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A Cautionary Tale: Unexpected Owner Absence for 60 Days Killed the Company

[Here is the reason I’m so passionate about business owner-operators having a Business Will™. ]


The Company  

(*names have been changed)

I first found The Wooden Sign Company* in mid-April 2012.  They were the top-rated carved wooden sign company in the US based on my research.  Family owned and operated for over 40 years, their site included a video of the owner.  You could easily see the pride he took in his craft and in the quality of the products from his company.


The Problem

I ordered online and received an auto-confirmation email that my proof would arrive in 48-72 hours.  However, twelve days later, early May, I had no response from the company.  I reached out to follow up.


Event Timeline
May 4, 2012

I received an email from the owner’s son apologizing for the delay and his lack of response.  He said, “Pops is doing much better and I’m able to resume focusing on the fine folks like yourself that have been essentially ignored while our family has been so distracted. Pop is the business. He feels terrible about how much we circled him rather than taking care of his people. That’s what 44 years in a trade he loves so much does to a man.”


The son and I spoke on the phone.  He shared that the family was struggling to keep the business operating while trying to care for his father who had a stroke a month earlier.  He offered to refund my money.  I told him to continue with the order and we confirmed the design.


May 10, 2012

After the second attempt at a proof, I received another email from the owner’s son.  “I’m so sorry. I’m having a terrible time keeping caught with Pop not here. Hopefully soon. Here’s that new proof…”


The proof was correct, and I approved it.


May 22, 2012

I received an email from the son with a 3rd, unnecessary and incorrect proof.  His note said, “How does this look? Sorry for the delay – It looks like we are back on track.”


I corrected him to use the right proof.


May 29, 2012

I received the sign.  It didn’t match any of the proofs!  I replied asking what we should do next.


May 31, 2012

I received an email from the owner, “Hi Sara! This is Stan Smithson*. I sure understand why you would feel so frustrated. My stroke in late March threw my son and partner, as well as my family, into a tailspin here at our carving business. I’m doing enough better after a long rehabilitation to be able to resume focusing on folks like yourself that have been essentially ignored or goofed while my family has been so distracted.  The poor guy was just overwhelmed. Anyway, I will happily address your project… I know exactly what one you want.”


Early June 2012

I received the correct sign and was pleased.


November 2012

The Wooden Sign Company filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors.



This experience stuck with me for years!  As a COO and management consultant I couldn’t help but think how I might have done it differently, how I could have helped them.  I realized that they had no protection against the “What If” of something bad happening.  There was too much risk having all that knowledge reside in a single person’s head…. and the results were devastating.



Even the most established businesses aren’t invincible.  This owner was out for only 2 months!!  And while we can’t know exactly what prompted the bankruptcy filing, we do know that the company he built and ran with pride for decades was gone in 9 months.


It’s too late for Stan.  He lost the business he’d built along with the dreams and hopes tied up in it.


At a minimum, every business needs a “Keep The Lights On” Plan to get through that crucial first 30-60 days when a disruption to cashflow can cripple your business. You can create this document and you should, immediately.


What I’ve found is that although owners know they should have this documentation – and they worry constantly about not having it – they still don’t do it!  It feels too depressing, and they put it off.


At BizOps Solved, we get it.  We make it easy for you.  Our Business Will™ includes a 30-60 day Emergency Plan among a dozen helpful sections designed not only to protect against the bad things, but also develop the good future of your business and you!  You don’t have to do it alone. We’re here to help you succeed.


Contact us to learn more about the Business Will™ service at or book directly at

BizOps Solved works with business owners to make their companies more valuable and their lives better. 

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