Having an exit plan as a small business owner

If you’ve recently acquired or started a business, or even if you’ve been happily and successfully running one for several years, exiting the venture may be one of the furthest things from your mind. However, developing a solid exit plan now is highly advisable, even if you’re not planning on leaving for the foreseeable future.

With an exit strategy already in place, you will be better prepared for anything unexpected that the future may hold. That way, whether you leave the business pretty much in the way you thought you would, or have to exit sooner due to unforeseen circumstances, you have a strategy set in order to help you do so as seamlessly as possible.

What does it mean to have an exit strategy
The term “exit strategy” may call to mind images of an owner ditching a sinking company, but the truth is far more complex than that. A good exit strategy can cover anything from the circumstances in which an owner would choose to leave, the method in which they decide to leave, the sale process and even the options for the business post-sale or what the owner plans to do once they’ve exited.

An exit strategy will be useful in any exit scenario, not just in the event of a business failing. Whether unforeseen circumstances crop up, or an owner simply decides that they want to leave, a pre-existing exit strategy means that the process can happen swiftly and smoothly and that a successful sale is secured at a reasonable price.

Planning a good exit
Firstly, the best way to ensure a smooth exit is to plan in advance. Trying to strategise an exit under time pressure or without adequate preparation could result in a rushed sale that doesn’t deliver an adequate price and potentially isn’t in the long term interests of the business. Drafting an exit strategy as early as possible, then, is highly advisable.

Other than getting started on planning your exit early, the key things to consider when mapping out an exit strategy are how long you are looking to remain involved with the business and what your goals, financially, professionally and personally, are.

Considering how long you want to be involved can not only help you map out an exit timeframe, but also help to determine your post-sale plans. For example, do you intend to step aside as owner but remain involved with the business in some capacity? Or will you have a clean break to do something else?

Thinking about your personal, professional and financial goals, meanwhile, will help you to identify points at which you can determine it is the right time to exit. For example, when any children have left home, graduated or had children of their own; when you feel you’ve fulfilled your professional ambitions; or when you’ve made an amount of money that you’d previously identified as your goal.

The last thing to be said about planning a successful exit is the importance of consulting a professional if you feel overwhelmed or unsure. Discussing issues such as when you might like to exit or in what circumstances will help you to identify these factors and to develop a clearer exit strategy. More than anything, though, an exit strategy is something that will only improve the more preparation you put into it.