There are few life events as emotionally impactful or transformative as the sale of one’s business. A business that you’ve built from scratch is similar to a child that you’ve raised from infancy, poured your heart and soul into, and spent countless hours nurturing through good times and bad.
However, as with all relationships, there comes a time when you and your “baby” will part ways. It can be an emotionally fraught process; after all, for years your business was a source of financial security and stability for you and your family, and likely provided a sense of identity to you as an entrepreneur, employer, and valued member of your community. After the sale, that strong sense of personal identity may dramatically shift, leaving you struggling to answer the question: “Who am I without my business?”
Most business owners don’t give this matter much thought in the months and years leading up to the sale due to the time and attention the business demands. For many of them, this lack of preparation leads to regret and disappointment with the transaction – even when the proceeds of the sale were more than generous.
We spoke with Westmount Senior Advisor and Certified Exit Planning Advisor Todd Goldman about what steps can be taken to avoid this pitfall and ensure the next chapter of a business owner’s life is as satisfying and rewarding as the last.
What should a business owner do in the years leading up to the sale of their business to ensure they’ll be satisfied with the outcome?
A properly orchestrated business sale can be a thing of beauty, but it is no small task. In his book “Walking to Destiny,” Exit Planning Institute CEO Christopher Snider describes the process as a three-legged stool. If any of the three legs are missing or fall short, the outcome will be less than ideal.
The first leg is financial planning – looking at your financial condition to determine how much liquidity needs to be generated from the business sale to meet your lifetime and legacy goals. The second leg is business planning – looking at the company to determine how you can maximize the value of the company before taking it to market (the first leg often informs how much work must be done with the second leg).
The third leg, personal planning, is the one most neglected by business owners. It involves looking at your values and personal goals to help you design a life where your business no longer dominates your time and consciousness.
Why is this type of planning so neglected?
There are several contributing factors, but the most common is the fact that entrepreneurs are busy people with competing obligations that they may view as being “more important” than themselves. Between family, employees, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, and community members, there’s not much bandwidth left for a business owner to stop and think about their own identity.
By comparison, the other legs of the stool (business planning and financial planning) are the more concrete parts of running a business. It’s not unusual for business owners to have already done some work on these matters over the years. Quantitative issues — like profit/loss analysis and balance sheet optimization — may be more familiar than something as qualitative as defining personal values.
Is there a tool or shortcut to help?
An exercise Christopher Snider suggests is to reflect upon the Spiritual, Things, Experiences, and People (S.T.E.P.) that are most important to you.
Before you start visualizing life after the sale, it’s worth taking a few hours over a weekend to reflect upon the aspects of life that bring you the most satisfaction. This can be done simply by answering a few questions:
- “What is the source of your inspiration?” Essentially, what is your center? What is it that gives purpose to your life and drives you to do what you do? Is it your spouse, family, money, work, possessions, friends, service to others, or religion?
- “What things do I want that I don’t have today and what things could I live without?” Everyone has some level of desire for possessions. Some folks have inadvertently accumulated more than they really want or need. What’s the right equilibrium for you? Remember, you’ll be spending financial capital on these things, so how many cars, homes, boats, horses, etc. is the right amount for you?
- “What experiences in life do I cherish the most? What do I still want to experience someday?” Reflect on the events in your life that you found most satisfying. What does your highlights reel look like? Can you identify what it was about those events that made an impact on you? What can you do in the future to replicate this feeling? Or are you just ready to start tackling your bucket list?
- “What relationships have been most meaningful to you? Are there any you want to build or strengthen going forward?” We all have a tribe that brings purpose to our life. Is it your family, spouse, friends, mentors, mentees, faith members, community members, or the less fortunate?
This sounds like a lot of work. Is there anyone that can help?
There’s no reason a business advisor must travel this road alone. Just as a business benefits from having a board of directors, a business owner benefits from having a board of personal advisors – particularly during this process. Your personal board might consist of a spouse, child, best friend, spiritual advisor, therapist, or a host of others. Who do you turn to when you need solid personal advice? Who knows you extremely well and has seen you in multiple circumstances?
These are the people you can invite into the conversation. They may not have a complete picture of your inner self, but they can provide insight from different points of view and remind you of the “highlight reel” moments you’ve since forgotten.
Invite them to a lunch or dinner. Explain that you’re looking to draft a written plan for your life after the business and walk them through S.T.E.P. topics.
Many of these advisors will be along for the ride with you during the next phase of your life, so it’s a great opportunity to hear their thoughts and get their buy-in. If your dream is to get your pilot’s license and fly disaster relief missions in Africa, you might want your spouse or kids’ support beforehand.
Is there anything Westmount can do to help with this process?
Westmount has deep resources to help our clients with the financial planning leg of the stool. We can also provide tax planning suggestions that could save you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if started early enough in the process. Those of us that have the Certified Exit Planning Advisor designation have also been well-trained in the entire business sale process and can provide valuable insight and connections throughout the process.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your business exit journey or nearing the end of the road, our team can help you make sure your eventual business exit is a beautiful one. Give us a call at 310-556-2502, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact your advisor to get started.
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