One of the most critical tools a small business owner should use is a business plan. Having drafted an untold number of these for businesses over the course of many years, I know how time-consuming and arduous creating a solid, comprehensive business plan is. However, small business owners who don’t undertake and complete such an effort are playing a dangerous game.
Most business plans involve a forecast of at least 3-5 years, anticipating profit, loss, and resource growth. However, what if the business owner falls temporarily ill at the end of year 2 or year 4 or wants to retire? Who will see the business succeed and what financial interests will the original owner be able to sustain for herself and her family?
Small family-owned businesses typically operate under the assumption that “someone” in the family will take over. But that “someone” isn’t always the best person or even a competent person with respect to business management.
Granted, who is best to manage the business other than the original business owner may not be the person in the forecast, either. This is why a business plan is a “working” document.
Another critical step that should be discussed in your business plan is the reason underlying your business entity selection or lack thereof.
If you’re a small business owner, it’s unlikely that you will have selected a c-corporation and more likely that you decided to operate as a sole proprietor or partnership. Hopefully, your reasons included liability protection, asset protection, and minimizing taxes.
Let’s look at an example:
Craig and Andre established a catering business as equal partners. Craig was the creative genius and Andre was the financial guru. In Illinois, they will be taxed individually and the partnership may be subject to unlimited liability for any debts or claims, e.g., if someone was poisoned by blowfish. If the partnership cannot pay the claim, then the liability will flow to Craig and Andre together and separately. Now, let’s say that Andre quit the partnership as an owner before the blowfish incident but retained a financial interest in the business, which he bequeathed to his son who was a great beneficiary but a lousy business manager. That interest, because Craig and Andre established a plain partnership entity, may become worthless. However, let’s say that after Andre quit but before the blowfish incident, Craig hired a competent accountant. He structured the hiring according to the business succession plan, and then converted the partnership into a Limited Liability Company (LLC) because he didn’t want the business to be subject to unlimited liability. Now, the business and the bequest to Andre’s son are probably safe.
An LLC is a very popular tool among small business owners right now because of the safety nets it provides for owners and for their interests.
So if you’re a small business owner, revisit your plan to ensure you’ve selected the right entity. You should also determine who should succeed you as manager and at least how and when to replace other critical functions if and when they become vacant. Finally, be sure to place information regarding family successors and financial business interests in your estate plan – the third critical plan.
If you choose the right entity and the right successors, you don’t have to risk your business, your financial interests, or your non-business-minded progeny’s esteem.