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Value: John Warrillow

Can your business survive without you? Add to ...

Erica Douglass was too young to feel so old.

She felt tired and sick every time she ate. She was told by her doctors to slow down, take a vacation and spend less time at Simpli Hosting, the Silicon Valley-based web-hosting company she’d had for six years.

Ms. Douglass didn’t understand why her body was failing her. She began to think her illness was all in her head.

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Running her company grew harder and harder. Finally, unable to get an accurate diagnosis for her condition, and seeing the first signs of the recession and some major shifts in the web-hosting industry on the horizon, Ms. Douglass sold her business in September, 2007, to a competitor in a hastily arranged agreement that paid her $1.1-million over a three-year period.

She was just 26.

Ms. Douglass, who writes about all this on her blog, erica.biz, was later diagnosed with celiac disease.

She was lucky that her business was sellable when she fell ill. A lot of other companies today would not be able to claim the same. They can’t function without their owners.

We wear seatbelts not because we expect to have an accident but because, if we do, we want to live through it.

We buy life insurance not because we expect to die tomorrow but because, if we do, we want our kids to be taken care of.

We take an umbrella with us not because we want it to rain but because we know it might.

Why, then, are many businesses so highly reliant on their founders that if they were to fall ill, the business wouldn’t survive?

If you’re curious to see how your business would perform without you, take a vacation. First, take a short one so that any problems will not be life-threatening to the business.

When you come back, diagnose any problem areas that arose, and build systems that allow the business to function better when you’re not around.

Then go away again, this time for longer, and see how your fixes hold up.

Keep taking longer and longer breaks until your business can live without you for a three-month sabbatical.

Building your business so that it can run without you not only makes your company more valuable. It is also the best insurance you can have for the things you hope will never happen.



Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company.

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