and mind get tired and then relieve of a few days is obvious.
    Anyways thanks for sharing your whole account of indisposition in so lighter way while fully describing the relevant things as well. This is the mark of a good writer.
    Thanks a lot and take care.

  6. Harry says

    Belinda – Excellent topic of discussion. Every entrepreneur and small business owners needs to be prepared to meet emergency such as this. Planing ahead helps, so is having some of the key employees behind you ready to take over on a moment’s notice.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping in Harry. You’re only a single point of failure if you let yourself be!

      There’s always the tricky time between I-feel-like-poo and I’m-actually-very-sick. That’s when we should be resting but we don’t. No gold medals awarded though!

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