No Plan for a Succession Plan? 5 Practical tools to get your business on the road to succession planning

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Published by Divestopedia

Every day, business leaders who have been at the helm of their company for many years have fleeting thoughts about what the future might hold.  How long do I want continue to work?  Should I sell my business?  Who could manage my business?  Is it time to make a move?   Perhaps the biggest question may be this: how do I even get started with addressing these questions?

It’s not uncommon for business leaders to meet with their advisors from time to time; to develop their personal post-sale financial plan, establish family trusts, or work through tax planning strategies.  Although all of these are necessary and important tasks, there is often one very important component missing: how to bridge the gap between a post-sale retirement plan and the current state of a company.  In other words, business leaders might be good at planning for life after selling their business, but are not so good at undertaking the succession planning process.   Why is this the case?

One reason could be so simple that it isn’t fully appreciated: many businesses don’t do a very good job of planning, period.  Annual budgets: we don’t need that.  Business planning: too much trouble.  Sales planning: all sales budgets are too inflated to be useful, right?  Technology planning: we just buy the new stuff every few years.  It’s no wonder the succession planning process never gets off the ground.

Here’s the problem with businesses that don’t plan: since planning is a process that is developed through practicing it, these companies don’t have the opportunity to generate competency in this important area.  A disciplined planning process, starting with shorter term and more straightforward plans, such as an annual budget, can help staff members develop the competency to approach more complex initiatives, such as business and succession planning.  What’s more, the corporate history and financial results that are compiled during the process represent an information base that is integral to succession planning.

So, in the spirit of walking before you can run, here are 5 ways to get the planning process started in your company today:

  • Get the right assistance—as with any new task, it can be much easier to design a process and overcome roadblocks by engaging the right advisory expertise. Business advisors that have helped companies work through the annual budgeting or business planning process can provide valuable insight into establishing an appropriate approach and avoiding common pitfalls.  This course of action typically brings far more value to a business than its actual cost, in terms of time savings and identifying best practices for use over the long term.
  • Develop standardized documents—as with any key process, taking the time to develop templates and documents that can be used repeatedly is a much better approach than starting from scratch every time. A standardized budget template, including information to be collected, supporting calculations, assumptions, and financial statements in the proper format can greatly expedite the process and help users become more productive when undertaking a new initiative.
  • Assign roles and responsibilities—the planning process should be the responsibility of all key management team members within a company and not just a task relegated to a particular department. Ensuring that roles are clearly defined and that a number of people are responsible for providing information to be included in the budget, for example, has benefits of at least threefold: better information, planning training across the organization, and enhanced “buy in” of the result.
  • Set (and adhere to) timelines—like any other initiative, the planning process requires formal deadlines that are not simply kicked down the road if they are not met. Planning can sometimes take a backseat to other activities that are considered to be more relevant or immediate, and maintaining this type of attitude will not enable a business to develop the competency that is required to support more complex initiatives, such as succession planning.
  • Keep planning relevant—one of the fundamental mistakes that companies make is failing to keep the planning process top-of-mind, resulting in budgets and other plans becoming quickly irrelevant as soon as they have been developed. It’s critical to ensure that actual results are compared to plan consistently throughout the year (monthly is ideal) and variances investigated and resolved.  It’s no wonder that companies that fail to do this find little value in the planning process.  Even more, striving to meet or beat the plan is the real challenge, so don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to enhance corporate performance.

Although this might seem like a lot of work, think of it as an investment.  The key is to start today, take a gradual approach, and build planning into your regular business routine.  Doing so will get you one step closer to starting the succession planning process, as well as actually implementing your post-sale financial plan.

Beat the Growth Curve by Enabling (and sustaining) Business Growth

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Every once in a while, something magnificent happens.  A company, through no fault of its own, finds itself in a situation of unexpected growth: that uncharacteristically large order, email inquiry from markets afar, or perhaps media coverage that yields a rush of customers.  As enticing as such growth can be, there is an important question that must be carefully considered: can this level of demand be sustained?

It’s easy to find joy in times of success, wanting little more than to sit back and savour the moment.  Having said that, it’s important to not fall into the trap of taking short term growth as a given for the future.  This is a dangerous approach that has been the downfall of many companies, who banked on the money before it arrived and made decisions on this basis, many of which involved outlays of cash.   Too often, the “can’t miss” opportunity is anything but, with the key unanswered question being whether or not the increased level of demand was sustainable or just a bump in the road.   Paired with this is often a lack of appreciation of what’s required to create sustainable growth over the long term.

