How Business Succession Planning Can Protect Business Owners

What if something happens to you, and you can no longer manage your business anymore? Who will then take over your business, and will it be managed the way you want?Establishing a sound business succession plan helps ensure that your business gets handed over more smoothly.Business succession planning, also known as business continuation planning, is about planning for the continuation of the business after the departure of a business owner. A clearly articulated business succession plan specifies what happens upon events such as the retirement, death or disability of the owner.A good business succession plans typically include, but not limited to:·Goal articulation, such as who will be authorized to own and run the business;The business owner’s retirement planning, disability planning and estate planning;·Process articulation, such as whom to transfer shares to, and how to do it, and how the transferee is to fund the transfer;·Analysing if existing life insurance and investments are in place to provide funds to facilitate ownership transfer. If no, how are the gaps to be filled;·Analysing shareholder agreements; and·Assessing the business environment and strategy, management capabilities and shortfalls, corporate structure.Why should business owners consider business succession planning?·The business can be transferred more smoothly as possible obstacles have been anticipated and addressed·Income for the business owner through insurance policies, e.g. ongoing income for disabled or critically ill business owner, or income source for family of deceased business owner·Reduced probability of forced liquidation of the business due to sudden death or permanent disability of business ownerFor certain components of a good business succession plan to work, funding is required. Some common ways of funding a succession plan include investments, internal reserves and bank loans.However, insurance is generally preferred as it is the most effective solution and the least expensive one compared to the other options.Life and disability insurance on each owner ensure that some financial risk is transferred to an insurance company in the event that one of the owners passes on. The proceeds will be used to buy out the deceased owner’s business share.Owners may choose their preferred ownership of the insurance policies via any of the two arrangements, “cross-purchase agreement” or “entity-purchase agreement”.Cross-Purchase AgreementIn a cross-purchase agreement, co-owners will buy and own a policy on each other. When an owner dies, their policy proceeds would be paid out to the surviving owners, who will use the proceeds to buy the departing owner’s business share at a previously agreed-on price.However, this type of agreement has its limitations. A key one is, in a business with a large number of co-owners (10 or more), it is somewhat impractical for each owner to maintain separate policies on each other. The cost of each policy may differ due to a huge disparity between owners’ age, resulting in inequity.In this instance, an entity-purchase agreement is often preferred.Entity-Purchase AgreementIn an entity-purchase agreement, the business itself purchases a single policy on each owner, becoming both the policy owner and beneficiary. When an owner dies, the business will use the policy proceeds to buy the deceased owner’s business share. All costs are absorbed by the business and equity is maintained among the co-owners.What Happens Without a Business Succession Plan?Your business may suffer grave consequences without a proper business succession plan in the event of an unexpected death or a permanent disability.Without a business succession plan in place, these scenarios might happen.If the business is shared among business owners, then the remaining owners may fight over the shares of the departing business owner or over the percentage of the business.There could also be a potential dispute between the sellers and buyers of the business. For e.g., the buyer may insist on a lower price against the seller’s higher price.In the event of the permanent disability or critical illness of the business owner, the operations of the company could be affected as they might not be able to work. This could affect clients’ faith, revenue and morale in the company as well.The stream of income to the owner’s family will be cut off if the business owner, being the sole breadwinner of the family, unexpectedly passes away.Don’t let all the business you have built up collapse the moment you are not there. Planning ahead with a proper business succession plan before an unexpected or premature event happens can help secure your business legacy, ensuring that you and your family’s future will be well taken care of.

