Succession Planning for Small Business

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When successful business owners reach a certain age, it becomes imperative that they address the issue of succession planning. Many of them may have been dodging this particular conversation for years, yet they often come to their advisors with seemingly ironclad convictions about how they’d like the succession to play out.

That doesn’t mean that they actually know what they want.

Often, a business owner meets with a financial advisor who has only cursory knowledge of the tools related to transfer of ownership or assets and effective strategies to minimize or avoid future or current tax liabilities related to ownership changes.

They also come to the advisor fully devoted to a set of myths, beliefs and emotions that are almost always counterproductive in the early stages of the process.

The first step by any qualified advisor should not be a discussion of strategies or tools. It should be a frank discussion of what the client really wants.

That discussion requires breaking down some myths that are almost universal amongst small business owners and confronting not only the realities of succession planning, but also the emotions and family dynamics that are powerful forces in many small businesses.

Myth One: There’s Plenty of Time

In business succession planning, time is either your ally or your enemy. You can spend time planning for succession during your active business lifetime, or postpone planning and wait until the more chaotic, uncertain and expensive succession planning occurs post-mortem, when the choice is no longer yours.

Reluctance to accept the realities of time can have disastrous consequences, especially since timing issues are often beyond an owner’s control. Just as the aging CEOs of major corporations are pressed by shareholders who demand a succession plan to protect their investments, so too a small business owner should implement a succession plan to protect the interests of all stakeholders.

The lesson? Start early. Select your successor(s), and work with a financial professional to develop a succession plan before it’s an issue.


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