Staring it Down: The Family Business Time Bomb Meets COVID-19
Blog Post published by Evelyn Jacks of Knowledge Bureau
We couldn’t have predicted the devastating economic effects of the pandemic on small businesses when we wrote the book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb. But if there was ever a time for families to address the issue of what to do next in guiding their business out of stormy waters, it’s now. This is the book to help you and your clients through it. Here’s how my co-author, Jenifer Bartman describes the opportunity:
“Remember all of those times when you thought (or your clients thought) that something that happens on the other side of the world can’t impact your company? The current COVID-19 crisis is a case in point that demonstrates that the exact opposite is true. While business leaders are challenged to manage their companies, determine if they qualify for relief programs, or simply survive, many are likely realizing that their systems, processes, and financial information need to be much stronger. Strategies to implement now and carry into the future are in demand and Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb was written to stare down challenges and win, even when we can’t always predict what the specific circumstances might be.”
It is clear the critical questions have intensified. What should owner-managers do now with the family business, mid-pandemic, and at a time when boomers are contemplating retirement? Will the business sell for the millions owners hope for, limp into bankruptcy, or just wind down? Worse still, will family relationships survive it all?
The answer lies in the family’s ability to embrace these unprecedented changes to re-imagine the purpose of the business beyond the pandemic, and then to drive that renewed purpose to build and transition a scalable company that has value beyond the original owner.
But at the same time, it is important to focus on the family relationships that will either suffer or thrive along the way. The reason? Even more damaging than the economic fallout of the pandemic is that the most promising and profitable company could perish when the investment in the family business is marred by family conflict.
While it is normal for a typical family business to be inundated with challenge and change, we all know these are not normal times. Never have so many potential threats been evident at the same time:
- The disruption of the pandemic: While some “re-imagined” companies will enjoy a successful rebirth in these times, many may not survive. It is critical that a Real Wealth Management™ team of specialists be engaged to do a 360-degree analysis of the short and long term “what if” factors. The family needs to understand tax, legal and financial circumstances and plan proactively to get through them.
- Demographic factors: aging Baby Boomer owners have a limited number of potential successors, and now a shorter runway to revamp valuations within the tepid economic growth cycle they find themselves in.
- Disruption of key industries: new and complex business models require a rapid pivot. It’s all virtual all the time, and like the internet and computer revolution before that, working from home and conducting Zoom meetings will not fade away. This is the mainstream way to conduct business and it is here to stay. The unprecedented speed that digital/technological advancement has been forced upon the globe requires an enormous rebuild for many businesses. This could reduce expected valuations and make transition to new owners either irrelevant or much more costly.
- Dramatic change in the global economy: There is no doubt that the recession Canada now finds itself in is making strategic planning more In good times, the big worry is the escalation of the cost of doing business and shrinking profit margins. In these bad times, the enemy is the absence of revenue. It requires the remaking and repositioning of the value of the company in completely new pursuit, as forecasts will likely be more important than historical trends. Astute professional help from experienced accounting and business valuation specialists can save exit expectations.
- Uncertain tax rules: There is no doubt that the complex new tax changes, restrictions to family income sprinkling, and a new clawback of the small business deduction all impact profitability, investment opportunities, and access to capital. This challenge could be especially difficult for young entrepreneurs or successors who want to scale up the business for the future. However, the various wage and rent subsidy programs have been complex. They have tax implications and more importantly, bring with them a higher probability of tax audit risk in multiple departments: GST/HST, payroll and personal/corporate income tax.
- Typical family business problems: conflict, apathy, sudden or emerging illness, or control issues can affect relationships, decision-making, and ultimately the health of both entities: the family and the company. Exhausted business owners who have been working overtime just to hang on and meet their obligations are likely not endearing themselves to the families that resent their efforts to save the business.
Whether you or your clients are long-time business owners getting ready to transition out, or a sudden new entrant to the “gig economy” due to pandemic-induced unemployment, the good news is that you are likely poised to grow and expand, once the dust settles. You will appreciate this book for its contemporary and practical advice on how to get the next phase write, from the ground floor up.
It brings a common-sense approach to the challenges associated with building a company that has the potential to be sold to someone else in the future, despite the current crisis.
I know I speak with my co-author, Jenifer as I say this: we wrote Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb to help prepare for the most explosive challenge in a generation. Specifically, the retirement of the Baby Boomers and transition of their companies to a new guard, who face pitfalls and opportunities of their own, most especially now. We hope you will order it, gift it to your business owner friends and clients, and start numerous new discussions about the bright economic future ahead, once we get past these storm clouds.
Jenifer Bartman, CPA, CA, CMC, MFA™, is the Founder and Principal of Jenifer Bartman Business Advisory Services, assisting companies in transition (early, financing, growth, and succession stages) with growth strategies, financing readiness, strategic/business planning, and executive coaching. Jenifer is well known for her venture capital and early stage financing expertise, having been an executive in the industry and an advisor to many young companies. She appears on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel. She tweets @JeniferInc.
Evelyn Jacks, MFA™, DFA-Tax Services Specialist™, is one of Canada’s most prolific financial authors, having penned over 50 books on personal tax and family wealth management, many of them bestsellers. A well-known tax and financial commentator, she has twice been named one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence. Evelyn is also President of Knowledge Bureau, a national educational institute focused on professional development of tax and financial advisors. Follow her on twitter @evelynjacks, and here in Knowledge Bureau Report.
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