Jack Doherty is the founder and president of College Hype, a custom screen printing and embroidery apparel company dedicated to providing organizations with quality, customized apparel and uniforms. He is also a member of the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Boston chapter.
When you work hard to build a successful business, it's easy to imagine that it would collapse without you. However, I've come to understand that the key to long-term success is having a plan in place so that your business can survive even without you.
Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way last year. After a full day of work, I met my club hockey team for a game. With two minutes left, I got on the ice, had a heart attack and suffered cardiac arrest. Without a heartbeat for seven minutes, I was even pronounced dead. With 26 cardiac rehabilitation classes, over 50 visits to the doctor and 10 pills a day, I ended up being out of the office two months. I had to rely on the chain of command we had in place.
During this time, I learned seven ways to ensure your business can thrive in your absence:
- Make sure you have the right team. A business is only as strong as its weakest link. Ensure that your business is set up for long-term success by building a loyal and hardworking team that understands the company's mission statement and embodies the core values. Thankfully, we already had a strong team in place that knew how to run the company while I was away.
- Develop a vision board. Vision boards help companies stay aligned on their short-and long-term goals. It's one of those concepts that busy bosses put off because as long as they are there to supervise, things tend to run pretty smoothly. But what happens when you can't control and manage your business? Vision boards make it easy for companies to stay on the right path.
- Have a plan. Uncertainty is a business killer. While what happened to me wouldn't necessarily trigger a succession plan, it was vital that we had contingencies in place. For example, if a team member has to temporarily take on more responsibilities, make sure he or she understands what is expected and how important it will be to the company's success.
- Train your employees well. Hire enough high-level people who can get things done without you to hold their hands. I learned that in my absence that we needed another supervisor or someone at the director level to keep the work flowing. Your employees need to respect these designated supervisors and trust that they will run the company well.
- Approach personal adversity the same way you deal with business adversity. One thing all my entrepreneurial friends understand is the importance of being able to focus on the task at hand. There may be a million other little things that need attention, but successful entrepreneurs prioritize and focus. After my heart attack, my priorities for the following month were moot as I was lying on the ice. Having a plan and a well-trained team in place allowed me to unplug from the business and focus on healing. That doesn't mean I was completely isolated, but I was able to concentrate on my health because I was confident that my team could handle the business.
- Have a solid support structure. When you run a business, it's important that you can seek support outside of your company. During my recovery, my wife, peers and colleagues were invaluable to making a full emotional and physical recovery. Beyond that, a local network of like-minded peers can be helpful too. They understand setbacks, health scares and all the pressures that come from being away from their businesses for extended periods.
- Stop thinking in hypotheticals. One of the first things I did when I got back to work was order a defibrillator and organize company-wide CPR lessons. I was no longer thinking about "if" something happens, but "when." Don't approach succession planning as a hypothetical, because sooner or later, there will come a time when you'll need to step back from the business--and you will want to be ready.
It's not every day you'll face a major health crisis that puts you out of commission, but as a business owner, it's crucial to put a plan in place so that you're prepared for anything that may come your way. One of the other important lessons I learned was what my role needed to be at the company. Now, I focus on the future of the business and force myself to stop working those 18-hour days. I can depend on my strong team, the contingency plans, and all that training that will keep the business thriving.