I’m back at work following almost three months out of the business as unfortunately I had to go into hospital for a major operation.
Luckily, I was able to choose the date of my hospital stay and so had the opportunity to plan ahead and put things in place to ensure our business didn’t suffer. Of course, it meant that my team had to take on more responsibility and some of my workload but not everyone is as lucky to have a great team behind them.
So if you are faced with being forced to take time out of your business for a long period of time, what do you need to do to ensure things keep running – what backup plans do you have in place? Could your business survive without you?
A good test is to ask yourself how long you are happy to go on holiday for without worrying about what is happening back at the office. If you rarely take time off because you don’t feel anyone else is able to handle the day to day running of the business then what would you do if you were forced to be absent for a long period of time?
Find a Manager or Supervisor
Having a manager or supervisor in place that you could hand over to should the worst happen should at least ensure that any work coming in is still managed and dealt with. They can also act as the link between you and the workforce; running the operational side of the business but also making sure staff salaries are paid, the bills get settled and cash flow is maintained! So think about processes that may need to be updated; do you need to give others authorisation to make certain decisions? For example, if a cheque needs to be signed and you are not there, what happens?
One of the great strengths, but also weaknesses, of smaller businesses is the informal way that they operate. It’s a really good idea, however, to set out any processes and procedures that someone taking over would need to know and also set up any new ones that would need to be followed if you were to be away from the business unexpectedly to help with a seamless handover.
Directors of small businesses tend to have very varied and multiple roles within the business. They are often the people who have built the strong, working relationships paramount to the business's success. They can also be the ones developing new business, managing sales and marketing as well as signing the cheques. Make sure you know which member of your team could step in to cover which roles and delegate appropriate tasks to them.
Have your people got the right skills?
In any business, people skills make the difference. Being able to communicate with your customers and suppliers is crucial. Being able to communicate with your employees and motivate them so you get the best out of them is also vitally important. A skilled and motivated team should manage brilliantly in a crisis – or even just when you go on holiday! So do you need to up-skill any members of your team? What training could not only help if you were out of the business but be beneficial to your business right now? For example, could your accounts administrator, who usually only deals with the invoices, be able to speak to a client and deal with a financial issue that would normally be passed to you?
If you have notice of a pending absence, do as much pre planning as you can. For example, I did a lot of work on our social media and marketing preparation with scheduled tweets and Facebook posts as well as newsletters prepared in readiness to send out to candidates and clients. We have an apprentice, Loren, so this was an ideal time for me to cover this area of her NVQ training and give her and another member of the team the responsibility of managing the social media platforms in my absence.
Speak to your clients and suppliers and introduce them to the person who will be their contact while you are away. If you can, get out and visit them, taking your colleague with you – it’s much easier to forge relationships meeting face to face.
There are several networking groups that I work with and this was a good opportunity for others to attend in my absence, gaining valuable experience and meeting new potential clients. If you can, start taking a colleague along to networking meetings occasionally so if you aren’t able to go, they can attend in your place and be familiar with the format and structure.
If you aren’t at the stage where you have a fully skilled team in place, then an interim manager might help short term. It will probably cost more than the missing person’s salary, but by employing an interim manager, you should get someone who’s experienced and can step in straight away. An interim manager, however good, won’t have the relationship with customers and staff, of course, so ensuring you either handover or if that isn’t possible, have your process and procedures and good backup information for them to refer to will ease the process.
Having an interim manager could also be an opportunity to get an independent review of your business. Ask them for their input on things, get them to look the business as a whole and offer their ideas. Many smaller companies aren’t exposed to best practice, so this could be a fantastic opportunity to benefit from an experienced manager.
Use a Support Network
We belong to TEAM, a group of like-minded recruiters that we work with, sharing vacancies and candidates all over the UK. At last year’s NPA/TEAM Conference I met one of the members of NPA, Patti – who was in the same situation as me, although she had very little notice of her three-month stay in hospital, and also ran her Agency on her own. She used the NPA network to contact another member who she had worked with successfully in the past and they took over her clients for those three months; successfully placing candidates and keeping the business going. This ensured the same, continual support Patti had been offering her clients for years and a business to come back to.
Working from Home
Can you work remotely? It’s so much easier now to log into email and databases remotely, so if you can set up a small office space from home. Having a separate space will also help you to be sensible during your recovery! I found having my office space really helped and I did not overdo things as I probably would have if I were just sat in bed or on the sofa with my laptop and IPad on my lap!
It’s important to be sensible and follow doctors’ advice. That’s easy to say but when it’s your own business that can be hard. I was a little guilty of trying to “run before I could walk” and did overdo it a bit at times, which can lead to even more frustration. Be realistic and let your colleagues know when to expect you back and that you may dip in and dip out if you are feeling up to it – but only to keep up to date with things. Don’t get involved only not to be able to follow things through.
Making the Most of Your Recovery Time
I knew the business could function perfectly well without me and having the time off showed me that I had trained people well and they were keen and happy to take on more responsibility. It made me realise that I could relinquish some things and concentrate on other areas of the business that perhaps weren’t having the time needed spent on them. I used some of my recovery time to catch up with reading business books I’d bought and never had the time to read, do some business planning, write down ideas for future projects and think about on-going development for the team and the business as a whole.
I’m back at work now, fighting fit and have come back to a business as strong as ever, thanks to my fantastic team and planning ahead but I think they missed me…….just a bit!
Lynne is Managing Director of Personnel Placements and has been recruiting in Salisbury and the surrounding area for over 15 years. PP as it is affectionately known within the local business community is a generalist Agency that has been supporting local companies with their recruitment and HR for over 30 years. They are also an active member of TEAM – The Employment Agents Movement – which enables them to source candidates from all over the UK.