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How to Make a Succession Plan for a Family Business


Who takes over the reins of your family business when you step down is a critical question for the long-term success of the business. The issue becomes even more complex and sensitive when dealing with a family business where personal relationships and business dynamics intersect. As shown in studies conducted over several years, the majority of family businesses don’t survive into the second generation and even less are still viable into the third generation. Consult a financial advisor if you’re not sure where to start with your succession plan. 

What Is a Succession Plan?

A succession plan, in its simplest form, is a strategic roadmap designed to ensure the smooth transition of leadership in a company when the current leader retires, steps down, or is no longer able to lead. It serves as a protective shield, safeguarding the business from potential disruption and guiding its journey into the future. The ultimate aim is to provide clarity and direction, ensuring that the business remains robust and resilient, even in the face of significant change.

To make this possible, a comprehensive succession plan identifies potential successors from within the business or family, nurtures them through a training and development plan, outlines a transition timeline, creates contingency plans for unforeseen circumstances, and establishes clear communication strategies. This can be vital in a family business that has multiple people wanting to take the reins or where the head of the table is vital to the success of the current business. 

Importance of Creating a Clear Succession Plan

The absence of a robust succession plan can expose a business to numerous risks. A sudden leadership vacuum might trigger internal conflicts, impact stakeholder confidence and even lead to financial instability. A well-crafted succession plan may not guarantee an unwavering market reputation or enhance investor confidence. 

However, it can potentially help maintain these aspects and aid the business in its preparation for any eventualities, ease the transition of leadership and preserve the company’s founding principles even in times of change. Many business partners or lenders of the business may require you to have a succession plan in place in order to keep working together if they are worried about a leader preparing to retire.

Unique Challenges of a Family Business

SmartAsset: How to Make a Succession Plan for a Family Business

Family businesses operate in an overlapping domain of personal relationships and business dynamics. For example, a family member might be chosen as a successor due to familial ties rather than competency or interest, which could have long-term implications for the business’s success.

Common issues faced by family businesses during succession involve the reluctance to step down, the next generation’s lack of preparedness or interest and potential conflicts over control or decision-making. These challenges underscore the importance of creating a robust succession plan that contemplates not only business factors but also the unique dynamics of the family itself.

How to Create Standards for Readiness

Clarity and transparency in readiness standards are crucial for the success of any succession plan. An example might be to transiition leadership to the next generation by enforcing a clear set of readiness standards, effectively minimizing conflicts and ensuring smooth operations. How you do that could vary greatly between individuals and business needs.

Key factors to consider in preparation for succession include the readiness and willingness of potential successors, their competence and skills, stakeholders’ acceptance and legal or financial considerations. Being prepared includes understanding these elements and deciding the best way forward for the business.

Tips for a Successful Succession in a Family Business

It’s important to make sure you nail your succession plan and transition effectively. Here are some suggestions or tips that might pave the way for a successful transition and things you may want to think about when creating a succession plan:

  • Consider the perspectives of the next generation: If you’re leaving your business to a new generation of leadership then it’s vitally important to listen to what they have to say. It could make the transition a lot easier for everyone involved. 
  • Balance control and collaboration: You may have a hard time giving up control of the business but it’s important to balance that with collaboration from the new leadership. This way you’ll be able to keep the business running smoothly until you’re prepared to step away and give the new leader a chance to take the reins. 
  • Build trust: It’s important to build trust with new leadership and with the current employees (if any) so that everyone feels comfortable and confident in the transition plan. 
  • Communicate clearly: Make sure you clearly communicate your needs and listen to the needs of the next generation as you’re creating the succession plan. 

While these tips might aid in the process, they are not definitive pathways to a successful succession. Having an objective party like a financial advisor in such discussions might help break the ice and provide expert advice where needed. 

Bottom Line

SmartAsset: How to Make a Succession Plan for a Family Business

Succession planning in a family business is a comprehensive exercise, ranging from understanding its importance, defining a plan, addressing unique challenges in preparing for succession and implementing best practices for a successful transition. By investing time and effort in succession planning today, family businesses can ensure their legacy endures for generations to come.

Tips for Retirement Planning

  • One of the most important reasons that you may need to create a succession plan for your business is due to retirement. If you’re not sure how prepared you are to live the retirement you want, consider also working with a financial advisor who can help manage your long-term assets. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now
  • Not sure how much you need to save for retirement? Consider using SmartAsset’s free retirement calculator to help you estimate what you should have when you’re ready to retire. 

Photo credit: © – Julia Amaral, ©, ©