Shaping an Owner’s Exit Plan From Start to Finish

Submitted by John Brown on Fri, 07/19/2019 - 9:00am
A person’s hand hovering over a wet clay pot on a potter’s wheel

When we talk about Exit Planning, we often talk about how advisors are responsible for creating an Exit Plan for business owners. With only 17% of business owners reporting that they have a written Exit Plan, it’s obvious that creating an Exit Plan is a critical issue for owners and advisors to address. The idea of creating something like an Exit Plan can imply a ton of from-scratch work (as is often the case), which can cause business owners to want to put that ton of work off to another day (as they often do). It’s an advisor’s responsibility and opportunity to overcome these hurdles. In this series of articles, we’re going to present how.

Shaping an Exit Plan vs. Creating an Exit Plan

Most business owners understand how much work creation requires. They created their businesses, processes, and most of the aspects that made the business successful. As owners age and approach the next stage in their business lives, they may not want to put that kind of work into a business exit. When business advisors run into this problem, it can evoke a feeling of helplessness. If an owner doesn’t want to do something, how can that owner and their advisors do anything at all?

The key is to reframe creating as shaping.

This isn’t merely a semantic trick. Many business owners have ideas for what their exits will look like, even if they don’t have a formal plan. For example, they may have an idea for when they want to be out of their businesses. They might have a preference for who will take over once they exit. They might have desires for what they will do with all the money they’ll have from successfully selling their businesses. The ideas are there. They simply don’t have any shape.

Exit Planning Advisors help owners shape their ideas into actionable solutions.

How do they do that? This post will take us through the first thing advisors and owners must do to shape raw ideas into actionable plans. Everything starts with collecting data and setting strategy.

Collecting Data and Setting Strategy: Step 1 in Shaping an Exit Plan

Exit Planning cannot truly begin unless advisors know what their business-owning clients want. Exit Planning is owner-centric, which means that the owner’s wants and needs dictate the process. But getting owners to talk about what they want and need can be challenging, especially when owners identify strongly with their businesses, as many of them do.

The most successful way for owners and advisors to begin shaping an Exit Plan is to collect data and set a strategy. To do this, owners and advisors should do three things: establish objectives, determine resources, and choose an ideal path.

Establishing Objectives

Though there are many facets to a successful Exit Plan, there are three overarching objectives that all advisors must encourage business owners to establish. Without knowing these three objectives, it’s nearly impossible to shape a successful business exit.

  1. The Foundational Goal – Financial Security: Absolutely no Exit Plan can ever be considered successful unless it achieves financial security for the business owner and their family members. Each owner’s financial security goal is different. Owners and advisors must determine what it takes to achieve financial security first and foremost.
  2. Universal Goals – When, for How Much, and to Whom: Almost all owners want a say in when they leave their businesses, how much they get for their businesses, and to whom they leave their businesses. Advisors who guide business owners to think about and act on these wants typically find that those owners are more engaged in the process. Determining universal goals takes an owner’s nebulous ideas and shapes them into actionable goals.
  3. Values-Based Goals – Keeping Principles Intact: A common stumbling block for owners is uncovering their values-based goals. These goals are basically living principles. For example, some owners want their companies to remain in their communities. This desire can be so strong that they’ll gladly take less than top dollar (but still achieve financial security) to see it through. Unfortunately, many owners don’t realize how important their values are until the moment it’s time to exit, at which point, it’s often too late to do anything about it without throwing the entire plan into chaos. Though this part of data collection is equal parts art and science, advisors must assure that owners uncover and address their values-based goals early.

Exit Planning can only move forward once owners and advisors establish these objectives. While these objectives may change and evolve throughout the Exit Planning Process, having a baseline idea in writing gives everyone a foundation to build on.

In next week’s article, we’ll examine why advisors must determine an owner’s resources and ideal Exit Path before they can begin strategizing.

Takeaways

  • Many business owners have ideas for how their business exits might look. Exit Planning Advisors help owners shape those ideas into actionable goals.
  • Framing an Exit Plan as something to shape, rather than create, can make the process look more manageable to owners and prevent procrastination.
  • Before anything else, advisors must work with owners to establish three important objectives before creating, shaping, or implementing any plans.


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