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Exit Planning: Controlling Your Choices

Many owners are reluctant to plan for their departure from the business. In some cases it’s because they are too comfortable with ambiguity (see my previous post.) For others it is because they fear losing control. They believe that setting a final date for their departure, even tentatively, starts a process that will take on a life of its own.

The tag line of this column is “Control the most important financial event of your life.” Control is the key. Refusing to deal with the realities of an eventual transition from the business is surrendering control. Sooner or later, something will happen that requires a transfer of the business. Then it is too late to exercise the options you have now.

Exit planning three, five or ten years before your anticipated transition gives you a clearer picture of the direction your company needs to take if it is going to serve your personal objectives.

All business owners want to grow their companies, make more money and work a bit less, but few things are more disappointing than finding out that the work you put in won’t result in the outcome you expected.

What if you work yourself to the point of exhaustion, only to find that you are too critical to the company’s success for anyone else to buy it without tying you into a long term employment agreement? What if you rapidly grow your revenues, but discover that your margins are too thin to attract a decent acquirer? What if you build a great management team, but they leave to start a competing business? What if you invest in new equipment  that looks great, but doesn’t add to the value of your company?

Understanding Your Choices

All these things would be addressed in a comprehensive exit plan. It’s not only about your life after the business, it’s about the life of the business after you. Exit planning requires that you look at your company through both the eyes of both a seller and of a buyer.

As a seller, you have certain goals for what you would accept as a successful exit. Usually those are financial, but other factors sometimes count for even more than the sale price. What future do you envision for your employees and customers following the sale? Is the company’s reputation, or it’s contribution to the community important to you? Answering these questions could have an impact on the type of buyer you will consider.

What are the intangible assets of your business? Are your employees able to make good business decisions without your oversight? Do they dependably execute their roles according to documented processes with consistently high levels of quality? The ability to duplicate your success is the single most important factor in a buyer’s calculation of value.

How sticky would your company’s relationship with key employees be in your absence? Are they committed to the company because of a sense of ownership, actual ownership, or long-term incentives? If their only tie is personal loyalty to you, the value proposition to a buyer is a lot riskier.

Controlling Your Choices

All these questions should be part of your planning. Yet most owners don’t ask them until they are on the brink of retiring. That is a mistake. Knowing what you want to accomplish, or in other words – where your finish line is, is critical to building your business in the right way, in the right direction.

Having an exit plan doesn’t mean that you have to implement it on a specific date. You can choose “wait and watch” from the options outlined in this short video on the Five Roads to a Business Exit.

If you know your destination, your choice of a pathway becomes much easier.

Invest 15 minutes and take our FREE Exit Readiness Assessment

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