Exit Planning prospects need to know three things about you: what you do, whom you do it for, and why they should work with you. So how do you communicate these things to your prospective clients and convince them to engage you in planning work? That’s a great question, and one that we get a lot from the advisors we work with. The good news is it doesn’t have to be hard to engage owners in Exit Planning.
Obstacles to Planning
BEI has surveyed owners twice in the past four years and has found that about 75% of them believe “something” prevents them from planning their business exits. The most common roadblocks are:
- They need to improve the business first.
- Other issues are more pressing than planning.
- They have no successor.
- They aren’t ready to act.
If owners are to engage you to help them plan their exits, you need to address and eliminate these roadblocks. You must persuade them that acting now to begin Exit Planning, and engaging you in that process, is in their best interest.
How do you do that? We suggest you start by listening.
By asking questions to uncover an individual owner’s barrier(s), you communicate your interest in the owner’s agenda rather than your own initiatives. All of us in the advisor community, BEI Members included, could better serve owners by focusing on their current concerns, rather than on a securing an Exit Planning engagement for ourselves.
Questions like “What do you think you’d like to do after you exit?” and “How do you want people to view your business?” allow business owners to provide deeper and more revealing answers into their business and their goals. Showing genuine interest builds trust and business owners prefer to work with people they trust.
Understanding the Common Perception
When most owners, and advisors hear the term “Exit Planning,” they think about the actual ownership transfer process. They believe that the first Exit Planning step is to hire an investment banker to sell the business, or a CPA and lawyer to draft a sale agreement between themselves and their key employees or children.
These are certainly important steps in the Exit Planning Process, but far from the first ones. In fact, transferring ownership control is usually the last step in the implementation of an Exit Plan and usually occurs after years of planning and plan execution. In fact, the typical Exit Plan takes 5-10 years to implement in order to attain the owner’s exit goals.
In order to secure the Exit Planning engagement, you must be able to accurately and compellingly describe the planning process and illustrate its benefits. Only then can owners begin to appreciate the time that planning an exit requires, feel the urgency, and turn to you for advice.
Change the Planning Paradigm
As experienced Exit Planners, we understand we spend most of our time and effort dealing with the current problems and challenges that plague owners. Owners often engage us to:
- Grow business value.
- Develop management teams.
- Strengthen operating systems.
- Protect businesses from risk.
- Minimize current taxes as well as those to be paid upon the transfer of ownership.
- Resolve business continuity issues in a way that achieves an owner’s financial security and ownership goals regardless of whether an owner lives to see a planned exit or dies before reaching it.
- A host of other issues, that are “more pressing” to our clients than “selling the company.”
Two birds, One stone
One of the benefits of the BEI Seven Step Exit Planning Process is that it addresses and resolves owners’ immediate concerns in the context of their ultimate exit goals and aspirations.
Consider the owner who wants to grow business value. A trained Exit Planner can offer a number of specific suggestions which can be implemented immediately, e.g. motivate key employees via an incentive plan. The planner might recommend that the incentive be designed so that the cash flow or value of the business increases at the pace necessary to enable the owner to exit on his or her timetable, leaving the business in the hands of the successor he or she chooses.
Focusing on and resolving an owner’s most pressing problem is a great solution because it enables you to prove your value quickly and paves the path to a comprehensive planning engagement. Once owners understand that engaging in Exit Planning addresses today’s challenges and their long-term goals, it is easier to get them engaged.
Exit Planning provides advisors the opportunity to solve a business owner’s ever-present challenges in concert with achieving longer-term exit goals and aspirations.