For over 25 years, BEI has been dedicated to providing innovative and intuitive tools for business advisors to help them differentiate their practice and provide better solutions to their clients. Following suit, we typically address business advisors in our content, aiming to provide support and resources for them to start conversations with owners. However, this time, we are dedicating an article to all of the business owners on behalf of Exit Planning Advisors everywhere.
As we talk to hundreds of Exit Planning Advisors each week, we want to share some common sentiments that we hear. Our goal is to assure business owners who might be on the fence about Exit Planning or teaming up with an advisor that you are always top-of-mind to them.
Alternatively, this may also be helpful if you are an Exit Planning Advisor who is struggling to connect with clients or get your planning services off the ground. Or, maybe you have been doing this work for so long that this “letter” serves as a humble reminder of why you got started and the gratitude you feel when helping your clients reach their goals.
Dear business owner:
We know you’ve got a lot on your plate.
Managing the day-to-day operations of your business is no small feat. It is no surprise that at the end of each hard day, it’s unlikely that you’ve checked a task related to Exit Planning off of your to-do list. We’d be willing to bet that Exit Planning ranks among the tasks that you plan to get to “later.”
We can assure you that we don’t want to give you any more work to do. In working with us to create a comprehensive Exit Plan for your business, we intend to take the quarterback role. Meaning, in every Exit Planning engagement, we are prepared to manage the processes, advisor relationships, documentation, and more so that you don’t have to worry about it.
In this business landscape, it is not enough to simply have a buy-sell agreement stashed away in your files, and it may cost you more in the long run by delaying Exit Planning any further. We resolve to assist you in building a team of advisors that will collectively map out and execute an Exit Plan that will help you make the most of your lives’ work.
The Exit Planning Process revolves around you.
No matter your business, industry, size, or specialty, choosing what goals are most important to you is a crucial first step in Exit Planning. Whether these goals include reaching a target business valuation, ensuring financial security post-exit, developing a strong management team, retaining key employees, or something different, we vow to work with you to decide which goals are of utmost priority. These goals, plus the steps and resources needed to reach them, are what dictate every aspect of an Exit Plan.
Exit Planning Advisors who are familiar with the BEI Seven Step Exit Planning Process begin with this goals assessment, and continue on to determine the asset gap and what strategies need to be implemented to improve business value along the way.
In addition, it is likely we will work together to come up with a phase-based approach - in which we can select the most important problems that are keeping you up at night - and tackle those first. This way, we can build momentum as we remove some of those headaches from the list in the first phase, making it more manageable to move through each stage.
Your priorities matter to us.
As mentioned previously, your goals and priorities matter to your Exit Plan, but they also matter to us personally. When we work with you to establish your values-based goals, we see our role shift from “advisor to the business” to include “advisor to the owner.” Since our relationship is with you, we hope that it will endure long after your business exit is complete.
We are invested in your “next great adventure” too. Once the business transition event occurs, we anticipate advisory involvement in terms of making sure your expectations are exceeded and your post-exit lifestyle is going according to plan.
We understand the magnitude of a business exit.
For most business owners, the sale or transition of their business is the biggest financial decision of their life. Due to the weight of these decisions, we may play “devil’s advocate” and ask the tough questions. We want to be able to look at aspects of your business from a different perspective. After all, your relationships with vendors, banks, family, employees, etc. are impacted significantly when you are no longer involved in the business.
We have also seen firsthand the consequences of not planning. We could share examples and tangible results of clients whose business suffered due to enduring an unexpected life event or an inaccurate business valuation that could have fared better results with Exit Planning. We don’t want to see any of our clients end up in situations that don’t directly align with their Exit Planning objectives.
We know you value progress.
Exit Planning Advisors, especially those who use BEI’s EPIC Planning software, place high value in the monitoring process. Providing you with checklists and reports to track the movement of the Exit Plan is just as important to us as we know it is to you.
We are trained to be able to articulate what things you will need to complete, how the action items consider your biggest concerns, and communicate who is going to implement which recommendations and when.
Just like you have dedicated your life to your business, we have spent countless hours growing in our expertise to assist you with this business transition.
Let us help you find a better way to plan.
Exit Planning Advisors
Whether you intend to leave your business soon or stay involved forever, you need a plan for your future. The best way to create a successful plan is to work with a BEI-trained Exit Planning Advisor. BEI has the largest, international network of Exit Planning Advisors who are ready to answer your questions and help you find your path to a successful future.
When an Exit Planning Advisor is working with a prospective client, it is common to be faced with a variety of objections and hesitations from business owners who don’t want to Exit Plan.
Some note time and financial constraints, others don’t see it as an urgent need, and some simply don’t know where to start or assume another one of their advisors will handle it when the time comes.
Regardless of an advisor’s specific background or industry expertise, it can be tricky to move past these doubts and make forward progress. There are several strategies we have gathered from BEI Members over the years that have helped them create the tipping point and get business owners to act and hire them as an Exit Planning Advisor.
6 Key Strategies
Strategy 1: Leverage Peers
Successful business owners are usually aware of what is going on in their community and their industry. They constantly seek out best practices and efficient business models that they can replicate in their own business to avoid re-creating the wheel.
