The BEI team frequently engages in conversations with professional advisors, exploring how incorporating Exit Planning can enhance their core offerings, differentiate them from competitors, and provide a new way to approach clients. However, despite the benefits of Exit Planning, many advisors struggle with the question of how to properly change fees for these services and come to us for guidance.
The purpose of this series of articles is to make a persuasive argument — based on data and experience — that advisors who differentiate their practices in a meaningful way from competitors are more successful in engaging and retaining high-value clients.
So far, we’ve examined several methods or approaches to differentiation.
- Employing a distinctive process or representation model, and
- The ability to solve a difficult business challenge
In this article we introduce two additional practice differentiators that can be applied together:
#1: Focus, understand, and represent a niche audience; example: woman-owned construction companies.
#2: Specialize in creating a highly beneficial result for a specific audience; example: help political candidates win elections or minority-owned construction companies acquire more government contracts.
Combining these similar differentiators supercharges your ability to attract, engage, and represent successful business owners.
This two-pronged differentiation approach is not without its challenges.
1. Gain an understanding of what their target audience — in this case successful business owners — want and need.
2. Use specific tools and strategies other advisors don’t possess or discuss, thus becoming their clients’ go-to advisor for addressing those wants and needs.
3. Make their target audiences and associated advisors aware of their ability and desire to help.
4. Be able to create a very beneficial result.
Take the First Steps
If you have not yet combined these differentiators, how do you begin? As a faithful reader of this blog, you will not be surprised when we suggest that you focus on helping owners achieve a highly beneficial outcome: the successful exit of their business on their terms. In other words, become an Exit Planner.
Step 1: Focus on the goal of a particular target audience.
Successful business owners are your target audience and helping them exit their companies successfully is their ultimate goal. Your ability to design and implement their successful exit differentiates you from their current advisors.
At some point in the life of every owner, their interest or need to grow business value, develop a plan to exit and actually exit becomes paramount. At these points, owners need to turn to advisors trained in Exit Planning to achieve these outcomes because these Exit Planners have the specific tools and strategies other advisors simply don’t have.
Step 2: Provide a highly beneficial result: a successful business exit.
What outcome is more meaningful — financially and personally — to owners than providing them the means to achieve the legacy and lifestyle of their dreams? Via Exit Planning, owners leave their businesses when they want, for the money they need, to the person(s) they choose.
Do you know any advisors who successfully execute this crucial task? You can be that advisor.
Build Your Core Service and Improve Your Ability to Refer to Other Advisors
Differentiating your practice by an ability to help owners achieve their ultimate goal — exiting their companies successfully — has the added benefit of positioning your core expertise as a needed service. For example, owners considering an exit must first assess their financial resources (which includes the value of their companies) and set their financial goals to identify any resource gap. That step alone involves profession-specific products such as financial planning, business valuation and tax planning.
Subsequent Exit Planning steps require buy-sell agreement design and funding, estate planning, etc. Advisors skilled in Exit Planning are positioned to
1) provide their own services and products, and
2) refer their clients to other advisors who can provide their services and products.
Make your target audience and associated advisors aware of your practice differentiation and your ability and desire to help.
As might be evident from our past blogs and other communications, your skills, experience and your differentiated practice and representation are of little benefit unless your customer base is aware of your capabilities and desire to help. BEI provides our members with hundreds of advisor-branded newsletters, white papers, presentations and more to inform their target audiences of their Exit Planning expertise.
- The purpose of differentiation is to make potential clients aware of and retain you because of your ability to provide a specialized expertise or other difference not offered by existing advisors.
- Two effective differentiators are providing a highly beneficial result to owners and focusing your practice on a specific target audience.
- Differentiating your practice by creating and executing Exit Plans expands rather than limits your ability to grow your practice and to make a difference in the lives and well-being of your target clients: successful business owners.
- As an Exit Planner, you provide greater benefits, insights, and results for clients than your competitors who lack Exit Planning training.
If you are interested in training or a BEI license to aid and support your venture to differentiate with Exit Planning, click the link below to view our best deals of the year on Exit Planning course!
Does your practice differ from others in your profession in a meaningful way?
When we ask advisors that question, here are a few common responses:
- We provide outstanding service and follow-up!
- We offer free initial consultations!
- We promise a customer-centric approach!
- We promise “Timeliness, Quality, Support! –an example of one CPA firm’s promise.
In a previous post, we argued—with support from several experts in professional services marketing—that none of these is a unique process or even marginally different from most other advisors’ representation models.
