As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, there are certain characteristics that are more common in people who are self-employed (or run small businesses) than they are in employed individuals – and vice versa. It’s not a bad thing at all, as if we were all the same then life would be incredibly boring.

One of the characteristics that is pretty much essential for any small business owner is the ability to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Obviously, there are a huge number of employed people who have this characteristic – brain surgeons, astronauts, paramedics, firefighters, etc. (to name but a few) – but as a self-employed person without this mentality, the likelihood is that you’re going to find it more challenging to run your business for a long period of time without burning out or experiencing huge levels of stress.

Things go wrong in business. All. The. Time. In a large business, these incidents can be shared by the wider community – computer issue? Speak to IT. Invoices not being paid? That’s an issue for the finance team. Having to self-isolate for 14 days as a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19? There’s probably a colleague or two that can step in to cover your work and the buffer of sick pay to help ease the financial burden of absence from work.

When you run your own business, it’s not quite so simple. You are the IT department, and if something is so catastrophically wrong with your computer or essential software that a google search and the good old fashioned ‘turn it off and turn it on again’ can’t help, you need to pay out to get it fixed (and ensure that there’s a little pot of money somewhere entitled ‘ARGH HELP ME!’). If invoices aren’t being paid, you become the debt chaser or, yet again, have to pay out to find someone to support you with this task. And don’t get me started on self-isolation… I’m not sure that it’s any different to my usual working routine, and without the benefit of sick pay or income protection (though if you can set this up, it is highly recommended), the likelihood is that most freelancers and small business owners will be working through illness, at least up to a point.

When it comes to a crisis within a small business, there are only two options – a.) freak out and nothing will get resolved, potentially signalling the end of your business and b.) have a momentary freak out (we’re human after all, not sinister virtual assistant robots) and then make a cup of tea, take a deep breath and sort it out. It’s not always simple or pretty, but most things can be fixed, and there’s always someone out there who can help.

If illness is a worry for you, don’t panic. Bulk buying toilet roll and washing your eyeballs with hand sanitiser isn’t going to help. Why not speak to someone about the possibility of outsourcing work on a temporary or ad-hoc basis, or pre-purchasing a support package from them so that you have a fall-back plan? Even if you are a small business owner and are worried about the financial impact that time off work will have on you and your business, try to think about things longer term – giving yourself time to rest and recuperate properly if you do come down with a bug simply means you’ll be back at your desk and full of beans before you know it, rather than working through the illness and feeling terrible for a much longer period of time. Mistakes are more common when you’re feeling tired, ill and run-down, so save yourself from having to do work twice and give your body the time it needs to recover, if required.

The possibility of some of your work ‘drying up’ during periods of economic and social uncertainty can be a major worry for a small business owner, but it’s important to be pragmatic.  During the current health related crisis, there will be businesses – both large and small – who have to cut back on the work they are doing (particularly if it involves a lot of travel or in-person events, etc.), and on work that they outsource to other businesses. Worrying about the situation won’t change things, so why not start to think about your own business cashflow and offerings? Are there any tools that you pay monthly subscriptions for that you could do without to help reduce business expenditure? Are there any other services that you could offer temporarily (or long term) that aren’t necessarily top of your list of ‘favourite tasks’, but that you are skilled and experienced enough at to provide a high-quality service to people who need it? It’s likely that the coming months are going to be a little tempestuous, but we need to be as prepared as possible to weather that storm, and worrying about it isn’t going to help you stay objective and focused – two characteristics you’re going to need when everyone around you seems to be losing their heads!

To be honest, whatever your job is, the motto ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is a pretty good one. Life is stressful enough without worrying unduly about things that are beyond your capability or your control. Reach out to a colleague or contact and ask for help (and be willing to pay for it if necessary!), and don’t forget to put the kettle on.

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