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How to Plan Your Business Exit Strategy

By Brett R. Pernicano on March 17, 2021
Categories: EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION, TIPS & TRICKS

Crafting a successful business exit strategy takes multiple steps. Plan well in advance to ensure you have enough time to execute your company exit strategy effectively and by your preferred deadline.

Here are six steps to follow throughout the process, including how to assemble an experienced team to help with the transition. You’ll also learn how to maximize your company valuation while minimizing the risk of a deal falling through with a potential buyer. Use these tips as part of your business exit strategy checklist so you don’t miss a single important detail.

1.  Gather Your Team

It’s unwise to try and navigate the entire process on your own, which is why it’s important to build a business exit strategy consulting team to guide you. There are typically at least five types of professionals to consider working with, depending on the type of business you plan to exit.

Financial advisor: A financial advisor helps you prioritize your goals and help you achieve them before, during, and especially after the successful exit. Financial advisors create a financial plan for after you leave your company. They’ll also work with you to create an income stream and manage cash flow, whether you’re retiring or simply moving to another professional chapter of your life.

Exit planning consultant: Business exit strategy consulting is a professional service that can help you navigate the overall process. A third party consultant is a neutral individual whose goal is to serve your best interest. They’ll help you evaluate your options for exiting and vet potential buyers. They can also negotiate the final deal and organize all of the other players involved in carrying out a successful exit. In some ways it’s similar to having a real estate agent sell your house.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA): A CPA oversees your financials and helps determine a valuation for your business. If you’re selling your company, a CPA can also handle the transition to new ownership. Work with a CPA early on in the process to get an idea of where the company stands from an external perspective, then get advice on what you could potentially improve before looking for a prospective buyer.

Attorney: An attorney drafts the legal paperwork specific to your needs. This could include new ownership documents and incentive planning or stock ownership planning for employees. It’s a must-have service in order to protect yourself throughout the sale process.

Human capital personnel: A human resources consultant can be helpful with succession planning if ownership is transferring to someone close to the business, like a family member or key employee. They create processes to ensure the business has the staff necessary to remain successful after you leave.

All of these professionals should work together to help you achieve your goals. Be transparent with expectations for each role and consider delegating a leader who will lead the entire team.

2.  Evaluate Your Business and Personal Financials

Early in the process, gather your financial statements with the help of your financial advisor or CPA. Prepared income statements and cash flow statements are important to have on hand for potential buyers to review. You’ll also use this information in the next step to help create a company valuation.

At this stage, speak to your financial advisor about your personal situation. Goal planning is important, whether you plan to stop working entirely or you’re ready to launch a new project. Your advisor looks at your personal assets and liabilities to create a realistic post-exit plan that supports those upcoming goals.

Even if you already have interest from a prospective buyer, take the time to get all of your financials organized. Communicate regularly with your team so they can help you make the most of a potential sale. You want to make sure you’re covering all of your bases and not simply taking an offer because it’s quick and easy. You have one shot with how to plan your exit strategy, so make the most of it.

3.  Determine the Company Value

When figuring out how to write a business plan exit strategy, determine your company’s valuation before entertaining any offers from buyers. Your team of consultants can help calculate the valuation. The best metrics to use depend on your company structure and industry. In some cases, the valuation may be a multiple of total revenue. Another calculation is to use a perpetual growth rate, which assumes your business will continue to grow at its current pace.

Your CPA and exit planning strategist should help you come up with a realistic valuation. It’s important to find a balance between getting what your company is worth and meeting your timeline goals.

4.  Perform Risk Analysis

Running a business comes with an inherent level of risk, but it’s increasingly important to manage that risk as you approach your exit. Working with an experienced business exit planning team can help mitigate several layers of risk. As business owners age, for instance, death or incapacitation may become an increasing concern. A business exit strategist can help put extra controls in place to make sure the business can continue successfully. Succession planning in the company is important, but additional measures such as a Stay Bonus Plan for leaders motivates key leadership and staff to remain at the company as part of the management team to oversee operations.

A proper insurance plan is also vital.

5.  Evaluate Offers

Once you’re ready to actively sell your business, it’s time to evaluate offers. Your business exit strategy consultant typically serves as the broker between you and any potential buyers. There may be multiple steps and documents to evaluate and finalize before closing on the deal. Here are two of the most important documents that impact the exit process.

Term sheet: An early stage document that serves as an informal (and non-binding) agreement between you and a buyer. It outlines the terms of the deal, but falls short of being a legal contract. The information is usually listed out so that it’s easy to review the details.

Letter of Intent (LOI): Formatted as a letter rather than a list, a letter of intent differs from a term sheet in a few different ways. It includes the structure of the deal and other terms and may include legal documents like a non-disclosure agreement. The buyer also includes information on how they plan to finance the purchase. Although also non-binding, a letter of intent does come with some exclusivity.

At this point, it’s typically safe to disclose financials and other confidential information to help the sale move forward. In some cases, there may be language making the LOI binding, so just make sure that works in your favor if it’s present.

Your exit planning consultant will also perform due diligence on the buyer to make sure the offer is legitimate and to minimize any risks when moving forward. If you have multiple offers, your team can help you evaluate the pros and cons of each one before you move forward with a decision.

6.  Communicate with Stakeholders

With a buyer in place, you’ll enter the final stages of how to plan your exit strategy. If the business will continue rather than wind down, you’ll need to inform all of your appropriate contacts about the decision to sell or be acquired and how it will impact each audience.

Start by figuring out the new leadership of the company, if applicable. Identify any potential promotions from within and create a solid succession plan to keep your institutional knowledge within the company.

From there, it’s time to inform your employees. A change of ownership is likely to impact them in some way, whether it’s a new boss or potential layoffs. Be transparent and make sure you have enough details to answer questions and quell any fears that may be present.

Finally, in some cases, you may need to communicate with your clients, if it makes sense for your business model. Let them know of relevant changes, like new ownership, a change in service, or any other details that affect their relationship with your business.

Bottom Line

Follow these business exit strategy steps to a successful transition to the next stage of life. For help with the financial planning aspect of your exit, reach out to Dowling & Yahnke Wealth Advisors. Our advisors have the expertise and experience to help maximize your profit and set yourself up to achieve your post-exit goals.

Contact D&Y about your business exit plan strategy today.

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