Asking if you can put your business on hold due to health reasons is a little like asking if you can sue someone for some egregious crime. A lawyer will probably tell you that you can sue, but you might not win. Similarly, you can put your business on hold if you become ill, but you better be prepared for what happens next.
Certainly, taking care of yourself during an illness is paramount, but you need to plan ahead. Planning for illness when you’re well may seem unnecessary and even counterintuitive. But like succession planning, which should occur long before you’re ready to hand over your business, preparing for the possibility of illness should be a priority, too.
Here are a few points to remember as you start to plan:
- Study your insurance policy. Many policies deal with setbacks including an owner’s illness. Make sure you understand any disability insurance you’ve purchased. If you don’t feel that you are sufficiently covered, consider your options. Just don’t wait until you get sick! Be prepared, too, to ask your insurance agent specific questions. For instance, ask about “recovery benefits” and other options like long-term insurance.
- Define “on hold.” How long are you thinking of putting your business on hold and what exactly do you mean? Will you continue to work on current projects and simply turn away new business? Will you redirect new customers to peers in your industry? Asking yourself questions like this will help you figure out what you need before you actually announce your plans.
- Determine your customers’ patience threshold. Think about how you feel when a business puts you on hold after you’ve called to make an inquiry (or, more bluntly, to complain). The longer you wait, the more impatient and unforgiving you become. Add some of that horrendous Muzak — or worse, the promise that your business is very important — and your capacity to wait decreases by the second. So consider how long you think your customers are willing to wait. Think, too, about who might fill in for you while you take time off to convalesce. Remember, business owners take vacation, get sick, and need to attend to personal crises that often occur with little or no notice. Setting up contingencies is key.
- What about your employees? Even if you’re under “doctor’s orders” to take a break from your business, you’ll still need to explain the situation to your employees. They’ll want to know, for instance, if you plan on reopening and whether or not they’ll have jobs at that time. Also, you’ll need to be prepared to lose people. Most workers live paycheck to paycheck and can’t wait around for their employer to get well and get back on the job. So, yes, you can put your business on hold, but you may not be able to keep your employees from finding new and permanent jobs.
- Don’t forget about your vendors. Before you temporarily close your doors, think about your suppliers and the relationships you’ve fostered. Again, you can put your business on hold, but will your vendors understand? Also, if you do take some extended sick leave, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve paid your bills. This will have an impact when and if you resume your business.
- Consider your worst-case scenario. It sounds fairly negative, but one of the best ways to successfully put your business on hold is to imagine the problems that may arise. Knowing which customers, for instance, need more hand-holding than others during your absence will help you plan for both your absence and your return. Also, knowing how you will handle inquiries for future business will help you create a mechanism for losing as little business as possible during your time off.