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How to Write a Business Exit Plan

Create a profitable plan from the start

All good business planning documents have a clear business exit plan that outlines your most likely exit strategy from day one.

It may seem odd to develop a business exit plan this soon, to anticipate the day you'll leave your business, but potential investors will want to know your long-term plans. Your exit plans need to be clear in your mind because they will dictate how you operate the company.

For example, if you plan to get listed on the stock market, you’ll want to follow certain accounting regulations from day one that'd otherwise be non-essential and potentially cost prohibitive if your ambitions are to quickly sell the company to a more established competitor in your industry. If you plan to pass the business to your children, you’ll need to start training them at a certain point and get them invested in the company from an early age.

Here’s a look at some of the available strategies for entrepreneurs who want to build a business exit plan into their early planning process:

Long-Term Involvement

  • Let It Run Dry: This can work especially well in small businesses like sole proprietorships . In the years before you plan to exit, increase your personal salary and pay yourself bonuses. Make sure you are on track to settle any remaining debt, and then you can simply close the doors and liquidate any remaining assets. With the larger income, naturally, comes a larger tax liability, but this business exit plan is one of the easiest to execute.
  • Sell Your Shares: This works particularly well in partnerships such as law and medical practices. When you are ready to retire, you can sell your equity to the existing partners, or to a new employee who is eligible for partnership. You leave the firm cleanly, plus you gain the earnings from the sale.
  • Liquidate: Sell everything at market value and use the revenue to pay off any remaining debt. It is a simple approach, but also likely to reap the least revenue as a business exit plan. Since you are simply matching your assets with buyers, you probably will be eager to sell and therefore at a disadvantage when negotiating.

Short-Term Involvement

  • Go Public: The dot-com boom and bust reminded everyone of the potential hazards of the stock market. While you may be sitting on the next Google, IPOs take much time to prepare and can cost anywhere from several hundred thousand to several million dollars, depending on the exchange and the size of the offering. However, the costs can often be covered by intermediate funding rounds. Keep in mind, that the likelihood of your company ever going public is very low, as you'll likely need to reach into the tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue before you're an attractive IPO candidate.
  • Merge: Sometimes, two businesses can create more value as one company. If you believe such an opportunity exists for your firm as a business exit plan, then a merger may be your ticket. If you’re looking to leave entirely, then the merger would likely call for the head of the other involved company to stay on and take over your company's activities. If you don’t want to relinquish all involvement, consider staying on in an advisory role.
  • Be Acquired: Other companies might want to acquire your business and keep its value for themselves. Make sure the offered sale price meshes with your business valuation. You may even seek to cultivate potential acquirers by courting companies you think would benefit from such a deal. If you choose your acquirer wisely, the value of your business can far exceed what you might otherwise earn in a sale.
  • Sell: Selling outright can also allow for an easy exit. If you wish, you can take the money from the sale and sever yourself from the company. You may also negotiate for equity in the buying company, allowing you to earn dividends afterward — it is in your interest to ensure your firm is a good fit for the buyer and therefore more likely to prosper.

How to Create an Exit Strategy Plan

From defining success to identifying key areas where you can mitigate your risks, here’s how to chart your way to a successful exit.

Touraj Parang

In order to capture and share the critical information regarding your exit plan in an organized and easy-to-reference format, I recommend an approach like the one used by the increasingly popular business model canvas (BMC). 

The BMC is a lean startup template. It depicts in a simple, yet highly informative visual layout the nine essential building blocks of a business model: customer segments , value propositions, channels , customer relationships , revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships and cost structure. This brings us to what I call the exit strategy canvas (ESC) as a template for your exit plan. 

The main goal of the ESC is to document the essential building blocks of your exit strategy and create a shared language for communicating and iterating on your exit plan. I recommend that you lay out the ESC on one page to focus on what is absolutely critical and essential. 

I recommend that you include the following essential building blocks in your ESC.

6 Essential Building Blocks of an Exist Strategy

  • Success definition : What would a successful exit look like? 
  • Core hypotheses : What do you have to believe to be true for a successful exit to happen? 
  • Strategic opportunities : What are key areas for value creation through partnerships? 
  • Key acquirers : Who are your potential acquirers, and what are your selection criteria? 
  • Risks and challenges : What can jeopardize a successful sale to an acquirer? 
  • Key mitigants : What can you do to improve your chances of a successful sale? 

Success Definition 

The entire exit strategy is worthless unless it is crystal clear to all involved what specific outcome an exit is intended to achieve. Once everyone understands the destination, then they can support the journey. 

For many entrepreneurs, a successful exit is one that ensures the survival of their startup. And this survival is all about the continuation of what lies at the heart of a startup’s core values and what the founding team considers to be a part of their personal legacy. That may consist of taking its products from a regional offering to the national or global level, creating new distribution channels, or enabling new features that can make it appealing to wholly new customer segments.

As you consider breathing life into your dream scenario, make sure your definition of success answers the following: 

  • How would an exit best manifest the values of your startup? 
  • How could an exit best promote the mission of your startup? 
  • What would be the ideal time frame for an exit transaction? 

Core Hypotheses 

The next task is to make explicit what you would have to believe to be true for that outcome to manifest. Explicitly stating your assumptions helps you and other team members to discuss and gain clarity about what are the necessary conditions for success, and use them to gauge your future progress. 

For example, if a successful exit for you would entail providing growth opportunities for your employees, then at the time of the acquisition you have to believe that your employees have sufficient skills and expertise of value to an acquirer. Thus, stating the hypothesis allows you and your team to reflect on whether this holds true for the current state of affairs, and if not, what you can do to make that a reality going forward. 

To adopt a more quantitative approach, especially if your definition of success has a valuation threshold, you need to investigate and make explicit what it would take to justify your valuation goal based on either other comparable transactions or public market valuation benchmarks. Your desired valuation will likely necessitate achieving a certain set of financial (e.g., revenues, margin, profitability profile, or unit economics) or user (e.g., customer size, growth rate) metrics. A specific valuation goal makes it much more efficient for you to screen and filter acquisition opportunities as they arise. 

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Strategic Opportunities 

In its simplest form, strategic opportunities are the key areas for value creation with your acquirer. They are the areas of complementarity between your strengths and those of the acquirer. 

As such, to identify areas of strategic opportunity you have to start with a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of your startup. Then, you need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of potential acquirers and how your strengths can fill in the missing piece for their weaknesses and vice versa. This is what is referred to as “synergy.” 

If you have a prohibitively high cost of customer acquisition that prevents you from profitably growing and acquiring new customers at scale, you would have a strategic opportunity to partner with a company that has already figured out a way to acquire those customers at scale profitably but is looking for additional products to sell to those customers. 

Think of companies in your ecosystem for whom you could fill a strategic need, such as adding revenue, adding profits, staving off a competitive threat, accelerating time to market for a product or service, or improving their market share. 

As you enter into discussions with potential strategic partners, you will want to validate and revise your assumptions around areas of synergy and strategic opportunities and be on the lookout to uncover new areas to add to your list. 

Enjoying the Excerpt? Check Out the Book! Exit Path: How to Win the Startup End Game

Key Acquirers 

This is your wish list of potential acquirers. It will also serve as the list of potential strategic partners whom you will be building a business relationship with over the course of the coming months and years. Be as aspirational as possible. You are not looking for who could be an acquirer of your startup today; instead, you are looking for whom you would be thrilled to join forces with long-term. 

For most cases, you could simply state the category or type of company. For a startup serving small businesses, you could refer to “domain registrars,” “website creation platforms,” “e-commerce tool providers” as potential acquirers. 

Keep in mind that at this stage your goal is to provide directional guidance as to what are critically important criteria for assessing strategic partners and what the universe of those potential partners looks like. 

Risks and Challenges 

When considering your exit path, there are in general three types of risks that most businesses have to contend with: execution risk, market risk, and competitive risk.  

Execution Risk

Execution risk is a reflection of your core competencies, external relationships, reputation, and capitalization structure, all of which can make or break a successful exit. Weakness in your core competencies (such as an inability to manage the mergers and acquisitions process effectively, leadership gaps or a lack of a scalable business model) can stop many acquirers in their tracks. That is why building a strong business is table stakes for a successful exit.

Another often-overlooked risk factor in selling one’s startup is its capitalization structure: you increase your exit risk as you raise more money at higher valuations as well as when you grant voting rights to financial and strategic investors , as it reduces the founding team’s control and increases the possibility for others to block a transaction. It’s important that you understand the implication of those increasingly lofty valuations which at some point may render you “too expensive” for many acquirers. 

More on Startups 4 Strategies for Growing a Company Without VC Funding

Market Risk 

As those of us who have tried to sell a company during a market crash know, market risk is always around the corner, and changes in macroeconomic conditions can very much impact the appetite of potential acquirers without forewarning. Because market risk is always present, the more desperate you are to sell, the higher the impact of market risk will be on your startup, so it is ideal not to time a potential exit around a time when you think you will be running out of cash. 

Competitive Risk 

No matter how unique your startup’s offering is, there is always competition in the market. And thus there exists the competitive risk that your ideal potential acquirers snatch up your competitor instead. Be sure to identify and list your largest competitive threats as an important strategic reminder for your organization. 

Key Mitigants 

For each risk and challenge you identify, call out a clear and specific set of mitigants. 

Mitigating execution risks and competitive risks will generally involve building the requisite capabilities and creating strong relationships with your potential acquirers. The best way to mitigate against market risks, in my opinion, is to increase your operating runway so that you can live through short-term market fluctuations. 

Remember that the ESC is a tool intended to efficiently capture and communicate your exit plan. As you create your ESC, feel free to customize it to your own needs, modifying what is captured in each block or adding new blocks that you may find to be particularly well-suited for your startup’s unique set of values, challenges, and opportunities.

Excerpted from the book  Exit Path: How to Win the Startup End Game by Touraj Parang, pages 44-53. Copyright  © 2022 by Touraj Parang. Published by  McGraw Hill, August 2022.

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Business exit plan & strategy checklist | a complete guide.

Jacob Orosz Portrait

Executive Summary It’s not enough to merely hand over the keys at the closing. You need a strategy. An exit strategy. An exit strategy, as the term implies, is a plan to assist you in exiting your business. All exit plans will vary, but they all contain common elements. The three common elements that all business exit strategies should contain are: A valuation of your company.  The process of valuing your company involves three steps, the first being an assessment of the current value of your business. Once this value is calculated, you should plan how to both preserve and increase that value. Your exit options.  After you have determined a range of values for your company and developed plans for preserving and increasing this value, you can begin exploring your potential exit options. These can be broken down into inside, outside, and involuntary exit options. Your team.  Finally, you should form a team to help you prepare and execute your exit plan. Your team can consist of an M&A advisor, attorney, accountant, financial planner, and business coach. If you are considering selling your business in the near future, planning for the sale is imperative if you want to maximize the price and ensure a successful transaction. This article will give you a solid understanding of these elements and how you can put them together to orchestrate a smooth exit from your business.

Business Exit Plan Strategy Component #1: Valuation

Your exit strategy should begin with a  valuation, or appraisal,  of your company. The process of valuing your company involves three steps, the first being an assessment of the current value of your business. Once this value is calculated, you should then plan how to both preserve and increase the value of your business.

Let’s explore each of these components — assess, preserve, increase — in more depth.

Assess the Value

The first step in any exit plan is to assess the current value of your business.

Here are questions to address before beginning a valuation of your company:

  • Who  will value your company?
  • What methods  will that person use to value your company?
  • What form  will the valuation take?

Who:  Ideally,  whoever values your company should have real-world experience buying and selling companies , whether through business brokerage, M&A, or investment banking experience. They should also have experience selling companies comparable to yours in size and complexity. Specific industry experience related to your business is helpful, but not essential, in our opinion. There are loads of professionals out there who possess the academic qualifications to appraise your business but who have never sold a company in their lives. These individuals can include  accountants or CPAs,  your financial advisor, or business appraisers. It is essential that your appraiser have real-world M&A experience. Without hands-on experience buying and selling companies comparable to yours, an appraiser will be unprepared to address the myriad nuances of the report or field the dozens of questions that will arise after preparing the valuation.

Action Step:  Ask whoever is valuing your business how many companies they have sold and what percentage of their professional practice is devoted to buying and selling businesses versus other activities.

What Methods:  Most business appraisers perform business valuations for legal purposes such as divorce, bankruptcy, tax planning, and so forth. These types of appraisals differ from an appraisal prepared for the purpose of selling your business.  The methods used are different , and the values will altogether be different as well. By hiring someone who has real-world experience selling businesses, as opposed to theoretical knowledge regarding buying and selling businesses, you will work with someone who will know how to perform an appraisal that will stand the test of buyers in the real world.

Form:  Your M&A business valuation can take one of two forms:

  • Verbal Opinion of Value:  This typically involves the professional spending several hours reviewing your financial statements and business, then verbally communicating an opinion of their assessment to you.
  • Written Report:  A written report can take the form of either a “calculation of value” or a “full report.” A calculation of value cannot be used for legal purposes such as divorce, tax planning, or bankruptcy, but for the purpose of selling a business, either type is acceptable.

Is a verbal or written report preferable? It depends. A verbal opinion of value can be quite useful if you are the sole owner and you do not need to have anyone else review the valuation.

The limitations of a verbal opinion of value are:

  • If there are multiple owners, there may be confusion or disagreement regarding an essential element of the valuation. If a disagreement does arise, supporting documentation for each side will be necessary to resolve the disagreement.
  • You will not have a detailed written report to share with other professionals on your team, such as  attorneys , your accountant, financial advisor, and insurance advisor.
  • The lack of such a detailed report makes it difficult to seek a second opinion, as the new appraiser will have to start from scratch, adding time and money to your process.

For the reasons above, we often recommend a written report, particularly if you are not planning to sell your business immediately.

We have been involved in situations in which CPA firms have  valued a business  but had little documentation (one to two pages in many cases) to substantiate the basis of the valuation.

In one example, the CPA firm’s measure of cash flow was not even defined; it was simply listed as “‘cash flow.” This is a misnomer as there are few agreements regarding the technical definition of this term. As a result, any assumption we might have made would have led to a 20% to 25% error at minimum in the valuation of the company. By having a written report in which the appraiser’s assumptions are documented, it is simple to have these assumptions reviewed or discussed.

Note:  When hiring someone to value your company, you are paying for a professional’s opinion but keep in mind that this opinion may differ from a prospective buyer’s opinion.  Some companies have a narrow range of value (perhaps 10% to 20%), while other companies’ valuations can vary wildly based on who the buyer is, often by up to 100% to 200%.  By having a valuation performed, you will be able to understand the wide range of values that your company may attain. As an example, business appraisers’ valuations often contain a final, exact figure, such as $2,638,290. Such precision is misleading in a valuation for the purpose of a sale. We prefer valuations that result in a more realistic price range, such as $2,200,000 to $2,800,000. An experienced M&A professional can explain where you will likely fall within that range and why.

Preserve the Value

Once you have established the range of values for your company, you should develop a plan to “preserve” this value. Note that preserving value is different from increasing value. Preserving value primarily involves preventing a loss in value.

Your plan should contain clear strategies to prevent catastrophic losses in the following categories:

  • Litigation:  Litigation can destroy the value of your company. You and your team should prepare a plan to mitigate the damaging effects of litigation. Have your attorney perform a legal audit of your company to identify any concerns or discrepancies that need to be addressed.
  • Losses you can mitigate through insurance:  Meet with your CPA, attorney, financial advisor, and insurance advisor to discuss potential losses that can be minimized through intelligent insurance planning. Examples include your permanent disability, a fire at your business, a flood, or other natural disasters, and the like.
  • Taxes:  You should also meet with your CPA, attorney, financial advisor, and tax planner to  mitigate potential tax liabilities.

Important:  The particulars of your plan to preserve the value of your company also depend on your exit options, which we will discuss below. Many elements of your exit plan are interdependent. This interdependency increases the complexity of the planning process and underscores the importance of a team when planning your exit.

Only after you have taken steps to  preserve  the value of your company should you begin actively taking steps to  increase  the value of your company.

Increase the Value

There is no simple method or formula  for increasing the value of any business.  This step must be customized for your company.

This plan begins with an in-depth analysis of your company, its risk factors, and its growth opportunities. It is also crucial to determine  who the likely buyer of your business will be . Your broker or M&A advisor will be able to advise you regarding what buyers in the marketplace are looking for.

Here are some steps you can take to increase the value of your business:

  • Avoid excessive customer concentration
  • Avoid excessive employee dependency
  • Avoid excessive supplier dependency
  • Increase  recurring revenue
  • Increase the size of your repeat-customer base
  • Document and streamline operations
  • Build and incentivize your management team
  • Physically tidy up the business
  • Replace worn or old equipment
  • Pay off equipment leases
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Differentiate your products or services
  • Document your intellectual property
  • Create additional product or service lines
  • Develop repeatable processes that allow your business to scale more quickly
  • Increase  EBITDA or SDE
  • Build barriers to entry

Note:  A professional advisor can help you ascertain and prioritize the best actions for your unique situation to increase the value of your business. Unfortunately, we have seen owners of businesses spend three months to a year on initiatives to increase the value of their business, only to discover that the initiatives they worked on were unlikely to yield any value to a buyer.

Business Exit Strategy Component #2: Exit Options

After you have determined a range of values for your company and developed plans for preserving and increasing this value, you can begin exploring your potential exit options.

