To get the maximum value for your business at retirement, you need to create your succession plan about 10 years ahead of that date, experts say. Just as a healthy diet features the four essential food groups, a good succession plan should include:

> A vision of what your retirement should look like. “The first discussion of succession planning needs to be in your own head,” says Julie Littlechild, president of Toronto-based Advisor Impact Inc. Think about how much money you will need from your book, what your retirement lifestyle goals are and if you will want to work part-time.

> A process to define your business value. This means putting a value on the client relationships and assets you have, says Dan Richards, president of Toronto-based ClientInsights. “To get a maximum price, what am I prepared to do — in terms of a transition process — to get that?” he explains. “Do you have the support staff, client satisfaction and loyalty, and service standards in place to justify your price to the buyers?”

> A clear timeline. Give clients time to adjust to your successor, says Kevin Regan, executive vice president of financial services for Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. “It’s at least an 18-month process from the selection of a successor to the simple act of introducing them to everyone.”

In addition, you need to include financial statements that describe how the succession will play out, says Regan. These statements should reflect the length of the succession plan. You should also include the valuation method that you are using for your price, he adds.

> Your mental notes on client preferences. “The intellectual capital people have in their minds on clients,” adds Regan, “needs to be handed down somehow.”

This means including a written section in your plan about the way you will transfer your knowledge of your clients’ preferences and histories.