How I revived my small business after being hospitalized at 34

  • Shannon Hennig is a small business owner and health and wellness marketing expert.
  • In September 2020, she was suddenly hospitalized with a diagnosis of congenital heart failure and had to take time off from running her business.
  • As she eased back into work, began health treatment, and continued homeschooling her young son, Hennig learned to set boundaries to safeguard her physical and mental health.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In September 2020, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure caused primarily by high blood pressure that was left untreated for too long. Despite leading a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, and having a diet of minimally processed food, unchecked stress and anxiety coupled with my high blood pressure to result in my diagnosis at age 34. 

Many of us are experiencing uncommonly high levels of stress right now related to COVID-19, politics, and the unknown future. Everyone is struggling to keep up with work and life in the midst of increasing chaos and uncertainty.

After my hospitalization, I had to make a plan for jumping back into work and family. I needed to take into account my physical limitations, while running my writing and consulting business, “co-homeschooling” my 6-year-old son with my husband, and making time for the onslaught of medical appointments that were about to come my way.

Here’s what I did to adjust to life after my diagnosis how it’s changed my business for the better.

1. I began making proactive instead of reactive decisions

Instead of leaving business decisions up to chance or waiting for external circumstances to dictate my next move, I sat down and asked myself what my intentions were with my work. 

I asked myself, what were my intentions with the business that I’m pouring my time and energy into? Was I creating a job for myself to simply pay the bills, or building a company that served a larger purpose? What kind of clients did I want to attract and what kind of work truly brought me joy?

As I reevaluated my business and looked at my intentions, I integrated this practice into the work I do with my clients. By posing these same questions to my clients,  we’re able to build a business model that brings them fulfillment and is sustainable because it’s coming from a place of authenticity.

As I work with health, wellness, and helping professionals to brand and market themselves, building my own unique program to “help the helpers” meant more time for me to do what I love.

Read more: After a difficult pregnancy with twins, I negotiated a flexible work schedule with my boss — here’s the script I used to frame it as a win-win

2. I set firm boundaries between work and personal hours

As a small business owner working from home, it can become nearly impossible to separate work and family as they blur into one fluid span of time. Each day you multitask from the time you wake up until you collapse into bed.

At the urging of my business coach, I reevaluated how and where I use my time. I then ruthlessly went after my schedule and set aside time blocks for specific tasks and project work. 

Another strategy is to evaluate the amount of time you think a project will need, and then double or in some cases triple it. By giving myself the time I actually need and building in buffers, I can do a better job and deliver ahead of time.

I also gave myself dedicated time for medical appointments with my cardiologist, trips to the lab for blood work, time to meet with my psychologist, and time to rest with my feet up (literally) each day. 

Now, I organize my calendar to include two hour lunch breaks where I can properly eat and take a short nap. I log off my computer at 5 p.m. and don’t respond to client emails during evenings and weekends. As my business coach wisely told me, “Think of boundaries as a way to keep you in, so you only have time to do your best work.” When I organize my schedule each week I keep this advice in the back of my mind.

Read more: The pandemic has proven that mothers can work from home and still be excellent at their jobs. Here’s what workplaces must do next.

3. I choose to do less in order to do more 

While it seems counterintuitive to do less in order to actually get more done, I applied this concept to my work and have been amazed by the results.

Despite having a virtual assistant before my diagnosis, I was terrible at delegation. There was always a feeling of guilt hanging over me when I’d ask her to do something I knew I could do myself. 

One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was to start creating standard operating procedures and handing over busy work. I then naturally progressed to shifting more tasks to my assistant, freeing up my own time for high value activities.

I hired another writer to support me, outsourced all my bookkeeping and accounting, and looked for places I could remove myself from the process. It meant a lot of letting go of old models of thinking about myself as a superhero who could do it all without breaking a sweat. 

Now I have the time to focus on single projects each day, rather than frantically multitasking from morning to night. The result is a better product and service, improved relationships with my clients and the ability to raise my prices.

Doing less means identifying where you can create the most value and leveraging it as one of your business’ most important assets. It also requires building a team around me to support business functions and look for opportunities to continuously improve my services.

While heart failure turned my life and business upside down, the changes it forced on me were all needed. I’d rather go through this deep level of transformation in my 30s and put to use all I’ve learned now, so that I can be deliberate and intentional about what I’m building for the future.

Properly caring for my health has been like taking on a new part-time job in terms of time commitment and prioritization. I strongly guard my boundaries and stick to them because my future really does depend on them.

Shannon Hennig is a freelance writer and health and wellness marketing professional. She is the president of OpenInk Solutions, of company that helps health and wellness professionals to build their personal brands and become thought thought leaders in industries. Follow her on Twitter.