Achoo! Sniffle, cough, wheeze. Those sickly sounds sum up my most embarrassing entrepreneurial experience yet. A new client had given me an assignment needing a quick turnaround: Spend an afternoon at her day spa, experience the different treatments, and create the text for a brochure and press release. The day before the assignment, I was attacked by a vicious flu bug.
Determined to meet the deadline, I dragged myself from bed at the scheduled time. A few dozen sneezes and a cup of herbal tea later, I managed to interview the women at the spa, I turned in my assignment on time-and I never heard from them again.
Consider it Murphy's Law for homebased entrepreneurs: The more pressing the deadline, the more important the project, the sicker you will be. All you can do is create a plan to deal with those inevitable illnesses. That's something Kristen Timmers, founder and president of Los Gatos, California, marketing and event planning firm Timmers & Co. Inc., learned long ago. "[I've] had many [instances] when deadlines were approaching and I was miserably ill," she says.
Timmers handles these situations in various ways: "If it's a self-imposed deadline, I immediately let the client know I would like to extend the deadline by a day or two to do additional research and work." If the client has given her the deadline, however, she has worked through 102-degree fevers. Says Timmers, "One thing you learn quickly as a consultant: If you don't deliver, the jobs stop coming."
Still, working through those colds and fevers can be incredibly draining. One key to surviving illnesses without damaging your business or yourself is to build a support group of colleagues who can come to the rescue, as Timmers has done. Although it costs more to hire others than to do the job yourself, "it's worth it," she says. "If I can enlist the help of a fellow consultant and pay them a fee but save face with the client, the outcome and repeat business far outweigh the strain of hiring someone to help me wrap up a project."
But What About The (Sick) Kids?
If you have children and they become ill, that can be just as challenging as getting sick yourself. Jody Lomenzo Bolstad, founder and owner of Richmond, Virginia, public relations firm The Weland Group, can attest. Ten years ago, when Lomenzo Bolstad gave birth to her daughter, Joanna, a month early, the challenges became overwhelming. "I had a difficult labor and delivery," she recalls. "As a result of a long induced labor, Joanna had a cerebral hemorrhage. We went through several hellish days-MRIs, spinal taps and other tests. She had a 10-day hospital stay, during which I stayed at the hospital." For the next six months, Joanna remained on a breathing monitor and required regular check-ups.
With several projects outstanding during that time, Lomenzo Bolstad called on a freelancer to help keep the ball rolling while she tended to her baby. And although Lomenzo Bolstad-who also had hand surgery last year as a result of carpal tunnel syndrome-and Joanna have since recovered, the entrepreneur remains true to the lessons she learned during those earlier experiences. "I've learned that you really want clients you can work for," she says. "Translation: human beings. My clients get sick. Their kids get sick. They understand when I say 'I'm sick.' "
Sick or not, you don't have to say yes to every client. Read Who's In Charge Here?-after all, you're the boss.
Most clients will understand that, provided you're upfront with them, notes success coach and trainer Annaliese Furnas of Balanced Life Design in San Francisco. "I operate on the theory that honesty is the best policy," she says. "If I'm feeling miserable but am able to work, I simply explain to the client that I'm feeling under the weather and ask their patience and understanding with my sneezing, sniffling and low energy."
And while Furnas also recommends building a network of colleagues who can help you complete your projects if needed, she also advises caution: "[It's] crucial to have connections with colleagues you can trust not to steal your business."
If nothing else, an illness can help you weed out undesirable clients. If a client gets angry because you need to tend to your sick child or make arrangements for a colleague to take over a project, he or she probably isn't worth your time. "We're all human," says Furnas, "and if a client can't understand something that basic, then it's not a client I want to do business with."