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What Should Be on Your Small Business Bucket List?

Live your best life - live the bucket life.

As a business owner, you probably have a few bucket list items in mind – goals you want to accomplish and experiences you hope to have. Maybe you want to reach a revenue milestone, purchase real estate for an expansion plan, or add new products to your line.

But there are probably some goals you haven't thought of or considered too ambitious to achieve. Or maybe you're not sure what should be on your bucket list and need some ideas.

We're here to help with some insight into the bucket lists of other small business owners, as well as share some tips for creating a bucket list of your own.


Build a Good Company


It might sound like a given – after all, doesn't everyone want to build a good company? The thing is every small business owner has a different idea of what a good company is. Some might equate good with profitable, while others – like the small business owners we spoke to – place creating an employee-friendly company at the top of their bucket list.

For Doug Sappington, co-owner of a full-service advertising firm, having a healthy, respectful culture where everyone enjoys what they are doing is important, as is respecting them as individuals with unique family situations.

“We all have lives outside of the office. I want each of our team members to enjoy coming here and working but also know they have the flexibility to live their lives and take care of what matters most to them.”

– Doug Sappington, Full-Service Advertising Agency Owner

Similarly, when Joe Daniel founded his outsource human resources and payroll services company in 2011, he prioritized developing a top-notch environment – “a place where people felt good about working and knew they were appreciated,” he explained. Of course, he wanted a company that would produce revenue for everyone, he adds, “but creating a company with the right culture was my ultimate goal.”

Several owners mentioned they wanted to do more for their team, such as offering better benefits, profit sharing, or bonuses. They all expressed the importance of offering competitive compensation and rewarding team members so they could attract and retain talented employees.

Sappington said giving employees the best possible benefits has been on his bucket list from day one. “For example, our 401(k) plan has a dollar-for-dollar match and there's no vesting,” he explained. The matching money is theirs immediately. “Our mission was always to give our team the best because we see each of them as partners in our business, not employees.”

When Sappington's company celebrates its 10-year anniversary later this year, one of the items on his bucket list is to have each of his team members learn to do something they don't know how to do now. “I want to be a part of enriching our team members' skills because in order for us to grow, each of us has to work on being better,” he said.

Something to Consider: When starting out and all along the way, having a strong financial partner is critical to building the company you want. Seek out a bank partner that can easily help you set up the right small business accounts, serve as a resource for establishing your employee benefits package, and guide you through effective cash flow management.


Access Capital to Grow


It's hard to find a small business owner who is content keeping their company the same size. In fact, once their company was established, all the small business owners we spoke to said they wanted to grow or even start another business. The key was getting access to the capital they needed to do it.

Jay Barrett, who owns one of the largest franchises of a national in-home pet care company that is coming up on its 15th year, said founding a complementary business is on his bucket list. “Right now, we're strictly a service company,” he said. “We don't have inventory or real estate – no tangible assets. I want to found a company that has assets such as brick-and-mortar locations because having assets increases the value of a company.”

Daniel said if you had asked him 10 years ago if he was interested in selling his company, he would have said no. But today, selling is an option primarily because it could give him access to capital and resources that could help him grow his efforts. “[Getting acquired] would offer me more back-office support, a bigger accounting department, and, when you become part of a larger company, you have the ability to grow you might not have as a small business."

Something to Consider: “My bank has been actively involved in helping me start my brick-and-mortar business,” Barrett said. “From identifying opportunities to giving me access to capitalthey have been amazing. They are on board and want to help me achieve this goal.”


Focus on Expansion


Adding new locations is definitely a bucket-list item for many business owners. However, as the business owners we spoke to explained, you need to put a lot of thought, research, and strategic planning into expansion in order to succeed.

Amanda Thames, president and co-owner of her family's pizza business, which was founded in 1964, said adding a second location had been on her family's bucket list for years. “I took over operations when my mother passed away,” she said, “and I worked closely with my aunt, who always wanted a second location. She talked about it for years.”

After her aunt passed away, Thames worked with her cousin to fulfill her aunt's wish. She took out a loan to open the second location in early 2022. The new location is doing well, and their financial goal right now is to pay off the loan and be debt free.

Carolyn Chen, who opened her floral business in 2018, said her main bucket list item when first opening her shop was to have a career she loved and fill a hole in the market. Most of the existing florists were very traditional, and Chen wanted to offer more creative floral options. Over the past five years, her business has done just that, offering unique daily flower delivery, walk-in arrangements, gifts, and event and wedding flowers.

