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A composite image of Laurie McCurlie, Janet Cockburn and Penny Chapman. These businesses endured hardships - including a divorce, cancer and a devastating fire - and bounced back stronger than ever.
A composite image of Laurie McCurlie, Janet Cockburn and Penny Chapman. These businesses endured hardships - including a divorce, cancer and a devastating fire - and bounced back stronger than ever.

Bouncing Back

Through fire, divorce and cancer, businesses turn setbacks into success Add to ...

“My only outlay was having the samples made and getting a website up and running,“ says Ms. Cockburn, who managed to get $50,000 in funding from her pitch on CBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2008. “But I got breast cancer again in 2009, which put the business back. The money from the Dragons helped keep it going because otherwise, I don’t think it would have survived.”

Shocked at being hit with cancer a second time, she had neither disability nor business interruption insurance. Although she still did the everyday paperwork and was able to hire someone helping with orders, Ms. Cockburn says the most difficult part was getting out to meet with retailers.

“When I was going through treatment, I didn’t have any hair and wasn’t feeling up to promoting the business,” says Ms. Cockburn, “Unless you have a sales rep visiting them, your products can get pushed aside.”

She credits her daughter-in-law with having a big hand in keeping the business going while she was ill. Having someone she could rely on and trust was invaluable, she said.

Now in good health, Ms. Cockburn wants to see the business go on, but the threat that she could get sick again is always there in the back of her mind. Going into debt to reach the next level, she says, could be too stressful.

Ms. Cockburn’s advice: We always say you’re not a survivor of cancer; you’re living with cancer. But don’t let it take over your life.

Tips on how to prepare for the unexpected

David Crisp, president of Crisp Leadership Strategies in Toronto, has this advice for business, whether big or small:

Write down the 20 things you think can happen, the problems you’d be faced with and what you need to put into place to get back up and running. If something bad happens, just knowing you’ve worked that out can make you calmer.

Once you’ve looked at the potential catastrophes to your business, decide which ones you need to insure. The problem for small companies is that they can’t buy insurance for everything because it’s too expensive, so they should zero in on the one or two key things they really need. The larger you get, the more you need an insurance broker to guide you through the maze of insurance. When you’re very small, a broker may be overkill, but they do know the market. Business interruption policies can generally be tailored a bit to fit different types of business. In addition, you might buy disability insurance so that if you’re sick, you’ll get payments until you’re well. However, when you have a pre-existing condition, such as cancer, you may end up paying much higher premiums. Then you have to assess it from a cost/benefit point of view.

If you don’t have cash on hand, you can negotiate with your bank using your insurance policy as collateral while the claim is being processed. Generally the bank will give you a bridging loan for at least part. The bank may also give you a holiday on payments. Go to your bank immediately, explain that this is a temporary situation and ask to defer your payments. That’s better than not paying when the payment comes due.

Anyone who goes into business with a partner, whether or not they’re a spouse, should have a legal plan of what to do if the partnership fails. You have to sit down and talk about it, even when that feels difficult. You may not foresee everything. but if you’re not getting along, at least the framework is there for a discussion.

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