So, how do we, as advisors, share stories about what other business owners are doing?
Ideally, Exit Planning Advisors should pair data with real-world scenarios to show business owners both sides of the coin. Many professional organizations, BEI included, compile Business Owner Reports (stay tuned for a new BEI Business Owner 2022 Report coming soon!) that provide meaningful statistics to share about the state of the industry. For analytical, data-driven business owners, providing them with the facts is key in showing them what their peers are up to.
In addition, you likely have many stories of your own or that you have gotten from your own advisor peers that can give context to an issue the prospective client is facing. Being able to apply the story of another business owner to a prospect’s current situation gives them the emotional connection that might get them to act.
Strategy 2: Put Clients in the Driver’s Seat
Many business owners start a business so they can make decisions and run the business on their terms. Framing Exit Planning work in a light that shows owners they will still be in control is crucial. Present the planning work that you do as an advisor, as well as the solutions you offer, as things that they can take charge of and be responsible for.
Many advisors present this control by way of a phased approach. For example, propose starting with one component of the Exit Plan – say, business continuity or something the owner deems most important – and start small. Once completed, owners tend to use the momentum that is created by the first phase to move on to other steps.
Additionally, prioritizing the exit map and planning process helps owners to visualize the entire process, which usually means they will be more likely to engage. Show them how the first phase connects to the entire process and pair it with a checklist or to-do list that they help create. Keeping them in the driver’s seat while the process improves the probability that they’ll move forward with an Exit Plan.
Strategy 3: Demonstrating Magnitude
Magnitude is all about connecting business issues and the scope of those issues in terms of Exit Planning vs. not Exit Planning. You want to show the business owners the consequences that come from not planning, and the successes they will have if they do.
Showing the significance of Exit Planning can be illustrated in case studies. By sharing a case study on a common and specific business problem, you can share with business owners real effects that resulted from Exit Planning. Case studies can be framed in a negative way by sharing negative impacts due to lack of planning, or in a positive way due to proper planning.
Either way, sharing tangible results such as how a company grew business value, increased net income, minimized financial risk, or whatever the case may be, makes a difference in highlighting magnitude.
An alternative way to show magnitude is to ask high-quality questions of the business owner. Playing “devil's advocate” gets them to look at the business from a unique perspective. Ask questions about their relationship with the business – vendors, banks, family, employees, etc. - and get them to consider how those relationships might be impacted if they were no longer involved in the business.
Strategy 4: Carry the Burden for the Business Owner
Be wary of giving prospective clients too much homework. They already have a lot on their plates and to debunk their belief that they “don’t have enough time” to Exit Plan, try to carry the burden of kickstarting an Exit Plan as much as possible.
Namely, be sure that prospective business owner clients are aware that you are prepared to take the quarterback role. As the Exit Planning Advisor, you will manage the multiple advisors on the Exit Planning team. While you aren’t the ultimate resource, every advisor has a role in the Exit Plan, and you can track down the answers to their questions when appropriate.
Further, consolidate and share the information that you gather from the business owner. This creates efficiency and saves the owner the time of having to relay their business challenges and personal information in each meeting. Keeping a record and keeping every member of the Team of Advisors aware of progress and conversation relieves some repetitive work for the client.
Strategy 5: Reflect Concerns
Similar to the note on recording information mentioned in the above strategy, it is equally important to make note of the business owner's concerns and challenges.
Those familiar with BEI’s 7-Step Exit Planning Process know that the first tasks of any Exit Planning engagement lie in the first two steps to determine values-based goals. Regardless of what the business owner’s exit path might be or what their objectives are, completing a vision and mapping exercise with them is important to identify their top concerns and priorities.
Some advisors also conduct a priorities assessment where they ask every prospect the same series of questions that will get them the answers they need to determine priorities. No matter how you choose to gather information regarding concerns and challenges, it is key that you come back to the business owner later to clarify concerns and priorities with them.
This will give them a sense that you were not only listening to what they were saying, but are really there to work for them and make plans to ensure they are making the most of their lives’ work.
Strategy 6: Highlight Progress
Business owners are typically progress-sensitive. Being able to articulate what you’re going to do, how the action items consider their biggest concerns, and communicate who is going to do what and when, is extremely valuable to a business owner on the fence.
Highlighting progress can be done by using a consistent, custom process. Owners are looking for something they can understand – so be as clear and articulate as possible! Exit Planning Advisors who use BEI planning software also have an advantage because they can say they use a known process that has found business owner's success repeatedly.
Be sure to share elements of project management and checklists with prospects. Business owners appreciate being able to see what is left to do, who is responsible, and checking things off a list can be a great tactic to get them to realize the importance of Exit Planning.
Action Items for Exit Planning Advisors
Securing new Exit Planning clients and getting them to understand the importance of an Exit Plan is no small feat. Whether focusing on the pain points, honing in on opportunities, or another preferred style to move clients forward, using one or more of the above strategies will ultimately result in more Exit Planning clients.
At BEI, our mission is to provide indispensable tools for advisors like you – that's why we’ve designed tools to save time, create consistency, and deliver high-quality solutions to current and prospective business owner clients.
To explore more Exit Planning content that will help you get business owners to act, start with diving deeper into: