Insights & advice

Transition your business to new ownership with succession planning

Share on

If you’re a small business owner and you haven’t made a succession plan, now is a good time to start.  You can help your business change ownership smoothly with careful succession planning.

A Prince Edward Island potato farmerOpens a new website in a new window didn't start talking about retirement until he was 80 years old and had been diagnosed with dementia. This is not unlike many small business owners who haven’t started a succession plan. That‘s in line with the findings of a 2011 Canadian Federation of Independent Business poll, which showed that just 10 per cent of small business owners have a succession plan.1 

Taking the steps today to make a succession plan can help ensure your business keeps running smoothly.

An ownership change is one of the most important moments in your life as an entrepreneur. When the time comes, handing over the company with a careful exit strategy can help you keep the value of your business – and your legacy.3

Why does planning matter?

A good plan lets you keep positive connections with employees and business partners, which may be especially important if those relationships are with family.4 You should also make sure your business is solid and has good prospects to get the sale price you want.5

Succession planning helps you:

  • Protect the legacy of your business
  • Maintain a service for your community
  • Build value for your business
  • Provide financial security for your family and stakeholders
  • Deal with unexpected events (illness, accident or death)
  • Prepare for the future

A leadership change can also be challenging for employees, suppliers and customers. Make sure your strategy includes a communications plan for your business partners and team members to help keep everyone informed during the transition. It’s also important to keep your business running smoothly.

When should you start?

How about today? Today’s a good day to start planning if you expect to leave your business within the next five years.

Even if your business is new, having a plan in place helps ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected . According to experts, transitions can take up to five years to complete and, in the case of a family business, as many as 10 depending on the organization’s size or how complicated it is.6

With family businesses, relationships and emotions can make things more complicated. This is because most people aren’t that comfortable talking about aging, death and their finances. According to Susan Ward, a Canadian business writer and experienced business owner, 70% of businesses don’t survive the transition from founder to second generation.7 “In most cases, the ‘killer’ is taxes or family discord – both issues that a good family business succession plan will cover.”8

Who’s best to replace you – and when?

Whether you want to pass your business to a family member, an employee or an outsider, you’ll need to consider the skills and qualifications they’ll need to run the business, which can take years. Once you’ve chosen your successor, a transition plan will address the training they need.

Who do you need to support you?

You don’t have to do it alone. Experts are available to help with succession planning. The use of professionals are important to the success of a small business, including its transfer to another owner. They can provide knowledge and expertise in areas where you may have little experience. They can also round out your management team to ensure your business is working effectively.

As an entrepreneur, there are four types of professionals to talk to:

  • Accountant
  • Lawyer
  • Banker
  • Advisor

What’s your exit plan?

Your choice of successor, the structure of your business and working with the professionals listed above will help you work through your transfer. How you transfer your business – to a family member or through a cash or financing sale, for example – will help you determine the timeline for exiting the business.9 And, with all the helpful resources available – many of them free – there’s no time like today to plan for the future.

1 "Aging farmers with no succession plans put future of Canadian family farms at riskOpens a new website in a new window" CBC. July 16, 2017.

2 "Perspectives on small business in CanadaOpens a new website in a new window" Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. July 2011.

3 "Business transition planningOpens a new website in a new window" Free ebook available from BDC.

4 "Succession planningOpens a new website in a new window" Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Nov. 14, 2017.

5 Ibid

6 "Plan your successionOpens a new website in a new window" Business Development Bank of Canada.

7 "Microsoft, Apple, Jay Leno...they all needed a succession plan and so do youOpens a new website in a new window" FORBES. Feb. 9, 2014.

8 "Tips for Successful Family Business Succession Planning.Opens a new website in a new window" The balance. Sept. 28, 2016.

9 "How to Transfer Business Ownership: What You Need to KnowOpens a new website in a new window" Value Penguin. 2018.

Share on