In my most recent post, Secrets of a Sickie, I talked about what to do if you’re ill, and mentioned that many of those tactics also apply when other emergencies arise. My personal posts on this blog are typically few and far between, but (in an ironic twist), since that post was published I’ve been in the throes of a family emergency, and I want to take this opportunity to share some lessons from it.
A family member lost her husband, and – like a bad made-for-TV movie – found out after the funeral that her finances are not what she thought they were (as you can probably tell, this version of the story is vague to protect her privacy). The first lesson: please make sure the breadwinners in your family have adequate life insurance to protect the other(s). Please. Sometimes our financial picture is a moving target, but a good life insurance policy can hedge against this. Can you imagine having to pack and move from your home immediately after your spouse’s death? That’s what my family member is doing as we speak.
Into each life some rain must fall
If there are people with charmed lives who never face any struggles, I’ve never met them. Life is full of twists and turns, and if being a consultant is your long-term career path, chances are unexpected events will arise at some point requiring your immediate attention. If you find yourself in the middle of an emergency, but you aren’t actually sick, here are a few tips from my experience:
1. Immediately eliminate unnecessary activities
Take a hard look at all your commitments, and whenever possible let people know you’re unable to continue (at least in the short-term) due to a family emergency – you may be surprised at the understanding and supportive responses you'll receive. For me, this has meant taking a hiatus from volunteer activities, such as my role on the leadership team of Social Media Club Atlanta, and reducing some of my participation online (blog commenting, private Facebook groups, etc.).
Because the Solo PR PRO membership site is part of what I consider my “day job,” I’ll continue to post here on the blog and participate in social media – but for most people, even that wouldn’t be necessary (in early 2010, Danny Brown had to take a break from online activities for health reasons, and it didn’t slow his career trajectory one bit).
If appropriate, consider putting an auto-responder on your email informing people you have a “family emergency” and that you’ll be less responsive than usual. You can also add (or have someone add) filters to your inbox to help manage emails more easily.
2. Focus on your income sources
When you do have blocks of time to focus on your business, it’s important to spend it – without distraction – on your paying clients. As I recommended for situations when you’re ill, it’s also a good idea to let your long-term clients know what’s going on, while assuring them you still have the bandwidth to fulfill your obligations to them, if that’s in fact the case. (Solo PR PRO Premium members can view an actual exchange I had with a client, and more background on my personal situation, in Notifying Clients of a Family Emergency.)
3. Take a look at your finances
After you assess how long your emergency situation may last, it can be helpful to review your own financial picture to determine how much business you actually need on your plate. If you have any clients who are more trouble than they’re worth (if you have one, you know it!), this may be a time to resign, letting them know you have a family emergency that requires your attention.
On the other hand, there may be times when your emergency situation necessitates that you try to earn even more income. In those circumstances, you simply must ask for help. While you focus on earning a living, ask friends and family members to help with the rest. Try to compartmentalize as much as possible, and recognize what’s outlined below in #4.
4. We can only do what we can do
Superheroes are fiction. You may want to do everything for everyone, but you can’t – at least not in the long-term. If you get sick you won’t be any good to anyone, so don’t hesitate to ask for help and support whenever you can.
Because our lives and our businesses are so inextricably linked, we have a few things to think about in a family emergency. But on the plus side, the fact that I make my own schedule is what allows me to be there for those I love in their time of need – it’s actually one of the biggest benefits of being a solo PR pro. I immediately flew to the side of my family member and stayed for 10 days, without having to ask for anyone’s permission or approval. How great is that?
Have you ever faced a difficult situation? How did you handle? Any tips I missed?