Question: My partner and I have been in business together for 15 years. We've built a nice company, have great employees, loyal customers, and have made a nice living for ourselves. But of all the things I stayed up nights worrying about, I never even considered losing my partner, who passed away several weeks ago. He was a young man 48 years old. I thought we had planned for everything, but we didn't plan for this. Now, besides being grief-stricken, I have to face managing the business alone. But even worse, I have the issue of dealing with his estate which leaves me in a terrible position of having partners I wouldn't have chosen myself. It may be too late for me, but I think this is an issue that might help others.
Answer: So sorry to hear of your loss. But it is definitely an issue for others to consider. Not just with a loss due to death but what about couples who run a business and get divorced? Or best friends who want to retire and turn their end of the business over to their children or other family members?
In each case, you'll end up the same way: with partners you never would have chosen in the first place. So what to do?
While you're setting up your business plan with your partner(s), plan for their individual exit strategies. It's so much easier to discuss these issues early on rather than waiting for a hostile environment when even the simple issues become inflammatory.
Think of it like a will planning for your family for the future. This is the same thing. Each one of you should decide how and what you would like to happen in case of departure. This way, you will know what to expect from your partner's estate and you can adjust it together.
If you and your partners can't come to terms early in the planning stages, chances are you may not want to have a long-term relationship anyway. Better to find out now than to wait until something happens to find out that the situation is untenable.
Q: I read your column and know that sometimes employees write in about the small businesses they work for. That's my story. Our company likes to refer to itself as a family, but to tell you the truth, if this is a family I want a divorce! The entrepreneur who runs the business is a tyrant. He has lots of ideas but is constantly changing his mind about which ones are the priorities. Then he blames us for not being able to read his mind and figure out what he wants us to do first. But I like the guy he is truly a visionary. And I like being part of something new and fresh. What can I do to make this more bearable and productive?
A: Listen up! Every entrepreneur who manages her own business probably sounds like this guy! So first and foremost, this should be a wake-up call to all of you trying to communicate with good, loyal employees.
On the other hand, as the employee who wants to make things work, you have a responsibility, too mostly to yourself, but also to your company. Often you can read through the lines. Listen to what your boss is saying and then itemize the projects by priority for yourself.
Then, share it with your boss either verbally or through a memo, and send it in a way that will get his attention fax, phone, or e-mail. Listing projects this way will help both of you sort through the confusion. It will help you get your job done more effectively and it will help him realize that he has either not communicated properly or that there are too many things and none of them will get done effectively without a system. And a focus.
Stay focused. It's so very, very important. Sometimes visionary entrepreneurs have a hard time sticking with one detail they are almost like hyperactive kids, they go from one issue to another. But that's what makes them special.
What makes you special is the ability to pull it together and get it done. This type of discipline will help you move up at your current position and make you a better manager someday for your own business.
Q: With June around the corner, I'm reminded that school's coming to an end and my kids will be home for the summer. I've just started my home business, and it's been tough enough having them in school and trying to get my work done. Now, with them at home, it's going to be impossible! I really can't afford to pay for a full-time summer camp. Any ideas?
A: How about finding a responsible young person or two in your neighborhood who could keep the kids busy while you work? This might be a cheaper way than sending them off to camp, and give some young person a chance to make some extra money as well.
Find things the kids can do for your business. Keep them involved making copies, putting stamps on envelopes, etc. You can pay your kids while making them productive. Of course, this depends on how old the kids are in the first place!
If they're old enough to play by themselves, cut a deal with some of your kids' friends parents, with each of you taking turns having all of the kids at your houses for a play date. This way, when they're at home they'll be busy and you'll have a few days when you can get a lot done by being alone.
Whatever you do, don't despair. Just remember, being a mother and an entrepreneur requires a lot of creativity. It will give you good experience just figuring out the summer months make it a challenge that can be solved and not an insurmountable problem.
Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author of "Money Clips: 365 Tips That Will Pay One Day at a Time," and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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