Month: November 2017

Exit Planning: Why do Business Owners Avoid it?

Science has proved it to be an urban myth, but it was long believed that ostriches buried their heads in the ground at the sight of approaching danger.

Thus, the phrase “You have your head in the sand”, was born. It means: “To refuse to acknowledge or deal with problems, danger, or difficulty in the hopes that they will resolve themselves on their own.”

Business owners are notorious for “burying their heads in the sand” as they near the end of their runway. But why?

When so much can be gained by sucking it up and planning for an exit, why do business owners avoid it?

In no particular order, here are several reasons:

  1. Afraid of getting old. Exiting the business represents “the end” of youth.
  2. Feel trapped. Used to a high level of income that accompanies business ownership. Afraid that they will have to take a “pay cut” in the last chapter of their lives. The tendency is to stay in the business, pulling off a heavy salary, as long as possible.
  3. Don’t know what to do next. Don’t have a purpose in life after work. Business is their identity.
  4. Afraid of being bored.
  5. Don’t want anyone to know they are planning to exit their business. They have an irrational fear that employees, customers, suppliers will leave if they find out a transition is happening. In reality, these people are already thinking about the business owner’s eventual retirement, and they would feel more comfortable if they knew the strategy for moving forward after you are gone.
  6. Have priorities that feel way more urgent than exit planning. “I don’t even have enough time in the day to run my business, how am I supposed to have time to plan for an exit”. This is the classic “saving face” excuse that many business owners are willing to voice when they don’t want to discuss their soft/emotional apprehension toward leaving the business.
  7. Misinformed and confused about what to do. In a world where most professional services have stood as pillars of industry for hundreds of years, Exit Planning is still in its infancy as a practice. It’s an incredibly confusing and very time-consuming process. And different advisors preach different things. Unfortunately, many advisors right now are taking a micro-view of “Exit Planning” that fits their personal expertise, because there is money to be made if they can play a role in an owner’s exit. For example, a financial advisor may map out a business owner’s projected retirement assets/expenses + reallocate their investment portfolio and call it “Exit Planning”. This is not Exit Planning. It is a very small piece of the much larger Exit Planning process.
  8. Genuinely don’t want to exit. They still have the drive for it. They still thoroughly enjoy what they do. Can’t even comprehend leaving in the next 10 years. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t familiarize themselves with the Exit Planning process. There are certain concepts – particularly in the area of risk management – that all business owners should implement correctly many years before they feel “ready”. Taking some time to understand the process – to understand what buyers are looking for – can afford business owners a strategic advantage.
  9. Control issues. Some business owners are simply attached to the operations. Can’t let go, even if there are people in place, ready to assume more responsibility. If they aren’t in place, it usually is a simple process to cross-train people to assume more responsibility or hire an additional employee to assume some of the burden.
  10. Don’t understand all the options available to them. Many business owners have very misguided beliefs about the market for their business. A common mistake is to ignore a sale to employees because they “don’t have any money”. In many cases, if time is on the owner’s side, there are strategic ways of helping employees build capital.
  11. Heir-apparent (successor) is not working out. The most common situation is that the owner’s “heir-apparent” child does not possess all the qualities that the owner would like to see. In some cases, the concerns are valid. In other cases, the owner is being overly-critical. Regardless, owners whose heir-apparent isn’t “just so” undergo a great deal of emotional turmoil as they grapple with “what to do”.
  12. Can’t figure out how to be “fair” to everyone, including: children, spouses, employees, etc.

 

Fear and other emotional distresses play huge roles in a business owner’s decisions near the end of their runway. It’s common for the owner to vocalize a “rational” reason (like #6) to others, while concealing the true reason. The sad and unfortunate truth is that many business owners never work up the courage to face the true source of their distress. They simply avoid the situation entirely until they are forced from the business by some health-related factor. Businesses rarely survive that situation.

