Maintaining your business

If you decide to keep running your business, it is important to be realistic about what you can do. It will help to:

  • know as much as possible about how cancer and its treatment could affect your work
  • think carefully about your business demands and your finances.

Business finances

If you are not able to work for a while, it can have a big impact on your business finances. You may have to think about:

  • cash flow (how much money is coming into, and going out of, your business)
  • how to plan your business finances
  • how much money you have available right now to meet your business expenses and to pay any staff (including yourself).

Maintain your cash flow

There are things you can do to help maintain your cash flow:

  • Make sure outstanding invoices are paid. Take appropriate action against customers who pay late.
  • Offer your customers incentives for early payment.
  • Start thinking about other sources of income. You may qualify for a grant or emergency funding to help small businesses or members of your trade or profession.
  • Make sure you are claiming all the state benefits you are eligible for.
  • Check whether you are covered by critical illness insurance or income protection insurance.
  • Check if you have insurance included within your business loans. If so, talk to your insurer. Or call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 to talk to a financial guide about making a claim.

Think carefully before taking on new work during your treatment.

Spend less

You will need to spend some money to keep your business going. This could be things like paying the phone bill or shipping goods. But other spending could be delayed or reduced for a while. Here are some examples:

  • If you do not need your building for a while, you may be able to reach an agreement with your landlord. Or you may be able to rent it to someone else temporarily.
  • If you rent a vehicle, you might be able return it.
  • If your business involves selling merchandise, look at how you can manage your stock differently.
  • You could also talk to your staff about working shorter hours for a while. Or you could reduce spending on non-essential areas of the business.

Before reducing important spending, consider:

  • the long-term impact on your business
  • relevant terms in any commercial agreements you have in place, or with your landlord or suppliers
  • how much it will cost to put those resources back in place when you are ready.

Tips for dealing with business debts

Here are some tips for dealing with business bills or debts:

  • Do not ignore your debts. If you do not act, they will get worse.
  • If you have business insurance, find out whether it will pay out now because you have cancer.
  • Create a budget that lists your income and outgoings.
  • Deal with priority debts first. This means debts where non-payment could have serious consequences, such as losing your home or business.
  • Get independent advice before you borrow any more money. The wrong decision could make your debts worse. Organisations such as StepChange Debt Charity can provide free advice.

You may not want to tell people about the cancer. But if you owe them money or need to claim on your insurance, you will probably have to. You may also be asked for a letter from your doctor confirming your diagnosis.

When you talk to creditors, it helps to have a plan in mind. Be open, honest and realistic about when you will pay them. Tell them where you expect the money to come from.

Related pages

Paying taxes

If you are worried about paying your tax on time, it is important to contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) straight away. If you do not contact HMRC and do not pay on time, you may have to pay interest and fines.

If you do not think you will be able to pay your tax in full on time, call the HMRC Business Payment Support Service on 0300 200 3835. You should only call this number before the payment deadline.

If you miss the deadline and receive a letter asking for payment, you must contact the HMRC office that sent it. You will find the contact details on the letter.

Macmillan cannot advise you on business debt and finances, but we can provide information about personal money matters.

If you are worried about paying any business bills or debts, you can contact the following:

Talking to the bank

Contact your bank if you expect to have problems making payments on money you owe, such as:

  • an overdraft
  • a business credit card
  • a business loan.

If you are looking for short-term funding, you will need to explain why.

Before talking to your bank, be prepared to answer questions about your health as fully as you can. This is especially important if you have insurance through your bank.

Some types of insurance, such as travel insurance, may become invalid if you do not give all the relevant facts about your health.

Protection against discrimination

If you have, or have had, cancer, you are considered by law to be disabled. There are laws that protect people from being discriminated against because of cancer.

  • If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, the Equality Act 2010 protects you.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects you.

A bank may only discriminate against someone with a disability if they can show that there is a greater risk of them not being able to make repayments because of disability.