Note:  These steps are interdependent. You can’t determine your exit options until you have a baseline valuation for your company, but you can’t prepare a valuation for your business until you have explored your exit options. A professional can help you determine the best order to explore these steps, or if the two components should be explored simultaneously. This is why real-world experience is critical.

All exit options can be broadly categorized into three groups:

  • Inside:  Buyer comes from within your company or family
  • Outside:  Buyer comes from outside of your company or family
  • Involuntary:  Includes involuntary situations such as death, divorce, or disability

Inside Exit Options

Inside options include:

  • Selling to your children or other family members
  • Selling to your business to your employees
  • Selling to a co-owner

Inside exits require a professional who has experience dealing with family businesses, as they often involve emotional elements that must be navigated and addressed discreetly, gracefully, and without bias. Inside exit options also greatly benefit from tax planning because if the money used to buy the company is generated from the business, it may be taxed twice. Lastly, inside exits also tend to realize a much lower valuation than outside exits. Due to these complexities, most business owners avoid inside exits and choose outside options. Fortunately, most M&A advisors specialize in outside exit options.

Outside Exit Options

Outside exit options include:

  • Selling to a private individual
  • Selling to another company or  competitor
  • Selling to a financial buyer, such as a private equity group

Outside exits tend to realize the most value. This is also the area where business brokers, M&A advisors, and investment bankers specialize.

Involuntary Exit Options

Involuntary exits can result from death, disability, or divorce. Your plan should anticipate such occurrences, however unlikely they may seem, and include steps to avoid or mitigate potential adverse effects.

Business Exit Strategy Component #3: Team

Team members.

Finally, you should form a team to help you plan and execute your exit plan. Many of these steps are interdependent — they are not always performed sequentially, and some steps may be performed at the same time. Forming a team will help you navigate the options and the sequence.

Your team should involve the following:

  • M&A Advisor/Investment Banker/Business Broker:  If you are considering an outside exit.
  • Estate planning
  • Financial planning
  • Tax planning, employee incentives, and benefits
  • Family business
  • Accountant/CPA:  Your accountant should have experience in many of the same areas as your attorney, along with audit experience and retirement planning. Again, it is unlikely that your CPA possesses all of the skills you need. If further expertise is needed, the CPA should be able to access the skills you need, either through colleagues at their firm or by referral to another accountant.
  • Financial Planner/Insurance Advisor:  This team member is critical. We were once in the late stages of a sale when the owner suddenly realized that, after deducting taxes, his estimated proceeds from the sale would not be enough to retire on. An experienced financial planner can help with matters like these. They should have estate and business continuity planning experience, as well as experience with benefits and retirement plans.
  • Business Coach:  A business consultant or coach may be necessary to help implement many of the changes needed to increase the value of your business, such as building infrastructure and establishing a strong, cohesive management team. Doing this often requires someone who can point out your blind spots. A coach can help you take these important steps.

Where to find professionals for your team

The best way to find professionals for your team is through referrals from trusted friends and colleagues who have personally worked with the professional in question. Don’t ignore your intuition, however. It’s important that you and your team members have good chemistry.

The Annual Audit

We recommend that you assemble your professional advisors for an annual meeting to perform an audit of your business. The goal of this audit is to prevent and discover problems early on and resolve them. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Your advisors are a valuable source of information. This annual meeting is an opportunity to ensure that they’re all on the same page and that there are no conflicts among your legal, financial, operational, and other plans. An in-person or virtual group meeting enables you to accomplish this quickly and efficiently.

A sample agenda might include a review of the following:

  • Your operating documents
  • New forms of liability your business has assumed
  • Any increase in value in your business and changes that need to be made, such as increases in insurance or tax planning
  • Capital needs
  • Insurance requirements and audit, and review of existing coverages to ensure these are adequate
  • Tax planning — both personal and corporate
  • Estate planning — includes an assessment of your net worth and business value, and any needed adjustments
  • Personal financial planning
Conclusion If you are contemplating selling your business, creating an exit plan will answer these critical questions: How much is my business worth? To whom? How much can I get for my business? In what market? How much do I need to make from the sale of my business to meet my goals? Taking the strategic steps discussed in this article — assembling a stellar professional team and optimizing the team’s collective experience — will get you well on your way toward successfully selling your business and turning confidently toward your next adventure.

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Exit plans are necessary to secure a business owner’s financial future, but many don’t think to establish one until they’re ready to leave.

 Two coworkers looking at tablet as they walk through an office hall.

An exit strategy is an important consideration for business owners, but it’s often overlooked until significant changes are necessary. Without planning an exit strategy that informs business direction, entrepreneurs risk limiting their future options. To ensure the best for your business, plan your exit strategy before it’s time to leave.

What is an exit strategy?

An exit strategy is often thought of as the way to end a business — which it can be — but in best practice, it’s a plan that moves a business toward long-term goals and allows a smooth transition to a new phase, whether that involves re-imagining business direction or leadership, keeping financially sustainable or pivoting for challenges.

A fully formed exit strategy takes all business stakeholders, finances and operations into account and details all actions necessary to sell or close. Exit strategies vary by business type and size, but strong plans recognize the true value of a business and provide a foundation for future goals and new direction.

If a business is doing well, an exit strategy should maximize profits; and if it is struggling, an exit strategy should minimize losses. Having a good exit strategy in practice will ensure business value is not undermined, providing more opportunities to optimize business outcomes.

[Read more: What Is a Business Valuation and How Do You Calculate It? ]

Benefits of an exit strategy

Planning a complete exit strategy well before its execution does more than prepare for unexpected circumstances; it builds purposeful business practices and focuses on goals.

Even though a plan may not be used for years or decades, developing one benefits business owners in the following ways:

  • Making business decisions with direction . With the next stage of your business in mind, you will be more likely to set goals with strategic decisions that make progress toward your anticipated business outcomes.
  • Remaining committed to the value of your business . Developing an exit strategy requires an in-depth analysis of finances. This gives a measurable value to inform the best selling situation for your business.
  • Making your business more attractive to buyers . Potential buyers will place value in businesses with planned exit strategies because it demonstrates a commitment to business vision and goals.
  • Guaranteeing a smooth transition . Exit strategies detail all roles within a business and how responsibilities contribute to operations. With every employee and stakeholder well-informed, transitions will be clear and expected.
  • Seeing through business — and personal — goals after exit . Executing an exit strategy that’s right for your business’s value and potential can prevent unwanted consequences of exit, like bankruptcy.

Because leaving your business can be emotional and overwhelming, planning a proper exit strategy requires diligence in time and care.

Weighing your options: closing vs. selling

There are two strategies to consider for your exit plan.

Sell to a new owner

Selling your business to a trusted buyer, such as a current employee or family member, is an easy way to transition out of the day-to-day operations of your business. Ideally, the buyer will already share your passion and continue your legacy.

In a typical seller financing agreement, the seller will allow the buyer to pay for the business over time. This is a win-win for both parties, because:

  • The seller will continue to make money while the buyer can start running the show without a huge upfront investment;
  • The seller may also remain involved as a mentor to the buyer, to guide the overall business direction; and
  • The transition for your employees and customers will be a smooth one since the buyer likely already has a stake in the business.

However, there are downsides to selling your business to someone you know. Your relationship with the buyer may tempt you to compromise on value and sell the business for less than what it’s worth. Passing the business to a relative can also potentially cause familial tensions that spill into the workplace.

Instead, you may choose to target a larger company to acquire your business. This approach often means making more money, especially when there is a strong strategic fit between you and your target.

The challenge with this option is the merging of two cultures and systems, which often causes imbalance and the potential that some or many of your current employees may be laid off in the transition.

[Read more: 5 Things to Know When Selling Your Small Business ]

Liquidate and close the business

It’s hard to shut down the business you worked so hard to build, but it may be the best option to repay investors and still make money.

Liquidating your business over time, also known as a “lifestyle business,” works by paying yourself until your business funds run dry and then closing up shop.

The benefit of this method is that you will still get a paycheck to maintain your lifestyle. However, you will probably upset your investors (and employees). This method also stunts your business’s growth, making it less valuable on the market should you change your mind and decide to sell.

The second option is to close up shop and sell assets as quickly as possible. While this method is simple and can happen very quickly, the money you make only comes from the assets you are able to sell. These may include real estate, inventory and equipment. Additionally, if you have any creditors, the money you generate must pay them before you can pay yourself.

Whichever way you decide to liquidate, before closing your business for good, these important steps must be taken:

  • File your business dissolution documents.
  • Cancel all business expenses that you no longer need, like registrations, licenses and your business name.
  • Make sure your employee payment during closing is in compliance with federal and state labor laws.
  • File final taxes for your business and keep tax records for the legally advised amount of time, typically three to seven years.

Steps to developing your exit plan

To plan an exit strategy that provides maximum value for your business, consider the six following steps:

  • Prepare your finances . The first step to developing an exit plan is to prepare an accurate account of your finances, both personally and professionally. Having a sound understanding of expenses, assets and business performance will help you seek out and negotiate for an offer that’s aligned with your business’s real value.
  • Consider your options . Once you have a complete picture of your finances, consider several different exit strategies to determine your best option. What you choose depends on how you envision your life after your exit — and how your business fits into it (or doesn’t). If you have trouble making a decision, it may be helpful to speak with your business lawyer or a financial professional.
  • Speak with your investors . Approach your investors and stakeholders to share your intent to exit the business. Create a strategy that advises the investors on how they will be repaid. A detailed understanding of your finances will be useful for this, since investors will look for evidence to support your plans.
  • Choose new leadership . Once you’ve decided to exit your business, start transferring some of your responsibilities to new leadership while you finalize your plans. If you already have documented operations in practice in your business strategy, transitioning new responsibilities to others will be less challenging.
  • Tell your employees . When your succession plans are in place, share the news with your employees and be prepared to answer their questions. Be empathetic and transparent.
  • Inform your customers . Finally, tell your clients and customers. If your business will continue with a new owner, introduce them to your clients. If you are closing your business for good, give your customers alternative options.

The best exit strategy for your business is the one that best fits your goals and expectations. If you want your legacy to continue after you leave, selling it to an employee, customer or family member is your best bet. Alternatively, if your goal is to exit quickly while receiving the best purchase price, targeting an acquisition or liquidating the company are the optimal routes to consider.

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Exit Strategies - All You Need to Know about Business Exit Planning

how to write a business plan exit strategy

Kison Patel is the Founder and CEO of DealRoom, a Chicago-based diligence management software that uses Agile principles to innovate and modernize the finance industry. As a former M&A advisor with over a decade of experience, Kison developed DealRoom after seeing first hand a number of deep-seated, industry-wide structural issues and inefficiencies.

The question, “What is your exit plan?” tends to draw blank expressions when asked to business owners.

A survey of business owners conducted by the Exit Planning Institute shows that a startling 2 out of 10 businesses that are listed for sale eventually close a transaction, and of these, around a half end up closing only after significant concessions have been made by the seller.

Business owners need to think about exit planning before searching for potential buyers. The tools provided by DealRoom can be a valuable asset to any business owner looking to develop an exit strategy.

By working with a team of professional advisors, accountants, lawyers, and brokers, you can ensure the right documents are in place for a business exit whenever the time comes.

In this article, we talk about creating a business exit plan and how to make one for your business.

What is a Business Exit Strategy?

A business exit strategy outlines the steps that a business owner needs to take to generate maximum value from selling their company. A well-designed business exit strategy should be flexible enough to allow for unforeseen contingencies and account for the fact that business owners don’t always decide on their own terms when to exit. By creating a strategy in advance, owners can ensure that they can at least maximize value in the event of an unplanned exit from the business.

What is a Business Exit Strategy?

Investor exit strategy

An investor exit strategy is similar to that of a business exit strategy. However, investors look for a financial return on their exit from a company, so bequeathing is never one of the options considered. An investor will often have a list of potential acquirers in mind, as well as a timeframe, as soon as their investment is made. In this type of scenario, there is often an exit multiple in mind (i.e. a multiple of EBITDA or a multiple of the original investment made in the business).

Venture capital exit strategy

Another business exit strategy option is a venture capital exit strategy. As our article on venture capital outlines, if a company is venture funded then consider that your investor will have a pre-planned exit. As an early stage company, this is a natural part of taking investments. Usually, with a VC investment, the aim is for an exit after five years, either through an industry sale or an IPO, where they can liquidate their original equity investment.

Motives for Developing Exit Strategies

Technically, it is important for equity owners to have a broad outline of what an exit would look like. For example, the image below represents various motives ranging from financial gain to mitigating environmental risk.

Common Motives for Developing Exit Strategies

Some of the common motives for business exit include the following:

Retirement - Arguably the most common reason of all motives is retirement. Business owners will inevitably retire at some stage, and it’s best that they have an exit strategy in place before doing so.

Investment return - A business exit strategy as part of a wider investment strategy - for example, the VC company planning to go to IPO after five years - makes the exit valuation part a component of the initial investment in the business.

Loss limit -A business exit is ultimately a kind of real option for a business. If the business is hemorrhaging money, the best option may be to exit immediately - ‘cutting your losses’ on the business, a sit was.

Force majeure - Like the examples of Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sometimes an investor or owner doesn’t really have a choice: The circumstances dictate that they have to exit.

Types of Exit Strategies

Types of Exit Strategies

Sale to a strategic buyer

Strategic buyers are usually in the same industry as the company whose owner is looking to exit. And in other cases, the buyer can be in an adjacent market looking to compliment their products in an existing market, or expansion of their products into a market.

Sale to a financial buyer

Financial buyers are solely looking for a financial return from their investment in a business and the exit is the primary means of achieving this return. Examples include venture capital and private equity investors.

Initial Public Offering (IPO)

This form of exit, far more common with startups than mature companies, enables company owners to exit by selling their equity to investors in public equity markets.

Management buyout (MBO)

An exit through MBO would occur when the owner sells the company to its current management team, whose familiarity with the business technically should make them the best candidates to achieve value from an acquisition.

Leveraged buyout (LBO)

A leveraged buyout occurs when a buyer takes a loan or debt to purchase another company. The buyer also uses a combination of their assets and the acquired company's assets as collateral. Financial models can be used for multiple scenarios and simulations of when an LBO is an effective choice.

Liquidation

Liquidation can be used by a business owner to exit if they feel like the liquidation would yield cash faster or that the individual assets (i.e. property, plant, and equipment) of the business were more liquid than the business as a going entity.

Exit Strategy for Startups

Startups looking for VC investment can include an exit strategy as part of their initial pitch. It is not mandatory. Sometimes this can work when well, for example, when a startup founder is well versed in the industry and has a credible 5-year forecast.

Startup exit strategies depend on a few different factors:

Market timing

How have IPOs for startups performed in the past 12-18 months? If public markets are showing enthusiasm for companies like the one being pitched, it makes it easier to show how an exit can occur.

Comparable transactions

Similar to IPOs, companies can use comparable transactions (industry or private equity sales) to show investors their route to an exit. The comparable firms should be operating in the same or close to the same competitive space.

How to Put Together a Business Exit Plan

Remember that the purpose of the plan is to make the new business owner transition as straightforward as possible.

Although the steps which follow are general, nobody knows a business better than its owner, so take whatever steps are necessary to make your business as marketable to potential buyers as possible.

These steps also assume that you, the owner of a business, have weighed up the options elsewhere. Personal finances, family situations, and other career options are beyond the scope of this article.

Rather, the intention of the points below is to ensure that a business will be ready to sell in the fastest possible time at a fair price.

Business exit plan

  • Know the business
  • Ensure that finances are in order
  • Pay off creditors
  • Remove yourself from the business
  • Create a set of standard operating procedures
  • Establish (and train) the management team
  • Draw up a list of potential buyers

1. Know the business

This sounds obvious but a business can lose focus quickly in the aim of diversification, to the extent that it becomes ‘everything to every man.’

This may be useful in the short-term for revenue streams, but just be sure that your business has focus. It will help you find the right buyers when the time comes and to be able to communicate which part of the market your business occupies.

2. Ensure that finances are in order

This should be a priority regardless of any future business plans.

But if you intend to sell your business at short notice, it's best to have a clean, well-maintained set of financial statements going back at least three years.

3. Pay off creditors

The less debt that a business holds on its balance sheet, the more attractive it will be to potential buyers.

A common theme among small business owners in the US is thousands of dollars of credit card debt. This can be a red flag to many buyers and should be paid off as soon as possible.

4. Remove yourself from the business

How important are you to the day-to-day operations? If your business would lose more than 10% of its revenue were you to leave, the answer is “too important.”

If revenues are tied to the owner, buyers are not going to want to buy the business if the owner is going to leave right after.

Although it can be a challenge, seek to minimize your direct impact on the business, in turn making it more marketable.

5. Create a set of standard operating procedures

Closely related to the above point, ensure that your business has a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs), ideally in written form, that would allow any owner to maintain the business in working order merely by following a set of instructions.

6. Establish (and train) the management team

Are the existing managers capable of taking over the business and running it as is? If you leave the business for a vacation and one of your managers calls you several times, the answer to this question may be ‘no’.

They may need more training, or you may need a different set of managers. In either case, having a capable team in place will be valuable whether you decide to exit your business or not.

7. Draw up a list of potential buyers

A list of buyers should be made and refreshed on a reasonably regular basis. Ideally, you would know their criteria for buying a business, but this is not always practical.

