Exit Planning oftentimes helps owners prepare for the unexpected.
“If you take control of those things you can, you are better able to negotiate the unexpected.” – Judy Sheindlin
The modern business landscape, and the Exit Planning industry, has plenty of variables. Unprecedented occurrences can happen at any given time. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw how many businesses were unprepared for sudden changes in the market. Businesses that had plans already in place for disruptions to supply chains and contingency plans for the economic impact on their business fared better in the long run. They controlled the things they could and shifted their organization to fit the situation that couldn’t be controlled.
No business owner wants their business to suffer because of their own failure to plan for all possible scenarios, especially when their own involvement in the business is concerned. That's where continuity planning comes into play. As an Exit Planning Advisor, you know firsthand what it takes to coordinate planning efforts that include a variety of considerations, risks, stakeholders, and timelines.
A continuity plan is defined as "a plan that creates a system of prevention and recovery from potential threats to a company.” In the business landscape, there are a variety of unexpected events or circumstances that could have a drastic impact on owners’ exits from their businesses.
External Unexpected Events
There are several unexpected events that could occur that are completely outside the control of a business: a war, a new pandemic, or a natural disaster, to name a few. As mentioned above, COVID-19, for example, disrupted global supply chains. The travel restrictions literally brought the travel and hospitality industries to a standstill.
Natural disasters and wars can have the same type of impact. If a business sources its raw materials from an area in the midst of a natural disaster or political dispute, the entire supply chain is in trouble. Ultimately, these disruptions can negatively impact not only your client’s business, but also their Exit Plans. They may want to delay their exits until the situation resolves and business operations are stabilized, or they may decide they can’t invest the time that is needed to recover and exit sooner.
As an Exit Planning Advisor, it is crucial to ensure that you do sufficient contingency planning so that your business owner clients know how to handle these external circumstances, how to best pivot their plans during those times, and how to protect their business, their families, and their employees. Look for areas in the business where there might be an overdependence on a particular customer, supplier, or business partner. Any disruption in their business can take a toll on your client’s entire business as well, which has a direct impact on the transferable value of the business.
Internal Unexpected Events
Internal unexpected events include deaths, divorces, co-owner disputes, and more. Such events can come unannounced and disrupt business in no time. Unfortunately, most businesses are unprepared for the unexpected. Owners have some degree of control over these events, but oftentimes it’s the timing of them that can be unexpected.
For example, the sudden death of a CEO or any top-level executive can have massive consequences to the leadership of the business. Similarly, the divorce of a major stakeholder can cause the splitting of stakes and could create an additional undesired shareholder. In addition, any legal disputes could quickly become a PR nightmare that hurts the company's reputation, which in turn impacts business value.
While an owner may have a buy-sell agreement in place that they believe will handle such scenarios, they often fail to prepare for more complex issues and the agreements aren’t reviewed often enough to be effective. But what happens when a co-owner leaves during their lifetime, and not by their death? This leaves some gaping holes in most buy-sell agreements and opens the door to opportunities for you to help your clients.
Continuity Planning & Exit Planning
As a business advisor, you must help your clients see how Exit Planning can help to cover all the bases. At the core of Exit Planning is being able to keep a business running through unexpected events and without the owner at the helm. Exit Planning ensures that your client can exit the company once it has reached its potential. However, it also puts proper “Plan B” initiatives in place to mitigate risks and put processes in place to help with emergencies.
Business Continuity is at the core of Exit Planning. It answers the “What if...” questions that owners are often unprepared to handle successfully. You are in the driver’s seat for your client, guiding them through the roadmap you have created for them to reach their desired exit goals. It is up to you to ensure that you have the necessary strategies in place so you and your client know what to do if and when you hit any speed bumps.
To learn more about preparing your clients for the unexpected, schedule a meeting with us today.
Benefits of Written Plans in Exit Planning
Exit Planning Advisors know from experience how much their business owner clients have on their plate. From building business value to developing capable successors, to figuring out what they want to do once they leave their business, Exit Planning is often seen as a daunting task to business owners - one that is often overlooked or simply put off until “a later date. While it is a lot of work, Exit Planning isn’t something that business owners can push off or tackle on their own if they want to exit on their terms.
It’s critical that as their most trusted advisor, you simplify the owner’s Exit Planning to-do list by having them start the process by writing their plans down. The act of writing down the Exit Plan can provide three potential benefits when done properly.
Benefit #1: Increase Clarity, Accountability, & Opportunity for Success
Conversations with business owners are crucial in learning your client’s goals and ambitions. However, encouraging them to take part in writing out their goals, resources, and desires will allow business owners to think critically and minimize misinterpretations. Eliminating misconceptions will lead to more clarity and consistency, which will likely cut down the length of the implementation period.
Written plans also encourage accountability. The plan details the responsibilities of each participating member of the Advisor Team. The written plan tracks deadlines and holds everyone accountable for the tasks they need to complete to stay on track.
Lastly, simply asking your clients to write down their goals increases the likelihood they’ll achieve them. There is proven power in handwritten goals. Dr. Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University in California, found in a 267-participant study on goal setting, that individuals are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down as opposed to leaving them in their head.
Benefit #2: Maintaining Control
A written plan allows the business owner to keep control of the business until they are ready to give it up. It also simultaneously controls when and how they transition out of ownership. Owners who lean into writing clear and specific plans can easily pass on their plans to their Exit Planning Advisor to lead and execute with the Advisor Team.
The more work the owner can put into the written plan upfront, the less work will be needed on their end when it comes to executing the process and the Exit Plan won’t necessarily need to be their primary focus. This increases planning efficiency and gives business owners the time they need to increase the company’s value. In addition, having written plans in place will control the perception that potential buyers might have because it will demonstrate a commitment to business vision and goals.
