For many middle-market business owners, the American Dream of selling their businesses for financial security or turning them over or selling them to their children before retiring seems more distant today than it did 20-plus years ago.
A recent study by The Wall Street Journal and Vistage International shows that almost half of the 799 small-business owners surveyed plan to retire after age 65, with 38 percent saying they plan to retire later than they expected five years ago. For some, it’s a matter of choice, for others, it’s simply not possible to give up the cash flow.
Whatever the case, many business owners today are locked in a state of “analysis-paralysis” — not making any major business decisions related to transitions as they wait to see what happens with the elections, the economy and their businesses. Why aren’t they looking to sell now? This is what we’re hearing:
Uncertainty about the future. Although the Federal Reserve has promised to stimulate the economy if it doesn’t show significant improvement, the inconsistency of the recovery, combined with uncertainty about key issues like the tax laws, has many business owners feeling skittish and opting to postpone transition plans. Although many think business is OK now, they feel they might get better valuations in the future as the economy improves.
Low expectations of returns on investments. Fact is, while 20 years ago you didn’t question a financial advisor who said that you could expect to average 10 percent per annum on your investments, today you don’t believe that same advisor who says you can get five or six percent return per annum over a 10-year period. The past 10 years have been flat. You cannot price a business based on the income you need to live on or replace your income with the proceeds of the sale. Often, the choice boils down to either having to sell for much less than you think you deserve or having to make the decision to continue running the business in an ownership position.
Income needed to survive. Many business owners don’t want to part with their businesses because they still need the income to fund their lifestyles. As I’ve mentioned, you will never be able to replace the income of your business with the proceeds of its sale. The fact that people are living longer these days — well into their 70s and 80s — is contributing to the trend as they simply have a different approach to life and need the money to continue to enjoy themselves.
Others think their businesses are doing well, and they feel no urgent need to sell at present. According to the Wall Street Journal and Vistage study, more than half those surveyed say the lion’s share of their net worth is wrapped up in their businesses, so they don’t think selling and retiring is in the cards any time soon, mainly because they will not have enough income. Instead of retiring, some are now considering hiring someone to operate their businesses for them so they can retain their current lifestyles and cash flow while relinquishing some of their responsibilities and freeing up more of their time. However, this has inherent risks. For starters, you’re putting your biggest asset in someone else’s hands.
In the old days, most people looked forward to retiring in their late 50s and enjoying the final chapters of their lives with the equivalent of 60 percent of their income upon retirement. These days, with most people living longer and enjoying healthier, more active lifestyles, they’re lucky if they can retire in their 60s or 70s, and they also need the equivalent of 100 percent of their current income upon retirement to continue living their current lifestyle.