Addressing the Value Gap – Living Expenses


Both amounts can be determined with some accuracy by professionals. A qualified appraiser will analyze a company, its prospects, differentiation, markets, and comparative businesses and develop a value for the business. A good financial planner will look at savings, expected income, anticipated lifestyle expenses, life expectancy, and inflation and develop a scenario for the amount needed to fund those expectations.

Simple, right? Financial plan requirements minus net proceeds from the business transfer equals the value gap.

Testing the Value Gap

If it is so simple, why do so few business owners do it? Instead, they value their businesses by hearsay, misestimate their lifestyle needs by a substantial margin, and think “I’ll probably be fine.” In fact, fewer than one owner in five has even documented any plan for their transition.

Let’s take my favorite business owner, Bob of Bob’s Widgets Inc. Bob pays himself $120,000 a year and lives nicely on that amount. So he estimates that $10,000 a month should cover his lifestyle in retirement. To generate that, he needs $3,000,000 in savings with a 4% return. That means he has to sell his business for about $4,000,000, assuming 24% capital gains tax.  His company sold $7,000,000 in widgets last year, with a $500,000 pre-tax bottom line, so he is sure it’s worth at least $4,000,000. (We’ll discuss this valuation in my next column.)

value gapBut wait a minute. Is Bob really making $120,000 a year? He drives a Ford Super-Duty company truck that cost $85,000. The payment is about $1,500 a month. Insurance, maintenance and fuel are paid for by the company. Bob’s Widgets Inc. also pays for Bob’s $750 a month health insurance, his $1,200 monthly life insurance, and his $7,200 annual personal tax preparation bill.

“Sellers Discretionary Expenses”

Bob’s company expenses are not only common, but he doesn’t really take all that much in comparison to some owners. Any advisor can tell stories of company-paid second homes, family trips and other expenses far less business-related than Bob’s.

Without going beyond what would be considered “normal” owner perks, we can add about $58,000 a year in post-tax spending to Bob’s lifestyle. At his 4% return assumption, that adds another $1,450,000 in post-tax proceeds from the business to his need for a liquid asset base.

Even if Bob’s assumption of a lower capital gains rate is correct (which is not the case in 90% of small business sales) he actually needs a sale price of at least $6,000,000 just to maintain his current lifestyle.

Even Bob knows that his company can’t sell for $6,000,000. Without getting an appraisal or a formal financial plan, Bob has just had his first lesson in planning for the Value Gap.


This article was originally published by John F. Dini, CBEC, CExP, CEPA on John develops transition and succession strategies that allow business owners to exit their companies on their own schedule, with the proceeds they seek and complete control over the process. He takes a coaching approach to client engagements, focusing on helping owners of companies with $1M to $250M in revenue achieve both their desired lifestyles and legacies.

Updated: May 28, 2024

About the author
John Dini of The Exit Planning Coach is a member of XPX San Antonio

I have owned companies in manufacturing, distribution and services, along with well over 10,000 hours of coaching business owners. I will understand your business and your objectives.