Life after the sale is often both the most important and most neglected factor in exit planning. Although (according to two different surveys in 2013 and 2022,) 75% of owners report regrets or unhappiness a year after the transition, exit plans continue to be constructed primarily around financial targets. In the event you haven’t heard this since you were five years old, “Money doesn’t fix everything.”
To be fair, most advisors include some conversation about “life after” in their planning conversations. Unfortunately, they are often satisfied with the features associated with an abundance of free time. Visiting the family, RV’ing through the country, playing 72 holes of golf a week, or seeing the great capitals of Europe can all be accomplished in the first year after ownership.
When they attempt to broach the idea of longer-term activity, the client’s answer is often “Let’s get the money. Then I’ll worry about what to do with it.” It’s challenging to push beyond the client’s desire to focus on the most obvious goal, especially when it seems to enable everything that follows. Nonetheless, owners who are unhappy because they didn’t get enough money failed either to understand the realities of their transactions or the future cost of their life plans. That certainly isn’t 75% of planning clients.
We are discussing the far greater number who have sufficient funds, but after their initial splurge of free time are unsure of what to do next.
The first issue an exited owner faces is identity. “I used to own a company” quickly wears thin, and increasingly fades as years pass. “I’m retired” is a nebulous identity, and lumps them into a group with every wage earner who says the same. That’s a class they’ve proudly differentiated from for most of their lives.
Some mental health professionals have compared the emotional reaction to missing ownership identity to post-partum depression. Their world has changed overnight. The principal subject of their interest is gone, and they aren’t sure what replaces it. Post-partum is characterized as including “a feeling of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness.”
As an owner, there was always something else that needed their attention. Now there isn’t. Distress from discussing the daily news (which they now watch more frequently) used to be countered by a requirement to attend to the business. Now there is no business to attend to. The feeling of “What I do is important to a lot of people” has gone.
Identity in Life After the Sale
We encourage clients to at least mentally design their next business card. Handing someone your card is a shorthand version of declaring your identity. The first attempt by many is jocular but meaningless. “Part-time Philanthropist, Bon Vivant and Man About Town” is funny, but only once. “Grandparent, Outdoorsman and Classic Car Mechanic” is better. At least it describes real activities for further conversation.
“Business Counselor and Chairman of the Board of (Charity Name)” describes an identity, ongoing contribution to something or someone, and a role of importance. It doesn’t have to be true today (we aren’t printing the business cards yet,) but it’s at least aspirational.
Building a plan for life after the sale begins with establishing a future identity. There are several other components that we will cover in the next two articles.
This article was originally published by John F. Dini, CBEC, CExP, CEPA on awakeat2oclock.com. 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.