Hospital room with a view - Peri Pakroo, Author and Coach
Photo by Peri.

We’re okay. My kid is okay. But she’s in the hospital. And I am here with her, lucky to have landed in a room with an amazing view.

We have been here since last Tuesday, and the nine days prior to that were consumed with what seemed at first like a tummy bug, but with unrelenting pain and other symptoms that did not seem normal, leading me to call our doctors, take her to the ER, then take her to the ER two more times on two more days at which point her labs started showing potentially serious complications leading to her being admitted to the hospital. In the days since, her condition has improved a lot and we are all breathing easier. We’re hoping to be discharged in a couple days.

As it happened, her symptoms started on the first night of our planned vacation to the Grand Canyon areas of Arizona and Utah, our first trip since COVID hit in early 2020. Pre-pandemic we would typically take a road trip or two each summer and often wing it in terms of our route and places to stay, but with COVID I did more planning and booked a cabin, a glamping tent and hotel with a pool for a week’s getaway.

I also did more planning for this trip because for the first time, I would have two employees working while I took time off. Before early 2020 I hired contractors pretty regularly but didn’t have any employees; bringing on Lisa in May 2020 and Ana in May 2021 was a big deal for my little biz! And it felt like a milestone to be able to take a vacation and not have all of my client and other work just stop without me. So I made lists and managed our projects such that Lisa and Ana could mind the shop while I was out for a week.

Well, that week has now turned into two, and it’s looking like next week will be pretty much focused on my daughter’s continuing recovery, and Lisa and Ana have more than risen to the challenge. Huge thanks to both of them. Thanks also to our clients who have been super understanding and supportive; I appreciate it deeply. And I don’t have adequate words to thank the care team here at UNM Hospital, as well as her regular team of docs and care managers here and at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Y’all have my undying gratitude.

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Dealing with a sudden emergency or crisis when you’re self-employed feels like doing a high-wire act without ever having practiced, or even setting foot on a high wire before. If you’re a freelancer or solo operator, your income often comes to a standstill. Dealing with the crisis can be simpler if you don’t have any contractors or employees, but you may simply be unable to continue with your projects.

Having staff to continue operations can be helpful, but only if you are fairly well systematized and everyone knows what to do. Tiny operations (like mine) are often in a very tough spot, with contractors or employees unsure of what to work on or what to prioritize. There may be tasks that only you “the leader” can do, that create logjams when you can’t do them. Lots of small ventures are not systematized to a point that things can run when a key person — especially the principal or lead — is out of commission. What can and often does happen is a terrible compounding of stress, from whatever caused the crisis in the first place plus the upheaval and uncertainty with your staff, clients and customers.

From personal experience I can attest to the power of simple systems like job descriptions and process guidelines to keep small teams afloat when things go sideways. Habits such as keeping track of projects on Slack channels or other project management platforms can be lifelines. Having strategic plans in place and discussing them periodically is another powerful tool to keep your operation on track towards longer-range goals.

The reality of course is that any small operation will suffer if its leader is suddenly unable to perform in their normal role. But it is possible to build a “systems safety net” for your business or nonprofit to mitigate the damage. And the best part is that building these systems makes your operation that much stronger during times when the sun is shining and the horizon looks clear.

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