In This Episode

One of the areas of small business coaching where we’ve specialized over the past two decades plus has to do with transitioning the business from one generation to the next.  As you might imagine, over that time we’ve come across just about every scenario you can imagine.  The one that people seem to fear most is when the current business owner dies while still running the business.  So the question for today is, “What happens when you’re not ready?”

One of our clients, who was also a prior guest on Dirty Secrets of Small Business, Lisa Holly, is joining the show today to discuss this very topic.  As you might recall from Lisa’s first appearance on the show, her and her brother Woody took over the family moving and storage business after their mom died in a car accident in November 2006.  Nearly 17 years to the date of their mom’s passing, I also lost my business partner and co-host of Dirty Secrets of Small Business, Jack Mencini.

We thought it would be fitting to have one of our past clients who loves Jack almost as much as I do to share her thoughts on this topic.  Plus, I have a little different perspective on this topic since Jack’s passing.  Some of the things we shared during today’s show include:

  • Just Keep Swimming: we all need to tap into our inner Dory from the movie Finding Nemo and “just keep swimming”.  When a business partner (or life partner) passes away unexpectedly, it’s often necessary to remind yourself to just keep taking the next step forward.  Take that next breath in and out.  As hard as it might seem at the time, you need to keep moving.  In doing that, it can often feel like all we are doing is barely holding things together.  And that’s perfectly normal.  It might take months or years before you don’t have to remind yourself to take the next step or breath and it just starts happening naturally.
  • Be Patient: we often need to remind our clients to give themselves some grace when it comes to transitions like this.  There is no playbook for what is the right or wrong way to react, although most folks who have been through something similar will tell you to be patient and not make any major decisions in the first year.  This also gives you plenty of time to listen to what others are telling you and/or suggesting and see what might fit.  Remember that changing behavior takes time and effort and the emotions will pass.  So be patient with yourself as well as those around you.
  • Now What/What’s Next?: if you’re truly unprepared, like Jack and I were with Dirty Secrets of Small Business, you pretty quickly start asking questions like, “Now what?”  We knew Jack was planning to do the show until he was no longer able to do it physically or mentally and we both thought that time was years away. With Lisa and her brother Woody, they were thinking they might eventually take over the business but they certainly weren’t thinking it was going to happen when it did.  But once you get through the “holding everything together” phase, you need to decide what’s next.  In the case of Berea Moving & Storage, Lisa said there was no other option as far as she was concerned.  Not only did she and Woody want to honor their parents and all they had built, but they also realized they had dozens of employees who were willing to do whatever it took to succeed.

Lisa talked today about her “discovery” year of 2007 where she learned about a lot of things and people including herself.  Like other things related to business transitions, there is no one right way to do things.  So if you still have time, you can start working on a transition plan today.  If it’s already too late, then hopefully some of our stories and insights from today’s show have helped.  Whatever you do, don’t go it alone and make sure you tap into your “village” of people for help.

People, Companies and Resources We Mentioned in the Show