Plan Your Business Exit Strategy
In our experience, 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 we recommend following throughout the process, including how to assemble an experienced team to help with the transition. We offer these steps with the goal 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 to help decrease the likelihood of missing any important details.
1. Gather your team
It can be unwise to try and navigate the entire process on your own, which is why we belive 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.
A financial advisor helps you prioritize your goals and aims to help you achieve them before, during and especially after the successful exit. Financial advisors can create a financial plan that’s designed 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 starting another chapter of your professional life.
Exit planning consultant
Business exit strategy consulting is a professional service that can help you navigate the overall process. The goal of a third-party consultant is to serve your best interests. They’ll help you evaluate your options for exiting and will 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 can help determine a valuation for your business. If you’re selling your company, a CPA can also handle the transition to new ownership. We recommend working with a CPA early 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 seeking a prospective buyer.
An attorney drafts the legal paperwork specific to your needs. This may include new ownership documents and incentive planning or stock ownership planning for employees. We think this is a must-have service in order to stay protected from a legal standpoint throughout the sale process.
Human capital personnel
A human resources consultant can be helpful with succession planning if ownership is transferring to someone who is close to the business, like a family member or key employee. They can 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 intend 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 cover all your bases and not simply take 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, we suggest determining your company’s true value 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. In our experience, 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 is able to continue. Succession planning in the company is important, but additional measures, such as a Stay Bonus Plan for leaders, can motivate key leadership and staff to remain at the company as part of the management team to oversee operations.
We consider a proper insurance plan vital as well.
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 the deal. We think two of the most important documents that impact the exit process are the term sheet and the Letter of Intent.
This is 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, the LOI differs from a term sheet in a few ways. It includes the structure of the deal and other terms, while legal documents like a non-disclosure agreement may be attached. 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, we believe 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. If so, ensure that the language works in your favor.
Your exit planning consultant will also perform due diligence on the buyer to assess the offer’s legitimacy and to minimize any risks when proceeding. 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 help maintain continuity and 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 fears that may arise.
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 could affect their relationship with your business.
The bottom line
Follow these business exit strategy steps and we think you will have a successful transition to the next stage of life. If you need help with the financial planning aspect of your exit, reach out to Corient. Our experienced advisors aim to help maximize your profit and set you up to achieve your post-exit goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett is a Partner, Wealth Advisor in our San Diego office. Previously, he was a Lead Advisor and Principal at legacy firm Dowling & Yahnke. With over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry, Brett has provided clients with financial guidance in areas including business exit planning, divorce planning, multigenerational wealth transfers, asset management and comprehensive financial planning. Brett has been recognized locally by the San Diego Business Journal as a winner of the 2021 “40 Next Top Business Leaders Under 40.” Brett is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®), Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA®), Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®(CDFA), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®) designations. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Washington with a degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance. As a third-generation San Diegan, Brett has deep roots in the community. Brett currently resides in Del Sur with his wife and their two children. During his downtime, he enjoys playing beach volleyball, snowboarding and golf.
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