Managing Consultants

“An expert is someone who lives more than 50 miles out of town
and wears a tie to work.”
- Bryce’s LawINTRODUCTIONThe need for outside contract services is nothing new. IT-related
consultants have been around since the computer was first introduced for
commercial purposes. Today, all of the Fortune 1000 companies have consultants
playing different roles in IT, either on-site or offshore. Many companies are
satisfied with the work produced by their consultants, others are not. Some
consultants are considered a necessary evil who tackle assignments
in an unbridled manner and charge exorbitant rates. For this type of
consultant, it is not uncommon for the customer to be left in the dark
in terms of what the consultant has done, where they are going, and if
and when they will ever complete their assignment. Understand this, the
chaos brought on by such consultants are your own doing.IT consultants offer three types of services:
Special expertise – representing skills and proficiencies your
company is currently without, be it the knowledge of a particular
product, industry, software, management techniques, special
programming techniques and languages, computer hardware, etc.

Extra resources – for those assignments where in-house
resource allocations are either unavailable or in short supply,
it is often better to tap outside resources to perform the work.

Offer advice – to get a fresh perspective on a problem, it
is sometimes beneficial to bring in an outsider to give an
objective opinion on how to proceed. A different set of eyes
can often see something we may have overlooked.

Whatever purpose we wish to use a consultant for, it is important
to manage them even before they are hired. This means a company
should know precisely what it wants before hiring a consultant.ASSIGNMENT DEFINITIONBefore we contact a consultant, let’s begin by defining the
assignment as concisely and accurately as possible; frankly,
it shouldn’t be much different than writing a job description
for in-house employees. It should include:
Scope – specifying the boundaries of the work
assignment and detailing what is to be produced. This
should also include where the work is to be performed
(on-site, off-site, both) and time frame for performing
the work.

Duties and Responsibilities – specifying the types of
work to be performed.

Required Skills and Proficiencies – specifying the
knowledge or experience required to perform the work.

Administrative Relationships – specifying who the
consultant is to report to and who they will work with
(internal employees and other external consultants).

Methodology considerations – specifying the methodology,
techniques and tools to be used, along with the deliverables
to be produced and review points. This is a critical
consideration in managing the consultant. However, if
the consultant is to use his/her own methodology, the
customer should understand how it works and the deliverables

Miscellaneous in-house standards – depending on the company,
it may be necessary to review applicable corporate policies,
e.g., travel expenses, dress code, attendance, behavior, drug test, etc.

