One Word That Scares the Hell Out of Business Owners

What is your favorite four-letter word?  Come on, now.  Fess up.  Even the most disciplined and polite among us secretly harbor a favorite. 

If you hang around me for any period of time, you know that I can be colorful with my words.  Not necessarily using the four-letter variety, but colorful.  You also know that, from time to time, some of the popular four-letter ones will slip into conversation. 

I’m in good company.  According to a story in the New York Post,  a survey of 1,500 people across 30 metropolitan cities showed that the average person swears or cusses 21 times a day.  That’s ffflippin’ crazy!  does work.)

Being around or barraged by four-letter words can be intimidating, even frightening.  Largely speaking, most people avoid using them in a professional business setting.  They are seen as crass or rude.  So it’s best to keep a mental list of those four-lettered treasures to apply my edit-droid to.

Interestingly, I’ve found the most frightening and offensive of all the #$@& words to use with a business owner.  Why, I bet I could use all the others in a full sentence and not get a blink compared to the horrified, deer-in-the-headlights look I get with this one word:


That’s it.  Exit.

The one four-letter word that scares the hell out of business owners.  Not just a little fear.  Paralytic fear. 

According to recent updated State of Owner Readiness Survey data issued by the Exit Planning Institute (EPI), 95% of the owners responding to the survey agree that transition planning is important.  However, nearly 70% of the owners report having spent minimal time thinking about their exit.  The same 70% have done little to nothing to enhance their understanding of what a successful transition entails.  Nearly 50% have no written personal financial plan.  In light of the fact that, according to an Ernst & Young Family Business Study, the average baby boomer owner thinks about transition at age 63, it would appear that the fear is crippling. 

As an exit planner, I appreciate the fear.  None of us enjoy thinking about major changes, such as death, disability, divorce, disagreement, or distress forcing us to leave our company, which, according to EPI happens 50% of the time to business owners.  It’s uncomfortable and, framed as an exit or “the end,” negative.

I propose we swap “exit” out for a different four-letter word:  Live.  Life.  Grow.  Rise.  Plan. Move.

You choose.

The point is “exit” is not the end of the world and exit planning is not funeral planning.  It’s good business strategy and a great life strategy.

Think back on when you first learned about Steve Covey’s work on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  What was the first habit?  Begin with the End in Mind.

An exit from business ownership, or any major role in your life, is an entrance into something new.  You get the cool opportunity to create what that new adventure looks like.  You merely need to think about what that new adventure means for you.  Life.  Design how you want to Live it. 

Beginning with the end in mind also helps guide your business strategy.  If your goal is to have a business that will provide you and your family with wealth throughout your ownership and then after, you have to build a transferable business.  That’s where good business strategy intertwines with exit planning.  

If your business has been living in, and for, the here and now, it’s unlikely that the company is transferable.  It needs to Grow.  Its practices need to Rise.  If you wait until 63, there’s no time to recover.  So Plan. Make your Move. 

Don’t say the word “exit.”

Live it.



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