Updated: Jan 3
If you have a critical illness or pass away, who will run your business?
If you don’t have a plan for this scenario, you’re exposing your business and family to serious financial risk. Below is the first in a two-part part video series on estate planning for small business owners. This video will focus on a continuity plan for your business. The second will focus on the importance to your family of having your estate plan in place.
If you’re involved in a serious accident or suffer a sudden illness, this is a scenario that could prove disastrous and push your business into rapid decline because there is no one ready to take charge of the day-to-day operations of your business. Your business could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in value while your family tries to pick up the pieces if the worst happens.
This was what happened to a local business owner named Bill, who died suddenly this past spring. He owned a small plumbing business. While a great business person and family man, he had one fault: he was a procrastinator. Bill wasn’t in the best of health and had experienced a few warning signs in the couple of years prior to his death.
When I discussed his estate and succession plan with him, he insisted he had it handled. He was to let me see the plan, but kept putting that off. In short, he didn’t have a plan. I did not know this until after he passed away.
The ensuing weeks of grieving by his friends and family were constantly interrupted by customers, employees, and vendors who needed attention. It was also an immense amount of work to transfer his business to a new owner. Luckily friends and colleagues stepped in to help, but in the end, the estate received only a fraction of what the business was worth. While he had taken care of his family well, they lost potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in value of the business, which could have been prevented with a plan.
Bill never would have wanted it to happen that way. I am sure you don’t either.
Most small businesses share a common trait – they rely on one person, usually the owner, to operate at peak efficiency. Other than your home, your business is likely your most valuable asset. You and your family rely on it for short-term income and long-term equity. It’s critically important to preserve its value. One very important way to do that is to have a continuity plan. If you go down, your plan needs to answer three key questions: who, what, and how.
Who is going to run your business when you’re not around?
Someone needs to be in charge so your business runs without missing a beat.
It should be someone you trust, who has the know-how and can make decisions. Maybe that’s someone on your staff now or a member of your family. If you look around and that person isn’t there – you should go and recruit that person.
It’s very important to identify someone who is unambiguously in charger for your employees. It’s especially important for banks especially to write checks, draw on lines of credit, use credit cards. Access to cash is key.
Action step – the best way to answer the “Who” in your plan is to have a business power of attorney. Identify the person who will take over, a backup person, and outline what they can and cannot do.
What are the essential “nitty gritty” bits of information that your designee needs to run the business? Information that only you have that is used regularly to run the business?
Examples include usernames/passwords for bank accounts, your website, bookkeeping software, ordering software.
Key contacts – names, phone numbers and email addresses.
Action step – write these things down; make them available to your designee. Put in a shareable file that only you and your designee can access. Consider using business password keeper software.
You’re probably the only person who knows how all aspects of your business functions.
Most employees know their role and little else.
You know all the roles and responsibilities.
You know the intangible stuff that someone who doesn’t know but tries to run your business calls the learning curve.
What are the processes and procedures that only you know? Pass that know-how onto your designee. Help avoid their mistakes.
The steeper the learning curve, the more value your business loses.
Action step – write down key processes and procedures. Prioritize spending time training your designee.
Your business is one of your most valuable assets. It’s important to you and your family. Having a continuity plan is a great way to protect its value. That plan should identify who will run your business if you’re not around, provide what information is critical to running your business and explain how your business actually functions.
The experienced business attorneys at Fiffik Law Group can prepare a business power of attorney and help you with an estate plan that is tailored for your small business and family. Contact us today for a free consult.