Business leaders can take matters into their own hands to increase the likelihood of a better outcome, to effectively stay ahead of the growth curve and beat it.  The approach is built upon fundamental, good business practices; here are some tips to get you started:

  • Research always rules—when demand rises, it’s a great opportunity to find out why. This can be achieved by engaging with customers and keeping an eye on the marketplace for developments of interest.  Published research sources, industry associations, and economic analysts can bring information about key trends and how demand could be impacted.  Utilize this information to understand changes in demand for the short and long term and how your business strategy might be impacted.
  • Focus on what makes you special—every business must be able to tangibly articulate why customers should choose them, as opposed to the competition. It’s important to communicate what your company has to offer, not just in the present but also on a sustainable basis.  Focus on areas such as proprietary expertise, products, service levels, and other areas that set you apart.
  • Keep an eye on external developments—which includes emerging trends and happenings in the industry and marketplace where you do business. Look for opportunities to offer new products and services in your area and pay careful attention to changes in consumer preferences.  Too many business leaders focus the majority of their time on internal matters and can quickly find themselves out of step with opportunities in the marketplace, as well as displaced by savvy competitors who didn’t make the same mistake.
  • Accentuate the positive—increased demand can be tempting, in terms of quick decisions to scale up, buy, hire, and other expansion related steps. Conversely, a good strategy is to leverage what you already have and minimize new cost outlays.   Accentuate the positive by building on what you already have; longer business hours, a greater online presence, and making use of existing capacity are all options.  Strategic partnerships can also expand your product offering without significant costs.
  • Build the brand— ideally, it’s important to create an identity that positions your business as the “go to” provider of choice; this is key to sustaining demand for the long term. Most communities have such examples, so utilize your efforts to make your name a recognizable one.

Recognize these efforts for what they are: an investment; to take control and grow on a proactive and prolonged basis, well into the future.  Your business (and your bank account) will thank you for it.

Grow Within your Means? Yes, You Can!

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Generating growth in the business world can be a tricky thing.  Companies do whatever they can to grow, but many find themselves unprepared when success happens.  On the other hand, some businesses take mighty steps in advance of growth: hiring staff members, moving to a bigger location, and buying new equipment, only for increased sales failing to materialize.  Business leaders often struggle with which road they should take: forward, back, stay put?  Sometimes this indecision can be a good risk mitigation strategy, and at other times, it leads to opportunities being missed.

Growth, however, does not always have to involve adding significantly to a company’s expenses.  This might sound surprising, but by applying some careful thought and creativity, it is possible.  The potential is compelling, as in situations where revenues increase and expenses decrease, profits can multiply in ways that you might not have thought possible.  There are ways to generate growth by getting the most out of what a company already has and is likely still paying for; and however you look at it, it’s a great time to grow:

  • Utilize your existing workforce to the fullest—hiring staff members is a long term commitment, so ensure that you are not using it to resolve a short term problem. Each and every staff member should be fully utilized with a meaningful workload, so identify inefficiencies and work smarter.  Using cross-training and reassignment of tasks across departments and hiring part time/contract staff during peak periods can all help.  Standardized procedures, templates, and documents can be used repeatedly and eliminate the wasted time associated with “reinventing the wheel”.  Ensuring that staff members have the right technology to increase productivity is a must, recognizing that more is not always better.
  • Take a fresh look at your premises— consider reorganizing work schedules, adding shifts, or servicing customer markets that could be accessed during off hours. Ensuring that your online and social media presences are as robust as possible also represent opportunities to spur growth.
  • Take things in stride—turbo speed growth isn’t always the best approach, as it can be difficult (and risky) to service and maintain. Long term success is often better achieved by taking a gradual approach, raising the likelihood of profitable growth that is also cash flow positive.  View this as creating the basis for the next level of expansion.
  • Look to fill product and service gaps—identifying partners who have products and services that fit well with your own, or would be of interest in your marketplace, can be a great way to grow. Each partner works within their own resources, but benefits from offering products and services to each others’ customers.  It’s also no secret that groups who work together can generate additional productivity, simply by collaborating and working smart.
  • Take a short term focus—view growth as a series of small steps or advancements. Stay away from long term facility commitments and equipment loans, as they are expenditures that remain well into the future.  Generate growth that has a likelihood of being sustainable over at least a moderate period of time, such as a couple of years, before committing into the long term.  This approach can be repeated over the years, resulting in managed growth that mitigates risk.

Much of what is required to achieve success in this regard is not glamorous, but rather, represents good, fundamental business practices.  Take stock of what you have, make it run like a charm, utilize it to the fullest, and monitor, measure, and refine.  Do it well and be prepared to welcome the kind of growth that will be with you for years to come.

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Discipline)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

The word “entrepreneurial” is often associated with a freewheeling, zig-zagging, devil-may-care, caution-into-the-wind type of attitude. Although it’s true that the ideas and new ways of doing things that are typically associated with startup companies require some creative thought, this is not all that’s needed.  In fact, one of the things that is surprising about young companies is just how much discipline they need in order to be successful.

Startups are focused on building: new companies, new products and services, new markets, new ways of doing things. Like any construction project, this is best done by building on solid ground, starting with the site, a good foundation, and using tactics that are tried and true.  Although this particular house might include some new features or ideas (think geothermal heating or windows that provide privacy with the flick of a switch!), most construction fundamentals still need to be in place.  Why is this the case?  Simply because it’s important to put evolution into practice within a stable environment, as combining too many new things at once can cause the structure to come tumbling down.

This type of balanced progress (or evolution under control) resonates well with early stage investors, as it raises the likelihood of overall success. It also serves as a means to manage and mitigate risk, which is something that we have already explored in this series.  Understanding that the sound business practices and discipline that are learned in the corporate world shouldn’t be abandoned; but, rather, leveraged and built upon, is a key area of opportunity for anyone entering a startup company.

Why it Matters

When something is young; be it a child, a puppy, or a company, it needs more structure, not less. Think about the last time you learned how to do something: in order to understand the task, your role, and the implications of doing it right (or wrong!), it was necessary to pay careful attention to the lesson, understand what needed to be done (and how), practice, and perhaps take corrective action (or refer back to the manual) in order to get it right.  Startup companies really aren’t much different than these examples.

What runs against the grain of what early stage investors know to be true is when young companies do the opposite (remember that devil-may-care attitude?), applying good business practices just about nowhere. If the intent to is make a new way of doing things work for the long term, it has to be supported by the fundamentals; business planning, financial management, implementation monitoring, and defined roles and responsibilities are just a few examples of the discipline that should be in place.  In many startup companies, an investor would be challenged to find any of these practices!

Get Started

Benefit from the established fundamental business practices that are typically present in large companies by learning how to incorporate them with discipline into a startup environment:

  • Dust off that textbook: Although it might have been a while since you’ve held the student viewpoint, recognize what is part of good, old fashioned fundamental business practices and undertake the discipline to learn how to put (and keep) them in place. Areas to think and learn about include planning, budgeting, assigning tasks, monitoring performance, documentation, and roles and responsibilities.
  • Practice recognizing where business fundamentals can be applied: Regardless of the environment, there is a place for good business practices. Learn how to transfer what you have observed and worked with in a corporate environment to that of a startup business. Resist the temptation to fall into the “it can’t be done” trap; experienced investors know that it can be done.
  • Learn more about what you don’t know: While in the relative stability of an established organization, take the time to learn more about areas with which you are less familiar. Research, courses, and new job responsibilities are all strategies for learning.
  • Test your ability to perform on a disciplined basis: What sounds simple “on paper” is typically much more of a challenge when it’s put into practice. Pursue opportunities to take learning to a practical level and be sure to take note of how performance could be improved.
  • Think in both the short and long term: Short term thinking tends to equate with getting things done, while a long term mindset is more about putting policies and procedures into place. Recognize that investors expect to see both: the track record of what has been achieved and established practices in a business to demonstrate discipline and ongoing value.

When you take the time to think about a startup company in the context of other things that are early in their developmental stage, it is blatantly obvious that much structure and attention are needed in order to shepherd a neophyte safely into the future. By separating the creative process of generating ideas from the disciplined approach of building, it’s possible to fully recognize the stark differences between the two.  This is what early stage investors see every time.

Speaking Tour, Day 4

DAW traveled to Toronto for the fourth and final stop on the Fall, 2015 speaking tour.  We were greeted by sunny, warm weather and an enthusiastic group; a great way to end our tour.  The mix of participants in the room, the services they provide, and their client experiences always make the sessions interesting and unique.  Recognizing that a real opportunity exists to build a growing client base for the long term is an exciting prospect!

Key thing to think about for Day 4: It’s been raised on every stop of this tour that some clients tend to fall into the same difficulties time and time again; why is this the case?  Much of what needs to be learned represents a mind shift, a new way of thinking, and although these concepts might be understandable, they can be very difficult to put into practice.  This is just one reason why advisors have an important role to play in supporting and coaching their clients to meet and beat the challenges they face.

Thanks everyone who came out to see us, participated, and stopped by to share experiences and tell us that they enjoyed the day.  It means the world to us!