So, the real question is: How do you develop a distinctive process or representation model that provides more value for your clients and prospects?
Unless you adopt a unique process or representation model that is at least identifiably different from others to set your practice process or model apart, you end up competing on price alone. Other like-minded advisors offer the same profession-specific process, advice, and products that you do.
Of course, your distinctive process or representation model must tie-in to your core practice. For example, a distinctive process or representation model for a CPA could be specializing in a niche industry such as forestry companies. A financial advisor’s differentiating process or model might be specializing on alternative investments for high-net-worth individuals. Both specialized advisors also provide the typical services and products offered by their fellow professionals.
If differentiation were easy, everyone would be doing it!
Frankly, it’s a challenge to offer prospective and existing clients something that is valuable to them and that their competition does not also offer. If such a process or representation model existed, would you at least investigate it?
Is Exit Planning a differentiator?
An increasing number of professional advisors are beginning to talk to their business owner-clients about business Exit Planning, so the term has become a bit of a buzzword. Few advisors, however, can do more than talk about Exit Planning.
They can’t offer exit advice beyond the solutions provided by their profession. They don’t have a distinctive design process that produces an Exit Plan. They don’t use a representation model based on achieving the owner’s successful exit. Instead, they do what they have always done: offer clients the same products and services as their professional colleagues.
Talk is cheap
Creating Exit Plans requires a distinctive process and a unique representation model. Professionals such as financial advisors, CPAs, and others who have the training and tools to engage in Exit Planning with successful owners stand apart from their competition. They are different. They provide an invaluable service to successful owners interested in exiting. It’s a service and process that few of their competitors can offer.
Spreading the word
There is little benefit to having a unique process or representation model if few owners and advisors know about it. BEI-trained Exit Planning Advisors use a wealth of BEI created but advisor-branded newsletters, assessments, white papers, PowerPoint presentations, webinars, books, face-to-face meeting agendas, and more to tell owners in their communities that they offer a service—Exit Planning—that is valuable to them.
Every tool highlights the advisor’s skill in doing something that other advisors in their profession do not: helping owners exit on their terms.
The value of Exit Planning to owners
At some point in every owner’s career, exiting their company successfully will be their most important (and sometimes urgent) concern. When that happens, will they know that you are the advisor in their community who can help them? Can they be certain you will assist them in developing an exit strategy that meets their goals?
The next step is yours
You can acquire the knowledge, the tools, and the support you need to become an Exit Planning Advisor and set your practice apart. You can be the one advisor who is equipped to address the business exit concerns of the owners’ you represent and those you could represent. Click here to learn more.
Our next blog describes another differentiation strategy: focusing your practice on a particular target clientele.
In order to do Exit Planning like a pro, you must understand the bigger planning picture. Join us for an overview of the BEI Planning License, take a live look into BEI’s EPIC Planning software, and learn how you can use the license to provide better solutions to your clients in less time.
Breaking Down the Exit Planning Process with BEI Member, Laura Troshynski (Part 2)
Laura Troshysnki, JD, CExP®, FNBO, is the Senior Director of Business Owner Advisory Services at First National Bank of Omaha. Laura started her partnership with BEI about a year ago, achieving her Certified Exit Planning designation and has implemented the tools from the BEI Planning License in her work.
Last week, we learned how Laura got started in the Exit Planning industry, and specifically how she gets clients started in the process. She discussed how BEI’s training has helped her and her team produce deliverables to their clients, as well as what the initial Exit Planning conversation typically looks like. Hinting at the importance of a solid, yet adaptable process, we will use this week’s blog post to cover the second half of the interview with Laura, which details more about her proven process.
BEI: It seems like your approach to Exit Planning is done in phases versus doing an entire comprehensive plan all at once. We see that a lot across the board. It makes a lot of sense, especially in today’s business environment, to help business owners focus on their top priorities first and then come back to some of the other aspects of the plan.
Regarding your team, do you have an advisor team internally, or do you bring in outside advisors based on the roles you need?
We make it a priority that the customers we work with must have an advisor team as they work through this process. A lot of people who come to us already have their CPA or their attorney, and then we always recommend a financial advisor to join that crew. If they do not have one already, we have financial advisors within the bank that we can recommend to them.
We just want to make sure that all the pieces of an Exit Plan are being considered at the same time. If a customer doesn't have the resources, we are always happy to provide recommendations – but to start a team, we find it’s important to have an attorney, an accountant, and a financial advisor. Then, depending on what their needs are, they may need to include a business broker, an insurance professional, or someone else to facilitate various pieces of the plan.
