To those of you who read follow me weekly, here’s the latest update following last week:  my sister’s husband is recovering from his medical emergency and on route from Iowa to his home in New Jersey.

For those just glancing at this today, let me give you the short version.  My brother-in-law had a medical emergency while on vacation last weekend that could have resulted in the worst possible outcome.  Instead, he recuperated at record pace these past seven days and is now on his way to full recovery.

Life lessons are part of the drill when bad things happen, and we walk away from this incident with the usual.  Live in the moment, don’t sweat the small things, take care of yourself, treasure your loved ones, etc. Through my “getting down to business” lens, I noticed a few for the small business community as well.

While it seems obvious, bad things happen.  You can never be specifically prepared. But when you start from a relatively strong position, you are better situated to survive hard times. My brother-in-law was otherwise healthy, exercised regularly and ate right.  That didn’t keep bad things from happening, but it sped the recovery process once he fell in harm’s way.

Same thing for small business.  Taxes increase, competitors threaten, emergencies happen.  Those well-positioned going into a recession often survive it.  Those on shaky ground have a harder time.

When I owned the bakery over a decade ago, we still didn’t have our cost structure and profit margins in line before disaster struck.  Katrina hit and commodity process for sugar and honey skyrocketed. I never fully recovered. I wasn’t strong enough; I wasn’t healthy enough as a business.

Most small, micro, independent businesses have a hard time building up the strength and balance sheet and resources to withstand an emergency.  Most are pretty low margin operations, doing just enough to provide a salary to the owner and employees. That is why minor changes in cost or regulation or competition or taxes are viewed as an oncoming disaster.

Developing sufficient strength to the withstand the disaster you don’t know is coming:  that’s the secret to success.

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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...