Question for the Crowd: Do you have personal experience dealing with an owner who stuck their head in the sand near the end of their runway? We would love to hear your story! Tell us what your role was (employee, child, spouse, etc.) and what you think the owner was avoiding. Is there anything you could have done to help the situation?  Please comment below or send an email to marketing@epiphanylaw.com (Re: Head in the sand) and we will post your comments anonymously.

Exit Planning: Starting the Conversation

More than 70% of businesses put on the market never sell.   That’s 70% of those put on the market, don’t sell.  And countless more businesses never even get listed but rather die quietly due to an owner’s unexpected death or illness.

Only 34% of family businesses survive to the 2nd generation.  That’s 2 out of 3 never successfully make it from mom and dad to the kids.  And only 14% of family businesses survive to the 3rd generation.

Why?  Simple:  Failure to properly plan for the succession of the business to a buyer/next generation and failure to plan for the successful exit of current owners.

Bottom line: Business owners wait too long to begin planning for this HUGE transition. It’s a major issue afflicting our society, and one that will only grow over the next decade as hundreds of thousands of baby boomers look to sell.

As we well know, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. In the case of the aging business owner, the simple act of talking openly with someone about exit planning can spark action. And action can mean the difference between a seamless transition at fair value or a disastrous failure. If you are a loving spouse, child, parent, friend or confidant of a business owner that is avoiding tackling exit planning for their business, this article is written for you. As this tsunami swells, it is critical that you – the child, the spouse or the close friend – assume a vital role: Starting the Conversation.

Whether you are next in line for a business succession or simply a concerned loved one, here are some tips for starting the conversation with an aging business owner:

  1. Have empathy. It’s the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, attitudes, and perspectives. The ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Start by opening your mind to think about the situation exclusively from their side. Think about how they feel about their business. Think about the hours they put into it, the hard times they have endured, and the success they have achieved. Respect and embrace those thoughts, and keep them with you as you talk. To further prepare yourself, understand the common concerns business owners have:
  2. Treat it like a business meeting. This is a BIG deal. Do not treat it as you would if you were talking about last weekend’s college football games. Don’t bring up in passing or with playful jests. Doing so diminishes the importance and may provide an avenue for the owner to continue avoiding the topic. Set aside time for this conversation, as you would with an important business matter. Ensure there are no distractions. Doing so will set the tone that it is a serious conversation. You words will instantly come across as more sincere and genuine.
  3. Prepare yourself. Come into it with a list of things you would like to say and questions you would like to ask. Mentally, have an open mind and be prepared to listen. Emotionally, try to remain neutral so they can express themselves completely.
  4. Understand your ideal outcome. The ideal outcome may be lightly different for everyone having this conversation, but it generally looks something like this:
    • You effectively express your own concern and love for this business owner.
    • You are able to ask a few questions.
    • You schedule a time to revisit the conversation at a later date (with more information, a 3rd party, after serious thought).
  5. Don’t be discouraged if they aren’t ready. It is very likely that they won’t be ready to open-up the first time you talk. Don’t be discouraged! Be respectful of their process for dealing with this, and focus on committing to another time to talk in the future (a couple weeks later). The business owner will probably think and process extensively over the next couple weeks, before coming to your next meeting much more prepared.
  6. Seek the help of a 3rd party — eventually. Not for the first meeting – you may risk blindsiding and/or offending the business owner. You want them to open up, not shut down. However, assuming an initial conversation went well, you may suggest having a 3rd party present for subsequent meetings in order to help facilitate discussion. Look for their most trusted advisor – whether a financial planner, banker, accountant or attorney. If they don’t have a most trusted advisor, look for a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA), as they have a deep understanding of common concerns, as well as strategies to move forward.
  7. Just do it. We all want to avoid having the difficult conversations – its human nature. Most will avoid it, ignore it, and make excuses not to do it. Be one of the few. You aren’t doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for someone you care about. Someone who is woefully unprepared. Someone who’s future happiness depends on you Starting the Conversation.   The difference between a successful exit and the destruction of a lifetime of work could be you!