Keeping a long list of buyers means that you can reach out to them at short notice if it is  required at some point in the future.

This list is likely to include at least some of your managers or suppliers.

Importance of Exit Strategy

Many owners make the mistake of thinking that a business exit plan means the same thing as a ‘retirement plan’, believing that they can start thinking about putting one together as soon as they hit 55 years of age.

This is an error. Not because your departure is impending, but because it doesn’t give you the flexibility.

Instead of looking at a business exit plan as a retirement plan, rethink it as a divestment option.

An alternative way of thinking about this is, what happens to the business owner that doesn’t have an exit strategy? Think of the value destruction that occurs to the business if something unexpected happens and the owner has to make an unplanned sale, at a discount, in unattractive market circumstances, or even at a time of personal loss.

Instead of thinking about the business exit as something that will happen in the future, rethink it as something that could happen at any moment.

Exercising critical thinking to write a business exit strategy can be exciting as well as enlightening. Thinking of an exit as an end state is not the best approach since this limits businesses to a strict definition. Rather, consider how the process can be supportive of a business' growth strategy. Take these top three considerations:

  • Financial considerations: If the exit strategy has a target revenue number in 5 years then how will the business get there? What financial dashboards are needed to properly run the company? How will expenses be managed so a business does not outspend against earnings?
  • Supply chain considerations: What products will need to be in your catalog to maximize margins? What inventory turns ratio are you aiming for on a monthly basis?
  • People considerations: Who do I hire to grow the company exponentially? What benefits do I offer to attract the best talent but don't cause complications at the exit? How do I write the force majeure so I protect the company and employees?

A business's primary goal is long-term value generation to its customers, itself, and its stakeholders. Having a thoughtful exit strategy shows the maturity of a business's Leadership towards longevity and value creation. There are many facets of the journey from owner motivation to financial strategies.

At DealRoom we help the owners of businesses of all sizes prepare for this eventuality. Our Professional Services team is ready to help businesses think through these details. It is important that an exit strategy be a journey throughout the growth stages.

Talk to us about how our tools can be an asset for you in your exit plan.

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It’s Not the End: Why Creating an Exit Strategy Sets Your Business Up for Long-Term Success

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While there is a lot of content around how to successfully get your business off the ground, there isn’t much talk about creating an exit strategy to successfully quit a business. After all, who would want to think about leaving when you have likely spent years, if not decades, establishing your empire? Many businesses think of an exit strategy as a sort of “doom and gloom” outlook. In reality, it’s a good safety net to have, especially when you understand what it is and what it means for your business.

What is an exit strategy in business?

An exit strategy is a proactive plan to shift out of or liquidate an investment position, business transaction or venture. “An exit plan provides a roadmap for how businesses or investors will exit after realizing gains from their investment,” notes Carey Smith, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “Having a plan to exit helps manage risk by reducing exposure to potential downsides if conditions change and is especially important for startups or high-risk investments that face higher levels of uncertainty.”

Just as important as the strategy that initiated the business is the one that guides the “how” and “when” to exit. In an ideal situation, this plan is detailed along with triggers, measures and even events that could signal the right time to exit and move to the next thing.

“Being deliberate in defining the exit triggers is important because they may not be recognizable when they arise, if there hasn’t been proactive thought as to what they may be,” Smith adds. Also, business models, strategies and market conditions frequently change and evolve as the business progresses, so it is important to revisit them periodically. While not all exit triggers might need drastic action, defining them helps the business understand when to persevere and when to move on. 

“Remaining flexible is important. In our case at Plurilock, we went public very early during the pandemic, as that was an option available to us then,” says Ian Paterson, CEO and founder of Plurilock, a leading AI cybersecurity company. “However, if we wanted to do the same thing right now, it would have been very difficult to accomplish that.” 

Plan your business with the end in mind

As creators and entrepreneurs, starting with the end in mind is not an easy mindset to have and certainly requires a shift in perspective. Be aware of business environments and world factors that could influence or impact your decision, and make that a point of focus while building the strategy.

When thinking about the “how to” of exit strategies, Paterson recommends thinking of it like a car trip.

  • Start with the end in mind . Know who you’re going to sell to and what they value. 
  • Plan a route . Know what milestones you need to hit at various stages along the journey. 
  • Ask for directions . Engage with service providers like bankers and accountants frequently.
  • Don’t run out of gas . Make sure when you go to sell the company you don’t run out of money and negotiating power.
  • Pace yourself . It’s a long ride.

And contrary to popular belief, an exit strategy does in fact align interests, incentives and goals regarding growth and profitability because it defines targets aimed toward business growth. “A well-defined exit strategy allows both businesses and investors to set expectations, manage risks, provide motivation and unlock the value created in an investment,” Smith notes.

Are there different types of exit strategies?

Key types of exit strategies available to businesses include sale of ownership, initial public offering (IPO), liquidation, recapitalization, debt restructuring or refinancing, ownership transfer, merger or buyback.

To determine which strategy might work best for you, a good place to start is to look at industry models applicable to similar businesses. Paterson advises that if the exit strategy is acquired by a competitor, certain aspects of the company, like corporate finances and internal controls, are more important than if the goal was to take the company public. 

If the goal is to get acquired by a venture capital, intellectual property, personnel and other assets might be more valuable. “With my company Plurilock, where we are acquiring regional cybersecurity providers, we are looking for strong sales and marketing teams with strong contracts,” he adds. “We value the strength of those relationships, and it is a strong component of our value process.” 

Exit strategy models to emulate

When looking at industry models to emulate, both Smith and Paterson share examples of both successes and failures. Smith notes that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram ($1 billion), Oculus ($2 billion) and WhatsApp ($19 billion) provided significant returns for its investors. 

Likewise, Walt Disney Company’s acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel provided significant revenue and strategic market positioning. Perhaps one of the most notable is Google’s acquisition of Android, “which has successfully positioned Google as the market leader in smartphone operating systems, allowing significant control and access to consumer data,” Smith shares.

“Twitter is an interesting case study because it played out on the public stage,” Paterson notes. “Like many exits, at some points during the process, it looked like the deal would not go through, but eventually it closed roughly as expected.” 

For all the successful exits, there are an equal or greater number of failed exits that didn’t get the expected results. “Yahoo is one of the best examples of failing to acquire other exiting companies and failing to maximize on their own exit,” Smith recalls. “Yahoo refused to buy Google for $1 billion in 1998 and again refused $5 billion in 2002. In 2023, Google has a market cap of $1.7 trillion. And sadly, in 2008 Yahoo turned down an offer to be acquired by Microsoft for $44.6 billion and instead sold themselves to Verizon in 2016 for only $4.6 billion.”

How to create an exit strategy

When building a successful exit strategy, Smith suggests a checklist to help you get started:

  • Document all the potential situations that would call for an exit, like market considerations, industry challenges and business model economics. 
  • Allow for flexibility to support changes in priorities and space for new ideas, alternatives and changes in market conditions. 
  • Define success metrics and articulate the outcome objectives and the value they will generate. 
  • Note investor expectations to ensure alignment with the achievable value expected. 
  • Create a roadmap with an exit timeline and expected targeted returns.

The choice of business model and industry influences the selection of an appropriate exit strategy. Startups take time to build an attractive valuation and therefore require patient investors with long-term exit plans such as venture capital firms. High-growth businesses require large capital investments, so they typically prefer acquisition exits in order to scale. 

High capital-intensive businesses have exit plans that require mergers where value is created through combined scale. Business models that generate value from intellectual property (IP) typically have exit plans that involve acquisition or revenue sharing and licensing deals that provide royalty.

Plan B: Less conventional options

If none of these types of exit strategies work, the good news is that there are a few less conventional exit strategies to consider. Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) give employees a more vested interest in the company, thereby allowing the original investor or owners to step back. Joint ventures (JVs) are co-owned partnerships where external parties are brought into the company fold. 

“Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) is a newer exit strategy that is growing in popularity, where a merger takes place with external SPAC providing capital investment opportunities that allow it to go public (IPO) at a much higher valuation,” Smith advises. Lastly, earnouts are contingent payments that can be based on future company performance. 

Creating an exit strategy is a smart business decision from the get-go and shows a forward-thinking approach to any business. For one to be successful, it is important to research and think about all factors that would impact the how , why and what of an exit strategy. 

“The most helpful thing to do would be to talk to a specialist, such as an investment banker and business broker to talk through strategies,” Paterson suggests. Smith adds, “Aligning the exit strategy with the vision and entrepreneurial motivations allows achieving value while also serving goals beyond just an immediate financial return.”

Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

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Why Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Strategy

Mark Fairlie

Table of Contents

You wrote a business plan to launch your company. To say goodbye to it, you need an exit plan to get the maximum possible return and to limit any future exposure to what happens to the company after your departure. But years of experience teach you that nothing in business is predictable — and that’s why you need two exit plans.

Why every business owner needs an exit strategy

Today, most business brokers and advisors recommend incorporating a thorough exit strategy into your business planning from the very start. While it may seem counterintuitive to plan on starting or buying a business and simultaneously plan how you’re going to sell or remove yourself from it, this is the smartest move you can make in today’s fast-paced economy.

Here are some of the benefits of developing an exit strategy.

Gives you an end goal 

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know when you get there. An exit strategy helps define what success is for you and provides you with a timetable complete with milestones toward your exit.

Informs strategic decision-making  

Without a plan, it’s easy to get caught up working “for” the business, and resolving day-to-day issues. With a firm end game in mind, you have the vision to work “on” the business instead, planning and executing the strategies you need to achieve the ultimate end goal you’ve set for yourself.

Enhances the value of the business

If you don’t have an exit plan, your business will have some inherent value when you look to change ownership, but this is often the baseline value. With an exit strategy where you have a clear end goal in mind, your business is worth more to potential buyers or investors. You’ve grown it, locked its profitability, trained a strong management team, established a customer base, cemented meaningful supplier relationships and, most importantly, structured the business to operate independently of your personal involvement. That is valuable.

Provides a flexible template 

At some point, you will likely need to make adjustments to your exit strategy. Sometimes, that will be for business reasons. Other times, something unexpected and unwanted like a sudden death, divorce, major health problem or required relocation may force you to change course. It’s easier to revise and tweak a plan that already exists with clear objectives and milestones than to come up with one suddenly to cope with a sudden change.

Having a preexisting strategy makes managing unforeseen events simpler. That’s because you already have a way of making decisions for growth — one that’s got you to where you are. You can strengthen this by involving outside professional advisors like a business broker, attorney and accountant to help you course correct when necessary and to monitor progress against your goals. 

Why you need 2 exit strategies

Creating one exit strategy may seem daunting enough, but to cover your bases, you should craft two different plans: one for a voluntary exit and one for an involuntary exit.

With a voluntary exit strategy, you’ll know the following:

  • When you want to leave:  Maybe it’s in five years, 10 years or when revenue hits $10 million.
  • Who you want to take over the business:  It could be a brand-new owner, your current management or a family member.
  • How much money you want to leave with:  Perhaps you’d like a lump-sum payment, a share of profits every month for the rest of your life or a mixture of both.
  • What to do if you’re approached by a potential buyer:  How will you react if you’re contacted out of the blue? More business owners today are receiving unsolicited buyout offers than in years past.

But things don’t always go the way you expect them to, so you need a plan for that as well. With an involuntary exit strategy, you’ll know what to do in the following situations:

  • You fall ill and you’re not able to work in the way you used to (or at all):  You need to know who’ll take the reins and make decisions and you need to train them now so the business is ready.
  • Your business begins to fail financially:  You need to know which employees and assets you can jettison so you can stay solvent and in business.
  • You burn out and just can’t take it anymore:  If it’s all getting to be too much, you need to look after yourself. Do you hang in there, appoint a successor for day-to-day overall management or look to sell up? A well-defined involuntary exit strategy can lead the way.

The best way to plan for leaving your business for good is to prepare as if you have to leave it involuntarily.  That might sound strange, but the situations that lead to voluntary and involuntary exits have a lot in common. For example, in either scenario, you need to do the following:

  • Train people to run the company in your absence:  If you want to sell up, the person who wants to buy it probably won’t want to run the company day to day. If they know your business is not owner-reliant, this is a massive selling point. Meanwhile, if you fall ill or burn out, it’s a big comfort knowing your staff can keep the business operational so it can continue flourishing.
  • Know which assets and staff to cut to survive:  This is not only a way for you to reduce costs when business is suffering. It’s also a road map for a new owner looking to streamline operations and make more money from their investment.
  • Sell off nonvital assets quickly for cash:  A new owner will want to know they can sell certain assets to offset some of the amount they paid you to take over the business. If you’re managing a crisis and need cash, you need to know which assets you can sell (or refinance) to bring money into your account.

With two exit plans in place, you have more bases covered, and you can carry out strategies that benefit both you and the new ownership.

What an exit strategy involves

Developing a well-rounded exit strategy entails the following.

Knowing when you want to leave

For your voluntary exit strategy, set yourself a date in the future by which you want to achieve your ultimate goals. These milestones could be based on metrics like company revenue and profitability. Decide on whether you’ll still proceed with a sale if you’re not successful in hitting those targets.

When you have a fixed date of departure in mind, your approach to running the business changes. You now think long-term as well as short-term because you’ll constantly be looking for ways to not only improve profitability but also build more value in your business to make it as attractive as possible to potential buyers.

Discovering who your most likely buyers are

Try to come up with “buyer personas” — documents that detail the type of person or company that would want to buy your business and why. (These are similar to customer personas , which are developed to identify your ideal customer.) To get your wheels turning, look below at potential buyers for four very different types of businesses.

Think about what specific aspects of your business will be valuable to buyers. Consider how you’ll develop and showcase those assets to increase the appeal and value of your company at the point of exit.

Developing assets that are valuable to other businesses

Sometimes, your company’s real value may be hidden behind your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code. Don’t limit your company’s selloff potential by only considering buyers in your specific field.

Consider this example: You’re an e-commerce retailer and you’ve developed custom software that places your products in prominent search positions on third-party sales platforms. That, of course, would have great value for a purchaser from your sector. But it may have much greater value to a technology company and you could make a lot more money selling or licensing that software than doing a traditional sale to a competitor. Another benefit is that you could sell or license this software to raise cash if your company falls on hard times and needs money quickly. 

Improving performance in your business

Keep finding areas of improvement across your business. If you have developed custom software, as mentioned above, continue to develop it with your own needs in mind first but also consider what other companies would need to make them want to rent from you.

Look at new ways to get more people to your website or your premises every month with each visit costing you less. For instance, consider changing suppliers if you’re offered a similar quality product or service that does the job for a lower price. Ask yourself what you need to do to get that package to your customer in three days instead of four.

Another great way to build value is to do a competitor analysis. Investigate the competition in your market. Where are they doing better than you and how can you match or beat them?

Chasing profitable growth

Be experimental and creative in your advertising and keep tweaking every campaign to find wins like a drop in cost per sale or conversion. If you can prove to a potential buyer that by spending $1 on this campaign, you get $10 in revenue back and that’s been the case for years, that has tremendous value.

Promote deals to customers through  email marketing campaigns  and  short message service messaging and aim to make as much money as you can on each sale. Think of your future buyer when pricing up and chasing new business.

Doing everything you can to keep customers loyal

Don’t use the client email addresses and phone numbers you’ve collected just to move inventory; use them to  grow customer loyalty . 

Let customers know about a new product before it goes live on your website and give them the first opportunity to buy it. Send emails asking repeat clients to recommend you in online reviews. When someone does, give them a shoutout on social media and offer them a present as a thank you.  [Learn the  importance of social media for small businesses .]

Use  customer tracking tools  to work out the annual and lifetime value of each customer. Buyers look for those types of numbers. They also like companies with lots of clients who have given permission to receive emails and texts.

Customer loyalty is also key in any involuntary exit plan. If a crisis arises, you can attract regular clients and raise money quickly with a one-time sale. For example, if you sell subscription services, offer a special annual deal to existing customers to generate an influx of cash.

Handing over responsibilities to employees

The hardest types of businesses to sell are mom-and-pop shops and one-man bands. To a buyer, it’s like buying a job, not a company. It’s also really hard to sell businesses where there are 10 to 20 employees but success is still the responsibility of the owner. That’s because it’s like buying the job of a senior manager.

Delegate an increasing number of responsibilities to your employees over time. Train them and trust them to take on key tasks. If they make a mistake, be there to help them fix it and build up their confidence. If you don’t delegate, you’re training helplessness instead of anything valuable.

If a buyer asks, “Have you spent time away from the business?” you want to be able to confidently and truthfully say something like, “I spent three months in Hawaii and got one update email from the team a week. Everything ran like clockwork.”

For an involuntary exit plan, knowing you can step away for a while and still draw money thanks to your responsible staff gives comfort if you’re suffering from ill health or burnout.

Paying down company debt

You should try to pay down as much company debt as possible. That’s because when one company takes over another, things like business equipment loans and factoring service agreements cannot be novated.

In other words, they have to be settled in full on “completion day” (the day you sell your business). Normally, whatever you owe creditors is subtracted from the agreed-upon price you sell your company for, so you want to have less debt to subtract. Paying down debt also reduces your monthly servicing bills, meaning more profit in the meantime.