Benefit #3: Minimizing Cost & Time
In general, creating an Exit Plan takes several months, while the execution spans several years. Both creation and execution of an Exit Plan requires input from owners, their families, their management team, and all participating advisors. With so many moving parts, owners can oftentimes fall into a trap of spending more time and money than necessary to exit.
Written Exit Plans help mitigate costs in terms of time and money.
These written documents track everyone’s progress and pinpoint where bottlenecks might be occurring. . As the Exit Planning Advisor, you will wear many hats to relieve responsibility from the owner. Most importantly though, you will keep the plan current and be sure it is always reflective of the resources, goals, and assets relevant to the owner’s desired business exit. When all participating advisors are on the same page, the time and money spent on the process itself is often reduced.
What to Include in a Written Exit Plan
While the benefits of beginning the Exit Planning Process with a written plan are clear, your business owner clients may wonder what they should cover in their written plan.
As their Exit Planning Advisor, and with the help of BEI tools and resources, you can provide them with assessments, templates and more that will specify what all is needed in a written plan. However, to get them thinking, you could suggest that they begin their plan with the following considerations:
Owners may be hesitant to write down their plans because they might perceive that as meaning they are set in stone. Assure them that this is not the case because written Exit Plans can, and often do, change. As business goals evolve, a written Exit Plan gives the planning strategies a chance to evolve in lockstep.
Set Measurable Goals
A key benefit to the owner of a written Exit Plan is the ability to pass on their responsibility to participating advisors. Assigning goals that are trackable ensures that each member of the Advisor Team has clear deliverables and a deadline to get it done. Being able to measure the results of goals is especially important when one goal is to protect and grow business value.
Evaluate Business Value
Does your client know what their business is worth today? Have they identified the best ways to increase the value and cash flow of their company? Having an answer to these questions provides insight into which strategies you can recommend as the Exit Planning Advisor.
Protect Family & Business
Be sure your clients include continuity plans to account for unforeseen circumstances and/or their temporary or permanent absence. It’s also crucial to consider what it would take to ensure the financial security of the owner, their family, and their business in these circumstances.
Preferred Exit Path
Does your client plan to transfer to insiders (family, co-owners, employees) or sell it to a third party? Regardless, mapping out the preferred exit path will help you advise your clients on what is feasible and what steps need to be taken to get there.
As an Exit Planning Advisor, you will have the knowledge to articulate these benefits to your clients and get the ball rolling with getting your client’s thoughts on paper. While business owners are busy addressing today’s latest economic challenges, beginning the process with a written plan will ultimately allow them to exit on their desired terms. BEI has tools and resources that can prepare you to help your clients with a written plan to guide their business and their family through their business exit. Schedule a meeting with us today to learn more.
Good Questions Drive Better Exit Planning Conversations
Much of the work of a business advisor, and especially an Exit Planning Advisor, is driven by one’s ability to have effective conversations with current and prospective owner clients. It is a common misconception that these conversations must result in providing business owners all the “right” answers.
As an Exit Planning Advisor, you have the knowledge to provide your clients with strategic solutions to help them reach their goals. With this knowledge, it is natural to want to jump right into problem-solving. However, from the perspective of a business owner, their challenges are dynamic and might go beyond what meets the eye.
No matter what industry, advisors are in the business of relationship building. This means that within these conversations, especially the initial conversations about Exit Planning, you must listen with the intent to understand, not just to respond.
The Downfalls of Wrong Questions
In many cases, how you word questions has a direct impact on the success of those initial conversations. The reasons that generic planning questions are not productive may include:
- Owners may be guarded in the information they want to share
- Owners may just be looking for free advice
- Owners are hesitant to overshare in fear they are being “sold” something
- Owners are only asked questions about a certain expertise
- Owners derail the conversation with minor issues
To an Exit Planning advisor, a failed conversation is a missed opportunity for you. Not only that, but it can lead to an owner being unprepared to exit with devastating consequences to the business and their family. Being intentional about what questions you ask and how they are used in planning conversations can be beneficial to the long-term relationships you form with clients.
Good Questions: Where to Start
When you sit down to have a conversation with a client, the value you bring begins with good questions and a willingness to listen and understand your clients on a deeper level. When the right questions are asked, you are better able to get owners to open up and their responses often lead into other important Exit Planning topics. Some advisors choose to stick to a standard set of questions, while others like to come up with them on the fly based on where the client takes the conversation. Regardless of your preference, valuable conversations about Exit Planning should cover the following topics:
- Owner’s Involvement
Discussions about your client’s current involvement and plans to continue at any level often prompts further discussion about key talent, potential recruitment, incentive plans and the future transition of management.
- Owner’s Desired Post-Exit Future
Do you know what your client envisions for the next chapter following their business exit? Learning this might lead to insights on their preferred timeline and personal financial needs.
- Owner’s Obstacles & Challenges
At any given time, your client is battling with problems that are keeping them up at night. Knowing what those are will give leeway to analyzing where there are planning gaps and what stands in the way of achieving their desired goals. This will also help you prioritize what areas of the business to focus on first.
- Owner’s Financial Needs
When your client exits their business, how important is the business in supporting their financial freedom? This topic can lead to further discussion on business value, cash flow projection, formal agreements that may be necessary, and more.
- Owner’s Current Transition Plan
You will run into a broad spectrum of scenarios as you begin working with clients on their Exit Plans. Some may have an exit path decided on as their most important goal. Others may think they know what exit path to take only to have another more important goal show that a different path is the best choice. You may also find that some haven’t even started thinking about it at the time of your initial Exit Planning conversation.
