Blog: Letting go of your baby
AKRON — The state of “empty nest” is still a long way off for my husband and me, but recently the first of our three kids did leave the “nest.”
The mixed feelings of letting go seem somewhat similar to how tire dealers must feel upon retirement when they have to let go of a business they founded and fostered over the years.
Much like nurturing a baby, starting a business is stressful the first few years — sleepless nights, a lot of expenses, lots of worries and no tangible profits.
There also is the stress of hiring experienced employees who will care as much for your business as you do, and maybe, perhaps at times reluctantly, calling upon relatives to help out.
Then there is the adolescent stage when you can finally take some vacations, have extra time to get involved in volunteering in the community and see the fruits of your labor as you beam with pride at how your “baby” is growing and succeeding.
You still need to keep a watchful eye every day on the business/child or a small overlooked problem can fester into major trouble that impacts and threatens its long-term survival.
Once your business has matured — and you have, too — you face the prospects of retirement and handing off your pride-and-joy into the care of others. This is difficult for most owners who care about their business because it's a big, cruel world out there — for kids and tire dealerships.
All businesses — like grown children — eventually move away from their founder's vision and sphere of influence. That can be emotionally traumatic for someone who has raised the business from infancy and invested a major portion of his or her life.
After your retirement (or demise), your business may take a different direction than what you envisioned for it. It may eventually close or join forces with an archrival. Or, as with several lucky dealerships I've reported on, the business may prosper under the care of subsequent generations of the family.
Just like kids, businesses that leave the founder's “nest” can get in trouble, financially or otherwise, due to bad decisions and outside influences. All you can do is hope you set up a solid groundwork and operating philosophy with your employees and managers — and that they paid attention.
The emotional trauma of letting go is why it's so important to have a succession plan — just as parents are encouraged to set up a will — as a last set of directions for taking care of the “baby” and all the assets connected with it. Industry experts urge business owners to set up a succession plan five or more years before they plan to retire. Then they have to let go and hope for the best with the confidence they've done their job as a mentor.
Owning an independent business sure sounds a lot like parenthood!
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