The importance of succession planning

Why succession planning is an important part of your business strategy.

Whether it’s a well-loved breakfast diner that feels like the hub of the community, or a factory that manufactures safety shoes and work gloves, creating and growing a small business is incredibly rewarding, and a lot of hard work. After toiling long hours to become successful, most owners want the business to continue thriving well after they step away.

A carefully crafted succession plan is an important part of any successful small business. It can help you clearly identify your company’s goals, protect the legacy of the business, plan for the unexpected and prepare for the financial security of your family and employees.

The planning process can feel overwhelming at first, but carefully thinking through all aspects of your business is time well spent.

Getting started

There’s no time like the present. Even if you literally just opened the doors to your shop, succession planning can bring clarity to how you visualize your future success. Planning helps you narrow down your goals and objectives, identify the right person to take over one day and prepare for financial setbacks.

Bob Labrecque, a succession planning consultant with Manulife Securities, says all too often business owners wait too long to begin the planning process, starting when they’re only three or four years away from retirement. “A good succession plan is a five-to-10-year strategy of building the business, and then transferring ownership while it’s in a growth phase – not in a maturity or a declining phase,” he says. “And you want a team of experts in place to help make this happen. An advisor is a key member of this planning team.” 

The first step in developing a business succession plan is to do a bit of self-reflection and ask yourself some important questions. Consider the following:

  1. When would you like to retire or step back from running the business?
  2. What kind of future would you like to see for your business? 
  3. Do you have a successor in mind with a mentoring plan in place?
  4. Are there any weaknesses in your current business operations that need to be addressed?
  5. What is your plan for handling any unexpected events, including illness, financial difficulties or retaining top employees?
  6. Do you have a team of financial and legal experts to help you with the planning process? This Solutions article outlines the advantages of a team approach. 

Estate planning and taxes

Even though running a successful business can occupy your full attention, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and how a business succession plan dovetails into your personal plans. Along with helping to determine the financial value of a company and opportunities for growth, an advisor can help with retirement and estate planning.

A business owner hoping to step down must plan for adequate retirement income to maintain their desired lifestyle, put a savings plan in place to cover future expenses, such as a child’s education, and set up life and disability insurance plans so loved ones are well cared for in the event of serious illness or death – all while maximizing tax-planning opportunities. Consider this Solutions article on estate planning basics.

Managing emotions

As you are getting your succession plans down on paper, don’t discount the emotional impact that this major life event may have on you and on the entire organization. Labrecque says leaving can be very difficult and emotional for many business owners. “Quite often, for a first-generation business owner, this is their baby and there can be strong protective feelings that nobody else can do what they do.” Owners have some important decisions to consider:

  • Take an honest look at who can lead the business and compile a short list of candidates
  • Create a succession team to help navigate the financial, legal and human resources aspects of the transition
  • Explore new opportunities for the organization to ensure continued strength and growth
  • Establish a co-lead to allow the current owner to begin stepping back into a lesser role

If the intent is to transition the business within the family, a specialist called a family facilitator may also be helpful. “Family transfers are the most complicated because they involve not only the business but the family dynamics,” says Labrecque. “Families also need to have honest discussions about whether children even want to take over the family business. They may want the money and the lifestyle, but do they find the work interesting?”

Winding down

As a business owner prepares for retirement, there may still be an opportunity to stay involved and active, but at a slower pace. A step-down approach is possible, where the ownership is transferred but the owner stays on in a limited capacity for a set duration to help with the transition. After a lifetime of work, the boss can gradually ease into retirement, rather than giving up everything all at once.

Succession planning can be a rewarding process that sets the tone for the overall success of your business. For more information about getting started, consider this module of information created by the Business Development Bank of Canada and speak with your advisor to begin building a proper framework.

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