Using Succession Planning Services to Set Smart Exit Goals 

Succession planning services can help business owners set goals and develop a plan that will help them achieve their desired outcomes.

Using Succession Planning Services to Set Smart Exit Goals 

Succession planning services can help business owners set goals and develop a plan that will help them achieve their desired outcomes.

As the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. Every business owner will eventually have to exit their business, whether by choice or because they are forced to by circumstances. How and when the exit happens are factors that may be beyond the owner’s control. That’s why it is imperative that owners be proactive about engaging exit planning and succession planning services long before they actually want to exit the business. 

Maybe you plan to own your business for another 10 years. You could have a devastating accident next week that ends your career, or enjoy another 10 years of great success. Availing yourself of exit planning and succession planning services now allows you to put plans in place for all scenarios. If you continue to own your business for many more years to come, great—the exit planning you do now will put you on track to achieve your ideal exit when the time comes. 

In short, the exit planning and succession planning process is an opportunity to define and assert your goals for your business’s next chapter, whenever and however that chapter begins. The planning process always starts the same way: setting actionable goals for your eventual exit and succession.

Why does goal setting need to be the first step during exit planning and succession planning services?

Your goals are indispensable because they establish your specific Exit Plan: the road map that sets the route from where you are today to where you’d like to be at the end of your ownership journey. Understanding and quantifying all of these goals is the first step of the exit planning process. 

When you engage exit planning and succession planning services, your Exit Planning Advisor should work with you to create goals that are actionable and SMART:






For each action aimed at achieving a goal, there must be a deadline and a responsible person. To make the deadline useful and hold the person(s) responsible for it accountable, you must make those goals specific and write them down. The act of putting specific goals in writing forces you to think about what you want to do and why. Additionally, as you work with your advisors to define your goals, you will be prompted to consider more types of goals, collect more information when setting them, and think more deeply about them. 

What are the three types of goals that business owners might set during exit planning and succession planning? 

An owner’s goals for future ownership fall into one of three categories. 

1. Foundational goals (financial independence/security) 

Financial independence is not so much a goal as it is a need. Independence means you no longer depend on your business for financial security. If you leave your business without financial independence, you set yourself up for disasters. The acid test for any Exit Plan is whether owners achieve financial independence no later than the date they give up control of their companies. Only owners who have financial independence when they leave their companies have successfully exited their businesses. 

To define your financial independence need, you must answer this question: What amount of cash do I need to have on the day I leave my business? Determining that number, with precision, calls for the involvement of an experienced financial planner. Most trained Exit Planning Advisors will insist that you engage a financial planner for this analysis (and most can help you find one, if necessary). 

Related to the notion of foundational goals is the fact that most business owners have an Asset Gap, or the difference between the resources they currently have and the resources they must have to achieve their financial goals. It can take years to bridge that gap, reinforcing the importance of starting exit planning early. An Exit Planning Advisor can work with an owner who has an Asset Gap to make a step-by-step plan for resolving it.

2. Universal goals 

As part of the exit planning process, every business owner needs to set three basic universal goals:

  • Financial: After you leave the business, how much money do you want annually for the rest of your life and your spouse’s life?
  • Departure date: When do you want to leave your business? And what does “leave” mean? 
  • Successor: Whom do you want to be the new owner of your company? (Owners who engage succession planning services may not actually have a successor preference at the beginning of the planning process. You can postpone that decision until you quantify your Asset Gap and begin to bridge it.)

These goals are “universal” because almost all owners want to achieve the same three things when exiting a business: You want to be able to leave your business when you want, transfer ownership to whomever you want, and walk away with an amount of annual income that lets you enjoy the post-exit lifestyle you envision. 

3. Values-based goals

The three universal exit goals above are common to all business owners, and they may be the only goals you seek in exiting your business, but many owners have additional goals based on sentiment, attitudes, or feelings. These goals relate to your personal values (e.g., maintaining your company’s culture, creating a legacy, or rewarding employees). You may not set any initially, but as you move through the process, you may find that there are important values you wish to maintain or achieve as you exit.

Values-based goals tend to be non-monetary. They also tend to be less tangible and more heartfelt. But they are no less important to owners than the goals we can measure objectively. 

Common values-based goals include: 

  • Family Harmony 
  • Owner Legacy 
  • Acknowledging Employees 
  • Taking the Business to the Next Level
  • Minimizing Taxes  
  • Maintaining Culture
  • Community Involvement
  • Quality Retirement 
  • Charitable Impulses  

To uncover your values-based goals, ask yourself: What is my vision for my company without me? What is my vision for myself without my company? Is this particular values-based goal important to either vision?

Key takeaways

  • You must set concrete goals. Unless you do, you will float aimlessly along instead of pulling with all your strength and cunning toward your home port. 
  • Goals drive action. Coordinated, focused action requires specific goals.
  • Financial independence is the acid test of all successful Exit Plans. Unless your Plan delivers financial security, it’s not a successful exit. 
  • Base your three universal goals on facts, not assumptions. 
  • Business exits take time. To determine how long it will take you to exit, you must start with a clear understanding of where you want to end up. The sooner you start to plan your exit, the more time and options you have to harmonize goals, avoid obstacles, minimize risk, maintain control, and increase business value. 

You may not know how to create a successful Exit Plan based on what you want to accomplish, but we do. Altus Exit Strategies, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ARB, provides business succession planning services to help business owners create the comprehensive, long-range plans that meet their specific goals. We’re here to help, so if you have any questions about succession planning services, please contact me.

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David Jean is the Director of Altus Exit Strategies and a Principal at Albin, Randall & Bennett, where he is also the Practice Leader of the Succession PlanningBusiness Advisory, and Construction & Real Estate Services Teams. David works with business owners who want to improve their business’s value before they sell through the Seven-Step Exit Planning Preparation™ process. He has worked with companies from $5 million to $50 million in revenue across a range of industries.

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