I am writing this post during the plane ride home from my aunt’s memorial service in Seattle that took place over the weekend.  I learned a lot that I didn’t know about this remarkable woman during the service, including the fact that she wanted to be a nurse as a child but wasn’t able to pass the physical due to crippling scoliosis.  She got her college degree in education instead, and always found ways to keep busy.  Her biggest contribution to the world around her was her never-ending desire to meet and connect in some way with everyone she saw.  Every chance encounter would end in her finding some sort of connection between this (now familiar) stranger and my aunt, or someone in her life.

Gig Harbor WA

As I was listening to story after story about her working so hard to make everyone feel important, loved, and connected, I started to reflect on my own life (as one is wont to do at a service like this).  What would I be remembered for?  And what did I want to be remembered for?

Certainly, I’m not alone when I say that a part of my legacy would hopefully be my family – my children and their (potential) children and so forth down the family tree of the future.

My Business Legacy

But there is another part of my life – the part that is taking up the bulk of my time these days as my kids are grown(-ish) and gone(-ish).

My passion is for working with and for entrepreneurs to help them find new ways to grow their business.  This includes market research that drives innovation and entrance into new markets.  This work is further supported with business owner peer groups that I run, offering small business owners the chance to learn from and support one another.  Consulting and training round out my services to help these same customers.

In short, my passion is for helping small businesses grow and become more sustainable and more valuable.  This helps them meet their goal – to be able to sell their business and see it continue long after they are no longer involved.

Sure, it might not make for an endearing memorial service.  But honestly that’s not really the point of this exercise.  Thinking about your legacy can be a way to clarify what it is that you’re doing in your personal and professional life, and for whom, and why.

What is your legacy? 

Whether you’re in your 70s or your 20s, whether you just started your business, or it’s been going for decades, you should be able to answer that question.  What is your legacy? What are you creating today?  And how does that help others?

What are you known for?  What are your special talents?  Whose lives have you been able to impact – to make better?  Do you have loyal and longstanding employees?  Or customers?  Have you been able to make the world a better place with your business?

Sometimes, business owners I work with get wrapped up in the details of meeting the day-to-day needs of their customers without looking further out.  Or they may think that their small role in the world as a business owner doesn’t really leave an impression.  But if you are passionate about what you do, and who you support, then you are making your little corner of the world a better place.

Take some time to think about how your business makes a difference.  Perhaps you employ a team of specialists who have a job they love thanks to your business. Or you offer immigrants or low-skill workers the stability that comes with a regular paycheck.

Do you have a vision for your business?

One business owner I work with is a distributor of electrical parts for several different companies.  He has created separate websites for each different company, to ensure that his customers that are brand-loyal only see what they’re looking for.

He goes to a lot of trouble to make sure that both the sellers and purchasers are happy with the role he plays in connecting them together.  He has a clear vision for the value he’s creating today and what that might mean for the future of the business, and for his own family.

Another business is expanding its company’s services from consulting to training and community.  Why are they making this change after so many years of a successful consulting business?  Not just to add revenue streams.  But because they have a vision for the best way to bring the various partners they work with together.

Intentionally building a community platform for all the different players in this complex environment is a way to step beyond the contracts, bureaucracy, and red tape, and help all community members stay focused on their ultimate goal – supporting entrepreneurship through economic development and college training.

If you don’t already have a vision statement, take some time to put something together that focuses on the difference you believe your business can make in the world.

Your life <> your work

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not implying that the most important part of your life, or your legacy, is the work that you’ve done.  Clearly, it’s just one component of a life well lived.

However, when you own your own small business, it can be hard to completely separate your personal life from your business.  And it makes sense to take time now and again to think about the work-side of your legacy.  This is true no matter your age.

One discussion we have regularly in the peer groups I run is the “hit by a bus” talk.  If you were “hit by a bus” today (aka incapacitated, unable to work) – what would happen to your business?  To your customers and your employees?  Have you put a plan in motion for your business to outlive you?  That is the more practical part of planning for the future.

Moving to the longer-term aspects, think about your vision for your business. What is it that you’re working toward?  Who are you serving with your products or services?  When you retire or sell your business, how would you like to be remembered?  Try to envision a Chamber of Commerce event honoring your legacy.  What might they say about you and your business?  Are you heading in that direction now?

Time to make a difference

You don’t need to be the CEO of a multinational, publicly traded company to make a difference in the world.  As a matter of fact, I happen to feel strongly that small business owners are the heart of the community and the drivers of the economy across our country.

Successful entrepreneurs are determined, focused, innovative, agile, compassionate – and constantly struggling to balance work and personal life.  And sadly, a majority of them don’t even know how much they’re really worth – in terms of the dollar value of the business.

So, what can you do know to build your own legacy – for your business and yourself?

  • Define your vision – What difference are you trying to make in the world with your business – or in your personal life? What does the world look like if you achieve your vision?
  • Examine your goals – As you set goals for business (or personal) growth, think about how they relate to your vision of a successful business – or personal life. How can you start to work your way toward your vision?
  • Focus on your people – We can’t be everything to everyone. Whose life are you impacting for the good, whether in your business or your personal life?  And what are you doing today to have that impact?

And a final note, on what NOT to do.  This obituary was shared in a recent newsletter I receive – I recommend striving to be the opposite of this man.


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