If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re comfortable with risk. Ability to take on higher levels of risk is a key trait that helps you find success in the business world. At the same time, odds are you’re also an optimist, which is another key characteristic when creating a company from scratch.
Comfort with risk combined with optimism is a great combination for business, but there’s a dark side too. This combination can be very dangerous if applied to your financial life. Here’s why:
- You may reinvest your profits back into your business first without putting money consistently aside for your financial future. You’ll be undiversified and vulnerable to any problems with your business or industry.
- During times where your business is really firing on all cylinders, you may not put aside more for the inevitable “rainy day” and simply assume things will always go as planned.
- You may make outside financial investments in your own field since you know your industry so well. If that sector undergoes a difficult stretch, you are then even more exposed, creating a double whammy to your personal financial stability.
The fact is, no matter how careful you are at managing risk, things can occur that are out of your control. Call it a “black swan” or whatever you want, bad things can and do happen.
Even if you’re fortunate to escape negative events, you still need to prepare for the future. To do that, you should be consistently putting money aside and investing it separate from your own line of work. If you don’t do this early, you may find yourself without the funds you need to retire when you’re ready.
Research shows just how common this is. According to a recent survey of 400 small-business owners by BMO Wealth Management, only a fraction are prepared for retirement. Here’s some eye-opening statistics:
- 75% of entrepreneurs age 18 to 64 have saved less than $100,000 for retirement.
- Those age 45 to 64 are only slightly more prepared: 32% have over $100,000 in retirement accounts.
- Only 11% have more than $500,000 in retirement accounts.
It appears that the vast majority of business owners are assuming their business will finance their entire retirement.
The scary fact is: If your business cannot be sold, or fails, your wealth and your lifestyle may bear the brunt.
Now as an optimist, you’d say “well I control if my business succeeds or fails”.
But if you look deeper, there are many things that are totally beyond your control:
- Natural or man-made disasters
- Government legislation that impacts the products or services you sell
- Lawsuits against you or your business (real or completely meritless, these can be devastatingly expensive)
- Business cycles that run deeper than expected
Plus, the reality is, it is not easy to sell a small business. Unless you’ve been consistently working on your business to make it easy and attractive for an outsider to step in and run….most small businesses are a very tough sell. Further, unless they’ve been through the process before, business owners are usually unrealistic about what their business is worth. Fortunately there are metrics you can use to see what average businesses in your industry sell for, but there’s no guarantee there will be a buyer when you are ready to sell.
For all these reasons, entrepreneurs must plan ahead. And because we share these traits that make it difficult to look at the potential downside, we all should have a good financial advisor at our side to help us avoid falling into these common traps.
An advisor who knows your financial situation and your business can help you create and implement a plan to put money aside in a tax-efficient manner, allowing you to save today on taxes while funding for your retirement. They can also help with the financial planning needed to get you to the ideal point where you can continue living your current lifestyle even if your business were to fail.
In addition, an advisor can save you time and stress by offering the following:
- Create a comprehensive financial plan that will help you get where you want to go.
- Providing ongoing coaching to keep you accountable to those financial goals you set for yourself.
- Invest your assets in a diversified way that will allow your wealth to grow independently of the ups and downs of your business.
- Help make sure you are maximizing tax-advantaged savings so you can save on taxes while you save for the future.
- Help keep your financial life organized so you don’t have to worry about it.
A good advisor can also be a sounding board for the quandaries we all face as business owners, whether it’s considering a new partnership or joint venture or determining key employee compensation. These decisions are always difficult and having an objective “second opinion” from a financial expert who knows your personal situation can be invaluable.
But you have to choose carefully. Not all financial advisors are created alike. Here’s some tips to find the best possible advisor:
- Know the difference between a broker and a true financial advisor. A broker is technically a product salesperson and only has to give you advice that is “suitable to you”, even if it means steering you into higher cost products. A true financial advisor, however, serves as a “fiduciary”, meaning he or she legally must always put your interests in front of their own.
- Most of us do best with fee-only advisors who don’t collect commissions on products. This assures their loyalty is only to you, since they only get compensation from you.
- Be sure to check with the regulatory agencies to make sure the advisors you’re considering have clean records. See org.
- Ask a lot of questions. A good advisor welcomes questions and should be able to communicate effectively with you. Avoid those who don’t welcome your questions—the best advisors want an engaged client.
There’s also independent advisor rating services such as the Paladin Registry that provide free screening of fiduciary advisors. They’ll even match you up with local advisors who have been vetted and meet their stringent requirements, saving you time.
Then, once you do hire someone, don’t sit back and relax. It’s vital that you stay involved. It’s your money after all, and no one will ever watch it as closely as you do. Meet regularly, open and review your statements every month and ask plenty of questions.
Still accumulating assets? If you’re one of the many who is still getting started, you might benefit from an automated financial planning or investing service instead. When you have less than $50,000 in investment assets, these are often a good place to start. Some inexpensive options:
- You can get affordable online financial planning plus help from a professional planner using services such as MyFinancialAnswers or Learnvest.
- You can get inexpensive entry level investment management from “robo-advisors”. Wealthfront will even manage your first $10,000 for no fees.
Regardless, please don’t fall into the trap that “I can do it better myself”. Entrepreneurs are very prone to this. But money is different. Money is emotional. We all do better with an objective expert beside us helping us to make the right decision to plan for our future.
Really, we want a financial partner who can help us stay accountable to our own goals. And when you’re an entrepreneur, one of your primary goals should be to secure your future. Once you do that, you’ll have the freedom to sell your business, or cut back your hours, or start another venture. Isn’t that what life as an entrepreneur is all about?
Jeanne Klimowski is Founder of Wavelength Financial Content Inc., a provider of employee financial wellness programs and digital content for financial advisors.
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