Each of us has likely had that client who is hesitant to talk about their Exit Plan. Whether it be a fear of uncertainty, distrust of others to run their business, or just that their identity is tied up in their work, it can be a challenge to get business owners with this mindset to realize the importance of planning.
Regardless of how business owners decide to spend their time, a successful post-exit lifestyle requires ample planning before the transition event. On a workable level, this means that business owners must understand the extent to which the wealth attained through the sale can fund their desired post-exit lifestyle. Additionally, business owners must consider what kind of activities and endeavors will keep them fulfilled post-exit, and how they must divide their time and money between them.
Many times, making those decisions is enough to overwhelm business owners to the point where they’ll continue to feed you with “I don’t know.” Regardless of the exit path an owner takes - willingly or unwillingly - it is crucial that they are able to connect with other aspects of their life outside of the vision. The last thing you want for your business owner clients post-exit is to wonder: what’s next?
As an Exit Planning Advisor, ask them: “If money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing?” Try to get them to open up about their goals and desires that exist outside of their company.
This question spurs self-reflection and is crucial to getting owners to envision a “personal vision.” While they may not feel this personal vision is attainable, there are strategies you can implement to get owners thinking about the actions they can take to get closer to their personal vision. You can also show them how they can use the success of their business to fund their personal vision.
Reframing Post-Exit Expectations
Before talking with business owners about the details of their personal vision, it is wise to check in on post-exit expectations. An element to post-exit life that tends to overwhelm owners and delay planning is the high expectations they have about what this life will bring them. According to a Coatts study on these expectations, the vast majority of owners expect a lifestyle which is at least as fulfilling as the one they had running their own business.
With the proper planning in place, post-exit life can deliver on that expectation. However, owners often underestimate how hard it can be to get to that point. It’s usually much harder for business owners to walk away entirely from the business, they’ll likely be more apprehensive to risk, and it might take longer to create a satisfying lifestyle than they believe.
Your role in promoting this aspect of the Exit Plan is to encourage business owners to envision a portfolio of activities that have the possibility of bringing satisfaction. Regardless of exit path, the owner having an aversion to exiting at all, or an uncertainty of a personal vision, having in-depth conversations with owners about what could bring them enjoyment outside of their business is an element of planning that is often overlooked.
In order to neutralize expectations, remind business owners to:
- Focus and clarify their understanding of their skills
- Consider their network as a source of new opportunity
- Value their time just as they would their wealth and business success
- Prioritize their values as it relates to their life after exit, such as family time or travel
Defining the Personal Vision
When it comes to formulating the personal vision, remind business owners that there are a variety of ways to channel their skills and desires into outlets that will bring them joy. Just like they’ve built their business, there is a process to re-building their identity after the sale or transition of their business.
Their personal vision could include:
Mentoring & Advising
Business owners who have been in business for a long time or have worked with specific groups have the option of sharing their expertise and experience to help others reach their goals. Whether this wisdom is passed on as a consultant or through the act of sitting on an advisory board, there are lots of mentorship opportunities available.
Some business owners aren’t quite ready to give up working after exiting a business. Perhaps after a sale, a business owner may want another challenge and is ready for another risk. They may even reinvest the profits of the sale towards a new endeavor. This type of serial entrepreneurship is becoming more popular as owners seek to diversify their income streams and test the waters of new markets.
Maybe an owner isn’t interested in investing the sale proceeds into another business, however, there are many opportunities for owners to apply their insights to discover and back new ventures and opportunities. This could be seeding start ups, taking equity stakes in growing companies, or simply building out their personal investment portfolio.
Just like a monetary investment, if owners want to put their time, talent or money into a non-profit or social cause, it pays to think through how their philanthropic contributions could do the most good.
Enjoying Family & Hobbies
Remind owners that there is also the option for a simpler, quieter, less busy life after exit. Perhaps a business owner has missed out on watching their children achieve milestones, traveling with their spouse, or taking on new home projects or hobbies. There could be great satisfaction that comes with newfound free time.
Using the Personal Vision to Reinvent Identity
As mentioned and repeated in this article, the transition into new levels of wealth and freedom is the stage of Exit Planning that arguably receives the least attention.
The ensure that your business owner clients make the most out of their post-exit lives and fulfill their personal vision, share with them the following tips:
- Be open to new opportunities. Whether it’s starting a new business venture or the opportunity to babysit the grandkids a few times a week, having an open mindset might lead to fulfilling activities that could have been ignored while running a business.
- Learn new skills. Getting outside their comfort zone and trying something that they’ve always wanted, but couldn’t do because of their role, might lead to the discovery of new passions. This could be an opportunity to really re-define success as it relates to their personal vision.
- Focus on mental and physical health. For those who have had managerial stress or potential burnout, a post-exit lifestyle dedicated to healthier decisions is a great option for those who had spent years prioritizing their business over themselves and their family.
- Be present. Post-exit life paves the way for owners to enjoy the new pace and spend time reflecting and resetting. There is no need to put pressure to immediately decide what the new future will look like. Being present could just be the ability to go golfing on a weekday with an old friend, traveling to a new destination, or no longer missing out on things they didn’t have time for previously.