Building a Business After an Illness

When we start our businesses, we like to think that nothing will get in our way of growing it to its full potential. Yet, regardless of how committed you are to your company, life doesn’t always go as planned. From natural disasters to family emergencies, we have to face unexpected obstacles that often seem to show up at the worst times.

One of the most difficult challenges as a business owner is enduring an illness. I’m not talking about a seasonal cold or even the flu; I’m talking about situations in which the hospital becomes a second home and medications are a daily routine. How can a business owner battle through an illness while still maintaining their business on the side? Furthermore, what can they do to pick it back up on the other side of disease?

I have personal experience with this and learned a life’s worth of lessons along the way. In 2014, just as my business was finally going the direction I wanted, I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. That kind of diagnosis turns your world upside down, making all of your worries seem miniscule. Since that day, I have undergone 29 surgeries to get me to where I am today. Chemotherapy put me into the ICU and radiation was an even worse experience. It was a rough patch, for sure.Yet, today, my business is thriving and we are heading back in the right direction. It took baby steps, but when something means a lot to you, you work hard until you achieve it. Here are a few strategies that helped me to grow and flourish my business, even when it felt like rock bottom.

Trust your team

Having a reliable team that you can fall back on is essential in times of need. When I was in the ICU, my husband went to the studio and let my staff know that we would be solely focused on my recovery. Essentially, it was on them to make it work and, if not, we would shut down the company. It wasn’t a fear tactic; it was just real life. My team did their best and, thanks to them, the doors stayed open throughout the whole period.Rely on your accountantHaving a great accountant is important for a business in any stage, but it’s especially crucial in crisis mode. When funds are tight and you are struggling to keep the business running, a reliable accountant will help you to balance the books and make things work as best as possible. That’s not to say they can conjure up money where there is none, but they can certainly help you and your team to make the most fiscally responsible decisions.

Expect loss

Be realistic with your expectations. Even if your team steps up to the helm, your company will likely lose business without you leading the charge. Don’t let that become a stressor; it’s not what is most important. Focus on recovery so that you will have your energy upon returning. When I got back to the office, my first priority was to let my clients know I was back and ready to use my creativity to get my mind off of cancer.

Get involved

Once you’re clear to return to work, do what you can to get involved with your community as much as possible. Don’t let it get in the way of rest (still essential!), but take the time to reconnect with people and tell your story. When I came back from work, I became a spokesperson for a local cancer nonprofit. It may not have been my plan to be on a billboard for cancer, but it was a great way to give back to the community and let them know I was thriving. I was also sure to attend chamber meetings, floral conferences, and other special events. If the community doesn’t see you regularly, they forget about you. Make it known that you are back to work.

When it’s a matter of life or death, you must always choose life — even if it comes at the cost of your business. Lean on your support system and trust that your loved ones have your best interest at heart. You can win the fight and, beyond that, you can keep fighting to grow your business to new lengths. Moral of the story: Never give up!

Oleta Collins is the owner of Flourishing Art Design Studio, a premier florist and design studio in Bakersfield, California, that specializes in luxury weddings and events. She is also a Certified Floral Designer and an accredited member of the American Institute of Floral Designers.

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