Most entrepreneurs dread what others might consider to be the ideal retirement. Swinging on the porch with a glass of lemonade? Sounds nice—for a couple of hours. I can’t imagine having all day—much less, decades—on my hands without business to keep me alive. And don’t tell me to pour my passion into yard work, house work, or some obscure hobby. I didn’t say I needed work, nor did I say I needed to be busy. I deliberately, specifically said I needed business—the fulfillment of starting, growing, and/or managing a company.
If you can relate to my feelings on retirement, we need to redefine that term for you. What does life after the exit really look like? What are you trying to get out of your next act?
The end game of owning a business is rarely to retire, but rather, to become financially secure. When I’m consulting with clients, I’m helping them attain the financial security they need to be able to pursue new pastures after they leave their business.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people out there who want a quiet and uneventful retirement—and there is nothing wrong with that. But most often, business owners see retirement through the only lens they know: that of opportunity. They’re selling the business so they can do other things with the financial freedom they gain from the sale, not because they want to shut down and stop working.
One of the biggest challenges business owners face when retiring is finding their new identity. Their name was on their company, on their building, on their stationery, and on every ounce of success in the company’s existence. Somewhere along the way in their years of tireless work and dedication, their self-worth became attached to the business. They worry that if they quit, they will literally die.
The key to being a happily retired entrepreneur is to approach retirement as a transition. You’re not “done” when you retire. You’re just financially and emotionally ready to move on to other goals, endeavors, ideas, or values. There are actually “transition coaches” now who help financially secure people figure out what they want to do with their time and money. Do you want to travel? Spend time with loved ones? Start a new business?
Equally important as considering what you want to do with your time is asking yourself what you want out of the time you put in. Very few business owners are prepared for the emotional side of leaving a business they built with their bare hands. It’s their natural tendency to be either 110 percent in or 110 percent out—nothing in between. You need to build a plan for redirecting your 110 percent. Remember, retirement is not a term or label, it’s an opportunity.
A New Outlook on “Work”
The hardest transitions are those involving a debt to the seller, such as them being paid for a period of time after leaving. What’s makes this type of deal so difficult for the exiting owner? There is a risk attached, and a relinquishing of control. You’re relying on someone who’s not you to run your business properly, keep the lights on, and pay you a salary. Your retirement is essentially in their hands, which begs the question: Is that really retirement?
Whether or not you find yourself in this situation, your transition will likely require you to rethink what “work” means to you. Without a hand in your company, where will you find self-fulfillment? Look to clubs, boards, speaking engagements, mentoring, and other business-related activities to provide the same emotional rewards of running a company. However, you will have to arrive at your own combination of the above recommendations based on your new, financially secure definition of “work”—which might not always involve getting paid, keep in mind.
If Business is All You Know
You can’t move a thoroughbred from the track to an empty meadow and expect it to be content. The same goes for sticking an entrepreneur into a traditional retirement. As I explained earlier, I personally love the game of business. I enjoy solving business challenges, particularly relating to sale and exit strategies. That’s why I started Exit Consulting Group. If you’re considering a new direction or strategic exit from your business, we can help you map your transition to financial security. More than simply “hanging it up,” retirement is an emotional acknowledgment that is best accepted with the same depth of preparation and strategy that made you successful in business.