How to develop a succession plan

Succession is about ensuring the ongoing success of your business through a timed and smooth transfer of ownership and management. A succession plan should define exactly who will take over the business, when they will take over the business and how they will take over the business.

For many owners, the idea of handing over control of their business can be confronting. Try to find support internally or externally if required. Family Business Australia can help you deal with the emotional impact of succession as well as the practical details of your succession plan.

Planning your succession

You should create your succession plan well in advance of actually leaving your business. Research shows that succession can take more than 2 years to plan. Ideally, your succession plan should be part of your overall business plan and reviewed regularly. It should be flexible enough to change according to your circumstances.

Choosing a successor

Your first priority is to identify a likely successor with the right skills and attitude. Generally, your succession plan will be either:

  • a family succession plan, which involves setting up a trust, gifting or selling the business to family members
  • a non-family succession plan, which involves selling your business to an employee(s) or other owner(s) – often called a management buyout.

What to include in your succession plan

In general, your succession plan should address financial, legal and operational strategies for your exit from the business. While the details will be different for every business, it may help to answer the following questions as you develop your succession plan:

Operational issues

  • When do you plan to leave the business?
  • Will you be completely removed from the business or do you want to stay involved in some aspects?
  • What are your successor's responsibilities?
  • What training or development will you organise for your successor(s)?
  • What are the risks involved in succession?
  • What will the business look like once you leave? Who will step into key roles?
  • Are all your employee contracts, work agreements etc. up to date?
  • Are your plant and equipment in good order?
  • Have you talked to key suppliers and customers about the succession?
  • Have you considered intellectual property and privacy policies?

Financial issues

  • Are you selling the business to your successor(s) or gifting it?
  • What is the market value of your business or your share of the business?
  • What are the financial and tax implications of succession?
  • What insurance policies do you currently hold in the event of a disability, death or injury?
  • How much income do you need to retire/leave the business?

Legal issues

It is important to consult a professional business adviser when developing your succession plan. You should also get input from your family and key people in the business, especially your likely successor(s).

Implementing your succession plan

Implementing your succession plans means setting a realistic timetable to meet key milestones. Milestones in the succession plan should include:

  • identifying a successor
  • business housekeeping (e.g. key dates for financial and legal requirements)
  • successor training
  • staged transfer of responsibilities
  • final handover.

Make sure to communicate this timeline to everyone involved in your business so they understand what is happening and when. Stepping back from your business can be an emotional and difficult experience, so having clear goals and time frames can help you to let go.

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