Planning for time off

What’s your plan if you need to take time off work?

Sickness, injury and other life events that require extended time off work can happen at any time. When you own a business and that business depends on you, taking unexpected leave can threaten your operations and financial situation.

Developing a plan of action for unplanned leave is a proactive way to protect you and your business. It can be a real safety net knowing you have contingencies in place, if you ever need to take time away from the business for you or a family member’s physical and mental health.

Tips for developing a contingency plan for unexpected leave

  • Financial insurances: It’s important to establish a financial safety net to use in the case you can’t work. You can put aside revenue during productive times for this purpose or consider income protection insurance. If you don’t already have this insurance through your super fund, talk to a financial advisor or business advisor to ensure you have adequate coverage for your needs.
  • Identify who can step in: Talk to family members, business partners, employees and friends with an interest in the business to establish who’d be willing to take over or lend a hand in your absence.
  • Prioritise business activities: Decide what parts of your business can safely remain unattended, and what functions need to be attended to immediately, and in the short term while you are away. These essential duties will be of critical importance to the business. You can attend to non-essential activities when you return, as part of a longer term recovery plan.
  • Provide training: Find out what knowledge gaps need filling and what training is required for others to carry out the essential business tasks. Make sure you provide this training in advance so everyone’s prepared.
  • Develop a manual for running your business: Documenting all the essential functions can make training the people who’ll be stepping in much easier and more efficient. Break each essential task down step-by-step and collate this information into a manual or folder. For example, how to answer the phone, invoicing processes, security details such as computer and phone passwords, who can authorise payments on your behalf.
  • Document Frequently Asked Questions: Create templates for your standard forms and emails and start building an “FAQ”, with your responses to common customer and supplier queries.
  • Investigate outsourcing options: Are there any business functions that could be outsourced in your absence? For example, could you utilise virtual office services for answering calls and emails, mail forwarding or other administrative duties?
  • Establish co-op opportunities with ‘competitors’ or sub contractors: Establish relationships with others in your field who can take work referrals in an emergency or on a short-term basis. Such arrangements are about ensuring your customers get continuity of service in your absence. You’ll be in a stronger position if you establish these relationships early, as opposed to trying to negotiate in an emergency situation.
  • Remote access to the office: Make the most of technology to keep your business running by setting up remote access to your files so you can access key information no matter where you are. Online data storage options (cloud systems) are now readily available and affordable.
  • Government assistance: Be aware of what other assistance may be available to assist you and your business in the event of hardship. For example, explore what Centrelink benefits might be available and how the ATO can help alleviate some pressure around meeting tax and super commitments.
  • Get feedback from a professional: Consider talking through your plan with your accountant, lawyer, financial advisor, business advisor or mentors. They might have some useful feedback and advice.
  • Share your plan with your partner and/or other family members: Ensure your plan is shared with those around you, in case they are the ones who will be left to organise things and set your plan in place if you are unwell or incapacitated.
  • Review the plan every 12 months: Test and review your plan every year to make sure it is up to date with your contacts and business practices.

Remember - having a plan for unplanned leave can also assist you prepare for taking holidays!

Further information and links

Mindtools contingency planning resource

This online resource provides more information and templates for contingency planning using a risk management approach.

mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_51.htm

Flying solo article on preparing for sickness

An article written for sole traders about the need to prepare in advance for unexpected ill-health.

flyingsolo.com.au/live-smarter/small-business-contingency-plans

Succession planning

In addition to planning for unexpected leave, it’s important to write a succession plan for when you decide to sell up, retire or have to get out of the business due to health reasons.

business.gov.au/Info/Plan-and-Start/Develop-your-business-plans/Succession-planning/Develop-a-succession-plan

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