As children we dream. We dream unfettered. We dream of traveling to the stars; we dream of life as a policeman, fireman or even a doctor. Some fall in love with numbers and can’t think of anything else. We dream of great discoveries as scientists or helping people reach their dreams and goals financially.
Then we grow up.
Society tells us we must prepare for retirement as soon as possible. The financial services industry breathes and dies by our willingness to buy into their story.
The news feeds are filled with stories of people who started early, saved hard and retired early. As someone living inside said community I notice a pattern. A large majority of people who take a knee at an early age—any age, in fact—go through a predictable pattern. Travel dreams are realized. Some want to golf or fish. After a while golfing or fishing all day becomes the job. Travel turns into a drag. Living on the road looks far more appealing from the outside.
Experiencing new destinations is what people really want. The actual traveling is sheer pain. I’ve never heard anyone say she can’t wait to be sealed inside an aluminum tube with her 260 closest friends for several hours.
Even with travel dreams alive, it is as common as weeds in a garden for people to pick up a side gig (some call it a side hustle) after the gloss of retirement wears off.
Then, there are people who find their calling early and live their side gig from day one. We call these people entrepreneurs or business owners.
Never Ending Story
Whether you find your calling early or after you retire from a “traditional” career, life is best when you discover what provides you the greatest joy. Once you find the activity you enjoy most you begin to build a life and habits around said activity.
Starting a business or side gig requires planning. The one issue rarely addressed is the exit plan. As I look down the barrel of my fast approaching 54th birthday I have to ask serious questions about my tax practice. What if I were injured or got sick? Either event could destroy what I spent a lifetime building.
As we age and accumulate wealth we quickly discover the need for a living will. I propose a significant percentage of people also need to consider an occupational living will.
Vision of the Future
Of all the employees I ever had, Bev is the only one still asked about every tax season. Bev hasn’t worked for me in seven years!
Bev was my first employee. Her skills and work ethic assured my efforts to build a firm were successful. Bev wasn’t the fastest, but she was consistent. And for the record, fast isn’t always better in taxes and accounting.
When I let Bev go it broke my heart. I wrestled with the decision a long time. Her abilities were more than adequate, but bitter Wisconsin winters were taking their toll. Cold air took her breath away. There were times Bev would need several minutes to catch her breath walking from the car to the office door. Her health was more important than a few more years of service.
Bev still comes to the office every tax season to get her return done. It’s a continuing fringe benefit for a rockstar employee. It’s always a good day when Bev walks in the door.
But there was another reason I asked Bev to retire.
When winter turns nasty and the hours long Bev felt the effects. She lost a step as tax season wore on. If the weather added to the stress I could chart the increase in errors.
I review virtually every return in my office. Some get a minor once-over and other returns get a proctology exam. Bev started to lose a step in her 60s when the workload increased and weather added stress. If only I found the fountain of youth to keep Bev at her post.
Dementia is an insidious disease. It approaches gradually. People around you may notice, but we have self-defense mechanism to delude ourselves. We are the last to know our quality is no longer up to par.
Bev is still mentally sound. Stress and health were the real deciding factors.
Lifetime of Love
I was lucky. I found the work I enjoy early in life. As a business owner I can choose my hours and workload within reason. This is a lifelong occupation. If I were to sell my practice I’d probably be doing taxes and consulting on the side within months. (Either that or Mrs. Accountant would hit me with a rolling pin as I started to bounce off walls.)
As much as I love my work I must accept the day may come when I’m no longer proficient at it. Worse, a car accident or cancer could end my ability to serve my clients. In the past the issue wasn’t as acute. The returns I handled back then were more traditional. Now I manage accounts from around the nation, all with advanced issues. Finding qualified staff has been a challenge. Dementia in unwelcome.
I’m not alone in this. The Washington Post had an excellent article dealing with these issues and it’s where I got the idea for this post.
The more you love your calling the less likely you want to retire from it. Unfortunately, the day comes when we no longer serve our clients adequately. That is where an action plan set into place well in advance can protect you, your family and your clients.
Occupational Living Will
Your facts and circumstances will determine the necessary steps in your occupational living will. Below are steps I’ve taken over the last several years in preparation for my demise.
- Create a business bible. Around the time Bev took the long walk I had a come to Jesus moment. I knew the day would come when my body couldn’t cash the checks my mind was writing. Every member of my office team was a part of building the office bible. Every task was outlined step-by-step. Should any employee be on vacation, quit, retire or become incapacitated, there was a guide for each process our company performs. We discovered the office bible is an excellent tool when we get in a bind and it gets regular use. It is also a part of the training process for new employees.
- Create redundancy. Certain people handle certain tasks. In a small office it is hard to have several people working on every project. While it is natural for one person to handle most issues around certain tasks, it is wise to train staff to have at least a working knowledge of other tasks. The increased payroll expenses should be minimal.
- Create a succession plan of ownership. This is hard for business owners. In my office if I’m ever unable to perform my duties I would lose the right to vote my shares. In effect I would lose control of my company to someone already in place and able to make the decisions necessary to keep clients serviced and the company alive.
- Train and train some more. It is almost impossible to over-train your team. Cross train so more than one person is competent in all areas of practice.
- Keep your family informed. Planning for dementia, accident or other disease is not the highlight of the day. Still, keep a copy of the office bible available to family members with additional information on operating the business. Remember, your family will be under serious stress if something happens to you. Provide a guide to make it as easy as possible for your loved ones in your time of incapacity. Be sure to inform family of pass codes and where the money is, including working capital, online savings accounts and lines of credit.
Here are considerations I’ve had a difficult time handling, yet MUST be addressed.
- Find your replacement. It is so easy for me to fall into the trap of I’m so good at what I do nobody can measure up. That’s ego, not intelligence speaking. Once upon a time I had a much larger staff. As my practice transformed into serving fewer clients at a higher level it grew harder to find experienced tax professionals to compliment my talents. My primary goal this year is to find my replacement. Instead of sending me out to pasture I can have more free time during tax season and a seasoned pro to compliment my tax skills. A true win/win situation.
- Work with peer/competitors. At first blush this one sounds stupid. But think about it. You already work with other professionals and businesses in your field. Start a dialog to build bridges for unforeseen personal events. It could lead to a sale or merger of your business. Or, it could compliment both businesses, reducing stress and increasing profits for all.
Estate planning is often put off to the detriment of family. In business it is even more important to plan ahead. Having trusted friends and family in place to guide you through an illness or dementia might be uncomfortable, but it is necessary if you care about your clients, employees, friends and family.
There are alternatives to retiring. Your workload can shift, be reduced or more focused. When you love your work as much as much as I do it is hard to plan for the day it will be reduced or completely out of your life.
But it is still the right thing to do.