Assembling the team early is vital in making sure everyone is on the same page and that we are looking at the Exit Plan from all angles.
BEI: In your experience so far, are the business owners you've worked with willing to go through the Exit Planning Process and what does their participation look like?
Absolutely. We still run into the challenge of business owners being busy. They are so busy running their business on a day-to-day basis that it’s hard sometimes to find time to focus on planning work.
That is a challenge we want to help with. We can come up with a plan that will hopefully not be as overwhelming and Exit Planning will seem less intimidating.
The willingness is there – it is often the time and ability that is the issue. That’s why prioritizing is so important because if there is so much to be done, starting with the top 2 or 3 things they can do right now helps these customers a lot.
The value of having a structured, phased approach has helped a lot with the battles of hesitancy and time constraints.
BEI: By addressing some of their top priorities that you help them identify with your needs analysis, does that seem to validate the importance of the Exit Planning Process to them? Do you find that they are then more willing to continue and move on to the next phase?
I think so! One thing we have learned in working with customers is to not undervalue getting one or two things done. For example, if someone comes to see me and they have not met with their attorney in ten years and they do not yet have a will, even if they complete that single step, that’s a big one!
I think the concept of transitioning a business is so big that it can be so overwhelming. If we can get people to take incremental steps , they will ultimately be more prepared. That is what we work to answer: What can we do to help people be more prepared and be more comfortable when they get to that transition point?
BEI: How have you integrated the BEI EPIC software and what is your experience given your phased-based approach to Exit Planning?
I am a big proponent of the EPIC software. The Business Continuity instructions are something that we use more than anything. We noticed that regardless of timeline or desire to transition, getting a plan in place if something were to happen is important to all business owners.
We have had customers say they aren’t interested in Exit Planning because they won’t be transitioning for 15 – 20 years and our response is that we can, at the very least, produce some business continuity instructions. It is fairly quick to do and can help them right away. That is almost always a component of a plan recommendation as well.
As far as the plan goes, we have found a lot of value in physically giving the customers something. It is quite easy to have conversations over and over, but we wanted to be able to hand over a checklist. With the EPIC software you have the ability to craft a plan, but it is also beneficial to have access to the library of resources and recommendations based on things that BEI has seen repeatedly over the years.
I come up with what my recommendations are, but I still reference the library within the software to think about anything else that might apply to the situation at hand.
As far as the value driver assessment, the workbooks, the brochure – those are helpful tools to take things to the next level and really make sure nothing is missing and there were no misunderstandings. We have utilized everything across the board.
BEI: Earlier you mentioned working with agriculture – have you been able to go in and customize anything in the system specific to those types of scenarios?
Yes! I personally have gone in and made customized recommendations in my own library. There are a lot of specific ag-related considerations, as well as family dynamics, so I have created a library of things to use in those instances.
It has also been helpful to be able to store and re-use things that we’ve come up with in one place. I think it’s good that all of our plans are in one place and documented and we can track our progress along the way.
BEI: How are you managing that process once you have it in place?
I like the accountability tracker. It gives me a good reason to reach out if we are stuck or aren’t making progress. Whether it’s the owner or another advisor, it’s helpful to say, “Hey, the accountability tracker is red so we’re behind or past due on our tasks.”
I think that’s the hardest part of this process. There are so many people involved and so many moving pieces that all depend on one another. Having the ability to track it all in one place is key when everyone is busy and has lots to do.
Seeing the checklist and monitoring the progress based on who is responsible for what has really made a difference. Keeping the quick list recommendations is also helpful for me to reference often to check things off and show the business owner that we are making progress and we’re getting there.
BEI: How involved is the business owner in this process? Do you update them when tasks have been completed?
I have seen a variety. There are some owners who really want to focus on this and want to meet once a month. Others ask us to talk to the office manager and have that person reach out to the team of advisors to get updates. I always try to provide regular updates – whether by email or “just checking in.”
For the most part, many of them want to be involved. Sometimes, they want to set up meetings with members of the team of advisors on their own and talk to them individually, other times the updates just come from me.
BEI: How open are these other advisors to getting involved in the Exit Planning Process and what does their involvement look like?
I have had a great response. I think there is a little bit of a lack of industry awareness on the role of the Exit Planner as opposed to the attorney, the accountant, the broker, etc. I think making sure that I am clearly explaining my role and making it known that I am not here to do the job of any of them or step on toes.
It is our job as Exit Planners to streamline the process and come up with priorities, and once that is communicated, we generally get a good response.
