Posted on Jul 20, 2016

Warning. The execution phase of succession planning requires singleness of purpose. Within the first 90 days of succession planning, you will likely find issues and gaps with your plan or personal retirement plan — items that need tending. Don’t let these issues become a distraction to your ultimate goal of developing a clear and actionable succession plan! To stay focused during this phase, use the following questions to keep your plan on track.

  • Who will help you execute and monitor the plan?
  • What are the gaps and issues?
  • How can you prioritize fixing the gaps and issues?
  • What if all doesn’t go as planned?

Maintaining Deadlines

Succession planning for small businesses can be accomplished within 210 days if you don’t let these issues become a hindrance. But often, business owners feel that they have to have every detail figured out before they can execute. Not so. For example, you may have:

  • Wills that need updating based upon new tax laws
  • Missing non-compete agreements with some of your key management
  • A woefully inadequate disability policy based on the level of income needed
  • Your personal investment portfolio performing below average (e.g. 1 percent rate of return when it needs to be at least 5 percent)
  • Legal entity structure changes needed to pay less tax upon sale
  • Unaddressed estate tax problems

Rather than diving into one rabbit hole after another to tackle each of these somewhat complex issues, document each one and prepare a to-do list. In the check-in meeting with your advisors, share the list and prioritize it. This process will help you move along the path of creating a well-written succession plan while scheduling the action items that will support smart execution of your plan down the road.

Now it’s time to meet with your advisors, which can include your lawyer, CPA, financial advisor, board and/or board of advisors and leadership team. Give them an outline of your progress over the past 90 days, your discoveries and expected next steps. It is important to discuss the following in this meeting:

  • Plan A and Plan B – Plan A is your preferred scenario for transitioning out of the business. However, things can change in year one, three or five…requiring a back-up plan. Discuss your preferences and potential changes that could require shifting from Plan A to Plan B. This will keep you on the same page with your advisors and help you prepare logically and emotionally for that shift if necessary.
  • Your list of gaps, issues and problems for Plan A — let your advisors weigh in on these and other issues they foresee.
  • Your list of gaps, issues and problems for Plan B — again, gather advisor feedback and any additional foreseeable issues that may be different than in Plan A.

Do not let the blind spots or additional issues brought up in this meeting distract you from the ultimate goal of creating a plan. Obstacles can be overcome in most scenarios by taking them one step at a time. Right now, you are simply gathering feedback and advice. Don’t give up even if the issues seem insurmountable. Stay in control of the process.

Name a Quarterback

When I say that business owners should stay in control of execution, I mean that owners are the ultimate decision makers in the transition of their businesses. However, that doesn’t mean trying to handle every detail. You are still trying to run a business! Instead, place a chief advisor in charge of facilitating discussion and outlining next steps. This advisor can be accountable for research, scheduling the next check-in meeting and coordinating feedback from other advisors.

Some business owners prefer their CPA in this role (like a succession planning quarterback) while others choose their attorney or financial advisor. Just make sure it’s a trusted relationship that you believe will keep things moving forward in a timely way and bring about the best results. By choosing a quarterback, you can avoid your own blind spots in the planning process as well as soften the emotional impact of certain decisions.

For example, many small business owners avoid setting up an emergency management plan. This plan provides a designated leader or leaders to operate the business in the event of an owner’s incapacitation. Because buy/sell agreements are only engaged if the owner dies, an emergency management plan fills that gap if the authorized person is in a coma or otherwise disabled. Designated leaders are given limited legal power to make financial or other important business decisions and operate the business on behalf of stakeholders such as family members. You can even include incentives for key people to stay and see the business through a set time period until transition or succession decisions can be made.

Now that you have organized your advisory team (including your quarterback), determined your Plan A and Plan B and received feedback on gaps and issues, it’s time to assemble all the documents and create a timetable and strategy around communication with family and key employees/managers.

Continue reading for the last phase in Succession Planning: Phase III – Communication: Establishing Timing and Deliverables for Your Succession Plan

For more information on guiding your small business through succession planning, talk to the tax team at Cornwell Jackson.

Gary Jackson, CPA, is the lead tax partner in Cornwell Jackson’s business succession practice as has led or assisted in hundreds of succession and sales transactions. Gary has built businesses, managed them, developed leadership teams and sold divisions of his business, and he utilizes this real world practical experience in both managing Cornwell Jackson and in providing consulting services such as succession planning to management teams and business leaders across North Texas.