If personal financial planning is complex, then advising entrepreneurial clients is orders of magnitude more so. Planner Karl Frank in Englewood, Colo., who specializes in clients who are small business owners, relies on a guiding principle for himself and for this class of clients.

“Those who are really successful are those who can see the simplicity on the other side of complexity,” says Frank, president of A&I Financial Services.

As an illustration, Frank described the case of two value-added technology resellers in Colorado who were fierce competitors. One was Frank’s client. In 2008, as the markets turned down and the economic terrain began shifting, Frank’s client made a simple offer of terms to buy out his competitor.

“He said, ‘I’ll pay you for six months of inventory and I’m not going to give you more than six times your income,” the planner recalls.

The company was in enough trouble that the multiplier on the income stream didn’t amount to a high purchase price, he says. The smaller competitor, however, couldn’t objectively asses the value of his company at that turbulent time and asked for better terms. Frank’s client refused and waited, believing things would only get worse for his competitor, which is exactly what happened. Ultimately, the larger company picked up the smaller one for the price of the inventory alone.

“My client was able to see the simplicity on the other edge of complexity,” Frank says. “He was able to see what was needed to make this happen.”

This client, the planner says, emerged from the recession stronger than ever.

“He had his best revenues this year,” Frank says. “He’ll be a guy who’ll probably die at the helm.”

Frank helped him put in place a simple life insurance policy to cover a buy-sell agreement, which will require his partner to buy out his shares when he passes away. Because the client owns the building in which his company conducts business, Frank also helped the client lease that building back to his company in order to produce reliable cash flow for his later years.

When it comes to working with clients who face business planning and succession issues, Frank’s advice to other planners is: “You’ve got to be really comfortable with complexity.”

Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.





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