What Yogi Berra Can Teach Small Business Owners About Estate Planning

According to baseball legend Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” Yogi’s one liners often make me laugh, but they also make me think. His quip reminds me of the importance of having a plan when engaging in any endeavor that will impact our personal situations beyond the immediate here and now. That includes the process of estate planning. Now, I will grant you that Yogi probably wasn’t thinking about estate planning when he offered this particular slice of wisdom. Nonetheless, his words are absolutely spot-on insofar as the importance of planning for that day which we will not live to see. As important as having an estate plan is for all of us, it is of even greater importance for the small business owner. I think it is no exaggeration to say that thoughtful estate planning is an essential component of every small business owner’s overall business plan.

I think of a successful small business owner as someone who recognizes an opportunity to provide a needed product or service, and then invests the time, devotion and energy to developing and implementing a plan to seize that opportunity. I admire those thoughtful risk takers who harness their vision, business acumen and moxie in order to create, nurture and guide a sustainable business venture. I have found the small business owners I counsel to be thoughtful, deliberate and attentive to detail in how they go about the work of managing their businesses; i.e., they plan for the future. However, what I have also noticed from time to time in otherwise prudent and successful small business owners is a lack of any plan for their business when they die or are otherwise unavailable to manage it.

It is easy to understand how even successful small business owners who are otherwise consummate planners might prefer to avoid estate planning as it concerns their business operation. In at least one respect, these successful business owners are a lot like most people; that is, they are not accustomed (or inclined) to ponder their own mortality. It is a subject, even if not loaded with angst, which easily lends itself to defer consideration for “another day.” Yet, the stubborn reality remains that absolutely none of us will get out of this life alive. For the small business owner, Yogi’s wise counsel merits some thought, and action.

If you are a small business owner and have yet to start the estate planning process, let me suggest some relatively easy first steps to get you started. First, locate and then review your company’s organizational and governing documents. If your business is incorporated, these would include the corporate bylaws, shareholders’ agreements and those other documents your lawyers drafted when the business was getting started. If your business is a limited liability company or partnership, you will want to look at the company’s operating agreement or partnership agreement. Review these documents with the following questions in mind:

- How will your death (or permanent incapacity) affect the company’s existence?

- How will your successor be chosen, by whom and how much say do you presently have in that decision?

- Will your death trigger a buy/sell provision by which a co-owner, or the company itself, is allowed to purchase your interest in the business, notwithstanding the wishes of your own family members?

A brief review or discussion with your lawyer of questions like these may then prompt you to begin thinking about your vision for the company’s future when you are no longer able to guide it. A next step might be to consider how you would want the business operated in the event of your temporary incapacity or unavailability. A durable power of attorney will allow you (as the “principal”) to designate someone else (the “agent”) to make business decisions during your incapacity, while allowing you to retain the ability to withdraw or revoke the POA when you are ready to resume control of the business.

The POA itself might serve as the genesis of a comprehensive succession plan, by which you map out a plan to reduce your own involvement in the business and allow others to assume greater management and decision making responsibilities. An orderly transition plan is apt to increase the company’s odds of survival when you are gone. And, such a plan may help you to “let go” of control and devote more efforts to mentoring those who will eventually run the business you created.

Ultimately, you will want to focus your planning on what you want to happen to the business when you have died. Here, a well-designed trust agreement will allow you a great deal of flexibility, both in terms of retaining a degree of control while you are alive, and identifying your intentions with respect to the business after you die. The trust agreement enables you to select those who will administer your stated intentions when you are gone. You can, for example, provide for the sale and/or dissolution of the business over time, or provide for its eventual transfer to one or more family members. A trust agreement allows the owner a great deal of flexibility and for that reason makes it an extremely helpful tool in the business owner’s estate plan.

The bottom line is that you, as the small business owner, have the ability to ensure that with careful planning the company you created will survive your passing. This is a process that can be tackled incrementally over time. Given the uncertainties of life, however, the estate planning process should become a component of your overall business plan. There is no time like the present to start this process. Don’t be lulled into putting this task off for “another day”. None of us know how much of a future we will have. Or, as Yogi puts it, “It may be getting late earlier than you thought.”

© 6/16/2015 Hunt & Associates, P.C. All rights reserved.

Ready to Sell the Business?

An old saying goes, “the two best days of owning a boat – the first, when you buy it and the second, when you sell it. The same seems to apply to some start-up businesses too.

As financial experts point out, a business can be sold only once. Even if a business owner has no intention of selling it at any particular time, there may come a time when it is imperative to do so and some plan to smoothen the process may have to be in place earlier. The preparedness such a plan provides may also help get a better price for the business when it needs to be sold considering the amount of hard work and effort that has gone into investing and running a business in the first place.

