What Cancer Taught Me about Small Business

As a business owner, this is one of the best things you can do for those around you who will stay here after you are gone.

Recently, my father in law passed away from melanoma cancer.

He died peacefully and surrounded by family. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching him go, trying to be a pillar of strength and support for my wife and her family, while watching their leader, father, husband and friend decay away in front of their eyes. But in those last few moments, watching his heart rate drop slowly until it landed on zero, there was no power on Earth that could help. All we could do was surround him and let him know how much he was loved and that it was okay to let go.

After he passed away, I volunteered to help settle his business because I had the most working knowledge on his client base, his projects and how to navigate his company. So I was given his laptop, his phone, and a good luck handshake to enter into another man’s world and do the best job I possibly could to take care of his customers.

Daddio (what I called him) was a smart business man. He was very smart. We would spend hours talking about business processes, sales conversions and organizational procedures. He was brilliant and I was blessed to be in the shadow of greatness when around him. But what happened after his death taught me more about business than his life ever did. Now I’m going to share it with you so that you can do one great thing for your loved ones. I’m now convinced that as a business owner, this is one of the best things you can do for those around you who will stay here after you are gone.

This is not about your legacy. It’s so much more than that. It’s about the people who surround you, who love you, who care about you. These are the people who will make great sacrifices for you after you are gone because they care. How much sacrifice you put them through is entirely up to you. I would like to show you what cancer taught me about running a small business.

Please allow me to clarify something before we go on. You will not live forever. You will not outlive your dream. No matter how successful you are or how hard you work, your vision will never be fully realized before you go. With that, you may or may not have the opportunity to set your exit strategy before you go. You must be prepared to leave this earth at any moment and more importantly, set up your business so that it will provide for your loved ones and your community after you are gone.

That being said, here are a few lessons that I learned:


A servant mindset is the single most important perspective.

There were 31 websites in Daddio’s GoDaddy account. Come to find out, this was the tip of the iceberg of his business. Each of those websites represented a person and the digital expression of their dream. A zumba studio, bluegrass album, a Nashville music venue, the industries were all over the place. When I contacted these people, their expertise and web understanding was everywhere, too. Some people only required that I create for them an admin account so they could manage the website. Others didn’t know how to do anything on a computer but check their email. I vowed, in honor of Daddio, to give them the best possible service I could. I went above and beyond to the best of my ability because if I didn’t, no one would. I expected nothing, and was surprised when my business grew. Many of his old clients have hired me to be their consultant and have also enlisted my marketing company to help their business grow.

You should also be doing this with your business. Go above and beyond. Take no shortcuts and give your customers the absolute best that you can. I promise you, the rest will take care of itself.


Be flexible and treat every customer like an individual

Everyone is different. In the last month, I have been paid to do things that seemed absolutely silly to me. One man asked me to make pictures he took on his phone show up also on his computer (a Google Photos account took care of this.) One asked me how to set up an Instagram account. They all paid me after the work was done (which was a surprise to me). These things were simple, but had immense value for them. These are also things I would not have included in my list of available services before Daddio passed away. But not only were they appreciative, they are also referring me out to other people that have similar issues.

You aren’t selling yourself when someone hires you for something (contrary to sales doctrine.) You are offering a benefit, and you should make that benefit as valuable to them as possible. When they feel like their life has improved because of you, they will return again.


Sort out your business so that anyone can take over.

I typically fly by the seat of my pants in business. Sure, I keep metrics, issue receipts and do my taxes. But I don’t keep a blueprint for my business (this is not the same as a business plan.) Daddio’s business was set up so that he could run it. He knew who hosted the sites and where the domains were being renewed. He knew how to login and make changes to the online store for his clients. I did not. There one painstaking episode of searching for days, looking for an enewsletter (because if a business has an email subscription of 3,000 people, surely there is a newsletter service, right?) only to find out that it hadn’t been done.

Today, you need to schedule in a few sessions to your calendar of thirty minutes, where you build a road map of your business. Who is the landlord of your store location? When are all bills due, who gets paid, how much do they get and how do you pay them? This also includes login information, bank numbers and real figures. If you disappeared tomorrow, someone must be able to pick up your business right away. You will also need to schedule a thirty minute revision of your blueprint every few months to update information.

You may think that you will have time to coach someone, or exit from the industry before you are gone. You do not have that guarantee. By the time we learned that Daddio was not going to regain his health, he’d been intibated (oxygen tube down the throat) and could not speak. So even if we could have started planning right then, it was still too late. If there had been a road map for his business, I could have closed his business in a few days, not the seven weeks it required.


Let your business guide you. 

Many people talk about their career history with an air of mystery and appreciation. They never expected to do what they are doing today and never could have prepared for it, even if they’d known. The pinnacle moments that defined their path (Jeff Goins calls them pivot points) were made possible because when you focus on listening and responding, you will find yourself in a place of great comfort where you are naturally good at what you do and find a hard time believing that you are making a living doing something so satisfying.

When an opportunity presents itself to you, take it. You, fellow entrepreneur, have the freedom to make adjustments along the way. You are not limited by a single job description that defines what you are allowed to do each day to serve your tribe. You take opportunity and find out how to make it work. It will require making adjustments, but that’s okay. It will grow your image, your brand and enhance the service you can offer your community of followers.

  • Jeff – so sorry to hear about your loss. This post is beautiful reminder of life’s work and what can be accomplished with it and how important it is to set things up to be passed along. My key take away to constantly go above and beyond and remember those pivot points and to be flexible. Thanks for sharing!