A business owner who is ready to leave their business needs to have an exit strategy. The exit strategy is simply how they’ll remove themselves as the owner of the business, how they’ll monetize their business, and how long the exit strategy will take. By working out the exit strategy in advance, small business owners have more control over their futures and the future of the business. Some of the most common exit strategies used by small business owners today include the following:
Liquidation or Walking Away
One strategy small business owners can use is to close the business and liquidate all of the assets to cover any remaining debts. This can be advantageous because it’s possible to close the business and sell off any remaining assets quickly, but it can have disadvantages as well. There is not going to be a high return on assets for the owner, and the only money they’ll receive is the money from the liquidation sale. Even when the economy is doing well, it may be difficult to get good prices for machinery or equipment the business is selling. Plus, when money is obtained, it must go to repaying debts, while anything remaining goes to the business owner.
Keep it in the Family
Some business owners may want to give or sell the business to a family owner. This could lead to a potentially smooth transaction, especially if the family member has already been a part of the business and knows what is needed to manage the business successfully. It also can allow the small business owner to continue to work in an advisory position. The downside to this is that the family members may not want to take over the business or may not have the appropriate skills to do so.
Selling to an Employee
It is possible to sell the company to current employees or managers who may be interested. The employees or managers are already familiar with the business, so they’re likely to want the business to succeed. If this is done over a long period of time, it can increase employee loyalty, as well. Unfortunately, there may not be an employee or manager who is qualified to own the business, and there may be an issue with financing the sale. Along with this, there’s the potential for clients to be dissatisfied with the new ownership or any changes in how the business is run.
Selling on the Open Market
The most popular way to sell a business is on the open market. This is also often the easiest way to sell a business, as a business broker can handle a lot of the work. If a business owner is ready to retire or wants to try something new, they can engage a business broker and look for the right buyer. This can help maximize the return for the business owner. However, there is a lot that can influence the price of the sale. With the right business broker to help, a business valuation can be done to determine the best selling price and to potentially sell the business faster. Business owners who want to sell on the open market would be advised to work with a business broker, so they can get the best terms and profit as much as possible during the sale of the business.
While no one wants to file for bankruptcy, it does provide the opportunity to get out of a bad situation. If bankruptcy is necessary to sell the business, working with a bankruptcy attorney can allow the business owner to file and start liquidating the business. Once the bankruptcy is complete, the business owner can potentially have business debts settled. Psychologically, it may be satisfying to not have the same responsibilities, anymore. However, it can impact their ability to obtain credit in the future and can end the relationship with suppliers, clients, and customers. If the business owner wants to open a new business in the future, the end of important relationships can be an issue.
Going Public With an IPO
Depending on the size of the business, it may be possible to go public through an IPO. This can be extremely profitable, but it is not fast. Most businesses typically take many years to build enough scale to sell to the public through an IPO. Also, depending on the structure of the IPO, the business owner may have to wait to be able to sell their shares during what is called the “lockup” period. It’s also important to be aware, before deciding on this exit strategy, that there are higher compliance and reporting standards for a company that is public. Plus, Dodd-Frank laws state that an owner could be held personally liable for fraudulent accounting of the business, even if they were not directly involved, or any failure to disclose certain issues with the business when it goes public.
Merger or Acquisition
Mergers and acquisitions are other options for small business owners to consider. For a merger, the business owner will likely need to continue being a part of the business, for at least a transition period, so they will not be able to walk away right after the merger is done. With an acquisition, however, the business is purchased by another business. In this case, the owner will sell the business to the other company, and the other company will combine it with their own. While there will likely still be a transition period, the expectation may be that the former Owner may be able to leave, after a short transition period. One of the downsides to acquisition is that the small business owner may need to sign a non-compete agreement, meaning they can’t open a new business in the same industry for multiple years.
When it’s time to leave a business, whether to retire or start something new, finding the right exit strategy is a must. While some of these are not desirable, like filing for bankruptcy, there are options to account for just about any situation. To get a larger profit or to make sure the business sells quickly, working with a business broker to sell the business on the open market may be the best solution. Talk to a business broker today to find out how much your business could be worth or to find out what is needed to sell your business or what exit strategies are best.