Finding a Successor

Dear Coach,

I am writing to ask about succession planning. My husband is a few years older and his career is along the corporate path. He will be retiring in three to five years and since we have no children, we will be in position to go enjoy life together while we are still relatively young.

Several years ago I started a specialized retail business that also has a studio where customers can complete art projects and take classes. I manage the little enterprise, teach a couple of the classes and love being on duty in the store where I can interact with people just learning they have artistic talent. I have two part-time people who help in the store so I can have one weekend day and most evenings off; and am fortunate to have attracted some top-notch artists who teach a variety of classes.

Having produced art work alone for most of my career, I find that all the activity fills me with ideas both for projects of my own and for how to make the shop/studio an even more exciting place for my customers and students. I thrive on it!

My dilemma is this – even though I am looking forward to traveling and otherwise goofing off with my husband, I will not want to completely give up the shop/studio when he is ready to retire. Sign me

- Looking for Ideas

Dear Looking,

Congratulations! I am always pleased to encounter people wise enough to retire while still energetic and healthy so they can truly delight in the bounty produced by their lifes’ work.

I also applaud your intent to balance your preferences as an individual with the preferences you and your husband have as a couple. For many people, a joyous retirement includes activities that made their career a success; and for other s, being “semi” retired is the answer to continuing their contributions to the world at large.

And you are correct – since you plan on retaining ownership and ultimate authority over the larger business decisions, you have some special considerations in finding and preparing someone to run the day-to-day operation.

Begin with clarifying your own vision. Call your vision a fantasy first to free your entrepreneurial inhibitions; once refined, it can provide long term direction and purpose – serving as a formative target for the future. 

Think about where you’d like the shop/studio to be in 10 years and what role you can imagine for yourself then. For your future role, you might try itemizing your “favorite” aspects of the shop/studio and listing separately those aspects you’d happily delegate. Consider the number of hours you spend on the business now and how many hours you might spend if you could focus only on those tasks you most enjoy.

For the shop/studio itself, factor in the community demographics and how they might change, the region beyond your immediate township, and trends afoot in the larger U.S. culture that affect your type of business.

Given all that (and I recommend you do some research online or at a local business library), consider “who” the shop/studio is now within its current environment and the various stages required for it to blossom into your concept – 10 years out.

You want someone who not only can “see” this vision but whose hopes and dreams for themselves match it. You also want someone who will bring value to the development of the vision and whose knowledge and skills complement yours. I say complement -instead of “replace”- as you’ll target hiring someone whose immediate contributions will more than earn their pay. A hard inventory of your own strengths and limitations can help define where the company would most profit from another’s expertise, training or skills.

To complete the competency profile of this ideal manager-in-training, balance short-term business needs with what the shop/studio will require to successfully transit the stages you envision for it and, finally, consider your futuristic list of what you would prefer to hand off. You want someone you can prepare to competently either do those tasks themselves or supervise their completion.

Once you’ve done this work, you are ready to begin scouting for a likely individual to recruit.

You’re starting early enough to do this in conversations as they naturally occur, screening for an interest in art and your business model along with compatible values and personality traits. You may have a likely candidate among your part-timers and those who now teach classes for you but also tune in to your customers’ lives – one of them may have precisely the competencies you and your business need.

Finally – whoever you hire, start slow. It’s easier to promote than back someone out of a job title if things don’t work out as you’d hoped. Have Fun with the process and

I wish you Much Success,
- Sylvia