When I was in private practice, I remember having people come to me asking for very specific things but would leave out that it was part of the bigger picture. I think being able to provide the big picture is helpful for this and for motivating their involvement.
BEI: Is there anything else that you have implemented alongside the BEI Exit Planning Process that you have found success with in your exit planning engagements?
We are really trying to do what we can as far as implementing blog posts and other marketing materials, as well as being active in the community is important. We just want business owners to be aware of the benefits of Exit Planning and to be thinking about it.
We try to:
- Provide education to our customers who we are not currently working with, or anyone really as it’s public on our website.
- Make sure we continue to educate ourselves, meet other people in this space, and share best practices.
- Put emphasis on the emotional side of this by doing specific training on family dynamics, problem solving, etc.
We want to make sure we can produce the plan with all the technical pieces and provide education, but we also want to account for some of the intangible aspects of Exit Planning that you don’t always have top of mind.
BEI: Going into your second year of this, since your launch, how many engagements or plans have you started?
As of now, we are a full-time team of three and we are adding another member soon. I would say each of the three of us is working with 15-20 people at the moment.
BEI: Is there anything else you would like to share in terms of advisors looking to add Exit Planning to the work they are doing with business owners?
Don’t underestimate how important Exit Planning is to business owners. We sometimes think of an owner’s personal life and business life as separate and that is not exactly the case when you are working with someone who has started the business themselves. The separation is not always there. If a business owner is willing to talk to you and put trust in you, this is a pivotal moment in their life.
BEI: Have you seen any trends in the plans that you are working on?
I would say that with the agriculture clients, internal transfers are generally the most common path. In fact, most of the business owners I am working with, even in other industries, are looking at an internal transfer.
I think part of it is because of the emotional aspect of Exit Planning. I think it appears to the business owner to be easier to exit or cut back if they are leaving the business with a trusted family member or employee. That said, I also have clients who are happy to look at a third-party sale.
Regardless of the exit path, having a process and keeping up with Exit Planning education has proven to make a world of difference for Laura and her team.
Interested in learning more?
- Follow Laura on LinkedIn to stay connected!
- Listen to the full interview recording at the link below.
- Schedule a meeting with BEI today to see how you can start using a process to help reach your client’s goals.
Breaking Down the Exit Planning Process with BEI Member, Laura Troshynski
Laura Troshysnki, JD, CExP®, FNBO, is the Senior Director of Business Owner Advisory Services at First National Bank of Omaha. Laura started her partnership with BEI about a year ago, achieving her Certified Exit Planning designation and has implemented the tools from the BEI Planning License in her work.
This blog post, as well as next week's article, will detail an in-depth interview where Laura describes how she got into the Exit Planning space, what has helped her in engaging clients, and how she breaks down the process to steps that make sense for her and her team.
BEI: Tell us about yourself, your practice, your background, and how you got involved in the Exit Planning industry.
Prior to my current role, I was a private practice attorney for about ten years in North Platte, Nebraska. Being involved in the industry for many years alongside my father, businesses and family businesses are very important to me.
While in private practice, I focused much of my attention within the areas of estate planning, business transition, and general business. About three years ago, I made the move to First National Bank of Omaha in the trust department and really enjoyed working with the customers.
Through this work, I realized they were spending a lot of time looking at their personal transitions. When my current position opened in the Business Owner Advisory Services division, it was a great transition for me and provided the opportunity to not only look at succession planning, but also combine the things I had learned in private practice with my responsibilities at the bank.
While the Business Owner Advisory Services division is a relatively new practice area, we have focused on building the team and are excited about the work we will be able to provide for our local business owner community.
BEI: In your current position, what percentage of your time is spent doing Exit Planning, and what other offerings are you providing with the bank?
Right now, I am doing full-time Exit Planning. About four years ago, the bank started noticing that we had a lot of customers who were looking at retirement and talking to their lenders and other advisors at the bank about it. Therefore, we wanted to make this a priority – it was very important that we build a team that could focus solely on business owners and their exits.
We spent about a year working with BEI, building out a process, and building our team so that we would be ready to focus on this full-time.
All day every day I am doing Exit Planning. I am working with business owner clients to look at transitioning their businesses and finding the right path for them.
BEI: Having gone through BEI’s training, how did that prepare you to build out the process you have today?
It was especially important to us that every member of our team put a priority on education. Every member of our team either is, or will become, certified through the BEI designation process.
To start, I thought that boot camp was a great refresher for a lot of things. There are always areas that each individual focuses on more depending on their role, so having a high-level overview of all the things that can come up as you are looking at an Exit Planning engagement is a great first start.