Whether it is the hope to transfer ownership to a family member or a key employee, or sell to an outside party, many considerations will be brought to light once you know where the owner stands on who will lead and own in the future. Considerations could range from the need to create a management development plan to outlining business continuity instructions.
- Contingency Plans
Do your clients have contingency plans in place so that the business could continue in their temporary or permanent absence? How would the business fare if key employees or key customers left? Having an idea of what the owner’s “what if” strategies are can indicate larger patterns in their plans for their inevitable business exit.
- Current Exit Plan Progress
Is Exit Planning even on the radar at this point? For most business owners, probably not. It is your job as an Exit Planning Advisor to articulate the importance of starting early and showing them that you have the tools and resources to help them create, manage, and execute a plan that will allow them to exit on their terms.
While this list is not exhaustive, nor does it list specific questions to ask, framing your questions in a way that will cover these topics will leave you in a good place following the initial Exit Planning conversation. These questions will also signal the key areas in which you can help your client increase business value over the duration of the Exit Plan.
Good Questions: Continued Conversations
The importance of the questions lies in the ability of the responses to drive the conversation in ways that provide more clarity on the owner’s goals and direction in how you might be able to reach them. Since Exit Planning is more than a one-time transaction, your conversations will continue throughout the duration of the Exit Planning Process.
In efforts to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship during this time, the Exit Planner serves as the relationship master, guiding one-on-one conversations with the client, as well as facilitating meetings with the Advisor Team. There are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure these conversations go as smoothly as possible.
- Ask open-ended questions. Even if the owner responds with short, one-word answers, ask them to elaborate. You may be surprised where the owner takes the conversation.
- After asking a question of any kind, repeat back the response to confirm that you understood the need correctly.
- Take notes and provide every member of the Advisor Team with a list of action items and deadlines to hold each member accountable.
- Take advantage of networking with other Exit Planning Advisors. For example, BEI Members are a part of the larger BEI Network of Advisors, giving them access to advisors all over the country who are having similar conversations with their clients as you are with yours. Lean into each other’s experiences.
Exit Planning Advisors are tasked with running the show – owning the roadmap and making sure everyone stays on track. Building strong and stable relationships with business owner clients is key in facilitating the Exit Plan, start to finish. These relationships are only as strong as the conversations you are able to drive forward, and asking good questions is key in building credibility.
BEI has tools and resources to equip you with the knowledge you need to exude confidence and poise in every Exit Planning conversation. Schedule a meeting with us today to learn more about becoming your client’s most trusted advisor.
Building Engagement & Advisor Teams One Step at a Time
Eddie Drescher, CExP, Financial Advisor with Haycox Financial Group, has over 20 years of experience as a Financial Advisor, helping business owners and their families navigate the unique challenges and opportunities presented while seeking financial security. In addition to his role as a Financial Advisor, Eddie is also a certified business advisor with the Crankset Group, an international business advisory organization, and is a Certified Exit Planner (CExP) for business owners. Eddie is passionate about Exit Planning - getting “into the trenches” with his business owner clients, their families, their key employees, and their professional advisor teams.
BEI: How did you start working with business owners?
I started my career in commercial banking back in 1989. Most of the business owners that I work with in my geographical area are smaller, privately-held family businesses, mostly under $10 million in annual revenues. I've worked with my fair share of larger companies, but my wheelhouse primarily consists of helping small business owners.
After seven years in commercial banking, I started a practice from scratch with the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in 1997. Nine years in, I had an opportunity to facilitate business owner peer advisory boards, which I already had exposure to through “study groups” with my peers. I then had the opportunity to affiliate with and become a certified business advisor through the Crankset Group.
In the nine years I was with the Northwestern Mutual, I focused a lot on families and individuals. But my plan was to gravitate towards business owners, which I did over time. After I completed my CExP certification studies in 2019 with BEI, Exit Planning made up 90% of my business.
BEI: What would you say is your favorite part about working with business owners?
My favorite part of working with business owners is learning their different stories. I love hearing how they got started, why they started, and what it took to achieve what they have accomplished. I also really enjoy getting to know the owners’ business models. I like to hear what “moves the needle” or really makes a difference in growing their sales and profits. What also intrigues me is the people and systems owners have in place that can scale a business. Some owners do a really good job of scaling early on, and other business owners need a lot more assistance in getting started.
BEI: Tell us about an unexpected challenge you have encountered working with business owners. How did it impact you or your practice and how did you overcome the problem?
Personally, in my own career development, I'd say the number one challenge I had to learn how to overcome was to not be all things to all people. I am learning how to articulate what I do, and what I do not do, with more clarity and earlier in the planning process. I've learned this lesson the hard way. This is not a problem of time management because we all get 24 hours in a day. Rather, it has been a lesson in prioritization and focus.
BEI: What have you learned from your business owner clients?
I've had the privilege of working with some amazing people. I would say the number one thing I've learned from clients is that many business owners don't grasp the reality as to where their business is in relation to where they think it is.
I'll give you an example. I recently had an initial conversation with a business owner, and she said that her plan was to “build my business up, merge with a friend’s company, and in two years, sell it."
I'm not saying that she won't pull it off because it was apparent that she is an incredibly talented and motivated individual. I have no doubt that she is going to accomplish her dreams. However, when I hear an aggressive plan like this, I often wonder if owners realize what it really takes to build a company that has bona fide transferable value. This is why it is critically important that owners work with an advisor team to create a plan and strategy on how they're going to convert their business to a lifetime income stream.