Speaking Tour, Day 3

Our tour travelled to Calgary for the third day of the Distinguished Advisor Family Business and Yearend Tax Planning Workshop  Another great group, with lots of interesting questions and experiences.  It’s always a privilege when advisors share their experiences, with the goal of identifying how and where they can better help their clients.

Key thing to think about for Day 3:  Identifying the right role for a business leader to take on as a company grows is critical, as time is a precious resource that needs to be channeled effectively.  Advisors can play a key role in helping their clients understand where they fit best, setting the stage for bringing in the right resources to build growth capacity.  Too often, clients make the wrong choice, resulting in costly setbacks for the company.

Thanks, Calgary, for the participation and hospitality. Next stop: Winnipeg (to take in some Halloween festivities!), and then on to Toronto!

Speaking Tour, Day 2

The second day of the Distinguished Advisor Family Business and Year End Tax Planning Workshop was in Vancouver; thanks to everyone who participated!  I’m always interested to hear the questions that are raised, as well as the experiences that advisors have with their clients.  This active, in the field interaction helps to keep my presentations practical and real, as I believe that this experience puts advisors in the best position to help others.

Key thing to think about for Day 2: Investor ready business planning isn’t just for start up and early stage companies; it is also extremely important for growth stage businesses, as well as those that are considering succession. As I’ve raised on every stop of this tour, the vast majority of business plans I’ve seen in my career are not investor ready (most are nowhere near ready!), and this is a significant problem for those seeking capital.  I’ve developed an approach based on my years in the venture capital industry, so if you’re going to invest the time to develop a business plan, do it the investor ready way!

Thanks to the Vancouver Club for their hospitality.  Up next: Calgary

Speaking Tour, Day 1

 

A big thank you to everyone who joined us in Winnipeg yesterday for the kick off of the Distinguished Advisor Workshop Family Business and Year End Tax Planning session.  Lots of lively discussion and great questions in my sessions!  The real benefit of attending this type of event is being in a better position to help clients improve what they do, fuel successful growth, and generate business for both clients and their advisors over the long term.

Key thing to think about after Day 1: How to put your business clients in the best position to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace.  As far as I’m concerned, someone will benefit from marketplace opportunities; why not your company?  I’ve developed strategies to help companies do exactly that, so contact me directly for assistance with your business.

Thanks to the Manitoba Club for such a great venue!  Up next: Vancouver!

Coming to a City Near You!

ThinkstockPhotos-153961287I’m pleased to be on the road again this Fall with the Distinguished Advisor Workshop (DAW). Our Family Business & Year End Tax Planning sessions will take place in Winnipeg (Oct 27), Vancouver (Oct 28), Calgary (Oct 29), and Toronto (Nov 2), so be sure to confirm your spot today!
My sessions are all about building a more independent company; from business planning in a manner that resonates well with investors, to taking the right steps to increase capacity to generate growth beyond what a business leader alone can achieve. As an experienced advisor, I’m able to bring practical strategies to help leaders overcome the typical growth related challenges and setbacks that occur along the way.  This is powerful leverage for achieving success in a competitive world!
As part of our session, we will ask participants to identify the “one big thing” that they could do to help make their company more independent. Have you considered this lately?

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 2)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

If succession planning is a challenge for business leaders, potential successors might describe the process as mysterious.  While a business leader or founder has typically been at the helm of a company for some time (if not a prolonged period of time, in many cases), potential successors are often just trying to find a way to get to the table.  One day, the founder is keen to “step back” from the company, while the next day, “retirement” seems vague and far in the future.  For someone wanting to aspire to a leadership (and ownership) role, this type of situation can be a difficult to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Whether a potential successor is a longstanding “2-IC” (2nd in Command), management team group, or family member, their vantage point might provide relatively little information in terms of how the company actually operates, the business leader’s true expectations around succession, and what it would actually take for a transaction to occur.  Add in the mixed messages that can be so common with the issue of succession and it might be enough to cause a potential successor to scramble for the door, vowing to create an opportunity all their own (and on their own terms).

This reality should be sufficient to get the attention of business leaders who are contemplating succession, if not outright relying on it as a means to monetize their ownership position.  Given that a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (1) found that the top barrier to succession planning is finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), those seeking to exit their business should recognize that finding (and keeping) a potential successor is not to be taken lightly.  Unfortunately, too many potential successors find just the opposite to be the case.

The Successor Perspective

Something that many potential successors have in common is that they are keen; to implement their ideas, take the company in a new direction, and just “get started”.  Many have a reasonable expectation that succession will occur at some point in time, either by virtue of previous conversations on the topic, or perhaps, in the case of a family business, where succession is “expected”.  Call it an informal succession plan.

