Attract young professionals to the business world by including them in your succession planning

Engaging young professionals in the succession planning of small businesses can serve as a great way to allow small towns to grow and attract young professionals to take over ownership, set roots to raise their families, and engage in long term leadership.

As is often the case in smaller rural communities, many small businesses are the backbone of the local economy. Many are multi-generational and have changed little over time. Some small businesses are even at a cross roads in terms of succession.

Using northern Michigan as a general example, census data shows that populations are aging and plans for succession and perpetuation of businesses tends to be lacking.

Perhaps consideration of capitalizing on these challenges as an opportunity could serve a double purpose:

  1. Ensure small business perpetuation to support ongoing economic viability in small communities
  2. Attract young professional to smaller, rural communities to assume leadership roles

It is no secret that young professionals are holding off on starting families, are mobile and willing to take on new positions to grow professionally, and are very interested in working in an area that has a lot to offer that they intrinsically connect to.

This strategy can be somewhat sensitive in nature since many small business owners tend to be reluctant to openly discuss future plans. This is the very nature of their independence and must be appreciated. However, according to Michigan State University Extension a community who develops a strategy to actively attract young professionals by way of selling the opportunities of future business ownership would likely have a competitive advantage to similar communities not taking such a proactive role.

  • Open communication is key--Openly discussing this strategy with small business owners well in advance of their intended, even if not confirmed, exits from market (ie: Retirement) to set the stage is paramount. If a few owners then lead the charge by showing interest, regardless of how limited it may be, the a level of legitimacy can be provided to this strategy.
  • Share success stories--Success stories never hurt any initiative. As often is the case in smaller communities, a level of reservation to engage in a new program could be expected. By sharing best practices and stories of successful succession plans from previous owner to new young professional owner, others may be more apt to engage in this process.
  • Patience, persistence, and planning--A program like this takes time to show any outcomes. Simply because few, if any, new opportunities present themselves within the first few years, it is easy to abandon this type of strategy. It may take many years to secure the first new venture or transitioned business.

Persistence is paramount, stay the course. This should not be the only strategy for business attraction, but should be one of the pillars of the overarching long term attraction strategy.

Planning—a long term plan to develop, implement, evaluate and adjust this strategy must be in place to ensure any measurable success.

In essence, with the changing demographics of many small rural communities, it is critical to develop creative strategies to ensure long term economic viability. Strategies such as embracing succession planning and seeking young professional to engage in these opportunities could be a two-fold solution to some of the challenges that many smaller communities struggle with each and every day.

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