Protect Your Business in the Event of a Serious IllnessYou can still go to work if you have the sniffles, but if you should become seriously ill, how would you protect your business and keep it thriving? That’s the situation Guarisco Group founder Wendy Guarisco faced when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At first she feared the diagnosis signaled the end of her small Atlanta-based media relations firm. But, as Lisa Evans reports in an article in Entrepreneur, “Guarisco managed to do what at first seemed impossible—she kept her company running through a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.”

Guarisco offers some tips for entrepreneurs to consider in advance of a serious or life-threatening diagnosis.

Use the Technology Resources at Your Disposal

Since many of Guarisco’s clients were located in different cities, having to cancel face-to-face meetings wasn't a big problem. Using her smartphone or tablet, she managed to stay in touch with clients even while sitting in the doctor’s office or lying in a hospital bed.

Of course, during the height of her treatment (three days of hospitalization), Guarisco had to bow out of her media relations work, but afterwards she resumed conducting business while recovering from surgery.

Inform Your Trusted Clients

Many business owners might feel the best course of action is to conceal news of an illness from their clients. With her most trusted clients, Guarisco chose otherwise. She let them know about her diagnosis and, as Evans notes, “(she) credits her honesty with keeping all of her clients throughout her illness.”

“Most of my clients are like family and they knew from the get-go what was happening,” Guarisco says. She did withhold news of her condition from newer clients, informing them instead that she would be away for a few days.

Explore Your Options for Financial Assistance

As a business owner, Guarisco lacked the comprehensive health benefits she’d enjoyed years before while working for a large company. She was very concerned about how to cope with the costs of her treatment.

A nurse in her plastic surgeon’s office suggested she could access emergency Medicaid. Doing a little research, Guarisco discovered with breast cancer, aid for mastectomy surgery is granted based on the diagnosis, not income levels. She urges entrepreneurs to research options for financial support, “even if you think you might not qualify.”

Put a Contingency Plan in Place

The primary lesson Guarisco took away from her experience was this: Plan for disaster before it strikes. She’s since hired extra staff members, and keeps them updated on all clients.

“If one of my assistants falls ill, the other can step right in because they’re up to speed,’ she says.

Learn to Delegate

Like many entrepreneurs and business owners, Guarisco found delegating “the hardest thing I've had to wrestle with.” When she was hospitalized, she had her husband answer the phones and email, as well as pitch stories to the media.

She now understands the critical importance of letting go of control. “Having help frees me up to think about the big thoughts as the business owner,” she says.

There's only so much you can do ahead of time to prepare and protect your business. But if you take the necessary steps now and know where to go for help, that will save you time and energy if something unexpected happens.

What’s your contingency plan in the event of a serious illness or accident?