I am attending the Thrive Family Business Conference in Scottsdale AZ yesterday and today. This is a unique experience with about 250 families attending the workshop who have questions about health insurance, employee hiring and retention, succession planning, and simply, how to run a small business successfully without ruining your marriage at the same time. It’s hard to believe, but of the 5.7 million businesses in the US today, about 90% are companies with 20 or less employees. We are once again a nation of Mom and Pop businesses, but how difficult is it to operate in this economy?
The challenges of running a small business can be overwhelming and very pleasurable at the same time. You are your own boss, family can help which saves money and they often work better as a team, rather than a traditional partnership, which as one of the speakers said is the only “ship” not to float. However, unless these small companies truly run these businesses as large companies do, with a vision and mission statement, stated objectives and measurable goals, the family dynamics can drain the energy and life out of the business and it’s family owners.
I attended a Q & A session last night that had three of the speakers from the various workshops yesterday. The topics included; Identifying and Leveraging the Strengths of Your Employee, by Michael Miller, Having a Vibrant Marriage and a Successful Family Business and Avoiding the Mistakes Most Families Make in Business, by Dr Todd Linaman, along with Dr. Robert Carlson of Family Life Radio (FLR), a network of Christian radio stations across the country that witness and support the needs of 15 million Christians. I have listened to FLR for the past two months and they are the reason that I was able to find comfort and strength during my darkest moments following my surgery and personal problems. Dr. Carlson’s ministry is why I am at this conference, which I had no idea why I signed up for in the beginning since I was retired and no longer working.
The speakers tried to draw people out and asked if there were any questions. Fairly typical questions were asked the first hour, and then as the evening drew to an end, couples were all of a sudden asking really painful questions that all centered on how the business was tearing their marriages apart. I could see the pain on either a wife’s face or the husband’s face. The pain was so intense, that I almost had to look away. Some people were considering shutting down their business as it just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Some were not even sure why they started the business in the first place. Some felt an obligation to continue their businesses since perhaps they are the second or third generation to manage it.
The three speakers who are Christians and strong business leaders, a pretty powerful and unique combination, provided good sound advice and compassionate understanding. I believe that everyone in that room was feeling some type of pain, questioning why they were in business, why were they even at the conference. I sat there amazed, thinking about the fact that while my husband and I have been struggling over the changes in our lives the past few months, we had been a dynamic business duo when we owned our beloved Playful Pooch Doggy Daycare & Boarding business. What made it possible to achieve such a phenomenal success with that small business that we had purchased, while these folks were struggling so much?
It was exactly how Dr. Linaman had outlined in his speech, we had complimentary skills, we had a very clear vision statement that included specific and measurable goals, our mission never varied in the seven years we owned the business and we retained our employees by clearly defining each of their roles, training them, praising them, listening to them, rewarding them for their passion and dedication to the business and loving them….each and every single one of our employees.
We made mistakes, all five of the BIG ones, according to Dr. Linaman, all with our son Jason. First, we assumed he would eventually take over our business, a second generation owner of The Pooch. Next, we failed to provide a clear definition of his role in the business. We were new to this game, and we all just juggled everything and some things worked and some didn’t. Next, I failed to treat him as an adult and used the same parenting methods that might have worked when he was in middle school, but not as an adult. Then, his ideas were dismissed or rarely even heard….we were busy taking care of this growing business. And the biggest mistake was assuming that he would love working at The Pooch as much as my husband and I did. He simply did not like what we loved about the business…the messy, stinky, crazy life of a kennel owner.
Jason is a talented and passionate writer who has selflessly chosen to stay at home and take care of two of the sweetest little kids you have ever seen. This is a tough job, requiring a lot of patience, endless love, non-stop work. He can guide, love, protect and nurture his son and daughter every moment of every day, but it leaves very little time for him to use the talents that God gave to him. I write out of conviction and belief and the pain of the past two months. Jason writes out of passion, pure joy and honesty. It comes easily when he has time to write, but there just isn’t any time to write when my sweet little Mr. A and Crazy Miss M are running around, laughing, screaming and playing all day. I know in my heart, that one day as my little grandkids grow up, that he will find that passion again, and he will write a great novel, one of painful discovery and of joy and hope. He just doesn’t have time right now.
I have found my passion again after going through the darkest, painful time in my life, the past few weeks without my husband around. I realized that my mission in life is simply to “Give to Those in Need.” This is a simple but complex mission that will allow me to pursue so many opportunities…endless opportunities. I have a very unique talent that God gave to me, that allows me to listen to people and then help them visualize their dreams and financial goals. It only works if I am working with an individual or business that has passion and their “heart” invested in the business.
I will work with Family Life Radio and help these struggling people that love their business and yet hate it at the same time. I’ll also continue to work with the local car dealership who is owned by a man with a huge heart who feeds over a 1,000 people in every community where he owns a dealership.
And the best job I’ll have for the rest of my life? With the help of several people, I am establishing a foundation in the name of my young son Justin, to help provide funding for children with special needs. This funding will not be for education or medical support, they already have that in place. It will be for the small things in life we all take for granted…..tickets for a baseball game, a trip to the zoo or park or just a ride past an old junkyard full of old cars, a favorite thing of my baby, Justin. The Justin E. McKinney Foundation. I love you and miss you, sweet little Justin.
Look into your hearts and always give to people in need.