But for all my commitment to planning, I am still a one-man show, a sole proprietor. Like most metal building contractors—and perhaps most small business owners in general—I make the rules, I manage the finances, I am the face of the business and I am always on call. Vacations must include WiFi access and cell service, with a constant worry about what is happening back in the office. Far too many of us sole proprietors are so caught up in fighting the day-to-day battles that we don’t take time to look ahead, to plan for the future. We spend all our time working in our business and do not have time to work on our business.

If you care about your loyal employees and faithful customers, though, it is only right that you care about the future of your business; that you have a plan to ensure they still have a job (and a system for generating their paychecks) and that projects continue to be delivered even if you are unavailable for a short while or, God forbid, much longer term.

When you actually take time to think about what happens if, you are in effect considering a succession plan. You are asking who is cross trained with whom, who can provide cover for a short while, who can pick up additional responsibilities long term and who is ready for their next big career leap.

Is there a skills gap that might require bringing someone in from the outside? Unfortunately, the skills and talents that served you well as an entrepreneur are not necessarily the same traits you will need to consider your business’s future. Starting a business is all about taking risks; managing the future of a business is about minimizing, or at least managing, risks.

You do not need to struggle alone, though. Having easily accessible colleagues and friends who have been there, done that or are in the same position as you, is a blessing. I know many scoff at the word networking; it’s a consultant’s word and contractors are independent people. A network is simply a group or system of interconnected people or things. You, dear reader, are my network, as are my fellow members of the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA) (MBCEA) and the Butler Builder group. We have shared values and similar concerns. Whether your issue is succession planning or anything else, do not minimize the strength and value of your network. There is a reason phone a friend is considered a lifeline on Who Wants to be a Millionaire! Being able to pick up that phone and reach out for advice or feedback or simply to brainstorm together is one of the great benefits of belonging to an association such as the MBCEA.

If you do not know where to begin, I heartily recommend you consider AC478 accreditation for Metal Building Assemblers who are committed to safety, training and quality. The framework and rigor required will almost write your succession plan for you. Because my company is accredited, our processes are documented; our standard operating procedures and job descriptions are buttoned up. We have built-in reviews and regular internal audits.

I know many consider this program daunting, but I can assure you it is not. It does require some time and effort, but the return on investment is well worth it. If you are a member of MBCEA, you get free consultative support and access to templates and cheat sheets from those who paved the way. Without a doubt, AC478 was, and is, a game changer for my business.

Succession planning is not for the faint of heart but is something every small business should consider. Trust me, I speak from experience. One of my longest serving employees and a close personal friend has been impacted by both cancer and COVID. Neither illness was expected, of course, but my business carries on. I miss him and hope he is able to return soon, but my projects have not faltered. There is a vulnerability and humility required to being a business owner. Considering retirement, or worse—your own demise—is scary stuff. But no one is invincible. Disasters lurk around every corner and uninterrupted vacations are great! Having a succession plan or evaluating what happens if does not mean you are leaving tomorrow or that you have one foot in the grave. It simply means you care about your business, your employees and your customers. It means you are prepared for whatever the future may throw at you.

There is a vulnerability and humility required to being a business owner. Considering retirement, or worse—your own demise—is scary stuff. But no one is invincible. Disasters lurk around every corner and uninterrupted vacations are great! Having a succession plan or evaluating what happens if does not mean you are leaving tomorrow or that you have one foot in the grave. It simply means you care about your business, your employees and your customers. It means you are prepared for whatever the future may throw at you.


Art Hance has been owner and president of Hance Construction, Washington, N.J., since 2000. Hance takes great pride in his work and the numerous awards for the quality and complexity of his design and construction. He has held multiple leadership roles in the MBCEA and actively served on many committees. He is a well-respected Butler builder, often called to add his voice and expertise to committees and/ or subject matter. He is a passionate voice for quality, safety, training and excellence.