Friday, April 16, 2010


In my work with business owners, I encounter three strategies for dealing with ‘work-life transitions’ – often called retirement.

The first strategy is to ignore the problem and just keep on working – even after they have lost their ‘edge,’ their passion and their energy. They don’t have an alternate lifestyle to move into so they just keep doing the only thing they know. They stay too long and suck the life out of their business, significantly reducing the value of their equity in the process.

Then, one day, they’ve ‘had it.’ Without much prior planning, they quit – maybe because of poor health or because the business is failing and is no longer sustainable or they just ‘burnout.’ They have no idea what they will do next or what will happen with their business. They sell the business when they have to, instead of when the want to, maybe for ‘pennies on the dollar.’ And the life they are left with is empty, sterile, and directionless. They struggle between meaningless activity and boredom.

There is a second, special kind of people who successfully keep on working: artists, writers, some attorneys and others who work independently, without an organization to support them. Their value is their personal work, not the organization they lead. ‘Living their passion,’ they do it as long as they can, often into their 80s and 90s. For example, Peter Drucker, the prolific management writer (over 30 books) and consultant remained active, albeit in a somewhat diminished role until he died at age 95 in 2005. For him, his work and his passion were one in the same – to work is to live.

The third group follows a different strategy. They plan ahead, thinking ‘transition’ long before the time when they will leave the business. Even while still actively working, they regularly step back from the day to day operation of their business and begin to plan for the next phase of their life. Ultimately, they leave on their own terms.

This third strategy could involve starting a new business, take a new role in their original company or working somewhere else. Or they might work with a cause for which they have a great passion. This life of service gives them great pleasure and satisfaction -– giving them ‘psychic income’ while providing a much needed service. And they have time for personal/family pursuits.

There are several of keys to planning a successful departure from the business:

  • Choosing the ‘next phase’ of their life,
  • Building a sustainable, saleable business,
  • Deciding whether to sell internally, to partners, associates and/or family members, or externally to an outside buyer,
  • Fully withdrawing their investment before giving up control.
This whole range of decisions depends upon the owner's personal decision to ‘move on’ with their life and the personal transition strategy he or she develops to make the move. This personal decision becomes the basis for all subsequent decisions.

All this takes time – often several years. So it’s important to start early. Waiting too long can severely limit a person’s options both for himself and for the business.

The moral? Start thinking about the next phase of your life and regularly block out time to make choices about how you will create a meaningful, fulfilling life after your work/life transition.

What is your life strategy? What thought have you given to your future? What will be the next phase of your life – after you transition out of your business? What are you planning for the future of your company after you move on? When is that last time you took time to give this serious consideration? What are you going to take some more time to do it again?

I work with business owners who are contemplating retirement. I can help you. Contact me to explore your options and develop a plan for your future. Call me by April 30 and our first conversation is complimentary.

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