Where to now?
Ever read articles about how great everyone else is doing and feel a bit ‘less than’?
If you’ve been in business for a while you can certainly go through phases where things feel a bit flat, or a bit stuck. That’s pretty common.
The frustration sets in when you can’t put your finger on why you feel that way, and therefore can’t decide on the appropriate next steps for your life and your business.
The Retiring Adviser Mindset
The real challenges come when you start thinking about your exit plan. Everyone tells you that you need to plan well ahead. Will you stay, sell, or create some internal successors?
The truth is there are no easy options.
The challenge is particularly acute for genuine Financial Planning firms that don’t want to sell out to some vertically integrated consolidator.
In my experience most adviser-owners contemplate selling when they are worn out mentally and physically, or they’ve just run out of ideas on how to go to the next level. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not the best place to find yourself making major life decisions.
The internal dialogue goes something like this: “Do I have the energy for the next stage in the game?”
This question is based on the erroneous assumption that the next phase, the future, will look and feel the same as the past, which has been hard work at times.
Let me assure you, it doesn’t need to be this way.
What not to do
To get yourself out of this frustrating place there are a few things that you might try, that in my experience won’t work. Let me outline them for you here:
1. Business planning by committee
When you’re not 100% sure which direction you want to head, it’s tempting to get input from other people in your business. Be careful.
If you have some junior partners coming through, who are genuine future successors, then by all means get them involved in contributing to the vision for the next phase of the business journey.
However, if you are seeking input from members of the team who are not owners of the business, and are never likely to be, it feels all wrong. These people depend on you for their jobs. It’s not ok to show your indecision and worries about the future to them.
You can’t delegate setting the vision for your own business.
2. Find a quick buyer
When you’re frustrated and feeling a little burnt out it’s tempting to think “I’ll just find a buyer and go.” There are a few reasons why this tends not to work:
a.) If you are at all concerned about the buyer sharing your cultural and ethical values then finding a buyer can mean kissing a few frogs. That takes time and effort.
b.) Quality buyers are more interested in businesses that already have some level of succession planning and continuity in place, depending on the size of your firm. If they are looking at keeping your current office, team and location going, then having some degree of succession planning in place really adds to the valuation metrics.
c.) Even if you walked out this morning and found a buyer this afternoon, by the time they make you an initial offer and do their due diligence, six to twelve months can easily fly by. A deal can still fail at the 11th hour after all of that effort, so until something is signed and you’ve been paid your first chunk of cash remember: it’s never a done deal.
d.) The final question is a personal one: what will you do with yourself once you sell out? If you’re still only going to be 57 years of age at sale time and you might live to be 100 years old, what are you going to do for the rest of your life?
Don’t be too hasty in calling it a day before you get clear on the answer to that question.
3. Coast home
The final option that goes through most people’s heads is, “Why don’t I just coast from here?”
It sounds really attractive until you try it.
Slackening off is like pouring a huge tank of water on the fire that burns inside you.
Three months in you’ll be feeling as flat as a pancake emotionally.
In business, as in life, you are either growing and going forward or you are in decline. There is no plateauing.
If you are in your 50s, or even early 60s, I’m going to suggest that you might not be done yet.
Revisiting your own goals and your available options often leads to the conclusion that you need to ‘go again’.
What does that look like?
It means setting yourself and the business a new, exciting, bold 20-year vision. Something that excites every member of your team, and gets you out of bed with real enthusiasm every day.
Will you be there for the next 20 years? Probably not. However, setting a big bold long-term vision is the only way to eliminate the reduced energy and motivation that comes from having one eye on the exit all day long.
The answers you come up with need to be your goal bigger than money. The money won’t motivate you by itself. If you achieve this vision (in fact, if you achieve even 40% of this vision) the money will take care of itself.
What difference are you intending to make with your business? That’s what you’ve got to rediscover.
Get things done
To get to this point on your journey required some hard slog. To move into the next phase means getting a few things sorted once and for all:
- Ensuring you have a motivated and skilled team in place (advisers, paraplanners, administrators)
- Identifying the future leaders and developing their leadership and managerial skills
- Creating a strong, systemised, and repeatable client experience
These are the foundations of a business that can run itself, with you leading the vision from the front.
If you stay, you can do so in an inspiring environment with more time and money than you’ve ever had before.
If you eventually elect to wind down or retire you’ll have a business that can be sold for a great price, or have internal successors who are ready, willing and able to buy you out.
That’s a great way to finish off an amazing career. After all your hard work you deserve to go out with a bang, not a whimper.