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A Breast Cancer Diagnosis Ultimately Transformed My Life and Business for the Better The hard process of treatment and recovery also fueled an opportunity to transform my business into one that better supports the life I want.

By Shannon Lavenia Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In 2019, life smacked me in the face like my old grandma when she caught me using the F-word. Only this stung much harder: I was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer. I was 45, healthy and until that point was living a pretty amazing life.

My OB suggested a mammogram, but I put it off. Thank God she followed up — a diligence that saved my life. I didn't have a lump and didn't think it was an urgent matter, but that was classic me, always putting my health and wellness last after business, family and friends. On the day of the mammo, I knew within minutes that something was wrong. The tech turned a pasty shade and her voice went up a few octaves.

It was truly a shock. My daughter was 8 and my husband and I had just celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. In an instant, life was different.

As my family planned for the upcoming year of treatments and surgeries, I also had to plan for months of absence from my business. (I own Brand Builder Design Studios + Collective; we create brands for entrepreneurs and offer a collection of courses to help business owners master the art of marketing and offers.) I was uncertain about what running the company would look like during treatments, but certainly knew that I had to get organized and that I would need to rely more heavily on my team. My doctors advised me that chemotherapy would be debilitating at times and that I would require time to rest and heal. Trouble was, that was not my typical operating mode; I was used to being more hands on, doing everything and using my team for the remainder of what I couldn't manage.

Related: Taking Care of Business When an Illness Strikes

As I began to formulate what I wanted my future to look like post-cancer, I knew that the era of putting in 12-hour days was over. There were too many other things I wanted to give attention to, namely my family. I also wanted that new life to have far more freedom, more adventure, more contribution and easier financial success — to have income streams that were not reliant on my day-to-day participation. I wanted to operate as the creator of my business instead of the doer in my business.

At first that seemed like a pipe dream, but as I started to put more structure into the company, create processes and develop posts for my team, I was working less and less and we began growing faster than ever.

The company today, post-cancer, looks markedly different, and it's far better than I ever could have imagined. I created the life balance I envisioned, while simultaneously creating exponentially greater business success, and with less personal time and effort. I also moved cross country from Arizona to Florida, started homeschooling my daughter, and have had more fun with my family than ever before. We had our best financial year in a decade, and I'm cancer-free and have a full head of hair again.

Now that I'm on the other side of all this, I count myself beyond blessed to have survived and thrived. My experience with cancer gave me a unique perspective on the value of time and the role business plays in my life. Prior, it was something I served, but now it's something that serves me.

Before my diagnosis, I spent long days and weekends working… was always hunting down the next client and otherwise doing far more than I should have. To accommodate the sudden need for time off, I simplified my offers and sought out relationships that would provide growth, but with less effort, including creating a white-label program for business coaches who could offer our branding and website packages to their clients at a nice profit. This gave them an additional revenue stream and kept a constant flow of new business coming into our doors. We also created referral incentives, which lowered our marketing costs and further increased client volume.

Put simply, I turned everything into a process. My business operates with Asana, a versatile project management software that enables us to put everything into a process and template. When we onboard a new client, we simply duplicate the template and the project is in motion.

Related: Utilize These Platforms to Increase Your Business's Productivity

I also turned over a lot of responsibility to my team. This was the most challenging change, but I really didn't have a choice. I couldn't operate when I was down from chemo, so had to trust that they would rise to the occasion, and they did. My project manager basically ran the show when I was out of pocket. We onboarded new team members who had dedicated roles in running the company, from finance to delivery, and I effectively stepped into the CEO role and out of the "doingness" of the business. This created the space for me to heal, but was also a catalyst for growth. Now, my time is spent making critical decisions and planning, while my team operates the day-to-day.

I also added automated and recurring income streams in the form of online courses and coaching programs. I created a program called the CEO Freedom Accelerator, in which I work with other company owners to streamline their systems so they, too, can experience a life of freedom now, rather than later. This program has turned out to be the most rewarding endeavor of my career, and if I hadn't had cancer, it never would have been created. This year we helped 67 executives and business owners create exponentially greater results while simultaneously creating more personal freedom.

Here are the key lessons that enabled me to use the experience of beating cancer to create a business that thrives multidimensionally:

• Stay in your zone of genius: I don't spend a lot of time learning things I don't want to become expert in. Rather, I hire people who are expert at those things and count on them to deliver great service. Doing this saves me countless hours of frustration, and has helped me develop trust in others and in my own ability to lead.

• Make everything a process: Most owners recreate the same tasks over and over. This takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Instead, take the time to record all the steps of what you do on a spreadsheet or in a project management software like Asana. Once you have that process down, you can onboard someone else to do it.

• Batch your promotional content: We plan our promotions months in advance — record videos and batch-create social media content in one block of time — then use an auto-scheduler to post them. Doing things this way helps us stay off social media when we don't need to be there, as well as avoid other distractions.

• Perfect your offers: When you have total clarity on your offers and the ideal customer avatar, you are able to create streamlined marketing plans that will convert. When I learned more about creating online courses and coaching programs and launched CEO Freedom Accelerator, that freed up time by allowing me to automate most of our marketing, sales and delivery. Perfecting your offer will help you make more sales with less effort.

Related: The 7 Elements of an Irresistibly Compelling Offer

Employing excellent organization, streamlined processes and converting offers helped me scale my business faster without having to hustle. You can do the same, first by envisioning the outcome you want for your life — including personal and business roles — then getting to work making it happen. It is possible to have the life you want and the business that supports it.

Shannon Lavenia

CEO of Brand Builder Collective

Shannon Lavenia is a high-energy, dynamic speaker, business coach, and serial entrepreneur. She is the founder of Brand Builder Design Studios, co-founder of SalesGenieCRM, and creator of the Brand Builder Course Collective.She can be contacted at

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