As a transition strategist, I know how transition planning can help you envision a fulfilling life outside your company, but when I ask owners why they haven’t yet created a plan to transition their companies to successors, answers vary.
- I’m too young to think about leaving.
- I can’t imagine doing anything more, or as, meaningful as running my business.
- I’m having too much fun to think about doing anything else.
- I’m too busy running my company to think about a transition.
- The economy is too uncertain right now.
- Someday, I want my kids to run the business, but it’s too soon to even think about creating a plan.
- My business is too reliant on me for its success. How could anyone else run it?
I get it. And yet, I have to ask the logical second question, “Would you set off on a journey into unknown territory—and a business transition is unknown territory—without a compass or thoughtful preparation and knowing little to nothing about what you wanted to accomplish, or where you wanted to be at the end of your journey?
Transition is a Constant for Owners
When we started (or joined) our businesses, we knew what we wanted to accomplish or the problem(s) we wanted to solve, even if it was just to create a good life for our families. From our first day as owners, our roles in our companies constantly transitioned as we responded to changing external and internal circumstances. There are always new product or service lines, new employees, new competitors, and new regulations, just to name a few transition issues.
Transitioning a business is just another phase of our business lives. We can go into it without direction or preparation and hope we end up in a good place, or we can embrace the change and, as successful owners typically do, take charge.
Transition as a Journey
Perhaps you, like many owners, are surprised to learn how transition planning can help you envision a fulfilling life outside your company and that the transition from business ownership to that fulfilling life is a journey of five, ten, or even fifteen years. Your transition is just as much a journey for you as it is for your company and one-day successor, and during the journey you prepare yourself, your organization, and success.
How Transition Planning Can Help You Envision a Fulfilling Life Outside Your Company
When preparing themselves for the next phase of their lives, many owners explore activities that they think they might enjoy once they have more time.
I’m reminded of one client who, after putting in place a solid management team, decided to buy a boat and take six months to sail from Florida to Nova Scotia. He hoped that this test run would yield important answers to two critical questions.
- Could his management team perform successfully without him?
- Would he enjoy sailing as much as he anticipated?
The results of his experiment were priceless, and a perfect example of how transition planning can help you envision a fulfilling life outside your company. First, when my client’s team performed brilliantly with little to no guidance from him, he gained confidence in their ability to run the company. Second, he learned that he didn’t enjoy sailing as much as he expected, especially without his aquaphobic wife who had agreed to meet him only at several ports along his route. After his one and only voyage, he sold the boat and bought an RV, so he and his wife could see whether land adventures were a better fit for them.
Your Personal Transition
Just as we plan for our business-related transitions, we can plan for our personal transition to the next phase of our lives. It’s a given that, as we grow older, our bodies, stamina, and memories change. Giving yourself a long runway to plan for your transition to a fulfilling life outside your company increases the odds that you will succeed. I urge you to begin creating a thoughtful transition strategy for yourself and your business today. Or, as German poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote:
Seize this very minute. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
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.