The pool and spa market has taken a huge hit from the economy, and many business owners have given up on the idea of retiring, or even selling their companies for a profit.

But Zev Grossman, a retirement-planning specialist with AXA Advisors in New York, says that while the economy may look grim now, that’s no reason to abandon planning for the future. 

Here, he explains how company owners can begin thinking about the big picture in an environment that requires so many to focus on day-to-day concerns.

Create a detailed retirement picture.

Too many people figure they can worry about retirement later, but it doesn’t work that way. It takes time and planning to create enough equity in your company to attract a buyer, or to find and train a successor.

“To successfully sell a business in this environment is critical,” Grossman says. “In order to do that, you have to be strategic and deliberate.”

Envisioning retirement is a good start, but that alone isn’t enough. It’s also important to put plans and expectations into writing.

“There’s something very concrete about a written plan that doesn’t exist when it’s only in your head,” Grossman says. “We consistently find that clients who have a more successful strategy are those who work with an adviser, go through a formal planning process and generate a financial plan.”

In fact, he adds, Harvard Business School tracked some of its MBA graduates to see how they performed. Only a small percentage had some sort of written life plan or business plan; but they were much more successful than those who didn’t. “Maybe part of it is just that if you have the discipline to write it down, maybe you have the discipline to execute it. But it’s also true that when you start to write it down, you begin to see how parts integrate,” he says.

It’s also important to assemble a good advisory team, including an attorney, financial planner, insurance adviser and CPA, Grossman says.

The earlier you do this, the better. Grossman tells of a client who needed his business to quadruple in size before he could retire. “He had 10 years to do it, and as we put together his plan, it became clear that this was possible. But it couldn’t have been done in two years.”

Conversely, many company owners think they can worry about the sale of their business just a couple of years before they want it to happen. But at that point there’s no time left to do any real strategic or infrastructure changes, and any alterations are really just enhancing curb-appeal.

Get back to working on your business.

In this economy, many company owners have been forced back into managing day-to-day concerns. But it’s still essential to take the time to plan for a successful sale in order to ensure your retirement.

“You have to make the difficult decision to take some of your highly valued time and do something that is not an immediate revenue-generator,” he explains. “Planning has traditionally been a challenge for many people in business.”

Choose a successor ASAP.

There haven’t been many positives to come out of this recession, but Grossman cites one: Finding a successor may actually be easier now.

Today, many children of business owners who originally said they didn’t want to take over the company are re-thinking that decision. “When you graduated business school and could make 10 times what your parents ever conceived of earning, why would you be in the family business?” he says. “But when you graduate college and can’t get a job, you look at your parents’ business and think, ‘That’s what paid for my education. Maybe I need to consider my parents’ offer to join the business.”

But regardless of whether a son or daughter takes over, there will still be more high-quality talent available to consider for a successor.

In today’s job market, even entry-level positions can be filled with a skilled professional, although hiring an overqualified individual may involve risk. “But now you have somebody who’s looking for more,” Grossman says. “Maybe that’s the person who eventually is your successor.”