The bank also has a duty to make changes so that people with cancer can still use their services.

If you think your bank has treated you unfairly because you have cancer, contact their internal complaints department first. If you are not satisfied with their response, you can refer your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. This service helps people with complaints about financial services.

  • In England, Scotland and Wales, you can call the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) helpline on 0808 800 0082. Or you can use the text phone service on 0808 800 0084. The EHRC can give you information and guidance about your rights.
  • In Northern Ireland, you can contact the Northern Ireland Human Rights commission on 0289 024 3987 or the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland on 0289 050 0600.

Getting expert help

You may already have a bookkeeper or accountant. They can help you keep your finances under control while you take some time off. If you do not have this kind of help, it might be a good idea to get it.

A good accountant may save you more money than you pay them. It might also be helpful to hire someone to send out your invoices and chase payments.

One of the best ways to find an accountant or bookkeeper is through personal recommendations. Ask your neighbours, friends and business contacts. Your local Chamber of Commerce or small business group can also give you a list of providers.

The Register of Statutory Auditors lists accountancy firms that are approved to prepare and audit financial accounts.

If you are a member of a professional body, they might have a fund to help members who are dealing with health problems.

Returning to your business

When you are ready, returning to work may help you to feel more normal.

You might be tempted to do too much, too quickly. If you can, plan to return to work gradually. Try to decide what is most important and just do those parts of your work until you feel stronger. Give yourself regular breaks – you can even schedule them into your diary. 

It may help to remember that your recovery may not always be straightforward. Try to stay flexible.

It is important to listen to advice and guidance from your healthcare team. The type of cancer you have or the treatment may limit how you can work. For example, people having some treatments for a brain tumour are not usually allowed to drive for a certain amount of time.

Related pages

Managing your workload

If you need to work fewer hours because of cancer and its treatment, these tips may help you to manage your workload:

  • Prioritise tasks

    Decide what needs to be done soon, and what can be left until later. You might decide to prioritise tasks that need your skills and experience and cannot be done by anyone else.

  • Time management

    Be realistic about deadlines. Allow yourself extra time in case you do not feel well or something unexpected happens.

    Schedule in time for breaks and activities that help you to relax or feel better.

  • Flexible working

    Think about different ways of working. For example, you may be able to work from home instead of travelling to a customer.

Who else can help you?

Ask yourself who else can help. If you do not have employees, you might want to think about the following:

  • Can you afford to hire a virtual secretary or bookkeeper who works from their own home or office?
  • Can you use a subcontractor for some parts of a project?
  • Could someone else manage your website for a while?
  • If you ship goods, can a fulfilment house do this for a while?
  • Which tasks have to be done every day at a regular time?
  • Can someone cover the days you are not available or feel unwell?
  • Which tasks do you least enjoy? They probably take more of your energy, so maybe someone else can do them for a while.
  • Can you group tasks according to the skills needed to complete them? For example, you might group sorting post, filing and answering the phone, or driving and making deliveries. Then if someone offers to help, you have a list of things they may be able to do.
  • Do you have friends in the same trade or profession who could do some of the work for a while?
  • If other people offer to help, do they have the right skills and qualifications? Can they do the work legally and to the required standards? For example, a heating engineer will need to be listed on the Gas Safe Register.
  • Are there jobs around the house that someone could help with, so that you can focus on your work?

Other people in the business, or your family, may really want to help. When someone offers to help, think about what is involved in the work, and whether they have the skills to help.

If you accept help from someone, make sure they:

  • can update you regularly
  • feel able to ask questions
  • feel able to change their mind if it becomes too much work for them.

Closing your business

Deciding to give up your business is a big step. There are practical and legal things to think about.

Even if you are sure that closing your business is the right decision, it can be difficult to make such a big change to your life. Emotional support is available to help you cope. You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000.

If your business is still successful

Some people make the decision to stop working completely when they are diagnosed with cancer.