BEI: How has your involvement with BEI impacted your practice?
The Exit Planning Boot Camp and CExP course helped me tremendously - and that is an understatement. When I attended the Boot Camp in Dallas, Texas, John Brown was fantastic. I already had considerable experience working with business owners’ continuation and succession plans but the BEI Exit Planning Process and formal training is exactly what I was looking for.
After the Boot Camp, I immediately started studying and got my CExP designation in the six months that followed. This training gave me the confidence to provide even better solutions to my clients, giving me a proven process and method that will help owners on their planning journey.
I feel as though I always have a resource at BEI that I can call for assistance. I have even talked to John Brown, Founder of BEI, and Jared Johnson, CEO of BEI, a time or two to get advice on actual Exit Plans that I was working on. It means a lot when the CEO and Founder took their time to answer my questions. BEI is a great partnership.
BEI: What advice would you give a new advisor coming into the Exit Planning industry?
Do not wait until you think you know everything to go after your first engagement. I still get nervous in many interactions when I am working on an Exit Planning engagement. For someone who is brand new to the industry and has not had as much experience, I recommend they just focus on getting the first engagement.
Second, find an experienced Exit Planner that can work with you jointly and support you while you build your skills and confidence.
Lastly, remember that we are the ones that keep the entire process moving. The real value that Exit Planning Advisors provide is the creation of a roadmap with clear steps, target dates, and accountability to keep the project moving forward. You do not have to know everything to keep an engagement moving in the right direction.
BEI: How do you develop your Exit Planning Advisor Team? When do you bring in those experts?
Building your team of advisors can be very delicate. I start with the client’s current advisors, and then recommend professionals from my network to fill in any gaps. In my experience, the client’s current advisors are usually equipped to handle an endeavor like Exit Planning.
My job as the Exit Planning Advisor is to try to eliminate any impediments to them moving forward. Their advisor teams are not usually complete before beginning the Exit Planning Process. It takes time to determine advisor team member gaps, and they usually evolve as the process plays out. I like to take it one step at a time and add/subtract advisor team members as the engagement progresses.
Learn more: https://www.haycoxfinancial.com/CRN202503-2032920. C. Edward Drescher and William C. Haycox, Jr. are registered representatives of and offers securities, investment advisory and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC. Supervisory office: 222 Central Park Avenue, Suite 1100, Virginia Beach, VA 23462, (757) 490-9041. Haycox Financial Group is not a subsidiary or affiliate of MML Investors Services, LLC, or its affiliated companies.
Whenever advisors are introduced to the concept of Exit Planning, they often wonder, “What is the work of an Exit Planner, and how can it benefit my practice?”
An Exit Planning Advisor leads the entire Exit Planning Process for business owners, from data collection to plan implementation. Even though some advisors might consider Exit Planning a time-consuming additional service, you might be surprised at how easy it is to implement with the work you are already doing. No matter your area of expertise – whether you’re a CPA, financial advisor, banker, or general business consultant– with the right strategies and tools, you can implement Exit Planning into your existing core services in a way that benefits your practice and your clients.
Small Adjustments for Big Gains
There are many benefits of incorporating Exit Planning into an advisory practice. However, most advisors assume it will take a long time to add a new service to their existing practice and reap the rewards. The reality is, Exit Planning isn't necessarily a separate space from current advisory services, and it doesn't need to replace core practices.
Instead, these services can complement the work that advisors are already providing to their business owner clients. An owner’s exit is an inevitability that much be accounted for within their business plan. Consider some of the critical aspects of Exit Planning and the areas of expertise required. In each of these examples, advisors can provide the service for an additional fee along with the Exit Plan, or as an introduction to longer-term comprehensive planning.
- Minimizing Taxes: One goal of Exit Planning is to reduce the amount of taxes a business owner must pay after transferring or selling their business. The necessary tax planning takes place years prior to the intended exit. CPAs involved in this process can provide analysis and advice on the tax consequences of different exit paths.
- Closing the Asset Gap: Exit Planning includes determining what financial resources an owner needs to reach their goals, putting a value on their current resources, and developing a plan to bridge the gap between the two. Because owners tend to overestimate their business value and underestimate the amount they need to maintain their lifestyle, a Financial Advisor can play a huge role in setting realistic expectations and offering advice on personal investment strategies that are aligned with goals.
- Obtaining Excellent Management: Business owners will need capable management to run the business after their exit, whether external or internal. Business consultants can help owners keep value in the business during transition by obtaining and developing next-level management. Once the team is in place, advisors can develop Stay Bonus Plans to incentivize them to remain with the business and grow value.
- Preparing for the Unexpected: Incapacitation, death, fall out between co-workers, and divorce are just some of the many unexpected events that can negatively impact a business without warning. Insurance advisors can review and adjust Buy-Sell Agreements to protect business owners from these risks.
The benefits mentioned above are just a few ways Exit Planning integrates with an advisor’s core practice. When advisors successfully incorporate these offerings into their practice and move beyond transactional planning, they set themselves up to be the indispensable advisor that owners turn to for all their business planning questions and needs.
Exit Planning Can Benefit an Advisor’s Practice
Exit Planning Advisors use strategies, tools, and services from their core practices to fully implement Exit Plans. Because of this, their practice can benefit in several ways:
The time and commitment to incorporate Exit Planning is nothing compared to the returns advisors will experience practicing in the industry. As a result, advisors will likely see additional planning projects that will naturally arise as a part of their core services. When advisors can prove their value to their clients by successfully completing one project, many owners realize the need for this advisor to assist in other areas of business planning, including planning for the exit of their business one day.
