Retirement and Transition Plans

Preparing your business to run without you

Early planning and clear communication can ensure your business stays on course when you need to step away.

Published: January 20, 2014
Updated: February 15, 2017

Whether it's a vacation or an emergency, you will get called away from your business one day. Here are some tips for ensuring your business runs as smoothly as possible while you're gone.

Create a guide early on

Tom Eakin, founder of business consulting firm BoomLife, advocates taking time on the front end to define duties by process mapping. Process mapping involves detailing everyone's activities, identifying who is responsible for which tasks, setting standards for all work, and defining success. This exercise makes everyone's role explicit and institutionalizes business knowledge so anybody can step in, says Eakin, who also specializes in organizational and leadership development and works as the director of operations for a small manufacturing company.

Cross train your team

Eakin also recommends cross training your employees. "There is a tendency to want to stick with your star players because they're very efficient," Eakin says. "But I like to see organizations kind of force that rotation, and invest that time and effort into having a stronger organization."

Depending on the complexity of the job, Eakin says employees should carry out the duties of other people once per month or as often as one day every other week. Though it might reduce productivity, it can lead to greater organizational improvement.

Along with providing training and development, delegate as much as possible to your team and thoroughly communicate your expectations during your absence. If you feel the urge to stay connected, set a strict schedule for emails and phone calls to stay up to date.

Plan for the long term

Similar preemptive planning is also necessary for a more permanent exit. Succession planning should be part of the business from the very beginning, according to Barbara Fisher, consultant and owner of Fisher Business Management.

As succession becomes imminent, regular vacations can be test runs for owners and employees. Your challenge is to take time off without checking in every day, or even for an entire week.

The next step is to treat yourself as an employee with a job description, reporting structures, and a defined salary, Fisher says, in order to prepare for the difference in salary. Preparing for the transition early will keep your business on track without a break in quality service to your customers.

If your plan is to sell, then hiring a professional appraiser and a business broker can help you determine the right price and handle negotiations.

Life is uncertain, but waiting for the unexpected to arrive in order to prepare a plan might be too late. The key is to ready your business for your absence before it happens.