Starting to save money

Selling your business costs a lot of money. There are lawyers’ fees, accountant fees, professional service fees, a commission to your broker and more. For a business with $1 million in annual revenue, expect to pay up to $150,000 for a successful sale. If a deal is agreed to but falls through, you’ll still have to pay your team of outside advisors and experts.

If your business is struggling financially, having a decent amount of money saved up gives you more time to delegate day-to-day tasks to staff and raise cash by selling assets. If you also shrink your payroll and look for other savings, this will buy you even more time, financially speaking.

Exit strategies for startups vs. established businesses

There are dozens of ways for owners and investors to exit their businesses; however, the path chosen often depends on the age and size of the company.

Exit strategies for startups

  • Initial public offerings (IPOs): IPOs are the favored way for many startup business owners to divest themselves, especially tech businesses that have already gone through a few rounds of funding. When you opt for an IPO, your business becomes a publicly traded and you and your investors should all make substantial returns. Bear in mind there are many regulation and governance hurdles to jump in preparation for an IPO.
  • Strategic acquisitions: Most times, startup business owners end up selling their companies to larger competitors in the same or a related industry. You sell the shares in the business to your acquirer and this results in a complete transfer of ownership. Quite often, startups are bought for some aspect of their business that is unique and valuable, not necessarily due to their levels of profitability or market share. 
  • Management buyouts (MBOs) : In an MBO, a team consisting primarily of your current management raises the money to buy you out. Returns for owners on MBOs can be good but are generally not as high as a strategic acquisition. Still, MBOs are an excellent way of ensuring the company remains in capable hands.

Exit strategies for established businesses

  • Merger or acquisition: For established businesses with good profitability and an impressive market share, you can merge with or be acquired by another company. Businesses are often valued at multiples of annual profit and the higher your turnover and profitability, the greater the multiple you’re likely to receive. If you want to stay involved with your business after a merger, you can make it a condition of the sale that you stay on the board of the business you’re selling and/or have a seat on the board of the merged company.
  • Liquidation: If you wish to exit the business on a faster timeline than it takes to find a buyer, liquidation is an option. You sell all your assets and settle all your existing debts, allowing you to extract the remaining residual value from your business as income. While quick, it’s much less lucrative than a sale or merger in most cases.
  • Bankruptcy: If your business is facing insurmountable debts, you have two choices. First, there’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which keeps your doors open while you restructure your debt. Second, there’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows you to settle company debts by selling off your assets. This is a tough decision to make, but bankruptcy can relieve many financial burdens your company is suffering, giving it a chance to do business again in the future. There are a few specialist venture capitalist and private equity firms that specialize in purchasing bankrupt or near-bankrupt companies too.
  • Spin-offs: If your business has several operating divisions, whether distinguished by geography, activity or both, you could spin them off into separate entities and sell them to realize their value. This way, you receive a payout and reduce the size of the operations you’re responsible for.

Word of caution

Beware of earn-outs. With an earn-out, you receive part of the agreed price for your company now and the remainder in tranches over a period of time based on the business’s continued performance.

It is perfectly normal not to receive your asking price in one go. However, if you agree that what you’re paid will be linked to the performance of the business once you’re no longer in control of it, you’ll be putting yourself in grave danger of not getting all the money you’re expecting.

Tips for executing an exit strategy

Now that you know what creating an exit strategy involves and how exits can differ for startups versus established businesses, follow these tips when executing your plans.

1. Bring in outside expertise.

You need to build your own professional team for the sales process because your buyer will almost certainly have one. You want to level the field as much as possible, but you also want people on your side who know the intricacies of selling companies.

Consider hiring part-time chief financial officers or fractional chief marketing officers well before you put your company on the market. Bring experienced, proven talent with wider connections in the business world to your C-suite to help you improve the organization first. They’ll be invaluable in helping you carry out your exit strategy when a deal is on the table.

These same professionals will have proven themselves adept at crisis management in their careers too. They’ll be able to help you get out of awkward financial situations and train your workers to handle management responsibilities.

2. Keep your accounts up to date and your accountants close.

Inform your accountants that you want to be in a permanent state of readiness in case you receive a purchase offer out of the blue or decide to put your company on the market. Once you’ve identified the financial areas of greatest interest to your buyer type, make sure your accountant updates the company’s finance reports on a weekly or monthly basis and keeps historical records of them. The  best accounting software  will come in handy.  [Related article:  How to Hire the Right Accountant for Your Business ]

3. Hire a corporate lawyer.

Retain a lawyer, preferably one with mergers and acquisitions (M&A) experience. Your buyer’s corporate lawyers will vigorously defend their interests and try to use the information you provide about your business during the due diligence process to bring down the selling price. You need someone on your team to advocate on your behalf.

4. Hire a business broker and M&A advisor.

Opinions differ on the effectiveness of business brokers and M&A advisors for companies with an annual revenue of less than $1 million. If you’re confident enough, it might be worth forgoing an advisor and handling the process yourself.

But what does a broker do? They market your business in many ways, often on websites like businessesforsale.com. They also handle initial inquiries, verify potential buyers have the required funds to purchase your company and sit in on the negotiations over price. Many try to engineer a bidding situation where two or more interested buyers make offers at the same time to try to drive up the price.

Brokers often also intervene during the due diligence stage. During due diligence, the buyer’s professional team of lawyers and accountants will ask for lots of detailed information about your company, often over a period of between three and six months. Their job is to help the buyer understand exactly what it is they’re buying. Tempers often become fraught during due diligence for a variety of reasons. When this happens, the brokers often act as go-betweens to smooth relations and keep the deal on track.

5. Create your own data room.

In years past, a buyer’s lawyer would enter a private room at your lawyer’s office called a “data room.” Here, they’d inspect financial and employment records, as well as documentation regarding intellectual property ownership and previous and ongoing legal disputes. Most data rooms are now virtual and the professional teams acting for the buyer and the seller usually email documentation to each other.

Create your own online data room as soon as you can and ask your accountants, lawyers and managers to submit updated reports every month. Delays in providing information can upset buyers — something you want to keep to a minimum.

Running your business like nothing else is happening

Once you’ve settled on an exit strategy for your business, don’t spend any more than 30 minutes per day on it, even if you have a deal on the table and it’s going through due diligence. Concentrate on running your business as well as possible to retain and build on the value you’ve already created. Buyers will expect this and they’ll be able to monitor if you’re protecting their interests from the updated information in the data room. Proceeding with business as usual while simultaneously preparing for the future is the best way to be ready for a voluntary or involuntary exit.

Bruce Hakutizwi contributed to this article.

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Business Exit Strategy: Definition, Examples, Best Types

Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

how to write a business plan exit strategy

What Is a Business Exit Strategy?

A business exit strategy is an entrepreneur's strategic plan to sell his or her ownership in a company to investors or another company. An exit strategy gives a business owner a way to reduce or liquidate his stake in a business and, if the business is successful, make a substantial profit. If the business is not successful, an exit strategy (or "exit plan") enables the entrepreneur to limit losses. An exit strategy may also be used by an investor such as a venture capitalist in order to plan for a cash-out of an investment.

Business exit strategies should not be confused with trading exit strategies used in securities markets.

Key Takeaways

  • A business exit strategy is a plan that a founder or owner of a business makes to sell their company, or share in a company, to other investors or other firms.
  • Initial public offerings (IPOs), strategic acquisitions, and management buyouts are among the more common exit strategies an owner might pursue.
  • If the business is making money, an exit strategy lets the owner of the business cut their stake or completely get out of the business while making a profit.
  • If the business is struggling, implementing an exit strategy or "exit plan" can allow the entrepreneur to limit losses.

Understanding Business Exit Strategy

Ideally, an entrepreneur will develop an exit strategy in their initial business plan before actually going into business. The choice of exit plan can influence business development decisions. Common types of exit strategies include initial public offerings (IPO) , strategic acquisitions , and management buyouts (MBO) . Which exit strategy an entrepreneur chooses depends on many factors, such as how much control or involvement (if any) they want to retain in the business, whether they want the company to be run in the same way after their departure, or whether they're willing to see it shift, provided they are paid well to sign off.

A strategic acquisition, for example, will relieve the founder of his or her ownership responsibilities, but will also mean the founder is giving up control. IPOs are often seen as the holy grail of exit strategies since they often bring along the greatest prestige and highest payoff. On the other hand, bankruptcy is seen as the least desirable way to exit a business.

A key aspect of an exit strategy is business valuation , and there are specialists that can help business owners (and buyers) examine a company's financials to determine a fair value. There are also transition managers whose role is to assist sellers with their business exit strategies.

Business Exit Strategy and Liquidity

Different business exit strategies also offer business owners different levels of liquidity . Selling ownership through a strategic acquisition, for example, can offer the greatest amount of liquidity in the shortest time frame, depending on how the acquisition is structured. The appeal of a given exit strategy will depend on market conditions, as well; for example, an IPO may not be the best exit strategy during a recession, and a management buyout may not be attractive to a buyer when interest rates are high.

While an IPO will almost always be a lucrative prospect for company founders and seed investors, these shares can be extremely volatile and risky for ordinary investors who will be buying their shares from the early investors.

Business Exit Strategy: Which Is Best?

The best type of exit strategy also depends on business type and size. A partner in a medical office might benefit by selling to one of the other existing partners, while a sole proprietor’s ideal exit strategy might simply be to make as much money as possible, then close down the business. If the company has multiple founders, or if there are substantial shareholders in addition to the founders, these other parties’ interests must be factored into the choice of an exit strategy as well.

how to write a business plan exit strategy

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How to Plan Your Exit Strategy

Male entrepreneur leaning up against his truck while staring out into the distance smiling. Thinking about how he'll exit his business.

Candice Landau

8 min. read

Updated April 17, 2024

Many people start businesses with the goal of seeking acquisition. But others decide later that it’s time to move on—they’d like to pull their time and money out of a particular venture. It’s never too early (or too late) to start planning your exit strategy.

  • What is the purpose of an exit strategy?

An exit strategy is how entrepreneurs (founders) and investors that have invested large sums of money in  startup companies  transfer ownership of their business to a third party. It’s how investors get a return on the money they invested in the business.

Common exit strategies include being acquired by another company, the sale of equity, or a management or employee buyout.

  • Who needs an exit strategy?

For anyone seeking  venture capital funding  or  angel investment , having a clear exit strategy is essential.

Even if you’re a small business, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and think about how you will transfer ownership of the business down the line, whether you choose to sell the business, or try to scale it and seek to be acquired. It’s never too early to plan.

  • Should I include my exit strategy in my business plan?

Including your exit strategy in  your business plan  and in  your pitch  is especially important for startups that are asking for funding from angel investors or venture capitalists for funds to grow and scale.

Most of the time, small businesses don’t need to worry as much about it because they probably won’t seek investment (not all good businesses are good investments for angels and VCs). The small business founder’s goal might be to own the business themselves for the foreseeable future.

  • What type of exit strategy is right for my business?

This list should give you an idea of common types of exit strategies. The type of strategy you adopt will depend on what type of company you are and your financial and strategic goals.

Here are some of the most common:

Acquisition, initial public offering (ipo), management buyout, family succession, liquidation.

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The acquisition is often known as a “merger and acquisition.” This is because, when a company decides to sell itself to another company, the buyer will often incorporate or merge the services of that company into their own product or service offerings.

This happened when Google bought YouTube, seamlessly integrating the video platform into their own search product. Now, when you google a topic, you will often notice that videos appear on your search result page.

On a smaller scale, it might happen when a coffee chain decides to buy a bakery business so that they can add a line of pastries and tarts to their menu. An acquisition or merger can be an appropriate approach for businesses of all sizes, including startups.

The best thing about an acquisition is that if you get “strategic alignment” right, you stand to sell the company for more than it may actually be worth. And, if there are multiple companies interested in your product, you may be able to raise the price further or begin a bidding war!

Reasons an outside company might seek to acquire or merge with another company range from allowing them to break into a new market, to giving them a competitive edge, or a strong built-in customer base. Or they might be interested in eliminating you as a competitor from the current market.

If you know that being acquired is your exit strategy right from the start, this gives you room to make yourself appear attractive to the companies who may be interested in purchasing you. That said, remember that those particular companies may decide not to purchase you or may never have been interested in doing so. If you do go down the road of creating a very niche product only one specific company will be interested in, you also stand to lose big time if they don’t take the bait.

This exit strategy is right for a small number of startups and larger corporations, but is not suited to most small businesses, primarily because it means convincing both investors and Wall Street analysts that stock in your business will be worth something to the general public.

For smaller companies that have already begun expanding—like  restaurants that have franchised —an IPO may be a good way for the owner to recoup money spent, though it is worth noting that he or she may not be allowed to sell stock until the  lock-up period  has passed.

A couple of well-known examples of restaurants on the stock exchange include  Buffalo Wild Wings  and  BJ’s .

If you think this is the right strategy for you, or you want to at least have the option of going public later, the easiest way to get listed is to seek investors that have done it before with other companies. They will know the ins and outs and be able to better prepare you for the process.

Speaking of the process—it’s long and hard. If you do succeed in winning over the hearts and data-centric minds of Wall Street analysts, you’ve still got to conform to the standards set by the  Sarbanes-Oxley Act , you will have underwriting fees you’ll need to pay, a potential “lock-up period” preventing you from selling your shares, and of course, the risk of seeing the stock market crash.

While an IPO may be a suitable route for a company like Twitter or Macy’s, consider whether or not you want to weather the headache of tailoring business decisions to the market and to what analysts believe will do well.

If you’ve built a business whose legacy you want to see continued long after you’re gone, you may want to consider turning to your employees.

That’s right—not only will they have a good idea of how things are run already, but they will have intimate knowledge regarding company culture, corporate goals, and a pre-existing determination to make it work.

There’s also the added bonus that you’ll have to do a lot less due diligence. Having management or employees buy your business is a good idea if legacy matters most to you. Of course, you could always consider passing the business on to family, but there’s always the risk there that they won’t understand the business, won’t have the determination to make it succeed, and if you’re splitting the business between family members, the possibility of family rivalry.

On that note, if your family has been brought up with an intimate knowledge and understanding of your business, they may well be the best people to pass things on to.

In fact, this is exactly what happened at Palo Alto Software. Founded by Tim Berry in 1988, his daughter Sabrina Parsons was made CEO and her husband Noah the COO shortly before the recession hit.

The decision was strategic and allowed Tim to pursue other interests, including putting a focus on  writing . Since then, Sabrina and Noah have adapted the flagship desktop-based business planning product,  Business Plan Pro , into a SaaS tool called  LivePlan .

Passing Palo Alto Software on to family was more fortuitous than carefully planned. Tim had always  encouraged his children  to follow their own path. In fact, none of them got degrees in business. It just so happened that Sabrina and Noah had entered the internet world early in their careers and gained the experience necessary to join and build out Palo Alto Software’s product offerings.

If you are considering passing your business on to your children or other family members, there are a number of things worth thinking about and planning for, including ensuring that whoever is set to take over the business has the relevant skill set, is competent, and is committed to the future and success of the business. This will make it a lot easier to retire.

For small businesses, liquidation is a common exit strategy. It’s one of the fastest ways to close a business, and may sometimes be the only option in cases where the operation of the business is dependent solely upon one individual, where family members are not interested in or capable of taking over, and where  bankruptcy  is close at hand.

It’s worth noting though that any profits made from selling assets need to be used to pay creditors first.

To make any money using liquidation as an exit strategy, you’re going to have to have valuable assets you can sell—like land, equipment, and so on.

If it’s not too much hassle and if your decision to liquidate is not related to finances, think instead about selling the business to the public. Are there any ways you can make it appealing?

If this isn’t an option and it’s better to close the doors before you lose money, liquidating your assets may be your best bet.

  • Planning for the future?

If you’re putting together your business plan or preparing to pitch to investors for the first time, think through your exit strategy. Make sure your  financials are up to date  and that you’re reviewing them regularly so your  business’s valuation  is accurate.

If your successful exit is tied up in hitting certain financial milestones, don’t hesitate to ask your  strategic business advisor  for some guidance. There are other things you can do to prepare your business for acquisition and other exits— check out this article  for more information.

See why 1.2 million entrepreneurs have written their business plans with LivePlan

Content Author: Candice Landau

Candice Landau is a marketing consultant with a background in web design and copywriting. She specializes in content strategy, copywriting, website design, and digital marketing for a wide-range of clients including digital marketing agencies and nonprofits.

Grow 30% faster with the right business plan. Create your plan with LivePlan.

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Exitwise

Exit Planning Explained - Process, Strategy, and More

If you are a business owner, you may have wondered what will happen to your business when you decide to retire, sell, or transfer it.

How will you ensure you get the best value while exiting the business? How will you protect the interests of your family, employees, customers, and other stakeholders?

In this guide, we will explain the exit planning process, the different types of exit strategies, and the role of advisors in the exit planning process. We will also provide tips and best practices for creating and executing a successful exit plan.

You may also want to look at a few success stories from our past clients for some inspiration before you start reading.

What is Exit Planning?

Exit planning is the process of preparing for the eventual transfer or sale of a business while considering the owner's personal and financial goals. It involves implementing various decisions and actions that enable a smooth and organized exit.

Exit planning is not a one-time event but a dynamic process that adapts to the business owner's and business's changing needs and circumstances. It requires a clear vision, proper assessment, and a strategic approach.

What Are The Benefits of Exit Planning?

Exit planning can benefit the business seller in many ways, from safeguarding their interests to facilitating a smooth deal when the time comes.

