So, I will start at the beginning...which in this sorry tale is the first day of the school summer holidays. My day had started very positively, I had cycled to our local pool to meet a friend for our early morning swim. The sun was shining, I had a lovely working day ahead, life was good. Within 20 minutes I left the changing rooms in a wheelchair, destined for our local A&E department. Very acute and sudden abdominal pain had stopped me in my tracks and left me unable to walk. The day ended with an emergency major operation that saved my life. I had an unexplained rupture in my bowel and peritonitus (an infection in the abdomen from what was leaking from my bowel, that can be fatal).
The purpose of writing this is not to garner sympathy, but I suppose partly explain why my little business has been so quiet and also to share a little of what I have learned about being self-employed and having everything turned upside down so suddenly.
I sincerely hope that none of you busy self-employed bees out there go through anything remotely similar, and my points below may not be relevant to your working life. But just maybe a little thinking now about how you do things and who could help out if you did need support, might get you through a really tough time in the future.
Have a buddy who knows what's what: My husband is a teacher so the timing of 'Shit Friday' was ridiculously flukey, it meant he was there to pick up the business and minimise the impact of the situation. I was also very lucky is in the form of my lovely friend Shirley who runs Handprinted. Shirley also sells online, using similar platforms and dealing with the same daily tasks of wrapping, packing and sending. So she stepped in (though technically it was more barging, she was going to help whether we wanted her to or not) and taught Pete over a few days what he needed to do. Pete would come in at visiting times to go over stuff with me, whilst making me feel like everything was in hand and managing to not stress me out. Shirley also uses the same packaging suppliers so ordered boxes etc, and was a vital safety net for Pete when my mind was mush as I was trying to get over the shock of what had happened. Needless to say if Shirley needs similar help in the future, I'm there!
Make it easy for them: Without realising it I had managed to make Pete and Shirley's task a little easier. I use Google Chrome as a browser and had saved all the key websites I use in the bookmark bar with the logins automatically in place. So they were able to navigate through them all without having to find passwords each time. I had also saved the various documents and files I use regularly in easy to find places on my computer and saved them time ferreting around for the right postage label etc. I never knew I was so organised!
Customers will understand: My first instinct on the day after the operation was to pull the shutters down and turn the site off whilst I recovered as I didn't want to take orders I would struggle to fulfil and let customers down. Shirley persuaded me not to and, as is usually the case, she was right. When orders came in Pete phoned or emailed to explain the situation and every customer was happy to be patient and wait until we could get their order out. I do have the loveliest customers it has to be said!
What goes around comes around: To most of my suppliers I am a tiddly customer, but I always pay promptly and am understanding if they haven't been able to meet a deadline. The result of this is that my suppliers did all they could to help Pete out and make his life as easy as possible.
Stay healthy: Sounds ridiculous right to be telling you to stay healthy when I ended up in hospital? But I was in better shape than I had been for a long time, don't get me wrong - I wasn't super fit, but I do yoga, cycle and swim every week. This meant my recovery was much faster than if I had been a couple of stone heavier with dodgy knees. My body did an amazing job of healing and I was back swimming and cycling within a month and back in the studio a couple of hours a day, the day after I left hospital. When you are self-employed there is sadly no nice boss to say take two months off, you are reliant on your own resources to get through it and being relatively healthy gives you the best chance.
Squirrel your nuts: Due to the unpredictable nature of income in my line of work, I keep a financial buffer so I can pay myself and my studio rent for 4 months. Knowing I had this safety net meant that I was able to relax a little and concentrate on getting better.
If you know the shit is going to hit the fan....get planning: Sadly I am not completely done with hospital and have to go back in a few weeks time for another operation which will put me out of action for another few weeks. This time my lovely husband will be at work, so Shirley is lined up to save the day again and I am planning on stocking up on the key products I sell most of and putting a note on the site to let customers know that things will take a little longer to despatch. Hopefully this will get my little business through the worst of it and by the New Year it will be business as usual. With help and support there is always a way round problems that may seem overwhelming - talking things through with friends and family can really help you work out the priorities in your situation and how to survive it.
On a more personal level, this whole experience has made me so thankful for the NHS, the kindness of strangers (that’s you Andrea, not a stranger any more!), and has reminded me how incredibly lucky I am to have the friends and family that I do...to all of you who have helped me get through these last few months I am so very grateful. Thank you! Jx