John Brown did a great job of walking through not only what process BEI recommends, but also some other scenarios and strategies that he’s seen come up over the years to help in engaging business owners. Overall, it was a very helpful program.
As I was working my way through the modules required of the certification process, the learning and testing over that knowledge was something I hadn’t done in quite a while. This was an effective way to look at aspects of Exit Planning that I had not worked with as frequently.
I was able to see what areas I needed to brush up on a bit more and seek out additional resources on those topics. Not only was it a good refresher on things we already knew, but it was also helpful to pinpoint some of the areas to improve on as a team.
I found the most valuable piece of BEI training for me was the final test of the certification program – which is to create an Exit Plan for a given scenario. It was great to be able to walk through a problem to ensure we could spot the challenges of the specific situation and really come up with a comprehensive Exit Plan based on the best-suited exit path.
It was important to us as a team to be able to have a deliverable for our clients.
We didn't want our customers to just think that we were having conversations with them that weren’t going anywhere. So, getting to that final test – and then through our continued work – being able to have written documents that say, “Here is an Exit Plan, the things we want to implement, and the measures we’ll take to track it...” was valuable as we were learning how to make our process efficient for our own learning and for our customers.
BEI: Knowing that you are working with all internal clients and aren't yet networking outside of the bank, how many business owners do you think that First National Bank of Omaha represents?
Laura: That is hard to quantify, but we have had a much better response to adding Exit Planning services than we even anticipated. This goes to show how many people are really looking at exiting and realizing the benefits of Exit Planning.
We wanted to make sure we were getting our message out there about what we were doing and so far, our response has been overwhelming. There are so many people looking into this because there's so much that goes into it. We have traditional businesses that want to sell the business to a third party, business owners who are looking to transition their business to their kids, and we even do quite a bit of work in the agricultural space which comes with its own set of considerations.
So – we've been very busy!
BEI: Let’s talk about the approach you take with your internal clients: How are the Exit Planning conversations being started? How are you identifying the opportunities? Who is explaining the process?
Conversations start in many ways, either with the lender or someone from our department. Typically, someone identifies a customer who may be a fit based on things that are coming up in other conversations. Once a potential customer is identified, our Business Owner Advisory Services team will schedule a meeting with them to discuss what their needs might be, and we take it from there.
Sometimes the lender is involved in that conversation, sometimes they are not dependent on what the customer wants and needs. It has worked well for us to have some options and flexibility in that area.
BEI: In that first meeting, what are you typically using with that client to help guide the conversation? Do you use BEI tools like the workbook or brochure, or do you have some other method of beginning that interview process with the client?
It has worked well for us to have the assessments online as something we can send to the customer so they can fill it out for themselves after the initial meeting.
In the first meeting, I focus on really getting to know the customer and talking to them in a way that shows I am listening to them. There is obviously a lot of information we need to gather from them as far as financials and things like that, but we first and foremost prioritize the emotional aspect of this process and getting to know their goals.
After all, it’s their lives’ work that we are talking about transitioning. I want to really get to know them and be sure I can take away the things that are most important to them. We don’t want to be focusing on areas that they may have no interest in, so listening is critical.
After the first meeting has concluded, we’ll send them the online assessment so we can make sure what I am hearing at the meeting aligns with what their priorities actually are. From that point, we put together a high-level priorities sheet so they know what they need to focus on in the beginning phases of planning.
BEI: Did you have to do any training upfront on how lenders or whomever should bring up Exit Planning to prospective customers?
I was pleasantly surprised in beginning this work to discover that these conversations about transition have been going on for years and years. People are typically so comfortable with their banker, and it seemed like that is where the conversation would begin naturally. We had some discussion about things to look out for, but all-in-all, they were already doing a good job of having these conversations organically during standard conversation.
Now, having these services available is the next step as far as having someone dedicated to moving them through the process.
So what exactly does the process look like following the initial conversation? Laura’s interview continues and in next week’s blog, we will dive deeper into how a repeatable, yet adaptable Exit Planning Process has helped her and her team with their Exit Planning engagements. Stay tuned for Laura’s take on building an advisor team, an owner’s willingness to participate in planning, and much more!
To watch the recording of the full interview with Laura and BEI’s Doug Easton, visit the link below!
Do you feel as though your practice has become stagnant? Or perhaps you don’t have the right advisor network to move along planning projects efficiently for your business owner clients? We often learn valuable advice from our peers in our industry.