The author with her sisters and mother on Easter Sunday, 1971. Cathy's mom passed away May 1, 2017.

May 1 of last week I lost my dear mother.  She died incredibly suddenly and unexpectedly despite a serious illness.  We were sure we had more time.  No one should be so sure. 

When crisis hits, everything stops.  You won’t make that meeting you were so eager to schedule.  The dozens of unread emails you felt guilty about last week multiplied like rabbits this week.  Whatever you thought you were going to do: all of a sudden that doesn’t seem so important.

Yet life does indeed go on, even while you are checked out temporarily.  While our family members all received incredible support and time off from our respective employers, we recognize that business did not shut down without us. 

How can you prepare a business to withstand sudden absences?

First, surround yourself with competent, caring people.  People who care about you, sure, but also care about the business and making it run smoothly.  There is no substitute for a strong team.

Ask for help; delegate.  People are desperate to help if only we would let them.

Set an outgoing message on your email.  Encourage key team members to text with immediate issues.  Keep the passwords in a secure but accessible place.  Have a spare key for the post office box and remember where you put it. 

Ongoing communication keeps everyone on the same page so that if you have to leave, others know what is going on and can pick up the slack.  As a rule, try not to procrastinate.  It is a relief to be already caught up when crisis hits.

Cloud-based file storage is absolutely critical when you have to share information and step in for each other.  Organized paper files, office storage systems and process documentation are worthy goals, if you can manage it.

In the end, you never can be truly prepared for tragedy.  But in business, preparation is the only way to withstand the inevitable outages, absences and gaps that occur.

To my friends and colleagues who have supported me this past week, thank you.  To my mom who taught me to write, to give back and to persevere, rest in peace.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...