Exit Planning: Emotions Matter

“75% of owners who successfully exit their business ‘profoundly regret’ their decision to exit within 12 months of their retirement.” – Exit Planning Institute

Why do business owners so often regret their exit?

In reality, there can be any number of reasons for regret following such a monumental occasion. Of course, the most obvious source of regret applies to owners who make mistakes/oversights prior to an exit that negatively impact their financial well-being (they don’t get as much money as anticipated). It may surprise you to know, however, that just as frequently the main source of pain for the departing owner is purely non-financial.

At Epiphany, we seek to predict and eliminate mistakes that would otherwise result in “profound regret” for business owners. It’s a big part of what we do. We feel strongly that emotional preparedness in Exit Planning is JUST AS IMPORTANT as growing business value. Why?

Business owners who aren’t emotionally prepared for life after work end up sitting on a pile of money – miserable.

The following are common areas in which departing owners are emotionally unprepared for an exit:

Control issues. 

Many business owners have a difficult time delegating authority. Owner dependence is a major limiting factor when it comes to valuation of a business entity. Owner dependence refers to the amount of time an owner-operator must spend working in the business, as well as the unique knowledge, skills, and relationships the owner-operator has that are not documented, repeatable, and/or transferrable. An owner who is unwilling to begin relinquishing control will face a disappointing fate as they begin to navigate purchase offers.

Doing your planning in a vacuum. 

Departing business owners are notorious for wanting to handle their planning behind closed doors – and it makes sense. There are certain risks that can be avoided by using discretion with sensitive information. In this case, employee retention, supplier/customer relations, and market timing are all valid reasons to keep your intentions closely held.

At the same time, a plan is no plan at all when it is not communicated to the key stakeholders that it depends on. A classic example of this is the family business owner who assumes their kids are set to take over the family legacy, only to find out later that the kids want nothing to do with it. In this light, don’t be overly-paranoid about limiting information to everyone. People aren’t stupid; your suppliers, customers, and employees are probably wondering about your retirement already. Certain situations may lend themselves to being open and honest with many of these people; they may be extremely grateful for your honesty.

All in all, safe and open communication can prevent exit planning disaster. The conversations may not be easy, but then again, those things that are worth doing are rarely ever easy.

Not defining your purpose in life after work.

MANY people attach their self-worth to their work. Business owners are no different. If anything, they are more prone. The countless hours spent building, the struggles and sacrifices made, and the good times enjoyed are extremely difficult – nay, impossible – to say goodbye to. It’s who you are. Saying goodbye to who you are is a daunting task at any stage of life. It’s a task that should not be taken lightly.

Business owners who don’t take the time to understand and accept the loss of identity are very likely to experience a stage of depression after selling their business. Only after the owner has accepted a new reality can they begin to define a new purpose in life. Some will know immediately and some will take time to discover it, but all need to seek and discover a new purpose in order to truly experience a happy, healthy, and productive next stage of life.

“Business owners who aren’t emotionally prepared for life after work end up sitting on a pile of money – miserable.”

Not creating bucket list.

Nondescript ideas rarely come to fruition. As an example, the person who says “I’ll travel more” is likely to end up sitting at home pondering the past. By contrast, the person who says, “I want to see the Grand Canyon with my grandchildren in 4 years; at that time, the youngest will be able to remember the trip and I’ll still have the energy to do it!” will experience a much happier retirement. Whether or not they achieve those activities is irrelevant. The victory is in the thought, planning, and excitement to do something more in life.

Creating a bucket list is a fun way of kicking off your retirement. It can help you build excitement for the next chapter of your life. Further, it is something that should be referenced frequently in the future when you need to re-energize.

Not creating a detailed list of activities.

Similarly, you should take the time to think through the day-to-day activities that will get you through the “quieter” periods of life. What will you do on your typical Tuesday morning? If you are satisfied sipping coffee and watching day shows with your spouse, great! If you would rather be out to brunch with a group of friends, be intentional about organizing it and making it happen!

Not involving the spouse.

We are huge advocates for heavily involving your “better half” in this process. Why? 1) They know you better than anyone else – including, perhaps, yourself. 2) You will be spending a lot of time together in the next chapter of life. 3) They often help to keep things in perspective during what can be a complex and difficult process.

Ignoring your conscience.

It happens more often than people know – a business owner will feel some level of guilt related to their retirement, and promptly ignore it. Maybe it’s an employee that they made a promise to or a loyal supplier that they know will be in a bad spot after the sale. Whatever the feeling is, a common tendency is: ignore – proceed – regret. That is no way to begin your next chapter. We encourage you to listen to your own intuition in these matters and do what you can to make them right. You will be very glad that you did later.

Not defining key non-financial outcomes.

Business owners who do not engage in an exit planning process have a tendency to ignore or de-value outcomes that are not directly related to “cash in hand”. Frequently, these outcomes are only uncovered after the sale process has completed, becoming a substantial area of regret for the recently retired owner. Examples may include:

  • Protect / reward employees
  • Keep business in the community
  • Continue commitment to sponsorships / charities
  • Provide a job for a family member

You can learn more about Epiphany Law’s Exit Planning Services, and find a registration link to our FREE Exit Planning Webinars by clicking here.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to get in touch!

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