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An entrepreneur's story of courage

Kristin Stutz is a business owner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. She's been a client of mine for many years and is a graduate of our Certified Strategies Coach training. Just last fall, Kristin moved her business into a bright, shiny new location. The last time I saw her was at a seminar last October in Chicago where she told me she was not feeling well and dealing with some health issues. Kristin told me in January that she was just diagnosed with leukemia.

While speaking with Kristin last week, she told me how she felt about being pulled away from her business, about her faith and pride in her team, and about the stress of not knowing what the future holds. What she was saying was so inspiring, I asked her to write about it. This is what she sent:

Preparing Your Team for the Unexpected

As a small business owner, we often wear so many hats. We are the motivator, bookkeeper, inventory processor, innovator, marketing director and HR manager - and for those of us in a service industry, most of the time our hands are producing the majority of the revenue. What would happen to your company if suddenly and unexpectedly you were unable to perform all of these tasks and the hats were left to disperse within your company?

I am writing this with my own first-hand knowledge - from my hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic. After a shocking diagnosis of leukemia, I was given two days to go home and prepare to be an inpatient for one month. I will not be able to return to work for at least six months, more than likely one year or more. I don't want this story to be about me, but for you to learn from my experiences.

Without you, would your team understand the sense of urgency regarding how much revenue needs to be generated to pay the bills? Who on your team would be strong enough to pound that drum day-in and day-out, communicating that essential message? That can be a tough job for us fearless leaders whose homes are on the line - let alone someone who is just thrown into the position.

What systems do you have in place to be sure that the inventory could be handled without you, overseeing it and keeping within budget? And how will they even know the budget? Do you have a cash-flow plan in place so that you can adjust revenue/expense changes that will take place with you no longer in the business?

Without a plan the uncertainties of what may or may not happen will simply add to any stress that you will undoubtedly be experiencing. Even if the news in the cash-flow plan is not good, it is information that you can use to make adjustments that may be necessary. For example, if you simply don't have the manpower to produce the revenue you need, you could speak in advance to your bank about your situation instead of talking after you are in default. Knowledge is power.

Would the hours of operation of your business need to change to help the company run most efficiently? Who would run your payroll and pay the bills? Who can sign the company checks or tax forms? How will hiring and discipline be handled? Who will meet with the staff individually and evaluate their job performances?

Although we often don't want to think about the worst happening, sometimes it does. Having a plan in place with answers to all these questions seems to me to be similar to a "fire drill." A great fire-escape plan includes a written route, as well as detailed instructions, and they bring with them great piece of mind.

While most of us spend time training our team on how to be better technicians, what could be more important than empowerment? If you are not currently involving your team in decision making within your company, there is no way a culture of empowerment would exist without you. If you have fears about being open about how you run your company, then perhaps you should consider running it differently. While designing systems may seem like a tedious job, you are doing an injustice to your team who is loyal to you. Get over yourself and stop playing Superman! Share your knowledge and watch what happens in your company.

I cannot stress the importance of getting out from behind the chair if you are a service provider whose company is dependent on your hands to survive. Get over your ego or fear and step away. If you have a young stylist, for example, who needs your time and attention in training, that is exactly where you must be. You cannot grow your company purely by filling your own book.

Finally, I cannot stress the importance to you of a disability insurance policy. Can your company afford to pay you your full salary if you are not there? I would be willing to bet that for the majority of you the answer is no. There are many affordable options for disability policies out there. Get one and offer them to your staff as well.

If you are uncertain of how your company would function without you, give Strategies a call. Without the years I spent training with Strategies, my doors would be closed. Thank you, Strategies family, for all your support!

Update on Kristin. She completed chemo last week and her first biopsy shows that the cancer cells are gone for now. The next step is a stem cell transplant. Words cannot express both my admiration and pride for Kristin's leadership and how, unknowingly, she prepared her team for this moment - a moment where she needs her business to give her the gift of time to heal. Kudos to the team at River Haven Salon Spa.

Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.

Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO and author of No-Compromise Leadership


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