Succession planning, business transition planning, business succession planning and exit planning: These are several of the terms that business owners see in messages and newsletters from their CPAs, attorneys, investment advisors, life insurance agents, business consultants, business brokers, and even their bankers. Unlike business succession consultants, many of these professionals have added planning to their core practices. Regardless, all these professionals mean well: They want to contribute their expertise to help you transfer your business successfully.
How Do You Choose from the Menu of Business Succession Consultants?
It can be difficult to distinguish among the professionals currently practicing in the succession planning arena. To help, we’ve created a list of suggestions you can use to find the best consultant for you.
1. Your Definition of Success
You’ll find that all consultants do not define success in the same way. The trick is to find one who shares your definition.
We suggest that you think carefully about what goals you want the transfer of your business to achieve. Are you willing to sell only to an outside third party for the best possible price? Or do you have emotional goals that are just as (or more) important than your financial goals? For example, do you want your company to remain in your community? Do you want your children to succeed you? Or do you want to explore your options?
Our definition of a successful business transition is one that:
1) Achieves an owner’s most important quantifiable and experiential goals.
2) Places a business in the hands of a successor prepared to assume the responsibilities of ownership, leadership, financial management and operations once held by the prior owner.
3) Positions a company to be as successful under new ownership as it was under past ownership.
4) Launches owners into the next meaningful and exciting phase of their lives.
2. Ask for Referrals.
Owners often start their search for a business transition advisor by asking former owners who helped them transfer their business. That can be a good place to start if the owners you ask share your definition of success! You can also ask your professional advisors for referrals. As part of that conversation ask about the issues that are important to you. Perhaps these issues relate to responsiveness, experience (number of years, in your industry, with companies of your size), creativity, problem-solving skills, demeanor, or cost / payment terms.
3. Ask questions.
Just as you ask your referral sources questions, you should feel free to ask the consultants you interview as many questions as necessary to feel comfortable making your choice. In addition to asking how a consultant defines success and about other issues on your priority list (e.g., experience, creativity, etc.), you might ask them to tell you how they handled a situation similar to yours. If you are interviewing a consultant who is part of a firm, you might ask which type of work will be done by the consultant and which by others.
Observe how a consultant communicates because you will want (and likely need) their insights into the most effective way to communicate delicate topics as they crop up during a transition. Are they persuasive or patronizing? Do their communication skills complement yours?
4. Guiding principles
Some firm’s mission statements can offer some insight into how a consultant operates. Rather than a mission statement, we have defined our values:
We always assume the best of intent and strive for individual growth and to make a difference in people’s lives.
Independently accomplished and resourceful
We know our stuff so can be proactive, lead and focus on what’s most important.
We pivot, stay the course, clear obstacles, and explore better ways to be our best.
We value lightness and use laugher to open new possibilities and resolve the most challenging problems.
We are constant learners and creative teachers and mentors who explore possibilities and challenge the status quo if that’s what it takes to create a better future.
We are accountable to our commitments and take pride in our work, so others can count on us.
We choose authenticity and transparency over perfection.
Choosing the right person to guide you through one of the most challenging and exciting phases of your career is your first step in taking charge of your transition journey. The consultant you choose is just that—a guide. You are the captain of your journey, and your guide should put your objectives before their own. The Transition Strategists have worked with hundreds of owners over the years, and we’d be honored if you chose us to discuss and explore your goals for your eventual business transition. Contact us today.
Elizabeth Ledoux is a co-author of the award-winning It’s A Journey: The MUST-HAVE Roadmap to Successful Succession Planning, as well as Accelerate Your Entrepreneurial Flight and Understanding the Growth of the Entrepreneur. She frequently speaks to organizations and business owners about challenges and opportunities in private and family business transitions, business and individual growth, and the business succession journey.