Differentiate Practice from the Competitors
There are many advisors in the market offering services that don’t allow them to stand out from the crowd. Most advisors aren’t asking the questions necessary for long-term transition planning, and many don’t get involved in the process until it’s too late. Exit Planning Advisors are able to call attention to their practice because of their unique value proposition.
Create Awareness through Referrals
Though every owner’s exit is inevitable, unfortunately, many owners don’t see the immediate need to plan for their exit. Exit Planning involves advisors from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Because of this, Exit Planning Advisors end up accessing more work in their core practice and in Exit Planning through referrals.
Build Better Client Relationships
Exit Planning provides an immediate benefit for both advisors and owners. Ultimately, it is the job of the Exit Planner to build personal relationships with clients to ensure their clients are reaping the highest rewards for their lives’ work. Continuous conversation throughout the process of an Exit Plan allows for stronger relationship and success becomes more rewarding.
Changes in How Business Advisors Are Working With Clients
Business advisors who effectively market their practice & use Exit Planning to expand the scope of client work will give you an effective competitive advantage.
The work of business advisors has become increasingly complex, and this reality is that it's unlikely to change anytime soon.
Business owners have a lot of difficult decisions to make and the pressure is on them to make the right ones for their business, their employees, and their families. Owners consult with business advisors to align their goals and create value in their organizations. But how do they choose who to work with? It can be challenging to find the right advisors, especially when there are so many that claim to offer the same services to business owners.
Business advisors face the obstacle of finding new clients and engaging with existing ones in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive business marketplace. This is largely because owners aren’t thinking about their exits as early in the process as they should be, and they don’t consider asking their existing advisors about their plans. Owners don’t know who to turn to for advice, and don’t know what questions to ask to figure that out.
That’s where being an Exit Planning Advisor comes into play. Since all business owners will one day leave their businesses, approaching owners about Exit Planning can give you a competitive advantage over your competition. Additionally, you’ll have the means to improve client acquisition and retention, engage in more fulfilling work, streamline your processes, and increase revenue. By designing a marketing strategy that highlights Exit Planning as an added solution to your existing offerings, you’ll be able to stay ahead in this competitive industry.
Consider some strategies to differentiate and attain new clients while maintaining and expanding work with your existing clients.
Promote Your Niche
To reach the largest potential market, many business advisors offer their clients a wide range of services. While this method may be effective in attracting a lot of prospective clients, you're in direct competition with every other business advisory firm in the market.
By adding Exit Planning to your existing offering to clients, you are showing your clients and prospects that not only can you perform the services that other advisors in your market do, but you can also facilitate long-term planning by bringing in the necessary experts to reach the owners exit goals.
Exit Planning will help you:
- Stand out from the crowd of advisors in your industry,
- Face less competition as most advisors aren’t working in a niche area,
- Increase client loyalty as you expand the work you do into new areas that involve planning over longer periods of time,
- Set up your clients to reach their short- and long-term goals, making the most out of their lives’ work
Build Strong Client Relationships
Another effective way for business advisors to generate new business is through referrals from existing clients. By providing exceptional service to your existing clients, you'll be able to develop a good impression of your offerings and the success you bring to clients. Since Exit Planning is a service that spans several years, you’ll get to know your clients on a personal level that can only strengthen your relationships and increase loyalty.
Your clients will become brand advocates for your organization and make referrals if you go above their expectations. That starts with asking the right questions to determine what those expectations are and then maintaining communication with them throughout the process. Word-of-mouth can go a long way when your clients are able to reference you as the person they call first when they need help.
Develop Your Digital Brand
Clients might have more faith in you as a business advisor if your digital presence is up-to-date and consistent. Advisors who use traditional methods find that their efforts are time-intensive and ineffective.
There are several easy ways to market your solutions to bring in more clients and drive brand awareness. Advisors using BEI’s marketing tools can reach hundreds of thousands of business owners every month by implementing tactics like newsletters, social media posting and prospecting, and branded one-sheets and guides.
Talk About Other Topics
As discussed in previous blog posts, there are many hesitations that business owners have when broaching the topic of Exit Planning. Joining your clients in conversations about business topics relevant to them may be an excellent approach to engage with them. Especially because Exit Planning objectives correlate with many other business functions, some they might not even know about. It’s a common phrase to meet your customer where they are at; same goes with your services pitch. Be sure to follow up with them regularly to share additional resources about what's likely to be on their minds.
The Bottom Line for Business Advisors
Business advisors can encounter a lot of competition, but nothing drives engagement quite like connection. It's crucial to concentrate on your clients’ needs above all, and to be open to changing the way that you work with them in order to execute a successful Exit Plan. Exit Planning provides a perfect opportunity to differentiate, strengthen client relationships, as well as capitalize on established relationships in new ways.
If you'd like to learn more about how Exit Planning can provide you with the competitive advantage you’re looking for, schedule a meeting with us today!
When business owners decide to exit their businesses, they often don’t know where to turn for help. Unfortunately, many of the advisors that they’ve consulted for other business matters lack the experience and tools to guide through the process successfully. That’s why it’s more important than ever for advisors to identify the great opportunity Exit Planning adds to their practice. Not only will owners successfully transition out of their businesses, but the advisors with Exit Planning expertise will be uniquely positioned to be the trusted advisor that helps guide them.
There are likely many advisors in your area that have expertise in different aspects of the Exit Planning Process. What allows Exit Planning Advisors to stand out is the understanding of how these aspects work together to help business owners reach their goals. Now imagine each business owner you successfully implement a plan for, and each advisor on that team that supports in a successful ownership transfer. After experiencing success firsthand, they will tell other business owners in their network about the process their Exit Planning Advisor used to achieve their goals.
