Death, grief, and its impact on your small business.

Have you prepared your business to handle the impact of someone’s death? Not just yours or a valued partner or employee. But that of someone you love?

Death isn’t a comfortable topic to talk about and it’s something very few prepare for in advance. In this blog, I talk about mortality and the importance of developing a sustainable business. One accompanied by an effective succession plan and an exit strategy.

My birth fathers death

Preparing for someone’s death is something I always discuss with clients when we work through developing their strategic plan. Last month I was reminded why going through the process of creating a succession plan and exit strategy is so important.

One beautiful evening in New York City, I walked into a favorite restaurant of mine for a catch-up dinner with a founding volunteer of my nonprofit Dare2B, Inc. As we waited for a table I received a call from my youngest brother. He shared the news of our birth fathers passing.

Now it’s important to clarify that we have been estranged with our birth father for well over a decade. I held no ill will against him. On the contrary, many years ago I came to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to play the role they are given in life. Which made it easier for me to make peace with him and move forward with my life. Fortunately, his eldest brother stepped up and played the amazing role of a father for us. But that’s a story for another day.

The point of sharing something so personal is to show you the impact something like this can have on your business. Although we weren’t emotionally tied to our father, his death caused a ripple effect in our lives as his children and as business owners.

Losing someone can disrupt your business if it’s solely dependent on you. Each of my siblings and I reacted completely different from the news. I can’t share their experience (they do deserve their privacy) but I’ll share mine.

Make or break your business

As a business strategist and philanthropist, I run a nonprofit and for-profit where clients are dependent on our services for an opportunity to succeed. Did you catch that? They are dependent on “OUR SERVICES”. Not my team or I.

According to a report by Wilmington Trust, 58% of business owners fail to create a succession plan.

If you fall under this percentage, don’t feel too bad. There are heaps of major corporations that haven’t developed or followed through with a succession plan either.

When it comes to creating a succession plan or an exit strategy many skip this process because it’s too far into the future. Then there are times that small business owners ignore this process because they are just too busy trying to survive.

Fortunately, my mentors and corporate experience trained me to think differently. I learned early in my career that it is important to work with teams and never go at anything alone. This mindset has blessed me with the opportunity to build an incredible self-sustainable team. Helping us avoid any disruption to clients in either sector.

During this past month, I realized how fortunate I am to have created a career that allows me to deliver results from anywhere in the world as long as I have wifi access and my laptop. There are many folks that can’t take time to process their emotions or handle any major personal affairs because of their jobs limited time off or businesses that are solely dependent on them. This flexibility was only possible because of the succession plan created during the development phase of my business. Allowing me to cope with the emotional rollercoaster I experienced while also making it easier for me to plan and handle the affairs of my father’s death without disruption to my clients.

I am also thankful for the incredible tribe that surrounds me. Too many people fail to realize how important this is. Grief is not an easy thing to handle. It can stagnate or break you if you’re not prepared. So many emotions pop up out of nowhere when someone passes. Not just yours either. My tribe helps me work through the emotions. They also pull me out of the dark whenever things get too much to handle. I can’t begin to imagine having to cope through any major crisis without their support.

Believe it or not, this is all part of succession planning and ensuring your business and clients aren’t disrupted when things go wrong. Thinking ahead of how your business will function without you forces you to develop the relationships, operations, legal matters, etc required for business continuity.

Opportunity in loss

Having all the procedures in place that allow my business operations to function without me provides both ventures with a unique opportunity for growth. When a venture is dependent on the founder or a specific employee it limits its development to the capabilities of that one individual.

My father’s death now requires that my brothers or I venture off to Ecuador, where he was buried. In the past month, we have had to prepare for this as a family. Since I’m the one with the digital business, I was the obvious choice. At first, I had to determine how this would impact both my personal and professional life. Then I remembered how crazy things are when they align exactly as it should.

One of our 2019 goals for both ventures was to expand internationally. That was established as part of our strategic plan about 2 years ago. Prior to my father’s death, I had already been in discussion with friends in two other countries about this initiative. The countries were selected based on our connections with the entrepreneur community which made it easier to penetrate the market.

Developing this strategic plan made us think through the execution process of international expansion. If we didn’t have connections in a selected country, we would be dependent on the consulates as a portal for entry. Having the strategic plan in place made my team and I realize that we could actually leverage my trip to Ecuador as an opportunity for growth. For both our business and that of our clients.

Without a plan in place, it is difficult to think beyond the troubles in front of you. I would have been too busy dealing with grief and trying to figure out how to manage my clients so that I can still make money while venturing off to South America. Thinking about growth opportunities in my home country would have been even more far fetched.

Instead, we put our plan into action. We arranged to meet with the Ecuadorian Consulate on a specific day. Then in a wonderful turn of events, an old girlfriend and I caught up the week before I had scheduled to do so. We discovered that both our business ventures aligned. The best part of all, she had a contact at the consulate which would make a meeting with a decision maker so much easier.

Within days, we prepared to propose our ideas and learn more about the needs of the Ecuadorian community. On Friday, April 26, 2019, my friend and I arrived at the Ecuadorian consulate in Queens. In an even crazier turn of events, the consulate member was meeting with a group of community leaders when we arrived. Turns out they were discussing benefits and developmental opportunities for Ecuadorians in New York City. Talk about serendipity! My friend’s contact suggested we join that meeting because it included everyone we would need to connect with to make our project come to life. Isn’t that insane?!

It truly is amazing how things align when you have a strong plan in place. It was incredible gaining so much insight from everyone in that room. After our meeting, the lead consulate member asked for us to come back for a one on one where we could hash out all the details of our business venture. We are now preparing for this meeting. We cannot wait to experience what’s ahead!

Final thoughts

My fathers passing is still something my family and I are coping with. Neither of us was prepared for the ramifications. Not having to deal with a disruption to my business or that of any of our clients has been such an important part of managing all the grief and responsibilities passed down to us as his children.

No one wants to talk about death. After all, it’s not easy facing mortality. Ours or someone else’s. But the truth of it is, we will have to deal with it one day or another. So isn’t it better to be prepared?

Life events can make or break us. The least prepared we are as business owners the more we stand to lose. My fathers passing left me unable to function for a few weeks. Had my business been dependent on just me I would not have had the luxury to go through that process. Granted I’m behind on a few goals I had set out for the year but that’s ok. What matters is that business continued as usual because everything was in place for others to take on the work I couldn’t handle during my downtime. So please do yourself a favor. Sit down and make a plan today.

Recommendation

Here are a few simple steps on how you can start preparing your succession plan.

  • Start small. Sit down and start writing everything you do.
  • Break it all down. List things by responsibilities and associated tasks.
  • Create clusters. Start putting your list in groups based on jobs.
  • Create job descriptions. Identify what roles you need to be filled and include the processes and operations alongside each one.
  • Let go and learn to trust. No one will ever be able to do things exactly how you do it and that’s ok. Give people the appropriate time required to go through the learning curve. If you do this right, you can get close to getting someone to be as good – if not better – than you.

With that said, I leave you with this amazing quote from Tony Robbins. A great one that helps you change the perspective of handling grief and most importantly forgiveness.

“If we can realize that life is always happening for us, not to us, game over. All the pain and suffering disappear.”

Tony Robbins

Rest in peace father


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How has grief disrupted your career or business and how did you recover? Let me know in the comments section below.

4 Comments

  1. Good post, good advice and moving pic…

    1. Author

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I love it whenever people come together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!

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