Now, opening a second location is at the top of her to-do list. In fact, she's already picked a new market for her second location and is in the process of deciding exactly how the business is going to work. “I want to expand and grow,” Chen said. “I'd love to travel and do destination weddings, too.”

Something to Consider: For many small businesses, expanding means adding locations and typically involves real estate. Having a close, trusted relationship with a bank that offers affordable, flexible real estate loans specifically for business initiatives can make your dream of expanding your business a reality.


Enjoy Personal Flexibility


For the small business owners we spoke to, personal flexibility doesn't mean skipping out on work whenever they want. They all acknowledged that starting a business takes many hours of hard work. But after the business was established and thriving, they all said having the ability to take time for their families was a well-deserved reward.

“When I first started out, I was working 50 to 60 hours a week,” Barrett said. Now that he has a son with autism, some of his goals have shifted. “My ultimate goal has been to create a sustainable company that doesn't require as much of my time.” To achieve that goal, Barrett has added a CFO, HR, and other critical personnel so his company could continue to run efficiently, and he has time to focus on his family.

Barrett added that over the years he's built a strong infrastructure, hired loyal employees, and invested in technology that allows him to live and work wherever he wants. “All the groundwork I've done over the past 15 years has allowed me to have independence and choices."

Dee Tipps, who owned her own boutique clothing store for 16 years, literally started her business in order to provide for her family. “I needed to provide for me and my kids,” Tipps explained. “My objective was to pay the bills.” Which she did. She also said her goal in the first year was to repay a $30,000 loan she had taken out to fund her startup. “I did that, too.”

As a single mother with three kids ages 2, 6, and 10, having flexibility was absolutely at the top of her bucket list. She needed to be able to drop them off and pick them up at school, attend school events, and more. As her business grew, Tipps began to enjoy the fruits of her effort. “I was able to hire more employees who gave me the flexibility to be with the kids. That was so important to me."

Something to Consider: With most small businesses, financial flexibility, and personal flexibility are closely intertwined. Personal flexibility often comes after being financially able to upgrade technology, improve infrastructure, and add employees. A small business line of credit can offer business owners immense flexibility – financially and, in turn, personally.


Succession Planning


It can seem like most small business owners are keenly focused on starting and growing their businesses. However, it's crucial for entrepreneurs to have an idea of how they want to wind down or exit the business.

Julian Walden, who founded his digital design firm in 1995, said he loves what he does and doesn't want to retire early, but when the time comes to hang up his keyboard, he wants to sell his company to colleagues. “Neither of my children has shown any interest in the business," he said, “so I will want to sell to one or more of my colleagues." Toward that end, he understands the value of having a business succession plan, and is keeping that initiative top of mind.

Sappington also plans to look to his team members as he moves toward achieving his “winding down" bucket list item in the next five years. Right now, he's focused on perfecting the company's processes and getting the right people in the right positions. The goal: “[To make sure] the company is strategically positioned to continue to do what we do even after I transition out.”

Thames' related bucket-list item is to pass a successful company down to her children, especially since it's been in the family for years. “I want to continue the family legacy and keep the business financially and operationally healthy and successful.”

Something to Consider: As Walden learned from experience, having a business succession plan is a must at every stage of your business, not just at the end of your career. In many cases, your trusted financial partner can assist you with creating a succession plan that gives you peace of mind throughout your career.


Build a Relationship with a Bank


Without exception, the small business owners we spoke to all mentioned the importance of having a strong relationship with a bank, even if you don't necessarily need lending at the time.

Walden said his bank has been integral to his company's success. “I cannot say enough about the impact they've had," he explained, adding that with the help of his bank, his firm has managed its cash flow so it hasn't had to borrow along the way. They've made connections with clients, provided help with security and fraud prevention, and have served as a trusted advisor along the way. "They have always been available when we need them," he said. "I think every business person should make developing a close relationship with a financial partner a priority."

Something to Consider: First Horizon has a long history of being an engaged and supportive financial partner for small businesses. We offer our small business customers an excellent selection of banking, lending, cash management, investment, and planning services. We also provide access to trusted professionals – such as attorneys, accountants, and more – to help our small business customers with many of their small business support needs.


Get Started on Your Own Business Bucket List


Having a bucket list, which is essentially a must-do to-do list for you and your business, can help keep you focused, give you direction, and provide a roadmap for the future. Also, having clearly defined priorities can help you maximize resources and identify opportunities. What's more, revisiting your bucket list regularly can help you analyze how your business has grown and changed, and determine what steps you need to take going forward to achieve your financial and personal business goals.


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