Advisors equipped with Exit Planning takes their practice a step further than general advisors and that competitive advantage will attract the attention of even more business owners.
What are the Roles of an Exit Planning Advisor?
An Exit Planner develops an Exit Plan for business owners and helps execute the plan to its conclusion. What separates Exit Planners from other advisors is the use of a roadmap and an Exit Planning Process that is backed by an expert team of advisors.
You can stand out only if your approach is compelling and fulfills the client’s need. In this case, Exit Planners identify problems affecting business owners and solve them through a proven process.
Ask Questions that Help Owners Discover Areas of Concern
Business owners don’t just hire advisors because it’s a common trend or they love the idea. They only spend money on problem-solving solutions that will ensure their goals are met. Unless you can illustrate how you can be an asset to them, a business owner has no reason to work with you. They can continue working without advisors or stick to their existing ones.
Exit Planning Advisors ask owners specific questions to identify issues that may hinder the development of their companies or uncover goals the owner didn’t realize they had. The advantage that advisors have when they approach planning issues through an Exit Planning lens is to make sure decisions are made that protect the owner’s wishes for their desired exit path and their financial security.
Provide Solutions to the Discovered Problems
Identifying an owner's most pressing problems is only the beginning. You're required to make radical progress in the determined exit path and address each challenge appropriately. Exit Planners can help owners resolve their pressing business issues one at a time by making well-informed Recommendations that align with the owner’s exit objectives.
Pivot When Necessary if Problems Arise
The most powerful trait of Exit Planners that attracts clients is their ability to revise and change tactics when needed. Whether a business owner needs to change plans because of an unexpected health problem, market changes, or a global pandemic, an advisor skilled in Exit Planning can help them shift their plan before it’s too late.
To become the go-to advisor for business owners, you’ll need the tools and training beyond those offered by your profession. That’s why BEI developed tools that can be implemented into your existing practice to give you a better way to plan with clients.
Why Exit Planning Advisors Matter to Business Owners
Owners seek the help of qualified Exit Planning Advisors for many reasons, some of which they may not even realize they need or want until after they’ve agreed to do planning work. Keep these reasons in mind as you are speaking with potential clients.
Exit Planning Advisors Work for the Benefit of Business Owners.
Exit Planning Advisors work according to each business owner’s goals. The advisor’s expertise doesn’t dictate what exit path they advise the owner to take. The owner’s goals do. Advisors gather data to help owners establish their aspirations and work with them to create a customed plan for their business and needs. They use the collected data to determine the gap between the owner’s current resources and those they require to achieve the post-exit life they desire.
Exit Planning Advisors Stick to a Timeline
Exit Planning is a long process, spanning many years, with numerous steps in different stages. Using a roadmap as a visual to the business owner will help keep them on track, especially when the day-to-day operation of the business becomes a distraction. Exit Planning Advisors can choreograph the activities and advisors on the team to ensure the timeline goal of the exiting owner is met.
Exit Planning Advisors Are Great Project Managers
A successful Exit Plan will undoubtedly involve several advisors with different areas of expertise. Exit Planners guide these other advisors to amend or revise recommendations based on the owner’s exit objectives. They also create documents, assign tasks, and coordinate with the business owner to plan successful exits from start to finish. Having a centralized location, such as EPIC (The BEI Exit Planning software), to schedule the sequences of activities and responsible parties will keep the implementation of the Exit Plan on track.
- Business owners will exit their businesses, whether planned or unplanned, due to an unexpected event or by their design. Without an Exit Plan in place, the outcomes might be far less than desirable for their businesses and family.
- Advisors can differentiate by adding Exit Planning to their existing practice, capitalizing on their existing relationships with their clients.
- Advisors can use Exit Planning to stand out if they are able to provide detailed solutions, manage processes and expectations while working toward the goals of the business owner.
- Business owners are more motivated to work on their business exits when they understand that their advisors can help them resolve their issues.
To learn more on how BEI can provide you with applicable solutions, schedule a meeting or contact us!
Running a business is more than just a full-time job. Business owners often find themselves wearing too many hats as they bear the weight of maintaining a successful and profitable business. The biggest risk of being so involved in the business is that they often are focused on the present, so the business lacks an Exit Plan for the future. At some point, every business owner will exit their business, whether by choice or through unexpected circumstances. When that time comes, they’ll want a smooth transition according to their terms and to leave with financial independence from the business. The problem they are unknowingly faced with is that because they aren’t taking the time to formalize those plans and properly prepare their businesses with exit planning, they are putting their dreams in jeopardy.
According to the 2019 BEI Business Owner Survey Report, 79% of owners lack a written plan for the future ownership of their business. This provides an opportunity for you as an Exit Planning Advisor to work in partnership with owners, instill urgency, and show them the importance of not only having a plan, but starting the process right away.
Let’s dive into some of the risks and pitfalls business owners might face when they fail to plan their exit.
Failure to Meet Financial Goals
A universal goal of all business owners is for the business to provide financial security for themselves and their families after they exit. Typically, owners make a lot of assumptions regarding their financial well-being that could put them in a position where they don’t realize their resources will fall short of what is needed until it’s too late.
First, they tend to underestimate the financial resources they will need to maintain their lifestyle after the transition of ownership. This is due to many factors such as underestimating the amount of taxes they will have to pay, not accounting for their business covering some of their current expenses, underestimating their life expectancy, and projecting a high withdrawal rate from their assets.
