Business Owner Retirement & Exit Planning

As Indiana business brokers, we see that the largest asset business owners have is their business and most have not done any type of exit planning. Some may have all of their net worth tied up in this illiquid asset. The majority of owners haven’t saved adequately outside of their business. This means that when it comes time to sell the business, they are financially dependent on it to fund the rest of their lives. But, as with any investment, it’s extremely risky to put all your eggs in one basket. This is why exit planning is crucial to a successful business sale and retirement fund maximization.

Lack of Outside Diversification

After spending so much time and energy on growing the business, the last thing most owners think about is saving and investing in outside interests. They get used to using their business as a personal piggy bank, drawing sizeable salaries and bonuses in addition to paying for vacations, travel, and many other perks out of the business.

The business becomes more of a lifestyle than an investment. Treating the business as more of a lifestyle than an investment can prove problematic when it comes time to sell. The owner may need to extract significant money from the sale of the business to achieve their retirement goals and support the life to which he or she has become accustomed. This is where exit planning comes in to set clear and realistic goals.

Getting Back on Track

For owners who find themselves in a similar situation, There are a few ways to reduce your dependence on the business and ensure your long-term financial security.

  1. The first step is to take stock of your financial situation including the assets you have saved outside the business and your annual budget.
  2. Next, calculate your wealth gap. This is the difference between what you currently have saved outside the business and how much you need to have outside the business to generate your desired long-term income. Using assumptions, you can calculate how much money you need to net, after taxes and fees, from the business sale.
  3. The next step is to look at ways to diversify your investments and supplement your income sources with non-business assets.

This may seem like a lot of work. It is, but it’s a necessary part of your overall exit planning strategy and will yield fruitful results with sufficient time and attention to detail. Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.

Taking Stock of Your Financial Situation

This is often an eye-opening exercise. You may be surprised to find out how little you have saved outside of the business. How much cash you are taking from your business in the form of salary and benefits can also be shocking.

This can be dangerous. It’s especially dangerous if your exit plan is to sell the business or transition ownership to others in the next several years. The pressure to produce cash may drain the business of necessary capital for growth and sustainability. Ratcheting up discretionary spending to improve personal lifestyles or to minimize tax liabilities can decrease profits and reduce the company’s value.

Calculating and Closing Your Wealth Gap

Determining your wealth gap – i.e., calculating how much you need to net from your business transition – is a necessary exercise. Owners who are almost solely dependent on their businesses will need to draw much more out of the sale of their businesses than those who have diversified their holdings.

This means that you will have to sell your business for a specific (usually higher) price in order to fill your wealth gap and fund the next stage of your life. Unfortunately, when it’s time to finally sell, many owners find out their businesses are worth less than they had hoped and had not performed any type of exit planning. They often find it nearly impossible to find a buyer who is willing to pay what they’re asking.

The reality is that without continued income from the business or from an income stream derived from selling the business, many owners will see their standards of living dramatically decline.

There are multiple ways to close the gap, including:

  • Saving more money outside the business
  • Increasing the value of your company
  • Decreasing your spending and income needs
  • Developing additional sources of post-transition income

Diversifying Your Assets

Asset diversification is key to minimizing risk and generating the best returns in investing. However, business owners are remiss to diversify assets outside of their businesses. Perhaps this is because of a perceived loss of control. But the truth is, privately held companies are risky propositions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 26% of businesses survive 15 years or more. Factors far outside the control of the owner can have dramatic impacts on a business. Factors include including economic recessions and many other external forces like competition, technological advancements, health-care costs, and tax law changes.

Diversifying your investments and supplementing your income sources with non-business assets can be beneficial and is an essential part of successful exit planning. Examples of this include real-estate-rental income, interest, and dividends. Doing this can help protect you from these risks. If your assets are well-diversified, you are in better shape than an owner who is solely dependent on their business.

Saving money outside your business will also give you more choices when it comes time to transition out. Owners who have saved outside may be able to sell the company to family members or employees who are unable to pay top dollar.


If you begin exit planning and prepare well in advance (we recommend 3-5 years) of any kind of business transition, you can be proactive about saving more money outside of the business, therefore lessening your dependence on the business and the upcoming ownership transition.

You can assess where the business is in its lifecycle and determine what needs to be done to keep it healthy and growing. This analysis and proactive action can have a dramatic and positive impact on your business and your long-term financial well-being.

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Edwin Mysogland, CVA, CEPA, CMEA
Managing Partner, Indiana Business Advisors

Indiana Business Advisors is the top business brokerage firm in the state of Indiana and one of the largest in the Midwest. Whether you are looking to a buy a business or sell a business, Indiana Business Advisors has the expertise and experience to get the deal completed. With over 40 years of history and 2200 businesses sold all over the United States, our team will work diligently to achieve your professional and personal goals.