As we approach the end of 2015, many astute benefit advisers begin to think about the results that were achieved in the current year and the personal and organizational goals they want to set for the upcoming year. It’s a great time to reflect upon where do you go from here? What can you do differently to improve results and to make adjustments in operations to respond to the changes in a very dynamic, and recently tumultuous, marketplace?

As you begin to contemplate your goals for 2016, think about how you will add greater value to your business relationships and how you will differentiate your practice. Focus on understanding your clients’ business issues first, and the appropriate benefit solutions will logically follow. Consider developing strategic benefit plans for each client. Evolve your interaction to become much more consultative. Seek to instill this approach in your firm’s corporate culture. And by all means, focus your energies on becoming a trusted adviser.

Also see: "17 private exchange leaders shaping the future of health care."

Reflect upon the following:

  • What is the condition of your business today?
  • What role do you want to play in your business, if at all, during 2016-18?
  • What is it that you personally want to achieve over the next three years?
  • What are your financial goals?
  • How can you optimize the value of your business asset?
  • Will you be managing your business at the end of this decade, or is it time to begin thinking about your personal exit strategy?

Try to be honest with yourself as you answer these questions. And for many, a logical place to start is with a review of your business plan. A good number of you are thinking to yourself: I don’t have one. We have written several times in this column over the last 9-plus years that a written business plan provides a roadmap for your business and can guide your day-to-day tactical and operational decisions. The discipline of writing a plan forces you to put a stake in the ground and make some definitive decisions about the future direction for your practice and how it will compete in the marketplace.
On the other hand, some of you are well beyond this point in life, and you are just trying to figure out what to do next with your business to protect your asset, and to do what is right for your clients and employees. Frequently, we are asked about the easiest and most effective ways that business owners can optimize the value of their businesses. We realize that you may not be ready to sell today. But perhaps you and your partners are at a point where you are having discussions about when might be the appropriate time to exit the business. Well, the time to prepare for that day is now.

Make the most of it

For example, if your business currently offers employer-paid benefits and you see that your firm is passing up a huge opportunity by not offering voluntary benefits, perhaps merging with a firm that specializes in these product lines would make sense. The evaluation of potential merger candidates is largely about finding business partners that have complementary or synergistic business practices, wherein both businesses benefit from not having to build a new practice with all the attendant time and expense associated with the creation of a new business entity. In an ideal world, the end result will be 1 + 1 = 3 or 5.

Perhaps you have been partnering with a local firm or you have done joint case work with friendly competitor. Having a solid working knowledge of the interested party is essential. It is best if your management styles, personal goals, business ethics and a whole host of personal attributes are compatible. Is the chemistry good between the principals? It’s hard to achieve greater success when you don’t care for the person you will be working with most of your waking hours.

Also see: "The winning client retention strategy."

It is absolutely essential to make certain that the interests of the parties are aligned. What is the vision for the merged business? Who will lead? Who will follow? And who will simply leave? And it’s important to get all the strategic and tactical issues out on the table and fully discussed.

As you can see, balancing the emotional and psychic needs of the principals with the managerial and leadership needs of the potential merger businesses requires an artful solution. But keeping all parties focused on the strategic and financial benefits to be gained from a merger can make all the difference in the world. And remember, this is a process. You don’t sell your home that often either, but you can recognize that there are steps in the process that must occur in some logical order. So think strategically, plan tactically and merge for financial success.

Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm Daymark Advisors. Reach him at jkwicien@daymarkadvisors.com.

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