If you decide to close your business, speak to a financial adviser. Take the time to think through your options. You can:

Depending on your situation, you may be able to sell the business or transfer the ownership.

If your business is no longer successful

Some people may wish to continue their business. But despite their best efforts, it may start to fail. If you know your business is failing, you may want to close it down yourself before you are forced to.

It may take months to close a business fully. You will need to think carefully about the effect this will have on your finances. Consider the money you will get from other sources, such as a pension, savings, shares or benefits. Macmillan’s financial guides can help with this.

If you try to keep your business going but it continues to fail, there are many different outcomes to consider.

  • If you have a limited company that owes suppliers or lenders money it cannot pay, it may be forced into insolvency. An appointed person (a liquidator) will take control of your business. They will sell the assets to pay the debts. This process is called winding up.
  • If you are a sole trader or part of a partnership, you can be forced into bankruptcy. In Scotland, this is called sequestration.
  • If your business is struggling, you can get free and confidential advice from Business Debtline if you live in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in Northern Ireland, AdviceNI runs a free debt advice service. 

Writing a plan

Writing a plan that outlines everything you need to do can help you protect your personal assets and reputation.

Your plan should include the following steps:

  • Collect all money owed to you. You could offer a discount for immediate payment. Try to do this before you tell your customers or clients that you will be closing your business. You may find it difficult to recover debts after.
  • Sell any remaining stock. You could consider a clearance sale.
  • Tell your creditors, including suppliers, banks and anyone else you owe money.
  • Tell your customers and deal with any outstanding obligations. Return payments for products not delivered or services not provided. If you cannot fulfil a contract, you may be able to claim on your business or professional insurance.
  • If you are renting property, give your landlord the agreed amount of notice to end your lease.
  • Give notice to any employees and follow regulations to ensure they are treated fairly.
  • Pay your company debts as far as possible. A financial adviser can talk to you about the best way to do this to protect yourself.

Other financial and legal steps

If you are a sole trader, you must inform HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) straight away that you are closing. This may also help your finances.  

If your income will be lower, you may be able to reduce your tax payments. There is information about paying tax when you stop trading at

If you are trading as a limited company, the process of closing your business will depend on whether you can pay your company debts. While your company is being wound up (formally closed), it must still file and pay tax returns. 

Nibusinessinfo has useful information for businesses in Northern Ireland.

Getting support

It is important to speak to a financial adviser to make sure you follow the correct process. This can be different depending on whether you are a sole trader, a partner in a business or a director of a limited company.

If you are registered for VAT or employ staff, you will have extra responsibilities. This may include making redundancies.

It is a good idea to ask a professional, such as an accountant, to advise you. Or speak to a Macmillan financial guide.

Your feelings

Deciding to give up your business is a big step. If work has been an important part of your life, it can be difficult to adjust. 

It may help to talk to someone about your feelings. This could be a family member or a friend. 

Some people find it easier to talk to a counsellor. You may be able to contact a counsellor through the hospital, your GP, or a cancer support group.

The Macmillan support line is open every day from 8am to 8pm. Call for free on 0808 808 0000

Early retirement

You may decide to take early retirement for health or personal reasons. If you are thinking about this, talk to your pension provider or a financial adviser. We have more information about stopping work.

You can speak to one of our financial guides on 0808 808 0000 about your options.

More advice on work and business issues

You could get free or low-cost information about work and business from:

  • your local council
  • your local Jobcentre Plus in England, Scotland and Wales, or your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office in Northern Ireland
  • disability support organisations
  • your local Law Centre
  • your local Citizens Advice
  • the Money and Pensions Service
  • a financial adviser or your bank
  • your chamber of commerce or other local business networks
  • your trade union or professional association, if you belong to one
  • GOV.UK if you live in England, Scotland or Wales
  • if you live in Northern Ireland.

If you have professional advisers, such as an accountant or a solicitor, ask for their guidance.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by Liz Egan, formerly with Macmillan’s Work and cancer team.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2023
Next review: 01 September 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.