What it entails

The need is not to make a commitment to sell but to be informed about what is necessary and what it entails to sell a business. Some of the important aspects to be aware of and some upfront questions that are pertinent include:

• What is the business worth? – This is the first question every business owner has to ask and really evaluate. However, money should not be the only reason for selling because then it means that the owner is not exactly ready to sell and chances are that the business will be undersold. Having said that, whatever valuation is done by the owner, accountant or banker, only marketplace trends can really evaluate the current value of the business.

• Is the reason for selling a valid one? – Again there is a double-edged sword; if the business owner has a really solid reason it will most likely be sold. Here, the catch is to have reasonable expectations that increase the chances of the business getting a good buyer at the price expected.

If these two basic questions have been answered favorably, there are some important things about the business that require attention and putting together.
An initial checklist of the business and its operations should include:

• Profit and Loss statements going back at least three years
• Federal and Income Tax returns
• List of assets such as equipment and fixtures
• Lease related documents
• Details of loans taken, if any and repayment schedules
• If business is a franchise, terms of the franchise agreement
• Inventories of cash on hand, amounts to receive etc
• Details of additional investors or business associates, if any

It’s important to remember that any business, particularly a small one, has to make the right impression with the buyer. The above details help to provide a professional outlook and will go a long way in impressing a potential buyer.

In addition to presenting the business ‘well on paper’, an honest and sincere outlook and potential of the business also helps to create the right impression. Prospective buyers will certainly want to review income and expenditure figures but beyond that, the sustainability of the business and its pros and cons should not be ‘shrouded’. After all, no one will want to buy a business that will not provide a living; a seasoned business professional may have the acumen to see the potential and be willing to take a risk, but it’s impractical to expect everyone to have that view.
What next?

Once the selling has been figured out, it’s time to ponder on who could be a possible buyer. It could be a like-minded upcoming business entrepreneur who is looking for a chance to escape the ‘run-of-the-mill’ work atmosphere, a competitor or a large company looking to increase its business portfolio. No matter who the buyer is, knowing their aspirations and interest upfront helps to avoid long-winded negotiations and frustrating delays. Getting into a negotiation format with an entity that is not really serious about buying is a mere waste of precious time. This can be overcome by preparing a list of potential buyers amongst the circle of business associates and friends within the owner’s circle who is found to be capable of handling the business in a way that the business owner envisages.

That single aspect is enough to provide more satisfaction than the actual business sale.

Email Marketing (List Building): Starting a Small Business Online

Starting a small business online is not as complicated as most people are meant to believe.

In fact, the internet is an ocean of opportunities for all.

Though your success is not guaranteed, at least there is a high chance of growing your venture if you get a few things right.

The problem with most start-ups is the hunger for overnight success.

Most successful businesses today were started by people who dared to dream and think big.

If you have a passion for business, feel free to pursue it and you will make it.

The ingredients to your success may vary, but it all starts with the nature and future plans of your business.

To get started, build a mailing list for effective email marketing.

No Restrictions

There are no limitations and stringent requirements for starting a small business online.

Under normal circumstances, you will be required to comply with a long list of government regulations, register the business, acquire a permit or license, have the business premise inspected and much more.

This is however not the case with online businesses; you can get started in a few hours from the time you make up your mind that it is something you truly want to do.

You are not restricted to any geographical area because you can target anyone in the world.

In short, anyone is a prospect on the internet; the possibilities for your success are unlimited.

It is upon you to exploit them.

Identify a Niche Or Product You Are Passionate About

Before starting a small business online it is paramount that you identify a niche you are comfortable with.

Ideally, go for something you have some passion for and not just because of the money.

Successful businesses are built on a solid foundation of passion and love for what you do.

Save yourself the hassle and find a product or a service you wouldn’t mind offering twenty years later.

Think about Bill Gates and his passion for computers and software.

See the passion Mark Zuckerberg shows whenever he talks about his toy project that has changed how the world interacts online, Facebook.

How about the late Steve Jobs whose legacy will live with us forever with world-class Apple products.

The Market Availability

One of the most important areas you must consider before starting a small business online is the market availability.

A simple Google search is enough to enable you understand what can really sell.

There are many business ideas, but not all will live to see the following year.

If there is demand for a service or product, seek to fill that gap and you will forever be in business.

Website and Marketing

Your website is your shop or office.

Start by designing a website and filling it with content.

This should be done long before the business is launched.

A small investment is all you need to have a website designed and hosted.

Thereafter, start exploring various internet marketing strategies like email marketing, social media marketing, article marketing and an array of other available avenues to announce your arrival.

Finally, don’t get comfortable when you eventually start recording sales.

The business has just started, have an expansion plan.

Just because you are starting a small business doesn’t mean you have to remain small.

Stay focused and keep growing your business until it can sustain itself with minimal upkeep from you.

With the internet and email marketing you can automate your business and let the system work for you.

Best wishes!