How to Deal With a Long-Term Absence

An unexpected injury or illness can unravel your business. Here's how to plan ahead.
Chief Ideation Officer, CODA Concepts, LLC
June 21, 2012

Life is unpredictable. It's full of twists and turns that sometimes keep you guessing as to what's around the next bend. Compounding life's natural tendency to throw you curve balls is the responsibility of owning a small business. How we react to these hardships is what builds character and teaches some of the most important lessons in life.

Chris Ashton, CEO and co-founder of PetPlan Pet Insurance, was seeing rapid growth of his fledgling business. He had been personally involved in the day-to-day process. But as the business was nearing its one year anniversary, Ashton was seriously injured in a fall that left him bedridden for nearly five months.

He learned quickly that he needed to adapt his management style and delegate his duties while he recuperated. What Ashton soon came to realize was that this accident handed him an opportunity. His managers were capable of making sound business decisions and he was now able to focus on the bigger picture: the company's future (and his health). He started to view his ordeal as a blessing in disguise and learned a lesson that many small business owners find hard to accept: You can't do everything.

According to Monique MacKinnon, business consultant and founder of Energetic Evolution, Ashton did exactly as he should have in order to ensure his business remain on target. She says that finding the opportunity in the obstacle means finding the answer to three questions:

1. How can this absence help me streamline processes? Is there is a way you can create more inner and outer balance? This helps you find the way to work smarter, not harder. Working in a more streamlined way allows you to better align your dreams and desires with your current situation.

How will this opportunity help me to let go of what's not serving me or others? Take this time to examine your relationships with those around you, both in the office and out, and find a balance that allows you to be happy and an effective leader. Remove unnecessary roadblocks that are stifling growth.

What will this opportunity give me and my loved ones more of? Rather than spending the recovery time dwelling on the negative, take this downtime from work to realize what your life has to offer. This is an excellent time to find an appreciation for the people in your life and the "abundance that continually surrounds us," MacKinnon says.

Can You Prepare for the Unexpected?

Although Ashton was able to come back to a thriving business, he knew he should have been better prepared. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are a few critical steps that can help small business owners be prepared for unexpected absences.

Identify critical functions. Critical functions include any systems that are in place that are essential for the day-to-day operating systems of the business. If you, as the owner, are the only person who understands how they work, you are setting yourself up for failure. Be sure that you have a contingency plan for these systems. Introduce them to a trusted manager, giving him or her an overview of how they work, what they do and why they are so important.

Encourage team work. Try to keep as many members of your team involved in the daily operations of your business. Be sure that all critical members of your team are kept abreast of project statuses. And if there is a "need-to-know" situation, be sure at least one other person is kept in the loop.

Establish emergency funds. Whether it's used for payroll or to pay the rent, allocating some funds will decrease the burdens placed upon the company if you are unable to return to work for extended periods of time.

Ashton was lucky. With an understanding that a strong company doesn't have one single chain of command, he has watched PetPlan's revenue increase by more than 2,200 percent and its workforce triple since 2008.

Have you ever suffered an unexpected absence? Were you prepared?

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via

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