Three untapped strategies for business owners

By Christopher Graw / Guest Column

As an entrepreneur myself, I understand how challenging it can be to look to the future. Business owners are unbelievably busy, and when they finally break free from their responsibilities to discuss their financial futures, many want to talk about the “pebble in their shoe” – a tactical financial issue to address. Many owners want to discuss rapid business expansion, talent recruitment and retention, acquisitions and partnerships, or even a possible sale of the business.

I find the best way to move forward is to not consider any decision as though it is in a vacuum. Any financial decision is best made when it’s rooted in a full-picture financial plan that is designed to manage, grow and protect assets. A financial plan gives purpose to any financial decision you want to make. Taking a deep breath enables business owners to consider their long-term financial goals and create a vision for the future. Once set, shorter-term decisions are much easier to make.

As part of a comprehensive financial plan – one that effectively manages today’s risks and builds wealth for tomorrow – I recommend three financial strategies to today’s busy business owners:

Assemble your team

Raise your hand if you’re an Iowa business owner with financial advisors and many financial accounts spread across the state. Do each of those advisors – your accountant, your tax attorney, your financial advisor and others – know what the other is doing? Is this team managing your money as effectively and as efficiently as possible? Too often, business owners keep their financial experts in a silo.

Make a habit of planning a sit-down meeting with all of your financial experts, and find a financial expert who can serve as the quarterback of the plan, if you’re too busy to do it yourself. If you can pull your accountant, your attorney and your financial advisor into one room, and build a plan with one united vision, you may be able to save more efficiently for retirement or other life goals.

Have a plan B – and B1 and B2

Savings is the most common contingency or “plan B” for unexpected expenses. Yet, savings can only stretch so far. In fact, findings from Northwestern Mutual’s 2015 Planning & Progress Study indicate that Americans’ top three financial fears are unplanned financial emergencies, insufficient savings to retire comfortably and unforeseen medical expenses.

Make a habit of educating yourself on the available options for navigating life’s curveballs. For example, plan B1 could be a buy/sell agreement, which can help facilitate a smooth transition of ownership between you and the person who will succeed you. It provides mutually agreeable terms, and assures creditors and employees of business continuity, even amid disability, divorce or death.

Plan B2, or business succession planning, is a key strategy to help your business endure. The Corridor is home of thousands of small businesses. Whether it’s a few years from now or decades away, someday, each one of these owners will leave their business. To ensure your business passes successfully to its next owner, it’s important to begin planning now. The best plan may be one that occurs over multiple years. Succession planning is also an essential way to pass along a legacy to the next generation – the way you want to pass it on.

Keep your keys in your pocket

What if your key employees – the ones you can’t afford to lose – were being recruited by a rival company? It happens all the time. One of my clients recently found himself in this predicament. Fortunately, he had put in place a number of employee benefits, including a key-person life insurance policy. Try as they might, his competitors couldn’t recruit the key employee away because of the benefits that were in place. Make a habit of considering and evaluating the benefits you’re providing for your key employees.

Good plans and good habits can lead to great results. Try to develop good financial habits as part of your comprehensive financial plan.

Article prepared by Christopher Graw with the cooperation of Northwestern Mutual. Mr. Graw is a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Cedar Rapids. He can be reached at (319) 363-3527, or