Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Holstine Article Featured in McHenry County Business Journal

The article below, written by Andrew W. Holstine, originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the McHenry County Business Journal. To read the Business Journal online, visit Biz-Journal.com.

Business Success Reflects Succession

by Andrew Holstine

Building a successful business takes a combination of determination, hard work, and a little bit of luck – among other things.

For many small-business owners, the question of a succession plan can be difficult. One of the more common reasons is that business owners are not certain how to plan all the things they need to consider and potential solutions.

This makes it easier to postpone.

Although understandable, you are doing your family and your company a disservice by not taking a more long-term view. Developing a succession plan creates certainty and peace of mind. But it also can be a catalyst for business growth.

This type of planning frequently invigorates key employees, refocuses attention on long-term strategies and demonstrates your engagement in the ongoing best interests of your employees and customers.

There are three events – retirement, disability and death – that require a person to sell or transition their business. And each raises different issues. A one-size-fits-all solution is rare. However, there are answers once you take the time necessary to dig in and address the questions.

First, you need to establish clear goals. Who are you planning for? Yourself? Your spouse? Your employees? Your customers?

A business owner transitioning into retirement  might want to be involved in taking care of key relationships but prefer to ease away from daily responsibilities.

There also might be one or more key employees who are capable of running the business and taking care of the customers. In this instance, you might choose to allow that employee to make payments over time, adopt an employee stock ownership plan, or adopt an incentive or equity compensation plan, all depending on what is right for both you and your employees.

If your goal, instead, is to protect your spouse and family in the event of your untimely death, your plan likely will be more about easing the burden on your spouse and family. One way to do this is by funding a cash buyout with life insurance proceeds, a simple way to ensure financial security.

Avoid mistakes such as an unfunded buy/sell agreement, dated valuations, or misplaced reliance on a family member or an employee to take over the business.

Once you have identified your goals, it becomes a lot easier to find solutions. At this point, involve advisers such as your attorney, accountant, lender and/or financial planner. Experienced advisers help bring your goals into focus, quickly identifying options and ensuring that nothing is overlooked. They also help you implement a succession plan.

We all are familiar with the adage “too many cooks spoil the broth.” But trying to do all of this on your own can be a recipe for problems.

Once you create your plan, do not throw it in a drawer and forget it. At a minimum, an annual review lets you take stock of changes in your personal life, your financial goals, your employees and all other relevant factors that impact your plan.

After all, you get only one opportunity to exit your business. Consider the risks you took and time and effort you spent building your business, creating a winning succession strategy that brings certainty and security to both you and your family makes sense.

Andrew Holstine is an attorney with Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle in Crystal Lake focusing on estate planning, probate and business law. He can be reached at 815-459-2050.