By planning ahead, the owner can increase the attractiveness and profitability of the business and reduce the risks and liabilities that may lower the business's value . The owner can also optimize the timing and structure of the exit and take advantage of the tax incentives and exemptions that may apply.

Business owners can ensure that their personal and financial goals are aligned with the goals and vision of the business and that they have a clear and realistic roadmap for achieving them.

One can anticipate and mitigate the potential challenges and obstacles that may arise during the exit process, such as legal disputes, regulatory issues, and emotional stress. They can also prepare for the transition and the future by securing their income, assets, and lifestyle and exploring new opportunities.

The owner can ensure the continuity and stability of the business by developing and retaining key employees and managers and transferring the knowledge and skills essential for the new ownership's success.

One can achieve a sense of accomplishment by exiting the business on their terms and conditions. The owner can also enjoy a smooth, stress-free exit and a rewarding and satisfying future.

Whether you are planning to exit your business in the near or distant future, exit planning is a vital step you should consider.

TL;DR - Overview of the Exit Planning Process

Exit planning is the process of preparing for the eventual transfer or sale of a business. It can be a planned event or arise from a contingency where a business owner wants to change ownership for some reason.

Developing a good exit plan that covers factors like tax compliance and stakeholder share is crucial, and a good M&A advisor can help both parties build terms and negotiate a fair deal.

What Role Do Advisors Play in the Exit Planning Process?

Rightly known as Certified Exit Planning Advisors, these professionals can provide expert advice and guidance to the business owner during exit planning. They can help the owner with various aspects of the exit planning process, such as:

Assessing the current situation and identifying the objectives and preferences of the owner

Exploring and evaluating the different exit strategies and options

Developing and implementing a customized and comprehensive exit plan that meets the needs and expectations of the owner

Coordinating with other advisors and stakeholders involved in the exit process

Monitoring and adjusting the exit plan as needed to respond to changing circumstances and opportunities

Exit planning advisors often work with a team of other professional who help in the process, who may include:

Accountants: They can help the owner with the financial and tax aspects of the exit, such as valuing the business, structuring the deal, minimizing the taxes and fees, and preparing the financial statements and reports.

Lawyers: Lawyers can help the owner with the legal aspects of the exit, such as drafting and reviewing the contracts and agreements, protecting the intellectual property and confidential information, resolving disputes and claims, and complying with the laws and regulations.

Brokers: They help with the marketing and selling aspects of the exit, such as finding and qualifying the potential buyers, negotiating the terms and conditions, facilitating the due diligence and closing, and maximizing the price and value.

Bankers: Bankers can help the party with the financing and funding aspects of the exit, such as securing the loans and equity or arranging escrow.

Consultants: They can help the owner with the strategic and operational aspects of the exit, such as improving the business's performance and sustainability.

Advisors can play a vital role in the exit planning process, providing the owner with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary for a successful and satisfying exit. The owner should pick suitable advisors, maintain control and responsibility over the exit planning process, and make the best decisions for themselves and their business.

Exitwise can help you find the right advisors for your exit planning and build the right M&A team for a successful team. Check out our detailed explanation of how our process works and how we can help create your dream M&A team.

5 Key Steps in Developing an Exit Plan

Developing an exit plan helps you achieve your personal and financial goals and ensure a smooth and successful exit from your business.

Here are five key steps that you should follow to create and execute an effective exit plan:

Step 1: Establish Your Objectives

Identify your reasons and motivations for exiting the business and your desired outcomes and benefits. Consider your personal, financial, and professional goals and your family, lifestyle, and succession preferences.

Step 2: Determine the Value of Your Business

Estimate your business's current and potential value based on various valuation methods and market factors. Identify your business's value drivers, detractors, and the opportunities and threats that may affect the value. You can use our business valuation calculator for an accessible overview of your business's current value.

Step 3: Choose Your Exit Strategy

Explore and evaluate the different exit strategies and options available, such as selling, merging, passing, or liquidating the business. Weigh the pros and cons of each option and select the one that best suits your objectives, situation, and market conditions.

Step 4: Develop Your Exit Plan

Create and implement a comprehensive and customized exit plan outlining the specific actions and initiatives needed to execute your chosen strategy. Include a contingency plan, a timeline, and a budget for prompt execution.

Step 5: Execute Your Exit Plan

Execute your exit plan with the help of an exit planning advisor to ensure maximum compliance and value. Monitor and adjust your exit plan to respond to changing circumstances and opportunities and ensure success and satisfaction.

8 Exit Planning Strategies Explained

Check out these different exit strategies, and you may get an idea of what best suits your business.

1. Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

A strategy where the owner sells some or all of their shares to a trust set up for the benefit of the employees. The employees become the business owners, and the owner receives cash and tax benefits. This strategy can be used to reward and motivate the employees and preserve the business's culture and legacy.

2. Merger with Another Business

In this arrangement, the owner combines their business with another business with complementary or synergistic assets, capabilities, or markets. The owner receives shares or cash from the merged entity and may retain some control or influence over the business. This strategy can create value for both parties and increase the chances of success in the future.

3. Management Buyout (MBO)

MBO is a strategy where the owner sells their business to the existing management team, who may use debt or equity financing to fund the purchase. The owner receives cash and may retain some equity or involvement in the business. This strategy can be used to transfer the ownership to the people who know the business best and to ensure continuity and stability.

4. Initial Public Offering (IPO)

IPO is a strategy where the owner sells some or all of their shares to the public through a stock exchange. The owner receives cash and may retain some ownership or control over the business. IPO strategy can raise capital and enhance the business's reputation and visibility.

5. Selling to a Third Party

Here, the owner sells their business to an external buyer, an individual, a group, or a company. The owner receives cash and may negotiate the terms and conditions of the sale. This strategy can be used to maximize the business's price and value and exit the business quickly and thoroughly.

6. Family Succession

The business owner transfers the ownership or control of the business to their family members, who may be their children, siblings, or relatives. The owner may receive cash, shares, or other assets from the family and maintain some involvement or influence in the business. This strategy can be used to preserve the business's legacy and culture and maintain ownership in the family.

7. Recapitalization

It is a strategy where the owner restructures the business's capital structure by changing the mix of debt and equity. The owner may use the debt or equity issuance proceeds to pay themselves a dividend or reinvest in the business. This strategy can increase the return on equity and prepare the company for a future exit.

8. Liquidation

In liquidation, the owner sells the assets and liabilities of the business and distributes the proceeds to themselves and other stakeholders. The owner may receive cash or other assets and terminate business operations. This strategy can be used when the business is no longer viable or profitable or when the owner wants to retire or pursue other interests.

What Are the Tax Implications of Different Exit Strategies?

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general guidance only and does not constitute professional tax advice. You must consult a local tax professional before making any final decisions regarding tax matters.

The tax implications of different exit strategies can vary depending on the structure of your business, the nature of your exit, and the applicable tax laws. Here are some common exit strategies and their tax considerations:

Selling the Business

Selling your business can lead to capital gains and regular income taxes. Depending on how long you've held the business, capital gains may be classified as short-term or long-term, each with its tax rate. Additionally, you might be subject to depreciation recapture taxes if you've claimed depreciation deductions on your business assets.

Passing the Business to Heirs

Succession planning involves passing on your business to family members or other heirs. While this strategy can potentially lead to estate taxes, the tax implications can be minimized through careful planning, including using trusts and gifting strategies.

Liquidating the business

Closing down your business involves liquidating its assets and settling its liabilities. This process can trigger capital gains, ordinary income taxes, and potential taxes on any accumulated earnings in the business.

Merging or Acquiring

Mergers and acquisitions can lead to a range of tax implications, including taxes on gains from the sale of assets or stock, changes in ownership structures, and potential changes in tax attributes like net operating losses.

Exit Planning Statistics

Let’s look at some exciting findings from recent surveys and reports on exit planning statistics:

According to the BEI 2022 Business Owner Survey , 16% of business owners plan to exit their businesses in fewer than five years, 37% plan to exit within 5–10 years, and 47% plan to exit in more than ten years. When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their plans to exit, more than 50% said it made no impact. Only 11% said it made them want to exit their business sooner.

The EPI 2023 State of Owner Readiness Research report says that 52% of business owners include written detailed personal planning in their exit strategy, compared to only 9% in previous surveys. This indicates that owners consider exit planning earlier in their ownership lifecycle and expect their advisors to support those efforts.

Data from the Gitnux 2024 Succession Planning Statistics estimates that only 30% of small businesses successfully sell, leaving 70% without a buyer or successful plan for what happens next. The report also suggests that owners with a formal succession plan are more likely to achieve higher business value, lower taxes, and greater personal satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This comprehensive FAQ section will guide you through the answers to some common questions about exit planning.

When Should an Owner Start the Exit Planning Process?

Owners may have different objectives, timelines, intentions, and market conditions for their exit. However, a general rule of thumb is to start the exit planning process at least 3 to 5 years before the desired exit date. It allows enough time to assess the current situation, explore the options, develop and implement the plan, and execute the exit strategy. Starting the exit planning process early also helps increase the business value and reduce the risks and uncertainties.

How Does Exit Planning Affect Business Valuation?

Exit planning can positively impact the business valuation, as it can motivate the ownership to improve the business's performance and sustainability and enhance its attractiveness and profitability for potential buyers or investors. Exit planning can also optimize the exit's timing and structure and take advantage of the tax incentives and exemptions that may apply.

Can Exit Planning Help in Reducing Business Risks?

Exit planning can help reduce business risks, as it can help anticipate and mitigate the potential challenges that may arise during the exit process, such as legal and regulatory issues, market fluctuations, and operational disruptions.

Exit planning is a vital process for any business owner who wants to maximize the value of their business and achieve the best potential deal for their exit. There are various benefits of exit planning and several strategies to carry it out. It all depends upon the buyer's and seller's preferences and objectives.

Let us help you with your exit plan if you need more assistance. We will help you create a team of experienced and professional M&A advisors who can guide you through every step of the exit planning process. Contact us now to schedule a consultation .

Brian graduated from Michigan Technological University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and as Captain of the Men's Basketball Team. After a four-year stint at Deloitte Consulting, Brian returned to school to get his MBA at the University of Michigan. Brian went on to join his first startup, a Ford Motor Company Joint Venture, and cofound a technology and digital marketing services agency. Through those experiences, Brian embraced the opportunity to provide M&A education and support to his fellow business owners as they navigated their own entrepreneurial journeys.

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Business Exit Strategy Planning

Written by Dave Lavinsky

Growthink.com Exit Strategy Planning

This guide to planning your exit strategy is the result of Growthink’s 20+ years of experience helping companies develop successful exit plans.

The guide starts by explaining what a business exit strategy is. It then explains the types of exit strategies available to your business.

It then discusses the key takeaways to successful exit strategy planning. In this section, we spend a significant amount of time going through the 20 ways to maximize the value of your company to realize a successful exit.

Finally, this guide provides helpful tips regarding how to create an exit strategy business plan for your organization.

What is a Business Exit Strategy?

A business exit strategy is a plan that an owner or executive creates and follows to liquidate their stake in a business, ideally at a substantial profit.

A successful business exit strategy requires careful planning and should be periodically revised to best reflect the current business conditions.

Types of Common Exit Strategies

To ultimately build an effective exit plan it’s important to understand the ways you can exit a business and which type of exit aligns with your business goals and values.

For example, if your end goal is generating money and personal wealth, then selling your business to a competitor or a private equity group might be a viable exit plan. However, if you are more attached to your business’ legacy and wish to see it operational even after your exit, then selling to current skilled employees or family member succession planning might be business exit strategies worth exploring.

Below are the six core types of exit strategies, organized into two core categories: Selling Your Business and Other Business Exit Strategies.

Selling Your Business

There are three main audiences to consider when selling your business: another business, a financial group, and employees. When evaluating the sale, gauge the attractiveness of your business from the perspective of potential buyers or other investors.

A solid reputation, customer base, and track record of growth are some factors that make a business appealing to buyers. Other factors could include strong cash flow, patented intellectual property, or niche expertise. Note that these factors are discussed in the “Keys to Successful Exit Strategy Planning” section later in this guide.

Another Business (or a Strategic Buyer) : Businesses acquire other businesses for a variety of reasons. From a buyer’s perspective, a strategic acquisition is often the quickest way to grow and/or diversify a business. It is also a surefire way to eliminate competition. For these reasons, valuations in strategic acquisitions are often highest. The drawback to this path is that most companies do not have an active mandate to acquire another business. A business owner may first need to be convinced of the idea of an acquisition exit strategy generally before entertaining the specific opportunity to purchase your business. He or she may then need to obtain financing to complete a transaction. Both of these elements can slow your exit process.

Therefore, when exploring this path it is important to plan ahead and identify firms that could be potential acquirers by keeping up with transaction activity in the same industry. Keep a lookout for firms that are actively buying other businesses and position your business in a way that appeals most to them. This will maximize your chances of receiving an enviable acquisition offer from a larger business that is prepared to buy.

Financial Buyer : A financial buyer refers to an individual or group, like a private equity firm, who is primarily interested in the cash flows your business can generate post-acquisition. Financial buyers’ sole activity is the buying and selling of businesses, so these buyers are prepared to efficiently and effectively evaluate a business and have capital in place to quickly execute a transaction. Given their valuation approach and goal of future cash flows, financial buyers are typically looking for relatively high historical operating profits ($3 million at a minimum). Typically private equity groups value a company based largely, if not exclusively, on a multiple of past operating profits. These multiples may or may not take into consideration the growth opportunities you see for your business and so you may not see the same valuation as a strategic buyer.

Your Employees : Selling the business to employees is another business exit strategy to consider. The advantage of this employee or management buyout strategy is that you are transitioning to people who are well-versed in the business and have a vested interest to see it thrive. If you are structured as a corporation, you can create an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), which allows employees to vest ownership in your business. When you are ready to exit, the larger business then purchases your shares from you and redistributes them to the remaining employees. A similar option is establishing a worker-owned cooperative. In this scenario, employees invest personal capital into shares of the cooperative. For this to work, it is essential that you foster a participatory culture in your organization and be mentally prepared to stay on until the transition is complete.

Other Business Exit Strategies

If you do not plan to sell your business, the following are other exit strategies to consider.

Family Succession : This business exit strategy involves transferring the mantle of leadership to the next generation in your family. This common exit strategy is popular with owners who wish to see their legacy continue. The advantages of family succession include the ability to choose a successor of your choice and groom them. It also allows for the sole business owner to remain involved. The success of this exit strategy often hinges on the personal attributes and professional skills of the new successor. Their commitment to the family business and the quality of their relationships with other employees are also critical factors.

Asset Sale : This business exit strategy involves shutting down the entire business and selling some or all its assets. For this exit strategy to be profitable the business needs to have certain value-adding assets it can sell, such as land, building(s), or equipment.

Compared to a stock sale, asset sales typically involve limited negotiations. You also do not have to worry about the transfer and transition of the business ownership. The negative obviously is the loss of the business you built.

Taking Your Business Public : Another company exit strategy you may consider is an Initial Public Offering (IPO). We mention this last since it’s only relevant to a tiny portion of companies. An IPO involves selling your business in public markets like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). IPOs receive wide media coverage but are not very common. This is because they are very expensive and laborious to undertake. Every IPO requires thorough financial, operational, and staffing reports among others which can be very costly to produce. Incurring such costs is not feasible for small to medium-sized businesses; hence this exit strategy is not practical for many organizations. If you do manage an IPO then the pros are instant popularity as IPOs are usually quite a hyped event. You might even get lucky and have your business valued highly on the stock market leading to your stock value appreciating exponentially.

What’s the Best Exit Strategy?

There is no single best or preferred exit strategy. The ideal choice for your business depends on your unique circumstances.

Your Business Goals : You need to assess how ready you are to give up control of the business and when you want to exit. This is a personal decision but consider this: if you have been running the business solo or with a very small team, then an initial public offering (IPO) or selling to a larger business may not be the best option.

Your Business Size and Structure : Another key consideration is your company size and structure. If you are a small business, then an asset sale or family member succession might be the more feasible option for you. On the other hand, if you are a corporation with tens or hundreds of employees, then going public is a more viable option.

Your Business Age and Stage : The next thing you need to consider is your company’s age and stage. If your business is young and growing, then you might want to consider an IPO as your exit strategy. However, if your business is in its maturity stage or even in decline, then an asset sale or family succession might be more suitable.

The Bottom Line

No one can tell you what the best exit strategy is for your business. The key is to weigh all the options and make a decision that aligns with your personal and professional goals for a successful future.

Keys to Successful Exit Strategy Planning

The key to successful business exit planning involves just two steps: 1) determining how strategic or financial buyers will value your business, and 2) maximizing that value.

Determining How Your Business Will/Might Be Valued

As discussed above, if you seek a financial buyer, they will value your business based on your company’s financials, cash flow, and future growth prospects.

Strategic buyers, which nearly always pay more money than financial buyers, and thus should generally be your focus, will value your business differently.

The best way to identify how they will value your business is to:

  • Research acquisitions in your market (via trade journals, Google searches, etc.)
  • Determine exactly what metrics will you be primarily valued on? Ideally in your searches, you will see what attributes were mentioned in articles discussing the acquisitions. Did they mention the acquired company’s revenues, # of subscribers/customers, market share, EBITDA? Whatever metrics are mentioned will be key-value drives.
  • Identify factors multiple strategic buyers would value, such as new products, a distribution network, intellectual property (IP), unique location(s), financial savings, better systems/processes, permits, etc. These factors are discussed in more detail in the next section.

