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Could Your Business Survive Without You?

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Straight Talk

About two years ago, I received a troubling email from a fellow shop owner. He wanted to know if I knew of a technician that may be looking for temporary work. The shop owner was scheduled for surgery and would need about six weeks to recover. Rather than reply to the email, I decided to give him a call. What I found out troubled me even more.  

The fellow shop owner (we’ll call him Larry) told me that he is the main tech in the shop and his other tech (a full-time police officer), works only part time. The shop did employ a general service tech, but with Larry out due to surgery, the shop would be severely shorthanded. He also told me that he rarely takes any time off. Larry has been in business for nearly 30 years and is well into his 50s. 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to tell him. All that went through my head was that after decades of being in business, this shop owner has not progressed to a point that allows him to take time off. We are talking about surgery—not about leaving early on a Friday afternoon to go fishing. His main concern should be his personal well-being, not adding stress to his life trying to finding a tech to take his place while he’s out recuperating.  

It may sound like I’m passing judgment on Larry, but please understand that I know exactly what he is going through. Back in 1989, I was cutting a piece of steel with a torch to fabricate a section of a frame. The temporary jig broke and a piece of hot metal shot into my hand. The injury required minor surgery. Back then my shop centered on me. My job positions included everything from answering the phones to lead tech to service advisor to shop foreman to bookkeeper to janitor. When my doctor told me to rest at least a week and go to physical therapy, I told him I had a business to run. I had no choice but to suck it up and go to work. My hand never healed right, and to this day, it gives me pain.  

Shop owners give everything they have to ensure the success of the business. That is to be admired. But wearing all the hats and being tied down to the day-to-day operations with little hope of taking time off is not why you signed up.  

Ask yourself these questions: Could your business survive if you had to take time off for an extended period of time due to illness, crisis or an extended vacation? Would you still draw your usual income if you could not work for an extended period of time? Do you have people and systems in place that allow your business to run smoothly without you? 

If you answered no to any or all of these questions, you need to change the way you operate your business. Regardless of your size, there need to be systems in place that allow you to take time off, for either health reasons or just for a well-deserved vacation. If you can’t take time off without negative consequences, something is wrong. 

Larry’s surgery did not go as planned. Complications set in, and it took months before he could return to work. With the business suffering, he was pushed into making critical decisions. Larry eventually hired a full-time technician and a receptionist to help him at the service counter.  

“Don't fall into the trap by thinking that no one can run your business but you.”

—Joe Marconi, Owner, Osceola Garage

Today, Larry is fully recovered, but no longer works in the shop. He devotes most of his time to developing systems and managing the business. Larry vows never to be in that position again, and the really good news is that Larry’s business is on pace for a very profitable year.

Don’t fall into the trap by thinking that no one can run your business but you. I will agree that as the leader, you set the tone and may be the driving force for your success. But all great leaders need others around them to truly be successful. Build systems and contingency plans. You never know when life will throw you a curveball. Plus, you cannot run and grow your business from under the hood of a car.  

I ask you again, “Could your business survive without you?” If not, what will it take to change that? Will it take something serious, such as complications to surgery, as in the Larry’s case? Larry was fortunate that he had a shift in the way he thought and that changed his business for the better. Will you be as lucky?

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