There’s an old saying, “No-one is indispensable”. In theory, it does not matter who you are or what work you do, you can always be edged out or replaced. This even applies to the hardworking owner. As and when retirement beckons and the business is put up for sale, a buyer can come in and continue as if nothing had changed. It’s all a matter of specific skills and personality. If people are comfortable around you and you drive the business forward, you are the key person for now. Ask anyone and their immediate reaction may well be that “you” are the business.
They will shake their heads and worry what would happen if you should leave. But businesses cannot be run on this basis. There should always be a plan to ensure the business can keep going if a key person suddenly disappears. Insurance is the first step, providing a buffer against any loss in revenue and covering the cost of finding a replacement. The second issue is passing on the key person’s knowledge and experience. Business continuity depends on the organization being adaptable enough to survive. This requires the training of people to take over key functions. At first, it may be sufficient simply to cover during the key person’s holidays and days of leave. But the long-term aim should be for the organization to learn all the necessary skills for continuity.
The cost of insuring a key person varies significantly from hundreds to thousands a year. It depends on a number of variables including age, state of health and the responsibilities within the organization. Young and healthy people cost less to insure when the business is starting up. Mature businesses depending on older members of staff will find the premiums significantly higher. The insurance itself is a variation of term life insurance. So, for whatever period of time is set, the insurance company will pay out if the key person is no longer available through accident, injury, disease or death. One of the most common reasons for this type of insurance is during a funding exercise. Banks, venture capitalists and other lenders often make a loan conditional on adequate insurance being put in place. This is routine in start-ups where the funding is for the people rather than the business. If one of the company promoters does die, the death benefits usually go to the lenders, repaying some or all of the capital invested. This allows the survivors to continue the business with their own investment protected.
When it comes to business insurance, it’s not the time to be sentimental or optimistic. People do get into accidents, fall ill or die. That’s life and you have to plan how the business is going to survive and recover from the loss of a key person. Blindly hoping no-one gets sick is not a good strategy. Business insurance and training must go hand-in-hand to prepare against all the worst-case scenarios you can foresee. That way, you can keep the premiums ticking over and capture as much of the key person’s expertise before the worst happens.