Maximize the Value of Your Business

To help in your business exit planning, we have identified 20 ways to build and maximize the value of your business. Each of these concepts is discussed in detail below.

1. Build Synergistic Value

Synergistic value is when you and an acquiring company together have more value than the two separate companies.

So how might you create synergy? Perhaps your products or services could be sold to the acquiring company’s large customer base?

For example, maybe the acquiring business sells parts to bicycle stores and you have a new part that is also sold to bicycle stores. But perhaps they sell to 5,000 bicycle stores and you only sell to 500.

By getting your part into the additional 4,500 stores, they may be able to increase your sales tenfold. That’s huge synergy.

There are many other areas of potential synergy. Perhaps you have a unique core competency that can be leveraged by the acquiring business. Maybe you’re an incredible Internet marketer and the company that wants to acquire you is not great at internet marketing. And by leveraging your unique marketing skills they could dramatically grow their business.

So think through the synergy fit. Think through what companies might want to buy you at some point and what synergistic value you could bring to that organization.

2. Diversify & Lock Down Your Customer Base

The next thing you can do to maximize the value of your business is to diversify and lock down your customer base.

There’s a threat to your company’s value when you have a concentrated customer base, which is few customers or customers representing 5%, 10%, or more of your sales. That is risky because if one of your bigger customers or multiple big customers leave, your sales and profits could drop precipitously.

Another big risk is when customers have personal relations with the owner because you (the owner) would be lost after the acquisition. Or if customers have personal relationships that are too strong with a salesperson and that salesperson leaves your business and the customer leaves us with them.

So what are the solutions to these threats?

First, diversify your customer base. You need to be thinking about diversifying your customer base so that you don’t have the risk of a big customer or more leaving.

Secondly, if possible, secure contractual sale agreements such as long-term contracts and licenses to ensure ongoing sales from customers. The idea here (and lowest risk to buyers) is contractually recurring revenues.

3. Diversify Vendors

The third thing you want to do to maximize the value of your business is to diversify your vendors. Consider what would happen if a key vendor raises its prices or goes out of business. Would your business be in trouble?

Acquirers are going to ask what happens if something happens to one of your vendors. Likewise, you need to be asking this question of your business right now.

So what are the solutions?

Finding and using multiple vendors. Importantly, you’re probably not going to generate more revenue tomorrow because you spend hours looking for multiple vendors. But it’s going to make your business stronger. It’s going to remove risk from your business and make it more valuable to acquirers.

4. Put “Successor” Clauses in Customer (and Partner, Vendor/Supplier, etc.) Contracts

The next way to maximize your value is to put successor clauses in your customer, partner, and vendor contracts.

Successor clauses ensure that your key contracts survive significant changes in ownership so the buyer receives full value from them. Many contracts become void if your business transfers ownership and you obviously don’t want that. So when you sign contracts with customers, vendors, partners, etc., make sure you have clauses that the contract survives the acquisition of your company. If not, this could significantly reduce the value of your business.

5. Bolster Your Senior Management Team

The next way to maximize the value of your business is to bolster your senior management. You need to make sure your business can run without you because then there’s less risk to the buyer.

Doing this also means that you might need to stay with the business for less time after you sell it. To bolster your senior team, and make sure that you’ve hired and trained quality people that can run the business for you.

6. Bolster Your Middle Management Team

The next thing to boost value is to bolster your middle management team. Once again, you need more trained people so the business can run without you. This lessens the risk to a buyer.

Having trained middle management will help ensure a smooth transition to the new owner. There’s always going to be a transition period where you’re integrating your business with the acquirers. The more trained staff you have makes it much easier for the acquirer to buy your business and have the business run as usual from the get-go.

7. Build Management Team Solidarity

The next value-building strategy is to build management team solidarity on a day-to-day basis. To succeed with the day-to-day business operations, your team must have the same business vision and financial goals as you.

During the sales process to an acquirer, the same holds true. This is because buyers will interview your team members individually during the due diligence phase to make sure there is a cohesive vision/direction among your key employees.

8. Improve the Quality of Your Team

Will acquiring your team add significant value to the buyer? How unique is your team? And do you have unique talents?

As you can imagine from these questions, your team can add a lot of value to your company.

To begin, if your team has unique technical capabilities, great customer service people, etc., it could have great value to an acquirer. Likewise, it’s extremely valuable if your team have a track record or ability to do things really well on an ongoing basis, such as:

  • Conduct R&D to come up with new products
  • Bring new products to market
  • Provide exceptional customer service

So, think about what your team is great at, and work to make them even better.

9. Build Brand Value

The next way to maximize the value of your company is to build your brand. The value of your brand and your reputation can be considerable. A well-known brand results in recognition which often equals sales for the foreseeable future.

So building your brand gives you a lot of recognition, which has a lot of value. Building your brand also gives you trust. This is why a lot of brands are acquired.

So think about the value of your brand. How can you build your brand to make it more well-known?

10. Build Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (IP) can provide significant value. IP includes your patents, processes, copyrights, trademarks and service marks, and trade secrets.

Sometimes your IP value can represent the entire purchase price of your business.

Think about intellectual property and how you use that IP to create real value for your company. And ideally how it can provide even more value to an acquirer.

11. Improve Your Culture

The next way to build value is through your culture.

Zappos is a great example of a company that built a great culture. And as a result, Amazon acquired it for over a billion dollars.

So you think about how you can build a great company culture that allows you to build a solid company and be acquired for a lot of money. Importantly, Zappos’ culture became a threat to Amazon and Amazon purchased the company because of this threat.

So consider this question: can your culture positively “infect” the culture of an acquirer?

It’s one thing to build a great culture but think about if you can create a great culture that when acquired, is so great and strong that you can “infect” the larger company that buys you with it. That’s a great way to build value.

12. Build Back-Office Infrastructure

You can also build value through your back-office infrastructure.

Your back-office infrastructure includes all the departments that support your revenue-generating areas, such as IT, human resources, accounting, legal, etc. A solid back-office ensures your business continues to run smoothly without you and after an acquisition.

This is really important to financial buyers because financial buyers want to see your business grow as a standalone business. They’re looking to acquire your business, grow it for four to eight years, and then sell it.

A strong back-office infrastructure can also be important for strategic buyers. They will care if you have a strategic or competitive advantage in any of these back-office areas. If not, they’re going to dissolve or integrate your back office into their own departments.

13. Build Revenues, Subscribers/Customers &/or EBITDA

Building revenue streams, subscribers, customers, and/or EBITDA is an obvious way to really build value in your company.

Subscribers and customers are assets that are highly valued and bring future sales and maximize profits.

And revenue and EBITDA are key financial measures that show your success and can be used to estimate the price at which acquirers might purchase your company.

14. Acquire Great Locations

Another way to maximize your value. Is by making sure your location(s) is/are very strong.

By locking up the right locations, you can add a lot of value to your organization.

For example, Rosetta Stone has kiosk lease agreements at airports throughout the world. That’s really valuable…if an acquirer wanted to buy Rosetta Stone, they would instantly gain visibility in airports throughout the world.

Likewise, when FedEx purchased Kinko’s, it instantly gained hundreds of well-placed retail locations.

15. Build Your Distribution Network

Another way to maximize value is through your distribution network.

Distributors, resellers, and/or affiliates are individuals and organizations that sell their products and services for you. That’s a huge asset that can maximize your revenues and profits, and which could do the same for your acquirer.

So, the question to ask yourself is: what can you do to gain a large distribution network that will increase your revenues and make you a more attractive acquisition target?

16. Improve Your Product/Service Portfolio

The next way to really build value in your business is to focus on your product and service portfolio.

Think about the products and services you currently offer. Are they unique? Can they be leveraged by an acquirer? Do they represent a threat to an acquirer’s business?

Think about what new products and or services you can build to develop value. More products generally equal more revenues, more customers, more intellectual property, and less vulnerability.

The more products you have, the more you could cross-sell your current customers, upsell them, and the less vulnerable you’d be to a competitor who launches a similar product to yours.

17. Show Financial Savings

The next way to maximize value is through financial savings. Do you have economies of scale in certain areas? Do you do things so often that you’re able to get your costs down on a per-unit basis? If so, such cost savings could be valuable to an acquirer.

18. Create Systems & Processes

Likewise, do you have any processes, systems and ways and ways of doing business that save money? These will all be valuable to your current business and to acquirers.

Likewise, systems and processes can add tremendous value to your business right away. And quality systems and processes are valuable assets. They allow you to perform with precision and consistency. They allow you to perform at lower costs and gain efficiencies and allows you to quickly and easily train and integrate new team members.

So focus on building quality systems and processes.

19. Create a Great Website

Your website can also be a source of value maximization too.

Not only might your website, based on your brand, attract visitors. But, if you’ve invested in SEO or search engine optimization, you might organically rank for many keywords. If your site is SEO optimized, an acquirer might be able to use it to rank for additional keywords that have significant value to them.

So it’s worth building a great website and optimizing it for search engines.

20. Achieving Government Hurdles

Achieving/overcoming government hurdles can add significant value to your business. Getting permits, zoning approval licenses, regulatory approvals, and certifications can be extremely valuable in the short-term to your business, but also really valuable to an acquirer.

Doubling the Value of Your Company

Doing everything listed above can exponentially increase the value of your business. In addition, you can literally double the value/purchase price of your company by expertly executing the sales transaction:

  • Presentation : how you position your company and support your valuation
  • Professional sales process : getting more buyers, revealing information at the right times, etc.
  • Negotiating and closing skills : getting the right deal done

Creating Your Exit Strategy Business Plan

The process of creating your exit strategy business plan includes the following:

1. Create a List of Potential Acquirers

If you are interested in being acquired at some point in the future, identify companies you think would be ideal.

2. Determine How You Will/Might Be Valued

Go through the 20 value maximization concepts presented above and identify which of them would be most valuable to each potential acquirer.

3. Create Your Strategic Plan

In your strategic plan, identify each of the ways you will build value (e.g., develop new systems).

Document the timeline for creating each new asset along with the financial requirements and the staff members who will lead each initiative.

How Growthink Can Help

These concepts should help you think about how your brand can be more valuable to potential acquirers. The goal is not only to attract them but also to convert casual visitors into sales. Achieving these goals will make it easier for you to get out of the rat race and finally achieve success as an entrepreneur or business owner. If this all sounds complicated and overwhelming, we’re here to help!

You can get started today on your exit strategy using our Ultimate Business Plan Template to help you create a business plan if you are seeking funding. If you don’t need outside funding to execute your exit plan, use our Ultimate Strategic Plan Template .

Our team of experts is also ready to help! At Growthink, we specialize in helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses through expert advice on business models, business plans & strategy, financial planning, and exit strategy and valuation services. Contact us today to learn more.  

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How to Write an Exit Strategy for your Business Plan

Does your business plan contain a fail-proof exit strategy for you? If NO, here is a detailed guide on how to write an exit strategy for a business plan. Unless you are a joker of a business owner, chances are you came up with a solid business plan at the start of your business. I mean, you conducted your market analysis, and you developed strategies to plan and grow your business.

If you really did all of that, then you are right on track. But one thing you are less likely to have done is planning an exit strategy for your business. And you should do this as soonest as possible if you are yet to. Most people write plans on how to start a business but majority fail to write plans on how to exit their business.

What is an Exit Strategy?

An exit strategy is a method by which entrepreneurs and investors, especially those that have invested large sums of money in startup companies, transfer ownership of their business to a third party, or by which they recoup money invested in the business.

Some forms of exit strategies include, being acquired by another company, the sale of equity, a management-employee buyout et al

Why Prepare an Exit Strategy?

What happens to your business if eventually you die today or get involved in a ghastly accident that incapacitates you? Now I know that nobody prays for bad events or circumstances but one reality of life is that you can never know what’s coming ahead of you. The same holds true in business.

“Prepare for bad times and you will only know good times.” – Robert Kiyosaki

But there are a lot of would-be business owners who love their businesses and would think that having an exit strategy in their business plan is unnecessary. However, there is still a need to have an exit strategy in your business plan. There are two very real and practical reasons why you need to plan an exit:

  • Outside investors want to collect their return. Remember that equity investments are not like loans with interest. The investor sees no return until he cashes out, or the company is sold. Even three years is a long time to wait for any pay check.
  • Entrepreneurs love the art of the start. Assuming your startup takes off, you will probably find that the fun is gone by the time you reach 50 employees, or a few million in revenue. The job changes from creating a “work of art” to operating a “cookie cutter”.
  • If you are seeking for investment from venture capitalist (VC) or angel investors, then an exit strategy is a must have. Even if you’re a small company, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and to actually have an idea of how you will transfer ownership of the business down the line, sell the business, or make a return on your investment.

So just as you had a plan for starting your business, you should also have an exit strategy for transforming your business into cash, should in case you lose interest in the business or run into problems later. Without wasting time, here are the four commonest exit strategies you can choose from and incorporate in your business plan:

6 Types of Exit Strategies You Can Consider and Choose From

1.  initial public offering ( ipo ).

Taking your business public is a very expensive and time consuming exit strategy, as it usually attracts huge accountant and attorney fees. But it can be very rewarding. Offering your business to the public has one simple implication: you are no longer the boss, your stakeholders are. And you will be giving reports about the business to the board of directors and stakeholders.

If you just cannot afford to let go of your business ( by selling it ), then you can relinquish a portion of your shares by taking it public. However, this exit strategy is not recommended if your business doesn’t value up to $10 million. In that case, consider other exit strategies.

For smaller companies that have already begun expanding—like restaurants that have franchised—an IPO may be a good way for the owner to recoup money spent, though it is worth noting that he or she may not be allowed to sell stock until the lock-up period has passed. Examples of restaurants on the stock market include Buffalo Wild Wings and BJ’s.

If this is your main exit strategy from the get go or you want to at least have the option of going public later, the easiest way to get listed is to seek investors that have done it before with other companies. They will know the ins and outs and can be able to better prepare you for the process.

The process of getting on an initial public offer can be long and arduous. If you do succeed in winning over the hearts and data-centric minds of Wall Street analysts, you’ve still got to conform to the standards set by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, you will have underwriting fees you’ll need to pay, a potential “lock-up period” preventing you from selling your shares, and even with all of these, there is still a risk that the stock market could crash.

While an IPO may be a suitable route for a company like Facebook or Microsoft, you should consider whether or not you want to weather the headache of tailoring business decisions to the market and to what analysts believe will do well.

2.  Sell your business

Selling a business to another individual or company is the most common exit strategy for any business owner. This option is very easy because it can be conducted between the two parties involved without all the government regulations and oversight that comes with an IPO. As expected, if you decide to sell your business, you will be receiving cash in exchange for it.

But valuing your company is the trickiest part of any sale; as sometimes, knowing the right amount to sell your business for can be very difficult. One way to avoid selling your business for less is to get more than one appraisal of the business ( seek out some business appraisal companies to help you with this ). This way, you will be confident that you are selling for the right price.

If you are concerned about how the business would fare after you have sold it ( though this isn’t binding on you ), you’d want to sell only to a buyer that knows and understands the business and has the experience to carry on the brand’s legacy. And, depending on the closeness between you and the buyer, you can agree on payment by installments.

3.  Acquisitions and mergers

Even though acquisitions and mergers are commonly used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between both terms. An acquisition occurs when one business acquires another business. For example, Company A buys Company B and still continues running under the name of Company A but now has the strength and value of both companies combined.

A merger, on the other hand, occurs when two businesses come together to continue as a single company. A change of name usually happens after a merger. For example, Company A and Company B merge to form a new company called Company A-B. Most of the time, businesses that engage in a merger or acquisition are in the same industry and see multiple benefits in merging together or acquiring one another.

When you decide to go into a merger or acquisition deal, you can negotiate price and terms. You can request that your employees ( if you have any ) be kept on for a certain period or that your management team be retained. You can also negotiate final and annual payouts. If you cannot handle these negotiations yourself, hiring an agency would be your best bet.

4.  Liquidate your assets

This is the least desirable of all exit strategies, but sometimes the most necessary. This strategy can quickly bring in a lump of cash, and it doesn’t involve any negotiations or losing control of your business. You simply close the business and end it. If you like, you can decide to resuscitate it again some other time.

Most of the time, business owners liquidate their assets because of huge debts. In such cases, the proceeds from the sales of assets are used for settling debts, and the remainder ( if there’s any ) would be taken by you or divided among your shareholders. Liquidating your business may usually include selling your office building, office furniture and electronics, company cars, and other assets. Usually, you would sell at market price, and you may not make much profit.

5. Management buyout

If you built a business that you want to continue even after you are gone, you can consider turning to your employees. That’s right—not only will they have a good idea of how things are run already, but they will have intimate knowledge regarding company culture, corporate goals, and a pre-existing determination to make it work. This form of exit strategy is a good idea if you are someone who really wants to keep his or her legacy alive.

There is still an option of giving the business to your family members, but this has some disadvantages. For instance, the family members who inherit the business may not understand the business, have no interest to do the needful in order to ensure that the business survives or they could even descend into bitter rivalry over who gets what at the detriment of the business.