Many would say such an Assignment Definition is overkill. Far from
it. How can we manage anyone if we do not establish the rules of the
game first? Doing your homework now will pay dividends later when
trying to manage the consultant. Assignment clarity benefits both
the customer and the consultant alike. Such specificity eliminates
vague areas and materially assists the consultant in quoting a price.SELECTING A CONSULTANTArmed with an Assignment Definition, we can now begin the
process of selecting a consultant in essentially the same manner
as selecting an in-house employee. Choosing the right consultant is
as important a task as the work to be performed. As such, candidates
must be able to demonstrate their expertise for the assignment. Certification
and/or in-house testing are good ways for checking required skills
and proficiencies. Also, reviewing prior consulting assignments (and
checking references) is very helpful. Examining credentials is
imperative in an industry lacking standards. For example, many
consultants may have a fancy title and profess to be noted experts in
their field but, in reality, may be nothing more than contract
programmers. In other words, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.Ideally, a consultant should have both a business and technical
background. True, technical expertise is needed to perform IT
assignments, but a basic understanding of business (particularly your
business) is also important for the consultant to adapt to your
environment. This is needed even if you are using nothing more than
contract programmers.In terms of remuneration, you normally have two options: an hourly
rate or a fixed price. For the former, be sure the work hours are
specified, including on-site and off-site. Many clients are
uncomfortable paying an hourly wage for an off-site consultant. Under
this scenario, routine status reports should be required to itemize
the work performed and the time spent. However, the lion’s share of
consulting services are based on a fixed price contract. Here, the
role of the methodology becomes rather important. Whether you are
using “PRIDE” or another Brand X methodology, it is important the consultant
and client both have a clear understanding of the project’s work
breakdown structure, the deliverables to be produced, and the review
points. From this, an effective dialog can be communicated in terms
of managing the project. Further, the methodology becomes the basis
for the preparation of estimates and schedules.After examining your candidates, it now becomes necessary to
balance the level of expertise against price. Sure, a senior
person can probably get the job done in less time, but perhaps
the costs may be too high for your budget. “Expertise” versus
“expense” becomes a serious consideration at this point.Whomever is selected, it is important that a written agreement
be prepared and signed. The agreement should reference the Assignment
Definition mentioned above and any other pertinent corporate
verbiage. Very important: make sure it is clear that the work
produced by the consultant becomes your exclusive property (not the
consultant’s). Further, the consultant shouldn’t use misappropriated
work from other assignments. Finally, add a clause pertaining to
workmanship; that the consultant will correct at his/her expense
any defects found; e.g., defective software, data base designs, etc.MANAGING THE CONSULTANTThe two most obvious ways to manage consultants is by having
them prepare routine status reports and project time reports. Such
reports should be produced on a weekly basis and detail what the
consultant has produced for the past week and detail his/her
plans for the coming week. You, the client, should review and
approve all such reports and file accordingly.A methodology materially assists in tracking a consultant’s
progress. As a roadmap for a project, the methodology takes the
guesswork out of what is to be produced and when. Without
such a roadmap, you are at the mercy of the consultant. Along
these lines, I am reminded of a story of a large manufacturing
company in the UK who used one of the large CPA firms to
tackle a major system development assignment. The system was
very important to the client, but lacking the necessary in-house
resources to develop it, they turned to the CPA firm to design and
develop it. Regrettably, the client didn’t take the time
to define the methodology for the project and left it to the
discretion of the CPA firm. The project began and the CPA
firm brought on-site many junior staff members to perform
the systems and programming work. So far, so good. However,
considerable time went by before the client asked the senior partner
about the status of the project (after several monthly invoices). The
senior partner assured the client that all was well and the
project was progressing smoothly. More time past (and more
invoices paid) with still nothing to show for it. Becoming
quite anxious, the client began to badger the consultant as
to when the project would be completed. Finally, after several
months of stalling, the consultant proudly proclaimed “Today
we finished Phase 1….but now we have to move on to Phase
2.” And, as you can imagine, there were many more succeeding
phases with no end in sight.What is the lesson from this story? Without a methodology roadmap,
it is next to impossible to effectively manage a consultant. The
project will lose direction almost immediately and the project will
go into a tailspin. The only person who wins in this regard
is the consultant who is being paid regardless of what work
is produced. Instead of vague generalities, you, the client,
have to learn to manage by deliverables.CONCLUSIONMy single most important recommendation to anyone considering
the use of outside consultants is simple: Get everything in
writing! Clearly define the work assignment, get a signed
agreement spelling out the terms of the assignment, and
demand regular status reports.I am always amazed how companies give consulting firms
carte blanche to perform project work as they see fit. Abdicating
total control to a consultant is not only irresponsible, it is
highly suspicious and may represent collusion and kickbacks.There is nothing magical in managing consultants. It requires
nothing more than simple planning, organization, and control. If you
are not willing to do this, then do not be surprised with the results
produced. Failure to manage a consultant properly or to adequately
inspect work in progress will produce inadequate results. So, do
yourself (and your company) a favor, do your homework and create a
win-win scenario for both the consultant and yourself.

Is It Still Worth Investing in Property Since the Increase in Stamp Duty?

