Most of the landscape business owners I speak with have been preparing informally for their exit from the business for years. They have been putting money aside, making investments, and have a vague idea of what they might do with the company when that time comes. Nothing has been decided upon or acted on yet since this is all in the future. The reason they call me is often after a “triggering event.” In today’s example, I heard from an owner who had just turned 55. He had just experienced a mild heart attack after some mountain hiking that put him in the hospital for immediate surgery to have a stent placed. He was pretty shocked by all this.

If you’ve had this kind of experience, you know your perspective immediately changes. In his case, the question of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life became much more important to him and his spouse. One of his long-term items on his to-do list was to start a real plan for his exit/retirement/transition. Now this plan became a much more important priority.

One of his first questions was what his options would be for exiting the business. He had been saving in the 401k plan, buying real estate, and accumulating assets outside of the company that put him in a position of not really having to work for the rest of his life. But this was a blessing and a curse, in his opinion. He wasn’t clear what he would do if he did leave the business because he was completely immersed in his business identity.

Isn’t this true of so many of us, especially business owners? All aspects of your life are affected by your identity with the company. Your family, clients, employees, business relationships, position in the community as an employer, and other connections are established based on your business. Even if you have been accumulating your personal wealth and making an estate plan and don’t “need” to sell the company to the highest bidder, you realize that the company should continue to exist after you’ve left is the best solution for your clients, employees, and the community. So where do you start?

One of the key factors to happiness in the next phase is your plan for a meaningful next chapter. We’ve all heard about the business owner or successful executive who says he’ll spend time in retirement playing more golf and not having deadlines. How many of us know someone like that who is miserable after the initial 6-months has passed. Having more time for golf or traveling the world or playing with grandchildren are all great but they are not sustainable goals. If you are an entrepreneur who has built and led a successful company, you probably need to put your leader/builder/developer qualities to work in another dimension.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with entrepreneurs who want to sell their businesses, but want to remain in sales and client relations. That might work if selling to a private equity group or investor who wants him or her to run the company on their behalf, but he won’t have the freedom to act or control the company that he is used to. In many cases, the buyer won’t want or need the owner’s help after the initial transition period.

The most successful transitions I’ve seen are those where the owner has a big new goal to focus on. Although many entrepreneurs are serial business creators, the happiest sellers I’ve seen are those who move on to something that has a meaningful mission component. That might be mentoring disadvantaged young people, writing historical novels (and taking the associated research trips), or creating a hunting lodge in an unincorporated area. When you consider how you will be changing your identity, it is often helpful to work with a specialist who will guide your process of realization. Keep in mind, your change will affect your spouse and should include his/her goals for this next phase of life as well.

If you’d like to explore your options for exiting your business, let’s have a conversation. It’s rarely too early to think about these goals. We also help companies who want to grow by buying another company or who want to prepare their company for sale. Have you bought a business and are having trouble integrating it? We can help with that too.

I can be reached anytime via email: [email protected] or phone at: 224-688-8838.

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Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio