Dan Sendroy, owner of Mid-Ohio Insurance Specialists, sat down with his CPA, Sandra Vero, to review his taxes on December 29th. She noted that it was a bit late to do any year-end tax planning, and suggested, “After the new year, when you have more time let’s look at what we can do to reduce taxes. I know you are also interested in, as you’ve said, ‘getting out of the rat race’ and exiting your business. We should discuss how we can help you with that as well.”
“Look Sandra, I’d love to start planning for my business exit. I’m 62, and I’d like to exit before I’m 70, but I just don’t have the time right now to plan for anything—let alone something that may never happen! You’ve heard the old expression, ‘I’m up to my eyeballs in alligators. How can I drain the swamp?’ That’s me.”
As advisors, we need to make Exit Planning easy and simple for owners like Dan and for owners who are less articulate about their business issues. To both types of owners, offering a simple and effective remedy to an owner’s most pressing issues can jump start planning and produce quick results.
For owners like Dan, start by understanding what primary issue keeps them up at night, then find a way to deal with it. It was easy for Sandra to identify Dan’s headache which was a lack of time. Had he not been able to express his frustration, Sandra might have used BEI’s 16-question assessment to help Dan identify and prioritize his chief concerns.
How do you approach owners who don’t want to complete an assessment to identify their primary problem? Don’t offer to drain the swamp—to engage in planning—in an effort to get rid of one “alligator”. Identify the alligator and offer a simple solution. Tackling one issue at a time can be much more manageable.
If you’re “just” a lawyer, CPA, or an insurance or financial advisor, your professional expertise may not include the solution to a specific owner issue. But for Exit Planners like Sandra, it doesn’t matter if the solution lies outside of their core professions.
“Dan I totally understand where you are coming from,” Sandra sympathized. “I have a couple of suggestions that will free up a lot of your time.”
“Sandra, if you have a solution” Dan responded, “I’m all ears!”
“Let’s develop a plan to transition some management responsibility from you to one or two others in your company. The purpose is to prepare your managers to deal with the alligators, so you aren’t the only one who knows how to do that.”
First, she used one of BEI’s recommendations to create a plan to transition responsibility to management. The recommendation outlined the actions necessary: Identify employees capable of assuming responsibility in areas of the business such as:
- Sales Management
- Banking Relationships
- Key Customer Relationships
- Vendor Relationships
- Technology and Innovation
- Facilities and Capital Equipment
For each person and area, Sandra suggested that she and Dan work together to identify how to measure and reward success. The recommendation also summarized the benefits to Dan and his company of proceeding immediately.
Sandra then called on her advisor team for expert advice on implementing this recommendation. Sandra had already assembled a group of professional advisors from other disciplines that included a business consultant and a management consultant. She recommended that Dan briefly meet with each advisor immediately to determine how best to quickly address Dan’s #1 headache.
While she used Exit Planning resources, she didn’t suggest to Dan that he should engage in developing an entire Exit Plan. The plan will start to fall into place after you are able to help your business owner clients tackle some of their primary concerns.
- Take time to discover your owner clients’ issues and concerns that may or may not lie outside of your profession’s domain.
- For owners not ready for in depth Exit Planning, initiate a planning relationship based on solving one or two issues at a time.
- Using “recommendations for action” and involving your own panel of outside experts to address an owner’s chief concern keeps planning straightforward.
- By helping Dan solve his #1 headache, Sandra became his “most trusted advisor.”
Submitted by John Brown on Fri, 02/05/2021 - 8:00am
Advisors can be reluctant to raise the topic of business Exit Planning with their clients because many business owners may view the topic as complicated and complex. It’s true there are a lot of moving parts and multiple advisors involved in the creation and implementation of an Exit Plan. It also often requires knowledge beyond one’s core profession.
With all that it entails, planning for a business owner’s future may indeed be premature for you and your practice—especially if you have never engaged in multi-disciplinary business planning.
Is there an alternative to Exit Planning?
Fortunately, there is! The alternative to creating an extensive Exit Plan is to conduct an Annual Planning Meeting. This meeting is beneficial to both you and your clients because it:
Involves you in an owner’s future plans.
Is a gentle introduction to planning for those owners who have never done any form of planning.
Follows the Exit Planning structure to prepare owners for the next steps.
Helps owners become familiar with you and how you work.
Demonstrates to owners the financial and other immediate benefits of planning.
Uses a process which facilitates planning and as world-renowned management consultant W. Edward Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The Annual Planning Meeting
Each year schedule a meeting with your business owner clients and his or her key advisors; usually an attorney, CPA, insurance, and financial professional. If certain agenda items require other professional advisors, they should attend as well.
Exit Planning Advisors create and send an owner-centric meeting agenda to every attendee several weeks before the meeting. Doing so gives everyone time to review it, suggest additions and revisions, and come prepared to the meeting.
The agenda you send an owner could include the follow elements. Ask your clients the specific questions below to get the information you need to start creating the right plan for them:
- Owner Objectives: Have your objectives changed since we last met? Are there any new objectives that we, as your advisors, should be working to meet?
- Preserving Value: Is your company doing everything it should to reduce its tax liability?
- Protecting Value: What steps can we, as your team of advisors, take to protect your company from creditor attack and other risks?
- Promoting Value: What areas of your company need improvement in order to increase its value? (This topic often includes a discussion of motivating key employees.)
- Business Continuity Planning: What must be done to make sure that, if you die or become disabled, your business will continue with minimal disruption?
- Wealth Preservation/Estate Planning: What is needed to: 1) minimize estate and other taxes, 2) treat all of your children fairly (if applicable), and 3) provide financial security for your family?
This agenda follows BEI’s Exit Planning Process but does not include an explicit discussion of exit paths. It is simple, easy to do, and often leads to forming a comprehensive plan for your client’s future.
You may choose to include only those agenda items that you and the other advisors have the knowledge and experience to fully address. For example, if your professional training and practice (and that of the other advisors) are limited to business continuity and estate planning, it might be best to discuss only those topics during your initial meeting. As your knowledge, experience, and team of advisors grows, you can expand the Annual Planning Meeting agenda. To broaden your experience and knowledge, we suggest that you pursue advanced training and seek out and work with additional experienced and capable advisors in a variety of professions.
Annual Planning Meetings with your owner clients and their key advisors is a simple and effective means of introducing owners to business planning and your planning abilities.
Limit planning topics to those you and other advisors on your team have the experience and training to address.
Don’t complicate planning by delving into areas and topics in which you and the professionals on your advisor team are not experienced and skilled.