Money Isn’t Everything for Business Owners

Fri, 03/26/2021 - 08:00


During the past couple of weeks, we have reviewed the benefits of setting goals as well as discovered a few different types of goals to set with your business owner clients. Now that we have established how to set foundational and universal goals with your clients, we can tackle the third goal type: values-based goals. 

Values-Based Goals 

For most owners, a successful exit is not just about the money. While every owner will need to establish the common goals of departure date, chosen successor, and post-exit income, many will also have less objective goals that are equally as important. These values-based goals tend to be non-monetary and less tangible than the universal goals. 

Values-based or “aspirational” goals are often the most influential of the three types of goals because they are related to an owner’s personal values.  These goals often influence the exit path and successor choice by putting the company in the right hands to continue the culture and values and of the exiting owner. 

Some common values-based goals that you will want to explore with your clients include: 

  • Family harmony 
  • Owner legacy 
  • Acknowledging employees 
  • Taking a business to the next level 
  • Minimizing taxes 
  • Maintaining culture 
  • Community involvement 
  • Quality retirement 
  • Charitable intentions 

This type of goal can also often be overlooked. Unless advisors help owners uncover their core values early in the process, they often remain subdued throughout the planning process. These core values will inevitably emerge just before the ownership transfer. At that point, it is often too late to address them, and the transfer process stops, or the owner’s goals are unfulfilled. 

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Why Are Values-Based Goals Important?  

Understanding what values are most important to a business owner as they consider the continuation of their business without them will help create the path they need to be on. Whether they are focused on supporting their employees or giving back to the community, clearly defined values-based goals will help determine if a particular exit path lends itself to a more successful outcome. 

Values-based goals are "softer" but more emotionally compelling. Considering most owners have a strong emotional attachment to their companies, there is no surprise that emotionally driven goals can have a huge impact on the future of the organization. An exit path that reaches your client’s exit deadline and financial goals but puts your client’s employees at risk for losing their jobs and has an impact the local economy may be a values-based deal breaker for your client. Knowing these non-tangible goals from your client early in the process will save you and your client time and establish clearer expectations for what the owner really wants.  

How to Establish Values-Based Goals 

Ask questions! The only way to understand what is truly important to your business owner clients is by diving in and getting them thinking about their priorities. Generally, Exit Planning Advisors kick off this discussion by asking owners to: 

  • Describe their vision for their companies without them. 
  • Describe their vision for themselves without their companies.

Visions can be difficult for owners to clarify and quantify, so as their advisor, you will sometimes need to push them to think a little harder about the future they want for their business and themselves. Ask them a series of follow-up questions to get to the heart of what they value. For example: 

  • Why do you wish to maintain the company's culture after you exit the business? 
  • What aspects of the culture do you want a buyer to maintain? 
  • Do you have ideas on how to accomplish that? 

Only upon fully understanding an owner's aspirational goals can advisors begin to recommend the appropriate actions to achieve them. 

In addition to clarifying the owner's vision, asking questions establishes the advisor's interest in achieving their clients' wishes. When owners are confident that their advisors understand and take a personal interest in working with them to reach their aspirational goals, they are far likelier to engage them and move forward with a process that achieves all their goals. 


Defining goals is the first step of a planning process that can set you up to creating a successful exit strategy for your owner clients. As you work through and set these goals with your owner clients, you should also be working through the next step in the Exit Planning Process: determining resources. When these two steps are completed, you can then proceed through the rest of the Exit Planning Process to create a Comprehensive Plan or work on a Phased Plan to resolve your owner’s hot-button issues first. Either way, you and your client will now be aligned and in agreement with what the goals are moving forward.  

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