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Sickness, injury and other life events that require extended time off work can happen at any time. When you own a business and that business depends on you, taking unexpected leave can threaten your operations and financial situation.
Developing a plan of action for unplanned leave is a proactive way to protect you and your business. It can be a real safety net knowing you have contingencies in place if you ever need to take time away from the business for you, or a family member’s physical and mental health.
Tips for developing a contingency plan for unexpected leave
Financial insurances: It’s important to establish a financial safety net to use in case you can’t work. You can put aside revenue during productive times for this purpose or consider income protection insurance. If you don’t already have this insurance through your super fund, talk to a financial advisor or business advisor to ensure you have adequate coverage for your needs.
Identify who can step in: Talk to family members, business partners, employees, and friends with an interest in the business to establish who’d be willing to take over or lend a hand in your absence.
Prioritise business activities: Decide what parts of your business can safely remain unattended, and what functions need to be attended to immediately, and in the short-term while you are away. These essential duties will be of critical importance to the business. You can attend to non-essential activities when you return, as part of a longer-term recovery plan.
Provide training: Find out what knowledge gaps need filling and what training is required for others to carry out all of the essential business tasks. Make sure you provide this training in advance so everyone’s prepared.
Develop a manual for running your business: Documenting all the essential functions can make training the people who’ll be stepping in much easier and more efficient. Break each essential task down step-by-step and collate this information into a manual or folder. For example, how to answer the phone, invoicing processes, security details such as computer and phone passwords and who can authorise payments on your behalf.
Document frequently asked questions: Create templates for your standard forms and emails, and start building a ‘FAQ’ database, with your responses to common customer and supplier queries.
Investigate outsourcing options: Are there any business functions that could be outsourced in your absence? For example, could you utilise virtual office services for answering calls and emails, mail forwarding or other administrative duties?
Establish co-op opportunities with ‘competitors’ or sub-contractors: Establish relationships with others in your field who can take work referrals in an emergency or on a short-term basis. Such arrangements are about ensuring your customers get continuity of service in your absence. You’ll be in a stronger position if you establish these relationships early, as opposed to trying to negotiate in an emergency situation.
Remote access to the office: Make the most of technology to keep your business running by setting up remote access to your files, so you can access key information no matter where you are. Online data storage options (cloud systems) are now readily available and affordable.
Government assistance: Be aware of what other assistance may be available to assist you and your business in the event of hardship. For example, explore what Centrelink benefits might be available and how the ATO can help alleviate some pressure around meeting tax and super commitments.
Get feedback from a professional: Consider talking through your plan with your accountant, lawyer, financial advisor, business advisor or mentors. They might have some useful feedback and advice to support the planning process.
Share your plan with your partner and/or other family members: Ensure your plan is shared with those around you, in case they are the ones who will be left to organise things and set your plan in place if you are unwell or incapacitated.
Review the plan every 12 months: Test and review your plan every year to make sure it is up to date with your contacts and business practices.
This story is sponsored by Ahead for Business. 2020 was one of the most stressful years on record for business owners, their managers, employees and families. If you or someone close to you is experiencing challenging emotions, please visit aheadforbusiness.org.au The site contains practical strategies and tools to assist people to regulate their feelings, and also provides access to a range of mental health resources.
Ahead for Business is an initiative of Everymind and funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
If you are in need of support for your mental health, services are available 24/7:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467