Often, as part of my work as an attorney focused on consumer and small business bankruptcy, I find myself discussing a client’s employee benefits from work. Since I do my very best to keep up with developments in every area that can impact my clients, I read a journal called Employee Benefit Adviser. The July issue of this professional journal carries a very wise piece by Editor-In-Chief Robert Whiddon, called “Hope Is Not A Strategy”. I was immediately attracted by the title, because, as I’ve stressed in so many earlier bankruptcy blogs, many small business owners keep hoping things will turn around for them. Meanwhile, they put off putting some strategies into place that can help protect their assets in the event their business simply cannot survive.

I like Whiddon’s attitude towards employee benefit planning and the advice he’s giving employee benefit advisers: “We all fall into the hope trap. We shouldn’t anticipate or plan for failure, and it’s important to tackle life each day with a sense of optimism. But do we have specific plans to achieve the things we want to make happen? ‘Sort of’ and ‘maybe’ are too close to hope for my tastes.”

I found these words particularly apropos for both my individual bankruptcy clients and my small business bankruptcy clients in Indiana. The financial troubles that lead to bankruptcy and/or foreclosure on a home or business property very rarely happen overnight. In fact, after almost twenty-five years of dealing with clients’ personal and business finances through recessions and periods of booming growth, I find that it’s usually a combination of factors, piling up over months and even over a period of years, that finally become too much for clients to handle on their own.

The earlier in the process that I enter the picture as a bankruptcy adviser, the greater the number of options will remain open for us to use. Too often the result of just waiting and hoping, I find, is that troubles tend (both literally and figuratively) to compound. Even if bankruptcy or foreclosure becomes inevitable, those clients that began planning with me at the first signs of trouble ended up with more satisfactory results.

As Whiddon so aptly points out, hope is not a strategy. The funny thing I’ve found, though, is that having a strategy in place ahead of time really does offer hope.