Essential Succession Planning Tips for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

Wednesday May 22, 2024

Essential Succession Planning Tips for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

In the dynamic landscape of business, where change is constant and unpredictable, it’s crucial for businesses, regardless of their size, to plan for the future. Yet, surprisingly, many small to medium-sized businesses overlook a critical aspect of their longevity: succession planning.

Ignoring this vital component can expose businesses to significant risks and challenges. In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of neglecting succession planning and provide some steps which businesses can take to remedy this oversight.

The Perils of Procrastination

Disruption of Operations: Without a clear succession plan in place, the sudden departure or incapacity of key personnel, such as a founder, director or key person, can disrupt day-to-day operations, leading to productivity losses, customer and stakeholder dissatisfaction, a decline in workplace culture and morale as well as financial setbacks.

Loss of Business Value: Inadequate succession planning can diminish the value of a business. Potential investors or buyers may perceive the lack of a succession strategy as a red flag, leading to reduced acquisition offers, difficulty in securing financing or offering equity to high performing staff.

Legal and Regulatory Risks: Failure to address succession planning can expose businesses to legal and regulatory risks, especially in industries with specific licensing requirements or compliance obligations. In the absence of a designated successor, businesses may find themselves in violation of regulations or contractual obligations.

Family Conflicts: Family-owned businesses face unique challenges when it comes to succession planning. Without a clear plan in place, disagreements among family members regarding leadership succession can lead to internal conflicts, jeopardising the future of the business and straining personal relationships.

Unwanted Business Partner: Without a clear succession plan and an event such as a sudden death or permanent disability of a director/shareholder occurs will lead to the remaining directors/shareholders now being in business with the family of the director/shareholder who has experienced the tragic event.

Crafting a Path to Succession

Policies & Procedures

Identify Key Roles and Personnel: Begin by identifying key roles within the business and the individuals best suited to fill them in the event of succession. This may involve assessing the skills, experience, and potential of existing employees or grooming external candidates for leadership roles.

Document Policies and Procedures: Documenting workplace and business policies and procedures related to succession planning ensures clarity and consistency in the transition process. Clearly outline succession criteria, timelines, and responsibilities to mitigate ambiguity and confusion.

Compliance Review & Due Diligence

Risk Mitigation: Conducting a compliance review can identify potential legal risks and vulnerabilities that could impede succession planning efforts. By addressing these risks proactively and implementing risk mitigation strategies can safeguard a business and protect its long-term viability.

Facilitating Succession Planning: An integral part of succession planning is ensuring that the business structure supports a smooth transition of ownership and leadership. Reviewing the current structure of the business can identify any barriers or challenges to succession and implement changes to facilitate a seamless transition for future generations or new owners.

Buy/Sell Agreement

Protection of Business Continuity: In the unfortunate event of a shareholder’s death or disability, a buy/sell agreement ensures that the remaining shareholders have a mechanism in place to purchase the departing shareholder’s interest. This helps to prevent disruptions to the company’s operations and ensures its ongoing viability.

Fair Valuation of Shares: A buy/sell agreement will typically include provisions for determining the fair market value of the shares, thereby avoiding disputes over valuation and ensuring that all parties are treated fairly in the transaction.

Preservation of Shareholder Relationships: Establishing predetermined terms for the sale of shares, a buy/sell agreement helps to minimise potential conflicts and disagreements between shareholders. This can preserve relationships and maintain the harmony necessary to manage the business.

Estate Planning and Asset Protection: For shareholders, a buy/sell agreement can be an essential component of estate planning, providing a clear mechanism for the orderly transfer of ownership interests upon death, permanent disability or retirement. Additionally, it helps to protect the company’s assets from being tied up in probate proceedings or falling into the hands of unintended beneficiaries.

Shareholder Agreement

Clarity and Certainty: A shareholders agreement provides clarity on important matters such as the allocation of shares, voting rights, and decision-making processes within the company. By establishing clear guidelines and procedures, it helps to minimise misunderstandings and disputes among shareholders.

Protection of Minority Shareholders: For companies with multiple shareholders, a shareholder's agreement can safeguard the interests of minority shareholders by setting out their rights and protections. This may include provisions for pre-emptive rights, drag-along rights and restrictions on the transfer of shares.

Management and Control: A shareholders agreement can address issues related to the management and control of the company, including the appointment and removal of directors, the delegation of authority, and the conduct of board meetings. This ensures that decision-making processes are transparent and fair to all shareholders.

Dispute Resolution Mechanisms: In the event of disagreements or conflicts among shareholders, a well drafted shareholders agreement can provide mechanisms for resolving disputes efficiently and cost effectively. This may include provisions for mediation, arbitration, or other alternative dispute resolution methods.

Exit Strategies: The shareholders agreement can outline exit strategies for shareholders, such as buyout provisions, rights of first refusal, and drag-along and tag-along rights. These provisions help to facilitate the orderly transfer of shares and provide clarity on the process for exiting the company.


Succession planning is not just a luxury reserved for large corporations; it’s a strategic imperative for businesses of all sizes, especially the small to medium sized business.

By proactively addressing succession planning, businesses can safeguard their legacy, mitigate risks, and position themselves for long-term success.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, start planning for the future of your business today. We specialise in business succession planning; we understand the intricacies and nuances involved in crafting comprehensive succession strategies tailored to the unique needs of our clients.

Our team of specialist lawyers brings extensive experience and expertise in areas such as estate planning, business law, employment law as well as insurance and corporate law, enabling us to provide comprehensive guidance and support throughout the succession planning process.

Whether you’re a family-owned business, a closely held corporation, or a growing business, we can help you navigate the complexities of succession planning and ensure a smooth transition of leadership and ownership by drafting, policies and procedures, a buy/sell agreement and/or a shareholder's agreement.

Contact our team today if you are interested in securing the future of your business.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this publication is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as tailored advice to address specific individual or organisational circumstances. While we strive to offer accurate and up-to-date information, we cannot guarantee its accuracy at the time of receipt or its continued accuracy in the future. Readers are encouraged to seek professional advice or consult relevant authorities regarding their unique situations.