By Linnyette Richardson Hall, The Wedding Diva™ & Premiere Event Management, Baltimore

And, at some point, you’ll need to play the line from Kenny Roger’s hit song, “The Gambler,” in your head and heart. “Gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them…” Nothing could be truer when it comes to looking at how your career as a professional wedding planner will end. And end it should, unless you plan on chasing women in white dresses down the aisle forever and ever—even when you’re old and gray.

Because we are in a creative industry, most of us probably have our eyes focused only on what’s happening in the immediate and short-term realm, not what will happen 20 or 30 years from now. That’s a mistake. Being an entrepreneur means that you must, without a doubt, keep your future squarely in front of you. Since your earnings and salary potential may vary wildly over the life of your career, it is important that you start planning for retirement the day you officially open up for business.

Keep your eyes on the prize
Retirement in the 21st century looks nothing like what our parents and grandparents experienced. For baby-boomers, Gen X’ers, and millennials, the view on ending the work cycle is closely tied with what we still wish to experience in life. The fact is that we want to continue being actively vibrant and not stuck sitting in a front porch rocking chair watching the world pass us by.

I am a huge fan of Michael Jordan. The things he accomplished in his stellar career as a NBA player are, well, stellar. From flying high down the boards to dunking in the “paint,” Jordan was the epitome of a basketball star. But he was also an astute businessman. He knew that playing ball would not last forever, so he set himself up to profit long after his career ended. In short, he retired from the game while he was at the top of it. He left while he was still popular, still relevant, and still brilliant. And so should you. Don’t get kicked out in disdain. Rather, take an amazing ride into the waiting sunset.

Know when to walk away
How do you decide when to give up the world of lace and satin? Simple. Your mind and body will tell you long before you even realize it. Your energy diminishes over time. That incessant need to be everything to everyone will start to fade away. And it will get increasingly difficult to “recover” from a wedding, with the notion of even taking one additional step on the day after a wedding becoming a non-negotiable factor.

Using an “in/out” model, select a manager and staff to run the business. You won’t plan weddings any longer, but you will still profit from the events that come through your company. In most instances, you will retain the title of president, creative director, or managing principal, while an associate takes on the moniker of managing director. You may still affix your signature to paychecks and conduct monthly staff meetings, however. An option like this may be ideal for the planner who wants to cut back substantially or even get out of actively managing wedding clients without relinquishing control of the overall enterprise.

Assess and build your team
Whether you realize it or not, your “team” is already in place, ready to go. Those assistants and interns who work with you are the perfect segue into retirement and succession planning because they already know how you think, what your processes are, and how you manage clients and deliver excellent customer service. If you are ready to make the move toward slowing down your pace, start the process of carefully and critically assessing the team you have on deck. There’s always that one person who is truly your “go-to” gal or guy, the one who can handle situations well and is a true asset to your business. In a sense, you’re looking to replace you—with you, a clone of sorts, but one who has the ability to think on his or her own as well as bring new, creatively fresh ideas to the table that will enhance the business you birthed.

Conversely, you may also have to rethink or reconsider those who aren’t up to the challenge of working without you overseeing everything. It’s interesting how some people are able to work with the boss around but don’t have the wherewithal to work as a team player when another manager is in place. What you need is a complete team, consisting of a leader—and followers.

The decision to end a career is a daunting one, but with careful forethought and a bit of planning, the evolution from “seasoned wedding planning professional” to “newly minted retiree” can be a seamless one, very much like the amazing events you plan on a daily basis.