How to Manage Your Small Business When You're Grieving a Loved One
In all the business courses and books I've read, there's one thing that they don't teach you...and that's how to manage your small business when someone very close to you passes away. You may be wondering why I'm writing a blog post about such a sad topic (especially as my first post here on my website), but I'm personally grieving pretty heavily right now, and I've spent hours on google trying to find advice on this topic, and not coming up with many answers.
Exactly one week ago today, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, my soulmate cat, who I had been with for 16 years. I adopted her when she was 8 weeks old, and I was only 10, we grew up together and formed the most special bond. I was her person, and she was mine. One year ago, Misty was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. The vet at the time had actually suggested euthanasia given how difficult of a kitty she was when brought to the vet, but my baby still had her spunk in her, and we had taken matters into our own hands and had a home vet come visit her and we started her on medications, supplements and special food. Misty lived one year and a month past what was given for her, and I'm so grateful we had that extra time, but as any pet parent knows, no amount of time is ever enough.
When my sweet kitty passed away, I was a wreck. I was/am drowning in my grief. She went to sleep in her favorite spot, on my lap, and I instantly was thrown into a panic attack. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't stop the sobs that wracked my body, or the screams that left me in the middle of the ER vet as I felt and saw the life leave my sweet Misty's body. Devastated, doesn't even begin to describe the pain I felt, and currently still feel.
Within a few hours of getting back home, the thought crossed my mind, "What am I supposed to do about my business?" When Misty passed, I had around 200 open orders combined between my Etsy shop and my main website. Luckily I had nothing that had to go out for the next two days, so I spent those initial days in bed, only getting up after 4pm to use the bathroom or get water, and retreat back to my bed to cry some more. I didn't want to answer messages from customers, I didn't want to work on custom orders, I didn't want to do anything. I didn't even have it in me to thank everyone that commented on my post about losing Misty until recently. I just wanted time to stop.
I quickly became anxious about this, realizing I didn't have a plan in place for when personal emergencies happened, and I unfortunately didn't find much info online.
The 3rd day after Misty passed away, I stayed in bed until 2pm, and forced myself to get up to work on a few orders...but let me tell you, I cried the entire time...it's a wonder my tears didn't get on anything with how hard I cried. I had no motivation to do anything I previously enjoyed. I still don't, but I'm finding that you need to force yourself (gently) back into your old routine, or even a new routine if that helps you. Right now, it's all about your comfort and what will help you the best.
I want to share with you a few tips I have from my own personal experience this week about how to manage your small business (specifically an Etsy shop or shopify store), when someone you love passes away.
- First and foremost, I recommend setting up a plan before anything ever happens, because when you're in the moment and drowning in grief, you can't think clearly.
- If you know someone you love is in poor health and you anticipate losing them, I suggest going in and extending your processing times right away. Or, you can always set your shop on vacation mode which deactivates everything until you take your shop off vacation mode. I personally feel that vacation mode kills my search ranking location, so I opted to extend my processing time. Initially it was 3-5 business days, but I changed it to 2-3 weeks at first. As the first week passed, I changed it down to 1-2 weeks.
- If you have open orders that need to ship soon, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with your customers. Individually message them to let them know you experienced a personal emergency and someone very close to you passed away, and that you need extra time to process their order. I also like to include that if their order was needed by a certain date and it doesn't look like it will make it, that I'm happy to cancel it and refund them. 9 out of 10 people want to keep their order and are more than okay with waiting a bit longer.
- Take your time. This is my most important tip. When you're grieving, and you feel like you're functioning at 50% and like a limb is missing, you're not going to be able to work full days like you could before. I personally can't. I make it an hour, before breaking down crying again. I'm triggered by anything and everything right now. Just today I started crying because I saw my cat's litter box...yes, her litter box. I sobbed when i saw it. And I'm giving myself the grace and acceptance that it's okay to stop and take a break if you can't handle it. Let yourself feel your grief, don't distract yourself with your work. The only way to process your grief, is to feel it fully. So work half days, or work for an hour, take a 30 minute crying break, then work for another hour, and so forth. Whatever you feel capable of doing, do that, but don't push yourself.
- Don't feel pressured to post on social media. If you look on my instagram, you'll see that I pretty much post every single day. After I lost Misty, I didn't post for an entire week. In social media land, that can feel like a lifetime. But you need that time away from the outside world while you grieve. Your customers, your community, and your supporters will be there for you when you feel ready to go back. When I posted again one week later, I didn't fully feel ready. To be honest I felt as if I had to partly force myself to do something like posting on social media that used to be my normal. It's okay if it doesn't feel natural at first, everyone will understand that you have to take it day by day.
If you're really struggling with the grief and you feel lonely and are having a hard time, I recommend getting in touch with a grief counselor or joining a grief support group. The days after I lost my sweet Misty, I talked to two different pet loss grief counselors over the phone that really helped me process the pain, guilt, and denial that I was feeling. Many times they have advice for you that you would never have thought of yourself, so I really recommend talking to someone if you feel you need it.
All in all, running your business (especially as a one person shop), is extremely hard. I'm still learning how to do it myself right now as I process my own grief. There will be many times that you don't want to do it, or that you may not even care because you're so distraught, but my biggest piece of advice is to go at your own pace. You just lost someone you loved, you're allowed to take a step back and to mourn. Give yourself that time and self love to process your emotions. Things may not feel normal or okay for a very long time, but I have hope that we can rebuild our shattered selves around the grief we are feeling, and carry our loved ones with us as we become different versions of yourselves. If you're reading this and you just lost someone, I sympathize with you and I am so sorry for your loss. I hope these tips help you, and if you need someone to grieve with, I'm only a message away.