As a result, potential successors want to better understand how and when a transaction might occur.

This is particularly true in the case of individuals who have invested a number of years working in a company, learning how it operates and directly contributing to building its wealth.  They reach a certain age or point in their careers when they truly need to know: (i) if a succession opportunity actually exists; (ii) when it would occur; and (iii) what the financial implications would be, particularly in terms of the cost to undertake the transaction.  In the absence of this information, a successor’s next best alternative is to move on to other opportunities, and given the effort they have invested in building the company (often, to the direct benefit of a shareholder group in which they are not included), this is understandable.

The Opportunity

Identifying a qualified and willing successor is only the beginning of the succession process, as there is often still plenty of learning to do in order to fully assume and conduct the leadership role.  But even before this can happen, the parties need to be able to arrive at an agreeable value and the successor has to have the ability to pay, either by way of their own funds or through securing financing (in the absence of either of these options, it often comes down to the departing business leader to agree to be paid over time).  Since the  Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey found that valuing the business (54%) and securing financing for the successor (48%) are the second and third highest reported barriers to succession planning, all involved in the process need to take note.

For potential successors to chart their course, there are a number of things that can be done on a proactive basis to better understand the particulars of the opportunity, as well as getting a plan into place.  Seeking advice from those who have undertaken or financed business transactions can help to bring context to the situation, in terms of its appeal and how to help move the process forward.  Here’s how:

Look in the mirror. The truth is, not everyone is cut out for a leadership role. Leading a company, in terms of both the role and ownership aspects, can be significantly different from the experiences of a potential successor thus far, including the scope of responsibility, level of risk, and degree of commitment.  As an example, in the event of insufficient cash flow, owners typically bear the responsibility to inject additional funds or decrease their own compensation to cover shortfalls.  This type of uncertainty might fall outside of a potential successor’s risk tolerance level.

Potential successors need to take a hard look at all aspects of assuming a leadership role, objectively balancing both the risks and rewards of ownership.  Advisors can help by providing independent feedback or helping successors to undertake a self assessment to better understand the types of roles in which they fit best, before proceeding any further.

Assess the situation objectively. Due to the inherent uncertainty that often clouds the succession process, potential successors need to be able to get to the heart of the situation, to first understand whether or not an opportunity actually exists.  This uncertainty is a relatively common frustration, and the reality is that succession is only going to happen if a business leader is committed to undertaking the process.

Advisors can help potential successors to see the situation for what it is, as well as suggest approaches to further discussions with the business leader or how succession could occur.  In addition, successors might need to take action to put the situation in context, by identifying other possible succession opportunities as a comparison.  Although business leaders might not like this very much, the reality is that there are situations where succession simply will not occur, no matter how much a founder might indicate otherwise.

Communicate.  Given that succession can be a sensitive topic, it’s not uncommon for the parties to have difficulty having meaningful conversations around the issue; this can be particularly true in family businesses.  Since succession represents a complex business transaction with numerous details to be considered and negotiated, it won’t just magically happen.  Given the sensitivities, these conversations tend to get deferred and delayed, making succession seem less likely as each day passes.

Starting the succession dialogue between the parties is critical, to map out an agreeable approach, but to also identify situations where an arrangement might not be possible, allowing both sides to pursue other opportunities.  Advisors can help to start the conversation in a non-confrontation manner, in an attempt to find common ground, where it exists, and cover off areas that need to be addressed.  This approach can also help to fill in knowledge and experience gaps that are common in the case of potential successors.

Financial implications. Discussing money is often tough, not just because of the calculations and various financing structures, but simply because the parties might find it difficult on a personal level.  In the case of family businesses, parents might be sensitive to the financial situation of their children, while the next generation might be concerned about not “offering enough” as compensation for all of the work that has been put in to building the company.  Couple this with a founder’s understandable desire to receive fair compensation to finance the retirement they have been dreaming of and negotiations can stall.

Potential successors often do not have a lot of experience in this area, and financial partners can be helpful in terms of transferring knowledge and suggesting approaches that could meet the needs of all parties.  Regardless, those who are serious about taking on a leadership and ownership role at some point in the future need to ensure that their professional development program includes business financing, sooner rather than later.

Although it’s true that good successors are in short supply, all potential successors need to take a hard look at not only what is required of them, but also whether or not the opportunity at hand is viable.  In times of investment (and that’s what succession is), bringing a professional approach to the table is a must to ensure that the right deal gets done.

Source:

Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

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