We explore whether it is still economically viable to invest in property since the stamp duty increase, and what sort of properties you can invest in to minimise the effect of the increase or completely bypass it altogether.The Impact of the Increase in Stamp DutyThe cost of an investment property in Birmingham is £168,062.00 which means you’d typically have to pay £5903 in stamp duty costs.The Increase in Stamp Duty Has Contributed to House Price SlumpOne of the main issues that the increase has caused, has been the increased cost in acquiring new property, which has subsequently caused a slump in house price inflation. Whilst this now means it is a good time for potential investors to consider purchasing additional properties, those who already own property will probably be disappointed with the growth in the market. In particular, property prices in London are most affected by the increase simply because house price are generally more expensive so the stamp duty levied on the properties is proportionately higher. This means that either demand may go down due to the high prices, or property prices may decrease to make up for the increase in stamp duty. In fact, Halifax’s April 2016 House Price Index announced negative growth in terms of house prices, as month on month April 2016 saw average house prices fall by 0.8%, which it attributed to a lack of confidence in the wider economy.The Increase in Stamp Duty Fails to Dampen Landlords’ SpiritsThe increase seems not to have deterred landlords, as the number of landlords has risen to 1.75 million. This has mainly been due to the increase in lending and cheaper mortgages, as access to funds is one of the main drivers in the property market. Another factor that has contributed to the increase in landlords has been the superior yields, far outstripping interest investors make on their money saved elsewhere.Another positive is that according to Halifax’s May 2016 House Price Index, house prices are resuming an upward trend, with month-on-month growth of 0.6%. This suggests that the British public still very much has an appetite for property, and is welcome news to existing property investors.Strategies to Avoid Stamp Duty or Minimise its EffectAlthough the increase may make some investors think twice about investing in property, it needn’t have to. There are plenty of ways property investors can work around the stamp duty increase or minimise its effect.Purchase Property in a Company NameStamp duty land tax can be avoided by purchasing property in a company name using a business mortgage. This also allows for interest payments to be tax deductible, exponentially increasing your return on investment because mortgages can be granted up to seventy-five per cent of the value of the property which amounts to a lot of interest.The Number of Mortgage Products Available to Limited Companies is IncreasingThe number of products available to limited companies is increasing year-on-year. In H1 2015 there was an average of 99 products available to limited companies, but in H2 this rose to 147 products.The number of mortgage applications made by companies now accounts for over a third (38%) of all mortgage applications, up from 15% in 2014. It’s also worth noting that mortgage acceptance rates are at an all-time high, so if you’re thinking of investing in property, now is a good time to apply for a mortgage.Avoid Stamp Duty Altogether with Alternative Investments Such as Car Park InvestmentsFurthermore, would-be buy-to-let investors are focusing on ways that they can avoid the stamp duty charges altogether or minimise its effect. Car park spaces are exempt from the 3% stamp duty charge because they’re classed as commercial property. Car park investments can also give an 8% net assured income for two years and has a five year exit strategy with buy-back option if you decide that the investment is not for you.Invest in Properties Outside of London for Lower Stamp Duty CostsAnother option is to consider properties in areas outside of London. As mentioned previously in the article, properties in London are more expensive so there is proportionately more stamp duty to pay. Cities such as Manchester and Liverpool command a much higher rental yield allowing you to maximise your profits. Properties in these cities outside of London are generally much lower, so the amount of stamp duty you’ll have to pay is much lower.Birmingham is consistently considered one of the best areas for buy-to-let, and was recently named by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) as the number one buy-to-let hotspot outside of London. Average property prices in Britain’s second city are considerably lower than property prices in London. According to Rightmove, overall average property prices in Birmingham currently stand at £168,062, compared to £556,350 in London. For property investors, this means that if they were to invest in property in Birmingham, they’d pay exponentially less in stamp duty compared to investing in London property.Student properties in Liverpool such as Pembroke Studios command an assured net rental yield of 8% for five years had have a buy-back option after five years. Fortunately, in a city such as Liverpool there will never be a shortage of students looking for high quality accommodation due to its sizeable student population that comprises 12% of the city’s overall population. Pembroke Studios is conveniently placed within a mile’s radius of four universities in Liverpool, so it’s desirably situated for an overwhelming number of students.In conclusion, property investment is definitely still a viable way to achieve good returns, especially when interest rates for money kept in savings accounts is at record low. Property investors should make cautious decisions when it comes to investment, and consider investing in towns and cities outside of London where possible. For those looking to bypass stamp duty altogether, we recommend car park investments or other commercial investments that do not incur the charges.