6. Family succession

If you family members are quite knowledgeable about your business, then they may be the best people to pass it to. If you would like to pass on your business to your children or any other family member, you should make sure that they have the prerequisite skills, are competent and have the success and future of the business at heart. This will make it a lot easier to retire.

Having reviewed the various exit strategies that are available to business owners, here is how you can write a business plan exit strategy.

How to Write a Business Plan Exit Strategy

A. detail your most likely exit strategy.

Firstly, you have to write in details your most likely or preferred exit strategy. Will you like to go public, sell it to another company, sell it to your employees or just liquidate it. Take some time to review the various options that are at your disposal and document your preferred choice.

b. Prove Your Exit Strategy

This step is very important, and it involves justifying the exit strategy you choose. For instance, if your exit strategy is to go public, then show other companies in similar markets or positions that have successfully gone public in the last three to five years. Research and find out the names of those companies, the dates they went public and the returns their investors received.

In the same vein, if the exit strategy you think is right for your business is to sell it off, you should make a list of potential buyers. Discuss not only who they are and their current financial positions (e.g., estimated total revenues if a private company), but the reasons they’d want to purchase a company like yours. You should also show other companies these firms have acquired in the past and at what price points.

Finally, as much as possible, show other companies that were similar to yours that were recently acquired. As much as possible, determine the sale price of these companies and the returns their investors might have received upon their acquisitions.

Even if you don’t plan to sell your business in the future, keep in mind that circumstances may force you to do just that. And you will end up badly burned if you end up doing it the wrong way. So, choose the most appropriate exit strategy for your business and structure it carefully. This way, even if you lose your business later, you will lose gladly.

As you can see, writing a business plan is no easy task. But after having read this eBook, you should now understand that it is well worth the effort. Aside that it better prepares you to deal with some of the shortfalls any entrant into a new market will experience, a business plan gives you a leg up on your competition through better research and insights gained from the process.

If you follow each step as outlined in this eBook, you will be able to come up with a business plan that will market your idea to investors / lenders in the best way.

  • Go to Chapter 15: How to Present a Business Plan with PowerPoint
  • Go Back to Chapter 13: Your Financial Plan and Projections
  • Go Back to Introduction and Table of Content

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What is Exit Business Planning? How To Develop an Exit Plan For a Small Business

Wisebusinessplans is one of the best companies that write business plans .

Business Exit Planning is part of every successful business plan. Exit planning guides you on how you can leave your business. You do not want to bear the loss when you close your business.

What Is Business Exit Planning?

Importance of having an exit plan, 7 smart business exit strategies, merger & acquisition (m&a), initial public offering (ipo), management buyout, selling to a partner or investor, liquidation, how to develop an exit plan, what is the best exit plan.

It answers the question of what you will do after ending your business operations. 

It helps you make a graceful exit without risking your investment. Strong exit planning will help you to convince investors that their investment is in safe hands.  

No matter if you are running a successful business or handling failure, an exit plan will be part of your business strategy. 

Want to learn more about exit planning?  keep reading.

This guide will clarify everything from smart exit strategies to how to develop an exit plan.

Make Your Business Exit Smooth and Rewarding

Use WiseBusinessPlans Business Exit Strategy Cosultation and get the most out of exiting business. 

” An exit planning allows an entrepreneur to sell his business to maximize the value of Company “

An exit strategy differs from business to business. It depends on the size of the company or what type of involvement you want in your business.

If an entrepreneur wants to sell a 100% share of his company, an exit planning strategy should remove all his involvement from the company.

For example

If you have a company that is not making a profit; It is suggested to make an exit plan to get rid of the business. The exit plan for the non-profitable company should try to minimize loss.

If your company is generating good profit, an exit plan should maximize the profit.

A good exit plan gives maximum value to the entrepreneur when he sells his company.

Are you still unclear about why you should have an exit plan? Go through these points for having a clear idea about the importance of exit planning.

  • An exit plan allows investors to be on the safe side when unexpected circumstances seize them. 
  • Changes in the market and economy can be a reason for selling a company. However, selling your company needs preparation. A strong exit plan will make you prepared for that time. 
  • You might not have started your company for selling, but if you receive an attractive offer from a potential buyer, this could be a topic of discussion. You are making a good profit and know the value of your company. At that point, an exit plan helps you decide whether you should sell your company or not.  
  • Illness and bad health can push you to get out of the business. Having an exit plan will prepare you for that time.
  • An exit plan will urge you to focus on your targeted goal. It helps you end your business operations at the right time. You can work on your exit plan along with the business plan. An exit plan assists you to make a graceful exit from your business. Exit planning helps you to understand the value of your assets. 
  • You do not want to be on the losing side when you shut down a company. It is recommended to make your exit planning clear at the beginning of the business.

There is no right or wrong exit plan. Whenever you are ready for an exit, choose the strategy that will work for you.

There are many factors that you must take into consideration when choosing a strategy. Such as :

  • Time: what is the right time to sell your business?
  • Money: How much money do you need to fulfill your financial needs?
  • Business involvement: how much business involvement do you need after an exit?

These three factors will help you choose an exit strategy smartly.

Let’s discuss the smart strategies to exit your business.

  • Mergers & acquisition
  • Initial Public Offering
  • Management buyout
  • Sell to someone you know
  • A merger means when two companies consolidate and become one. Ex: Exxon & Mobil
  • The acquisition means when a company purchases another company. Ex: Google & Android

Merger & Acquisition is referred to as M&A. The process of merger & Acquisition is different.

In a merger, two companies join hands for better benefits and rapid growth. All their resources, brand name, tax, liabilities everything become one. In a merger, money is not exchanged from both sides.

The acquisition is different from merging. In acquisition, a company purchases another company. Ownership will be changed. Everything will be transferred to the new owner. In acquisition, money is exchanged. A company can purchase a portion of the share or the whole company.

M&A benefits both companies. You can merge or sell your company to another big company.

Larger companies often hunt small companies to be purchased. They want to eliminate the competition and increase their geographic footprint.

For example:

In the digital world, Google and Android merged for better benefits. Google was a large IT company. However, Android was a start-up and struggling to make a name in the market. 

Android was taken by Google for $50 million. After the acquisition, Android made a noticeable share in the mobile phone market.

  • More room for business price negotiation
  • You can set your own terms
  • If there is significant demand for your business, you can increase the price and get a better deal
  • A time-consuming process with a lot of corporate politics involved
  • Costly with hefty attorney fees
  • You may not get merged or acquired in the first run

Merger And Acquisition M&A Business Plan

When it comes to M&A transactions, leaving the details to Wisebusinessplans can save you time, money, and effort. To reach your business goals, our consultants can write a business plan for you. A well-prepared M&A business plan will allow you to get back to work quickly.  
IPO is an exit strategy that allows companies, and private Investors in companies sell their Share to public Ex Alibaba IPO raised $21.8 billion on Sep 2014

Private investors hold equity in companies. They can sell their private equity (PE) to the public when they need cash. 

Companies also use this strategy to raise funds. Take Alibaba for example. Since its IPO in 2014, they have significantly increased its products and services portfolio and its revenue has increased

  • IPO can be very lucrative in the right settings
  • Intense, ongoing scrutiny from shareholders and regulators Strict reporting for the company performance is necessary

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A management buyout is referred to as MBO. In this strategy, the current management of the company can purchase a portion of the shares or the whole company if they can pool the resources. 

This exit method benefits both seller and buyer. MBO selling process can be done quickly as the management team is already familiar with the business and its potential. 

The current management will assume more senior roles in the new company. 

As they are already running the company, an MBO will increase their loyalty towards the company and you may also be able to retain a position like an advisor, etc.

  • You will have the peace of mind that your business is in good hands
  • MBO is generally a smooth process
  • You can still keep working in the company as an advisor
  • Management may not be interested in buying the company or they may not have the resources Big management changes will produce short-term problems

You can sell your stakes in the company to your business partner or an investor. However, this applies to you when you are not a sole proprietor.

The partner or investor buying your share is called ‘friendly buyer’. Mostly, this person is from your circle of friends or family or someone you trust.

  • Smooth transition, no visible changes in company operations or revenues
  • Not as lucrative as other exit business strategies

Liquidation means closing your business by selling all your assets to get cash.

Business Liquidation is often considered a quick strategy to get out of business. If your business is going well, you can sell off your assets at a good price and can maintain cash flow.

Liquidation is a clear-cut strategy to end your business journey. However, if you have creditors, the money will go to pay off the debt first before you pocket anything.

Before liquidation, make sure to do these things for a smooth transition.

  • Make payments to the employees.
  • Clear your taxes, and keep a record of them in case you need them in the future.
  • End all your business expenses such as registrations and licenses.
  • File the business abolition document.
  • A liquidation ends your business in toto.
  • Liquidation is a faster way to exit your business.
  • You may not get the right price for your business
  • Creates bad rapport for you in the business community overall

Acquihire is when someone buys your company with the sole purpose to acquire your team. 

An acquihire benefits skilled employees of your company as it provides them with growth opportunities and you can be sure that they will be taken care of.

  • You can get a higher price for your business from an interested party
  • Company employees get the opportunity for long-term growth
  • Not many team buyers in the market
  • Costly process

Filing for bankruptcy is your last resort in exiting your business. A bankruptcy is filed when you cannot pay your debts or liabilities and the court sells your business assets and give creditors pennies for a dollar.

Bankruptcy comes with bad consequences for your credit report. It might become hard for you to start a new business after bankruptcy unless you are Donald Trump.

Settles your debts and liabilities

Makes it hard for you to get credit in the future

A good exit plan provides you maximum value when you sell your company. Before starting to develop, you need to ask a few questions to yourself.

  • Do you want involvement in your business?
  • What are your financial goals?
  • Do you have to pay the creditors or investors back?

These three questions will clarify things. Answering these questions will help you find the right exit strategies for your business.

If you do not want any involvement in the business, all shares could be sold. You can liquidate the company, and remove your involvement.

Objectives of your Exit Business Strategy

To get maximum value for a company, you should set your exit business strategy objectives.

These objectives will help you understand your requirements. You want maximum return on investment, and knowing your goals will support you to sell your company for a good profit.

Make Business Finance Report

Prepare your finance report for a better understanding of your company’s account and assets.

A clear finance report will enable you to understand your business performance and value. Having a clear idea of finances will help in negotiations with buyers.

As you are going to sell your business, it is recommended to have clear finances. Pay off the creditors if you have any. Less debt will attract more buyers.

Market situation

The market situation should be taken into consideration while making an exit plan. If the market condition is good, there must be a lot of potential buyers and you can sell your company at a higher rate.

Adopt the Right Strategy and Timeline

There are many strategies to adopt, you need to choose the one that will work for you. Select the time when you are prepared for the transition.

If you do not want to sell a 100% share of the company, it is advised to adopt an IPO strategy. Through this strategy, you can stay connected with your business. IPO helps you to sell a portion of your shares.

Likewise, choose a time when you are prepared to sell your company.

Business Evaluation

Business evaluation is another crucial step. Business evaluation gives you an idea about the value of your business. After making the finance report, you can easily examine your company.

You can not put your business for sale without a proper idea about the value.

Bonus Tip : Know the worth of your small business by using our business evaluation calculator .

Speak with your Investors

Once you are clear on what you want to do with your business, take your investors and stakeholders in confidence.

Tell them how the investors’ share will be repaid. You’ll need your business finance report to convince investors of your claims.

Choose new Leadership

Starting with choosing new leadership for your business as you continue with the exit business plan.

You can transfer responsibilities to new leadership smoothly if your business operations are already documented.

Tell your Employees

Your employees have an emotional attachment to the company. Tell them about your business exit plan. Face them with empathy and be transparent in your answers. This will make them feel valued and increase their loyalty to the business.

Inform your Customers

Announce the changes in your business to your customers. Introduce them to the new business owners to keep their confidence.

In case of liquidation or bankruptcy, educate your customers about alternative businesses that offer the same or similar products or services as you did.

The best exit plan is the one that gives you maximum profit. A plan that is according to your expectations and goal is best for your business.

The best strategy is the one that keeps on updating as per your need.

In the beginning, you may want to merge your company with another corporation for better results. Later on, one of your close relatives wants to buy your company. His offer might be tempting. You change your mind and are ready to sell.

The best plan is always an updated plan. You can make their exit plans themselves according to their goals. Consult a professional if you feel stuck in the process.

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Exit business planning refers to the strategic process of developing a plan for the eventual transition or exit from a small business. It involves setting goals, evaluating options, and implementing strategies to maximize the value and ensure a smooth transition when the business owner decides to exit.

Developing an exit plan is important because it allows business owners to proactively prepare for their eventual exit, whether it’s through selling the business, passing it on to a successor, or closing it down. It helps maximize the business’s value, minimize potential risks, and ensure a smooth transition for all stakeholders involved.

An exit plan typically includes determining the desired exit timeline, identifying potential buyers or successors, valuing the business, addressing legal and financial considerations, and creating a comprehensive succession or transition strategy.

Developing an exit plan involves assessing your business’s current state, setting clear goals for your exit, seeking professional guidance from accountants or business consultants, considering tax implications, and creating a detailed plan outlining the steps and timeline for your exit.

It is advisable to start developing an exit plan as early as possible, ideally when starting or acquiring a business. However, even if you haven’t done so yet, it’s never too late to start. The earlier you begin the planning process, the more time you have to implement strategies that can increase the value and ensure a successful exit when the time comes.

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Writing an Exit Strategy

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Introduction

An exit strategy is a plan to close a business and distribute its assets in a profitable way. It’s important to have an exit strategy in place even when the reason for closing is a positive one, such as retirement or the sale of a business. Writing an exit strategy allows business owners to ensure their business will have a smooth transition and that their assets — both financial and strategic — are passed on in a way that will benefit them most.

Definition of an Exit Strategy

An exit strategy is a set of procedures and processes that will enable the business to have a graceful closure. It focuses on preserving assets and winding up operations. It should also set out a plan for the future, determine how assets are to be handled, and identify timelines for completion of the strategy. An exit strategy plan should take into account all legal and financial requirements.

Reason for Writing an Exit Strategy

Many business owners set up an exit strategy as a backbone for their business. An exit strategy plan accounts for the future of the business and serves as a framework for decisions such as what services to offer, how to manage finances, and how to maximize revenues. It also serves as a plan of action in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as a downturn in the market or a major change in the business landscape. An exit strategy should provide the foundation to ensure a successful transition.

  • It can help mitigate risk by creating a plan to address unexpected changes.
  • It can provide clarity and security for a business.
  • It can help a business owner capitalize on opportunities to maximize the profitability of their business.
  • It can provide peace of mind that the business will be transitioned smoothly.

The Process of Writing an Exit Strategy

Writing an exit strategy requires careful planning and consideration. The process should involve researching the market, setting a timeline, determining your goals, and formulizing a financial plan.

Research the Market

The market should be studied in order to get a better understanding of the field and area it operates in. Knowing the potential buyers, industry trends, and the overall landscape will help create a suitable exit strategy.

Establish a Timeline

Decide on a timeline for the implementation of the exit strategy. It may take months or even years to implement, depending on the size and scope of the business. Mapping out a timeline will help to keep the process on track.

Determine Your Goals

Setting specific goals for the exit strategy will help keep the process focused and organized. Consider the financial goals, the timeline to meet them, and how the strategy will align with the overall vision of the business.

Create a Financial Plan

Craft a financial plan for the exit strategy. Think about the financial risks and determine how to manage them. Consider the costs involved and what investments may be necessary to ensure success. A financial plan will help to maximize the return from the exit strategy.

3. Considerations When Writing an Exit Strategy

Writing an exit strategy for your business is an important task that provides business owners with a plan for exiting their company. Crafting a successful strategy requires taking into account numerous aspects, including raising capital, calculating market value, and investigating potential buyers.

a. Raise capital

Raising capital is essential when developing an exit strategy, as it will provide the owner with the necessary funds needed to exit the business. Entrepreneurs may choose to take out a loan, accept a private investor, or receive capital from a venture capital fund.

b. Calculate market value

Calculating market value of the business helps owners to determine the estimated worth of their company for potential buyers. Carefully assessing the current value of the business allows owners to set the sale price that buyers are willing to pay in order to purchase the business.

c. Investigate potential buyers

Investigating potential buyers is important in order to locate qualified buyers who are willing to purchase the business. Business owners need to carefully research and vet potential buyers to ensure they have the necessary funds and the right connections to purchase the company at the sale price.

Consider Legal Advice

When it comes to exiting a business, there is often a lot of legal considerations such as formalizing the process, identifying tax opportunities, and drafting contracts. Having professional legal advice is key in order to ensure that all legal requirements are met and that you are making decisions that are in your best interests. Here are some key steps to consider when seeking legal advice.

Formalize the Process

Having a plan that is clear and formalized is important when moving forward with an exit strategy. Depending on the type of business, there may be different regulatory and legal requirements that need to be met as part of the process. Having a legal professional familiar with these regulations can be invaluable to help ensure that everything is done correctly.

Identify Tax Opportunities

Tax implications can be a major factor when deciding to exit a business. Not only can working with a legal professional help to make sure that you are in compliance with all tax regulations, but it is also important to be aware of any tax credits, deductions, or other opportunities which can help to minimize your taxes. This can be a complex area, so being able to draw upon the expertise of a legal professional is key.

Draft Contracts

When it comes to exiting a business, it is likely that contracts will need to be drafted. In order to have legally binding agreements, it is important to have the terms drafted in an appropriate manner that is compliant with any relevant regulations. A legal professional can help to ensure that contracts are drafted correctly and that the appropriate parties are involved.

