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Planning Your Business Exit Strategy

Include a Management Succession Plan

Business exit strategy planning is often overlooked by business owners until it's time to go. Your exit strategy needs to be built into your overall strategic plan and also needs to include a management succession plan. Also when you decide to sell, use free business valuations to build a price or value (or, a least, to give you an idea of the valuation).

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Most business owners don't think about their business exit strategy at the time that they startup their businesses.

But you should.

And if you've been running your business for a number of years and you haven't planned your exit (which may be 20 years or more in the future), do so now.

Even when writing a fairly simple business plan, you are usually focused on starting up a new business or growing an existing business, not on your business exit strategy. But it's the best time to plan your exit.

Why? Because if you don't plan your business exit strategy now, you will find it much more difficult to leave later. Include your business exit strategy in your business plan outline checklist.

Business Exit Strategy and Management Succession Plan

  • Retirement. If you've worked for a number of years, there will come a point in time when you will want to retire or redirect your energy to other interests. Planning ahead for that outcome is important. Are you going to pass the company to family? To employees? To a key manager/ Or are you going to sell the business to a competitor or on the open market. By pre-planning, your retirement from the business can be smooth and seamless; and your legacy will be carried forward.

  • Partnership conflicts. The dating/ engagement/ marriage/ honeymoon/ stress/counseling/ divorce analogy works here: When you started up your business with a partner or partners, you likely all had similar goals in mind. However as each of you grew, and as the business evolved, it is possible (much like a marriage) for the business partnership to develop issues and conflicts that cannot be resolved.

    How is your business structured (understand shareholders definition - who owns what, what type of shares, etc.)? You need to be clear on the ownership (unless you are the sole owner) as it relates to selling and/or exiting the business).

    First, work on resolving the issues; there are the advantages of outsourcing - hire a business coach to work with you. But if you have given a serious effort to resolving the conflict, and still have been unable to do so, then one, or all, of you will need or want to exit the business. This process is much like a divorce. And it can be as messy as a divorce if you haven't planned your exit strategy up front.

    Partners may not always agree, or may develop competing priorities. Build a strategy into your shareholder agreements up front. Understand your shareholders definition and structure: if your business structure is not a shareholder structure, make sure that, at least, you have a notarized agreement of how you will resolve disputes, and exit or dissolve the business.

    Partnership issues could also mean a spousal break-up where both spouses work in the company; that could be a challenging and emotional event unless prior to starting up your business, or now, you build an equitable exit plan for both or either one of you. Other partnership exits could be family members.

    Remember that partnership disputes can be challenging for you to overcome, but also challenging for the business to overcome. Plan in advance of your partnership, how you will handle dispute resolution.

    You may not have any disagreements but one of the partners wants to move on and exit the company. How will you handle this? If you discuss this in advance, you will minimize future problems.

  • Illness or Disability. If health issues are a factor, find a way to exit or at least find a way to take a break from work. Ensure that you have an insurance policy to cover illness or disability that might require you to leave your business temporarily or permanently. Have a management succession plan ready. (A management succession plan needs to be planned under all circumstances: who are you training to step in and up?)

  • Death. Most often death is not a planned event. But what happens to your business should you die, can be planned. Part of the plan must be to have in place a solid life insurance policy made out to the business (if you plan for it to go on without you) and likely a 'keyman' insurance policy. (Sorry but it's called keyman by the insurance industry - a throwback to many, many years ago). The definition of key personnel is an individual(s) whose injury or death would have a significant impact on the business' operations.

  • business exit strategy

  • Selling a profitable business. Congratulations, you've made a success of your business and you'd like to sell while you can get a good price. Contract a professional firm to do a business valuation on your business. Build a strategic plan that projects the next three or five years and share it with prospective buyers.

  • Selling an unprofitable business. Unfortunately, if your business is unprofitable it will be a challenge to sell, even if you desperately want out. You will still need to do a business valuation on your business and you will need to put together a rationale for why someone else could do better with the business than you (for example, if you are cash poor and your business has been cash starved which is the primary reason for failure, look to sell to someone who can inject cash into the company).

  • New Venture. You have a new venture or a new idea you want to pursue and you need to exit your business so you can focus on the new one. In this instance, you may be able to sell to a partner (if you have one) or to an employee capable of, and interested in, taking on and managing the business.

Business Exit Strategy and Buy/Sell Agreement

Your business exit strategy needs to include a copy of your buy/sell agreement - specifically if your company is incorporated and has more than one shareholder - or a copy of your partnership agreement. While incorporating your company can protect you, your partners and your business, there are costs to incorporating.

When you're ready to exit, make sure that you get a valuation of your business before you set a price. You can access free business valuations to run some comparisons - often those valuations are done by companies who will want to sell your business for you.

One of the hardest elements of selling and exiting your business is the emotional investment you've made into running your own business over the years. When it's time to go, many business owners want to be paid for that investment but buyers typically aren't prepared to pay for the passion you've put into the business. It's hard to accept but do recognize that's the reality.

Even with a business exit strategy plan in place (which should be updated annually along with your business plan), try to time your exit well (company doing well, market doing well). And then go (on to better things), don't linger on and on, and never let go.

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Additional Reading:

Return from Business Exit Strategy to Small Business Plan.

Human resource planning needs to be part of business continuity planning.

Ensure your Business Financial Plan includes a provision for emergencies.

Build your Business Continuity Resources and Business Continuity Plans.

Include continuity strategies in your Business Operations Plan.

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Implement Your Plan: for Results

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Once you've built your plan, you need to implement it.

Developing your strategy (in the plan) is the first, necessary, step. You need to know the direction you want to go, and you need the strategy and the plan to help you get there.

But once you've built the plan, you must execute it.

There is no value in building a plan that just gathers dust.

When building your business plan, make sure that you include an action plan for the strategies, techniques and tactics.

The actions need to include who's responsible for doing what; measurements for success (such as deadlines and timelines, targets and goals, costs, etc.); and why you need to take the action (in some cases, one action needs to be accomplished before subsequent ones can be launched).

As you work through the plan, make sure that you build reporting periods into the implementation: you need to know what's going on and why something is working, or not.

Make sure to communicate progress, or lack of it, throughout the organization. And re-visit the plan when and where necessary.

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Focus on Your Plan

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Plan for the future: lots of business owners want to get, or keep, moving forward. Planning seems to be more of a passive activity.

However, to ensure that your business goes in the right direction and that it optimizes all its opportunities, and manages its challenges, it is important to plan.

Balance your activities against the plan: make sure that you are investing your time, and money, on the elements of your business that will help you succeed.

Measure what works, and what doesn't work, and keep your focus: use your business plan as a map to guide you in the direction you want to go.