Secondly, owners overestimate the current value of their businesses. This assumption based on “gut feeling” is truly costly and they can do more harm than good if an attempt is made to sell the business before it’s ready. Getting a business valuation from an expert is eye-opening for many owners. Additionally, owners underestimate the time and planning needed to increase business value to the amount they need to exit on their terms.
Trusted Advisors can help owners overcome these assumptions and put plans in place to bridge the gap between current value and needed value.
Timing is Everything
Many owners believe that the time to plan is when they decide they are ready to exit. They don’t take the initiative to start the process because they believe they can leave the business successfully whenever they want or that the planning process is much simpler and faster than the reality.
Let’s look at an example. Most business owners that our BEI Members work with initially indicate a desire to transfer ownership to an insider. An “insider” can be a family member, employees, or partner. These successors typically don’t have the cash readily available to buy ownership of the business. Because of this, owners need a plan where they can maintain control of the business while the chosen successor grows the value and cash flow over time. This ensures that the owner’s financial needs are met, and the successor of their choice takes ownership of the business. However, the 5-8+ years needed to implement such a plan may not fit their timing goals if they don’t start planning early enough.
By sitting down with an owner and mapping out their goals, including financial, legacy, succession, and timing, you can help owners appreciate the time needed to properly execute a successful Exit Plan.
Sudden Exit Challenges
Business owners who don’t plan for their exit expose their business to greater risks, including their business dying with them. Owners often assume that a healthy life insurance policy and buy-sell agreement is all they need to protect their business and family’s financial future. Even when a business has a buy-sell agreement in place to cover an unexpected death or disability of an owner, they typically don’t factor in other lifetime events such as one co-owner buying out another.
The first obstacle to address is if the business will survive without the owner. Even with a life insurance policy, someone will need to know what to do with the money to keep the business running. By having an Exit Plan in place, the owner’s wishes will be documented, and an emergency plan can be put in place. Often owners will have already started grooming their successor to take over because of the conversations had during the Exit Planning Process.
A bulletproof Exit Plan has a succession plan long before ownership transfer occurs. An Exit Planning Advisor can help the owner confront the issues of their sudden departure in the event of a business owner’s death. In the end, the succession plan will protect the company from risks and give the family and employees peace of mind.
How to Address These Challenges with Exit Planning
The most effective way to prevent the challenges mentioned above is by starting an Exit Plan, years before the desired exit. Most business owners don’t have their exit top-of-mind at the start of their business. However, their exit is inevitable and the earlier they can start planning, the more options they will have. It is your job as an advisor to help mitigate these risks by starting the conversations early and having them on an ongoing basis to prioritize, re-evaluate and execute each step.
Business owners often don’t think about the pitfalls of not planning until it is too late. With your planning and preparation support, you can alleviate these stresses before they arise by making the necessary strides towards their personal and professional goals.
What is Keeping Business Owners from Planning Their Exits?
The idea of Exit Planning is a touchy subject for many business owners, and it is not hard to see why. For many business owners, the thought of leaving a business they put their lives’ work into can render many emotions. However, the risks of not having a solid Exit Plan in place are high, not just for the business owners, but their families as well.
Without Exit Planning:
- Business owners miss out on ensuring the full potential of their personal and financial goals.
- Business owners risk a reduced value of their business at the time of exit.
- It often becomes more difficult to separate themselves from the business.
Business Owners Don't Know How to Start Exit Planning
Business owners lack the skills or expertise needed to do Exit Planning on their own. For example, many don't know how to accurately determine the value of their company. When they lack the appropriate knowledge, they procrastinate and may only turn to the necessary experts after the time has passed to properly execute their desired plans.
That's where you, as the Exit Planner, can come in handy. Exit Planning Advisors are necessary as exit strategies require a team with expertise in valuation, accounting, financial and estate planning, legal, and wealth management.
In addition to overseeing the advisor team and keeping the plan on track, you will act as a liaison between the team and the business owner, accurately articulating the business and financial situation.
Business Owners May Have No Plans to Retire
It takes a lot of courage, hard work, and persistence to build and grow a business from nothing. That includes a great deal of sacrifice and failure along the way.
Business owners often don't plan for their exit because they cannot contemplate relinquishing control of their business. For owners that are still very active in the operation of the business, their exit may seem too far away to plan. Furthermore, many owners underestimate the amount of time that is needed to appropriately plan.
But in case of unforeseen situations such as illness, disability, or death, business owners may need to leave unexpectedly before their desired exit. These circumstances induce chaos on the business and the owner’s family that could be prevented by making planning a priority while the owner is still able and involved.
A Fear of Letting Go
Many business owners find it challenging to let go of their company, even though they know it is time. In many cases, they are worried about the future of their employees once new ownership takes over. It is also difficult for owners to tell their employees that they are selling the company in fear that it could create concern over the performance of the business and lead employees to jump ship.
Business owners have many options when it is time for them to decide what direction their business will go once they are gone. The transition from this position is challenging, but they must consider why they took this step and what option makes the most sense to continue the legacy they’ve built.
It is vital to keep all the owner’s goals in mind during planning so they aren’t making emotional decisions in the moment. Help your clients choose an exit path that protects the legacy they want to keep with the business. Then, help owners with a vision for what they plan to do after exiting.
You’ll help to alleviate the fear because it gives them something else to look forward to.
Business Owners Don't Think They Need an Exit Planning Advisor
Many business owners who have built long, thriving businesses over time, feel that they don't need anyone to tell them when or how to leave the company.
However, these owners know the requirements to be successful and are often just hindered by uncertainty. They understand the value of hiring experts to handle certain aspects of their business where they lack knowledge and experience.
