The following piece was contributed as part of Business News Daily's byline series:
On New Year's Day in 2013, after running a business together for ten years, my business partner asked for a "divorce."
There are moments in life that blindside you and leave you scrambling to pick up the pieces. You never know when that moment might strike. I certainly didn't. I was shocked and devastated.
Like any long-term personal or professional relationship, we had our ups and downs, but I never expected to be served with papers to dissolve our business. It forced me to think about my vision for my new business and what was important to me as a leader.
Facing the music
One of the hardest things I had to do was face my employees. In hindsight, I'm sure all of the employees had known something wasn't right, but they weren't expecting the divorce any more than I was. I assured them, even as I worked to reassure myself, that we would get through this and come out of it better than ever.
Fortunately, seven of them decided to join me as I built a new business.
During the dismantling of my former company, my team and I had been meeting regularly, commiserating over the toxic office antics but also talking about the new company, reading "Good to Great," (HarperBusiness, 2011), envisioning new way of doing business and a better future.
Little did I realize that by holding these sessions I was becoming a more authentic, vulnerable and transparent leader. These meetings were coined "Culture Club" — a gathering of our team to talk about the future and share lunch or a craft beer.
This ritual became a cornerstone of our new company.
Rebuilding through learning
As I focused my attention on building a new culture, I met a group of business people who shared our values — the Small Giants Community. They helped me build a framework to reset the table and do things differently.
This community of liked-minded professionals taught me the importance of culture, company values, and the Return-On-Values business model, which measures the impact that a great business culture has on profit.
The Small Giants Community introduced me to the Great Game of Business (GGOB), also referred to as open-book management. Since transparency was key, I knew I wanted to run my business with open-book financials. Following the GGOB model, our entire team was educated on what it takes to run a profitable business and how being transparent builds the environment of trust.
We officially began doing business as Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology on November 1, 2013. But businesses need money to start, so I also had to prepare the financial piece. We were in a tough spot with fixed expenses and debt to repay. We had two months of cash and no guaranteed sales pipeline. So I invested my own money and took out a small line of credit to get the business up and running.
Out of the ashes
Recently we've been recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in Illinois. Notable distinctions include open-book financial management, quarterly bonuses, celebratory outings, Thirsty Thursdays, weekly Culture Club lunches, and our entertaining (but not so competitive) softball team — the Brew Crew.
What have I learned from all this? Transparency is crucial, especially if you want to build a company culture based on trust. What I once thought would be a sign of personal failure turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for my career and my team, and allowed me to build the kind of business I always dreamed of owning.
About the author: Kathy Steele is the founder and president of Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology in Chicago. Kathy loves the crazy ride of being an entrepreneur, building brands, simple user experiences and happy employees.
Edited for length and clarity by Shannon Gausepohl. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Shannon at email@example.com to learn more about our contributed content program.