"I'm not ready to sell my business and retire..."

In my past life, when working in the financial services/wealth management industry, we helped individuals and families create financial plans for their goals such as college education or retirement.  It was very unusual to have a conversation with a client or prospective client who did not already understand that the sooner they began planning the better chance they would have in achieving their goals. They seemed to "get it" that planning, building, and saving for their goal(s) would take time and they could not simply begin planning when suddenly they were ready to send the kids to school or retire from their job.  For example, when encouraging someone to get started saving for retirement as soon as possible, we did not often hear, "I'm not ready to retire yet."

Interestingly, it is not unusual to have a business owner respond to inquiries about their exit and legacy with, "I'm not ready to sell my business", or, "I'm not ready to leave my business and retire".  The inference being, that planning isn't needed until they are actually ready to leave the business (Or, maybe we simply did a poor job describing what we do...as we do not sell businesses).  As this conversation continues, it becomes clear this owner is assuming they will be able to sell their business when they want and for the money they want, and that any planning involved really only amounts to some legal stuff regarding the sales transaction.  These are very faulty assumptions.

For most small business owners, the future business value will play a key role in their retirement planning, financial security for their family, and their desired legacy.  Like an investment portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, there are specific things that can be done to maximize value and minimize risk but each takes time (often years) and financial resources that need to be budgeted and planned for.  But because a small privately-held business is typically not as liquid as financial assets in an investment portfolio, long-term planning can be even more imperative. Particularly, if your desire is to sell to insiders or children.

Is your business the largest asset in your investment portfolio?  Do you know what you will need your business to be worth in the future, what it's really worth now, and a plan to increase its value?  Do you have a long-term planning perspective on what might possibly be the largest and most impactful financial transaction of your life?

Don't wait until you're "ready to retire" to begin planning your business exit or you won't be ready.  Instead, have the same long-term perspective in planning your exit as you do in making contributions to your 401k/retirement plans.  

Patrick Ennis

Ennis Consulting & Conciliation, Montgomery Village, MD

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