Market and Market the Exit Strategy

When creating an exit strategy for a company, the first step is to assess the competitive landscape. Understanding how the brand fits in with others and how the competition is affecting the space is important in developing a successful exit strategy. Once the competitive landscape has been assessed, the company should make efforts to connect with industry leaders and build relationships with those already established in the market.

Assess Competitive Landscape

When building an exit strategy, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape. Companies should gain insights into the competitive advantages and competitive threats they face. Having a clear picture of the competitive environment allows the company to develop a competitive strategy, including initiatives to counter the competitive threat and capitalize on competitive advantages.

Connect with Industry Leaders

To ensure that a company’s exit strategy is successful, it’s necessary to build relationships with industry leaders. This can be accomplished by networking at conferences, attending trade shows, participating in business associations and tapping into professional connections. It's also important to research the different professionals that lead the industry and contact them. By connecting with key industry players, the company can gain insights into the opportunities and risks associated with their exit strategy.

Build Relationships

Once the company has identified industry leaders, the next step is to build relationships with them. This can be done by offering valuable advice and a fresh perspective, as well as by engaging in conversations on social media. Companies should also look for ways to collaborate with industry leaders and create cross-promotional opportunities. Building strong relationships will help ensure the success of the exit strategy, as these relationships can open the door to potential funding and valuable insights.

Monitor Ongoing Updates

After your exit strategy has been implemented, it is necessary to monitor any changes that may have an impact on the plan. Collecting information on updates that occurred during the transition is key to understanding the effectiveness of the plan. These updates include changes in regulatory requirements, new technologies, and changing customer preferences, among others.

Assess Risk and Impact

It is critical to assess any potential risks resulting from the updates that could negatively affect the exit strategy. Companies should consider threats from legal, environmental, financial, and operational perspectives. Among others, the assessment should include developing strategies to mitigate risk, determining the economic impact of the changes, and understanding the psychology of stakeholders.

Reanalyze Exit Strategy

Once the risks associated with updates have been identified and their impact assessed, companies should consider how to adapt the exit strategy to align with the changes. This includes a comprehensive examination of the current plan and taking into account the updates and any new business objectives.

Make Necessary Changes

After the reanalysis of the exit strategy, companies should make changes when necessary to address any potential risks. Companies should be prepared to modify or adjust the strategy over time, depending on the complexity of the exit and any new updates. Businesses should also be open to feedback from any stakeholders involved in the plan.

Writing an exit strategy for your business is an important part of effective management. Taking time to thoroughly analyze the tools and processes of your business is essential for making sure your exit strategy is successful.

In this post, we discussed the importance of an exit strategy and the steps necessary for creating an effective one. We looked at the need for an early understanding of options through research and strategic planning. We delved into the components of a successful plan and looked at ways to create an exit strategy that meets your goals.

Summarize Key Points

  • An exit strategy is an important part of effective management.
  • Researching the options is essential, as it gives you a better understanding of what is available and which option is right for you.
  • Creating a strategic plan is also essential, as it ensures that you are making decisions with a clear direction in mind.
  • Components of a successful plan include market analysis, financial planning, and legal considerations.
  • Implementing an exit strategy can be difficult but is worth the effort.

Highlight Importance of Exit Strategy

An effective exit strategy is essential for a successful business. It helps you align your short-term and long-term goals, ensures that you are planning for the future, and provides peace of mind in knowing that you have a plan for exiting your business when the time is right.

Stress Need for Thorough Analysis

Writing an exit strategy can be a daunting task, but it is essential to make sure that your business is prepared for the future. Creating a thorough plan requires research, strategic thinking, and the right resources to make sure that you are making the right choices for your business. Taking the time to analyze the process and plan accordingly is the best way to ensure that your exit strategy is successful.

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How To Plan a Graceful Business Exit Strategy [Free Consult]

how to write a business plan exit strategy

A business exit strategy is a strategic plan that business owners use to leave or sell the business. Entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, and individuals use a company exit strategy to sell assets for a profit or limit losses. Having an exit strategy business plan helps protect you, your business, and investors.

When starting a business, you probably are not thinking about selling it. But suppose   you decide to leave the company you created. In that case, an exit strategy will enable you to exit the way you want to.   If the business is successful, you will be able to sell it for a profit. However, if the business venture doesn’t perform as expected, you can cut your losses and leave.

On this page, you will learn what a company exit strategy is. You will also find out why small business exit strategy planning is  crucial for any startup   or business venture.

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What Is an Exit Strategy in Business?

An exit strategy in business refers to how you plan to transfer ownership of the company when you leave. After investing large sums of money in the new business, an exit plan will help ensure a healthy return on investment. However, exit strategy planning is vital whether the business is successful or not.

Common types of exit strategies include a strategic acquisition , initial public offerings (IPO), management buyouts, and selling to someone you know. Other examples of  exit plans   are mergers, liquidation, or filing for bankruptcy.

Why a Company Exit Strategy Is Necessary

All types of companies  — large and small — need an exit strategy.  Planning to leave a business  doesn’t mean planning for failure. For example, you may start the business with the intention of selling it when you  meet your profit objective . Or an exit strategy is helpful for when you plan to retire.

What about small businesses? Small business exit planning is crucial if you want to secure financing. Along with a business plan, your exit plan will give investors and creditors the confidence that their money is protected. If the business fails, the exit strategy will explain how you plan to limit their losses.

Having an exit strategy business plan is also helpful to ensure a smooth transition. For example, leaving a business that you helped establish can be a stressful time. Emotions can easily affect judgment. So, a strategic exit plan can help you make tough decisions and protect your finances.

There is another reason it’s wise to have a company exit strategy. Knowing the circumstances that cause you to leave the company helps you focus early throughout the business venture. For example, knowing the conditions for leaving can help set goals, make plans, and manage assets wisely. In addition, the exit strategy can  help ensure long-term growth   with a specific objective in mind.

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What to Consider for Small Business Exit Strategy Planning

Business exit strategy options depend on the type of company and objective. However, there are several critical elements in every exit strategy.

  • Exit strategy objectives   — It’s a good idea for any new business owner to consider individual goals. For example, you may want to have a specific return on investment or leave a legacy. Knowing your objectives helps to prioritize goals to  sell the business for a substantial profit .
  • Exit strategy timeline   — Having a time frame when you intend to leave or sell the business is vital in a company exit strategy. When you know how long you plan to be part of the business, you can plan accordingly.
  • Intentions for the business   — Include in the exit strategy what you intend to happen to the business. You may want to liquidate it after you leave, merge with another company, or leave it to a family member.
  • Market conditions   — Another factor to consider is conditions in the industry that could dictate the timing of the sale. For example, if there are many potential buyers, you could implement your strategy to sell for the highest price.

It’s a good idea to revisit your exit strategy business plan every so often. For example, maybe initially, you planned to merge your company with a larger one. However, your son now wants to buy the business from you. If you decide to sell to a family member instead of merging, update your

accordingly.

5 Exit Strategy Examples

Now we will look in detail at some common exit strategies to see which one may suit your company or small business. For each of these strategies, you will also see the pros and cons.

1. Acquisition Exit Strategy

Selling ownership of the company   is one of the most common exit strategies. An acquisition exit strategy means that you give up the right to run your business. In many cases, you could sell your business for a higher price than it’s worth, especially if you sell to a competitor.

There are a few reasons why acquisition is not an exit strategy for all business owners. First, you may not be ready to let go of the business entirely. Second, you may have to sign a noncompete agreement when selling to a competitor, meaning you can’t start a new business in the same industry.

Pros:   You can make a clean break from the business and sell it for a significant profit.

Cons:   The process can be time-consuming, and your business may cease to exist in its present form.

2. Merger Exit Strategy

An excellent small business exit strategy is to merge it with a larger company. This   type of exit strategy usually increases the value of your business . When merging your business, you typically remain part of the new company—either as an owner or manager. Usually, mergers take place with businesses in the same industry. The result is that your  business grows   in size and becomes more profitable.

Pros:   Your business can increase in value, and you could take on a new role in the merged company.

Cons:   Not the best exit plan if you want to retire or cut ties with the business.

3. Sell the Business to a Friend, Family Member, or Partner

If you want to create a legacy, then selling to someone you know is an excellent way to exit a business. For example, you could have plans to transition the company to your son or daughter or another relative. Other options to sell the business could be to a business colleague, partner, or arrange for an employee buyout.

Pros:   You can groom your successor to take on the role of owner to ensure a successful transition. Additionally, you could continue in an advisory role.

Cons:   There may not be a suitable person to leave the business to. Also, transitioning the business to a family member or friend can cause stress and even jeopardize the relationship.

4. Business Exit Strategy by Initial Public Offering (IPO)

One way to increase the value of a successful business is through an initial public offering—also referred to as “going public.” This type of exit strategy involves selling shares of stock. With this transition, you give up some or all control of the business to stockholders. However, an IPO requires time and a significant amount of money; therefore, it’s unsuitable for a quick exit strategy.

Pros:   An IPO can substantially increase the value of your business and boost brand awareness.

Cons:   Not usually suitable for small business exit strategy planning. It is also costly, involves scrutiny from shareholders, and requires meeting certain conditions.

5. Liquidation as a Company Exit Strategy

Liquidating your business is a choice many entrepreneurs make if they want to end the business operation completely. Liquidation involves selling the assets, paying off creditors and investors if you still owe money. After the liquidation, your business ceases to exist, and you have no ties to it. In most cases, liquidation is the fastest and simplest exit strategy in a business plan.

Liquidating a business can be a choice if you use the company to finance your lifestyle. You take the funds out rather than reinvesting them back into the business.

Pros:   There are fewer negotiations to leave the business, and you never need to worry about it again.

Cons:   The business ceases to exist, and you could damage relationships with employees, investors, and clients.

Which Exit Strategy Business Plan Is Best?

The best exit strategy for your business depends on several factors. The two most important things to think about are what is best for you and what is best for your business.

Here are some helpful tips on coming up with the best exit strategy for your needs:

  • Involvement   — Think about how much you want to be involved in your business in the future. Do you want to cut ties with the company but ensure that the business continues to operate? In that case, a merger or acquisition could be the best idea. Or do you want to keep your current position? If so, then maybe an IPO is best.
  • Liquidity needs   — It’s vital to know what your future financial needs will be. An acquisition will give an immediate payout. However, a merger could mean you continue to have a role in the day-to-day operations.
  • Business valuation   — Before putting your business up for sale, it’s vital to ensure it’s in an excellent financial position to maximize profits. It’s always best to speak to a professional business consultant to determine the optimal time to sell.

Need an Exit Strategy? Let’s Talk!

An exit strategy is an essential part of your business plan. From the very start of your business venture, you should know how you plan to leave it.

At Cunningham and Associates, we are here to help you achieve your business goals.

Our expert team of consultants has expertise in helping business owners develop profitable exit strategy business plans., related blog posts.

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Business Exit Plan

    You leave the firm cleanly, plus you gain the earnings from the sale. Liquidate: Sell everything at market value and use the revenue to pay off any remaining debt. It is a simple approach, but also likely to reap the least revenue as a business exit plan. Since you are simply matching your assets with buyers, you probably will be eager to sell ...

  2. How to Create an Exit Strategy Plan

    The main goal of the ESC is to document the essential building blocks of your exit strategy and create a shared language for communicating and iterating on your exit plan. I recommend that you lay out the ESC on one page to focus on what is absolutely critical and essential. I recommend that you include the following essential building blocks ...

  3. Business Exit Plan & Strategy Checklist

    Business Exit Plan Strategy Component #1: Valuation. Your exit strategy should begin with a valuation, or appraisal, of your company. The process of valuing your company involves three steps, the first being an assessment of the current value of your business. Once this value is calculated, you should then plan how to both preserve and increase ...

  4. How to Develop an Exit Plan for Your Business

    Steps to developing your exit plan. Because leaving your business can be emotional and overwhelming, planning a proper exit strategy requires diligence in time and care. To plan an exit strategy that provides maximum value for your business, consider the six following steps: Prepare your finances. The first step to developing an exit plan is to ...

  5. Exit Strategies: How to Plan a Business Exit Strategy

    2. Mergers and acquisitions: Being acquired by another business can be a profitable exit strategy for businesses and entrepreneurs. If you've planned for a high business valuation, you can attract good buyers and control the price negotiations. 3. Selling your control: If you are not the sole business owner of your business, selling your stake ...

  6. Exit Strategy: Definition, Types, Business Plan (+Template)

    This guide about business exit strategy outlines the steps that a business owner needs to take to generate maximum value from bequeathing or selling their company. Exit strategy business plan template included. 📣 Just in: The State of Current M&A 2023 Report ... Exercising critical thinking to write a business exit strategy can be exciting ...

  7. How to Create an Exit Strategy: Everything You Need to Know

    Ask for directions. Engage with service providers like bankers and accountants frequently. Don't run out of gas. Make sure when you go to sell the company you don't run out of money and ...

  8. Business Exit Strategy Planning: How to Prepare for an Exit

    Now that you know what creating an exit strategy involves and how exits can differ for startups versus established businesses, follow these tips when executing your plans. 1. Bring in outside expertise. You need to build your own professional team for the sales process because your buyer will almost certainly have one.

  9. Business Exit Strategy: Definition, Examples, Best Types

    Business Exit Strategy: An entrepreneur's strategic plan to sell his or her investment in a company he or she founded. An exit strategy gives a business owner a way to reduce or eliminate his or ...

  10. How to Plan Your Exit Strategy as a Business Owner

    An exit strategy is how entrepreneurs (founders) and investors that have invested large sums of money in startup companies transfer ownership of their business to a third party. It's how investors get a return on the money they invested in the business. Common exit strategies include being acquired by another company, the sale of equity, or a ...

  11. 6 Actionable Steps For Preparing Your Exit Strategy

    You should plan this strategy at least three to five years in advance (ideally ten years) with the understanding that your goals and business may evolve over time. 1. Identify your expectations ...

  12. Exit Planning Explained

    Step 4: Develop Your Exit Plan. Create and implement a comprehensive and customized exit plan outlining the specific actions and initiatives needed to execute your chosen strategy. Include a contingency plan, a timeline, and a budget for prompt execution. Step 5: Execute Your Exit Plan.

  13. Business Exit Strategy

    Prospective buyers prefer that the company owners have performance metrics, revenue history, and any other paperwork ready. A business exit strategy ensures that company managers have systems in place for recording essential information on a regular basis. 2. Get a better understanding of revenue streams. An exit plan requires that one keeps ...

  14. Business Exit Strategy Planning Guide

    A business exit strategy is a plan that an owner or executive creates and follows to liquidate their stake in a business, ideally at a substantial profit. A successful business exit strategy requires careful planning and should be periodically revised to best reflect the current business conditions.

  15. 8 Business Exit Strategies: Which Is Best for You?

    8 Business Exit Strategy Methods. Pass the business along to a family member. Explore a merger or get acquired. Pursue an "acquihire". Have existing managers buy you out. Sell your stake to a partner/investor. Plan an initial public offering (IPO) Liquidate the business. File for bankruptcy.

  16. How to Write an Exit Strategy for your Business Plan

    Firstly, you have to write in details your most likely or preferred exit strategy. Will you like to go public, sell it to another company, sell it to your employees or just liquidate it. Take some time to review the various options that are at your disposal and document your preferred choice. b.

  17. Creating An Exit Strategy For Your Small To Medium Sized Business

    For several reasons, an exit strategy is vital for all small to medium-sized businesses. It enables you to maximize the value of your business and reap the benefits of your hard work. It also ...

  18. 7 Business Exit Strategies

    An exit plan will urge you to focus on your targeted goal. It helps you end your business operations at the right time. You can work on your exit plan along with the business plan. An exit plan assists you to make a graceful exit from your business. Exit planning helps you to understand the value of your assets.

  19. Exit Strategies

    Examples of Exit Plans. Examples of some of the most common exit strategies for investors or owners of various types of investments include: In the years before exiting your company, increase your personal salary and pay bonuses to yourself. However, make sure you are able to meet obligations. It is the easiest business exit plan to execute.

  20. How to Write an Effective Exit Strategy

    Create a Financial Plan. Craft a financial plan for the exit strategy. Think about the financial risks and determine how to manage them. Consider the costs involved and what investments may be necessary to ensure success. A financial plan will help to maximize the return from the exit strategy. 3.

  21. Business Exit Planning

    Step 4: Research different types of exits. Make sure you research the pros and cons of different types of exit strategies before you begin writing your exit plan. Step 5: Write your exit plan. Once you've chosen the exit strategy for you, be sure to include detail on the following, and what will happen to them as part of the exit strategy, in ...

  22. How To Plan a Graceful Business Exit Strategy [Free Consult]

    Why a Company Exit Strategy Is Necessary. All types of companies — large and small — need an exit strategy. Planning to leave a business doesn't mean planning for failure. For example, you may start the business with the intention of selling it when you meet your profit objective.Or an exit strategy is helpful for when you plan to retire.

  23. PDF 3-11 Small Business Exit Strategy

    At the end of this module, you will be able to: Identify business exit strategy options, including various selling options or liquidation, and advantages and disadvantages of each option. Identify ways to make your small business more marketable to potential buyers. Identify additional considerations in selling or closing your small business.