Business owners hire employees to handle areas they are not skilled in or enjoy because they know that’s what builds a valuable business. Most of your clients have an expert team in place for the same reasons, including a CPA, a financial advisor, an attorney, and an insurance advisor. Odds are, this team isn’t asking the owner about planning for their exit.
Help them understand that as their Exit Planning Advisor, you will coordinate with this talented team and bring added value as they work together to serve the owner’s interests.
Having an Exit Plan cannot be underestimated by any business owner. With proper understanding of how to get started and the advantages, the argument for planning is too strong to ignore. Your job as an advisor is to help your client understand the benefits of planning early and to guide them through the whole process.
For an owner, there are a variety of hesitations and hurdles that might stand in the way of the Exit Planning conversation. As an Exit Planning Advisor, overcoming these hesitations will be possible because you will have the knowledge to make sound recommendations as well as the ability to implement a systemized process to ease transition planning.
And remember, the most important reason to create an Exit Plan is to ensure the owner meets their desired goals – so keeping those goals at the forefront will ultimately help business owners and their families benefit from their lives’ work.
When Should You Start Talking to Clients About Exit Planning?
An Exit Plan is critical for any business owner to secure their desired future, but most don't see the relevance of establishing one until they're ready to leave their business. Exit Planning is necessary no matter what exit path the owner plans to take, and planning shouldn't be overlooked until the time comes that a change is essential. However, planning an exit is not easy; there isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy that works for every business. Every business is unique, and each owner will have different hurdles to overcome and considerations to make to ensure their goals are met.
That said, advisors should strive to stay one step ahead, guiding business owner clients through their exit experience right from the start.
The Responsibilities of an Advisor in Exit Planning
A business advisor equipped with Exit Planning should guide their clients throughout the whole process to help them understand that their personal and business goals dictate the road to a successful exit. The role of advisors regarding Exit Planning is to collect information, check available resources, collaborate with other involved parties, and ultimately, help business owners map out the steps involved in their Exit Plan based on that data.
Generally, advisors have three primary responsibilities:
- Educate owners about the different exit paths they have available to them.
- Coordinate with the client’s internal advisory team to facilitate each step of the exit.
- Provide the necessary services to ensure owners successfully transition from the business from beginning to end.
How Can You Help Your Clients Plan Their Exit?
The most significant responsibility as an Exit Planning Advisor is to set the exit goals by working with business owners to quantify those goals. Since Exit Planning shouldn't be a last-minute process, you'll need to start working on the Exit Plan many years before the desired exit given that the business environment can be unpredictable. Additionally, there are sometimes unforeseen personal situations that arise, causing a client to exit their business at a moment’s notice,
This in mind, noting the possible strategies creates a blueprint for the future and measures for success. During the planning stages, business owners will discover their vision beyond the business, and it's the task of an advisor to get them there and entice the urgency needed to move the process along.
However, before outlining the exit strategy, it is essential to understand your client's needs by gathering more information on issues such as:
- Financial goals
- Available resources
- Current & Anticipated Obstacles
- Possible Exit Paths
After gathering all the required information, you can design the appropriate exit strategy that aligns with the owner's personal and business goals.
How Soon Should You Start Exit Planning?
Time binds all exit decisions, and owners need to prepare for their exit as soon as they start running their business. Advisors must encourage their clients to plan for their exits early to reap the best possible rewards.
It is advisable to start planning for an exit at least five years in advance, but 10+ years would be even better.
Ten Years to Exit
Ten years may seem like a long time to an involved owner, but not in the business environment. It takes time to shape a successful Exit Plan so the earlier, the better. Ten years before the desired exit, you'll need to ask owners to consider things like:
- How do you plan to exit your business at this time? Do you want someone else to take over the company, or do you plan to sell it?
- Who is that person if you want someone else to run the company? And are they ready, or do you need to recruit and train them?
- If your successor is already working with you, how do you plan to develop the skills and knowledge they'll need to take over?
- If you plan to sell the company, do you plan to sell to a group of employees or a specific employee? Or perhaps, do you plan to sell to an outsider?
- How will the purchase be financed if you plan to sell to employees?
The above questions are just a few that will help your clients shift focus on how they want to transition.
Five Years to Exit
Regardless of the type of business a client runs, five years before their exit, they should identify their future leaders and begin training them to take the reins when the time comes.
Encourage your client to determine the financial return they'll require from selling the business. If the value they put on their company isn't realistic enough or is not enough to meet their financial needs, you’ll have time to help them get those financial needs and business value in sync.
If a business is doing well financially, the Exit Plan should maximize profits. However, if it's struggling, the Exit Plan should minimize losses.
Three Years to Exit
A few years to retirement or the chosen to exit it's only natural that customers and employees will start wondering about the future of the business. You'll need to encourage the owner to begin making informal announcements about their exit and plan necessary communications so that everyone involved in the business feels confident about the future.
It is also crucial to help them get a valuation and start finalizing their transition timeline at this moment. Encourage owners to spend time with their successors if possible; coaching, advising, and involving them in their expected day-to-day roles and responsibilities.
Conclusion: Start Now!
The most effective Exit Plan for any business aligns with the goals and expectations of the business owner. Exit Planning involves much more than financial planning, succession planning, or tax planning. It's a comprehensive approach encompassing all these planning aspects and more that will help your client transition smoothly.
To best help your clients, start talking to them about their exits as soon as they're in business and help them build a fool-proof Exit Plan based on their wishes, needs, and future goals. And, of course, be there for them throughout the Exit Planning journey. Their needs will vary depending on their circumstances, but the constant is that the time to begin planning is now and they need your expertise to guide them.
To learn more on how BEI can provide you with applicable solutions, schedule a meeting or contact us!