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Your 10-Year Exit Strategy

If you're looking toward retirement, plan ahead and sell when business is booming.
January 13, 2010
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/204580

As a business broker who's been involved in hundreds of deals, I can tell you with certainty that the best time to sell your business is when it's doing well. I can also tell you that this is exactly when most business owners have the hardest time pulling the trigger on a sale. If things are going so well, they ask, why should they sell and potentially leave money on the table?

An entrepreneur's dream is to build a successful and profitable business, so to many owners it might seem illogical to walk away. Using a recent example involving a client, let me illustrate how it can pay off to sell when things are good.

This client hired our firm to determine the value of his business and market it to potential buyers. This company had all the attributes buyers are seeking--a great track record, increasing revenues and profits, long-term clients, key employees, a niche product, and very healthy margins. In fact, this business was just wrapping up a record year, and the future prospects were outstanding. At first glance, this was a model seller who had made the tough decision to sell when things were going well.

As anticipated, our firm generated multiple offers--several of them well above the value placed on the business. This was great news, and we thought the toughest part would be deciding which of the many qualified buyers the owner would choose. Wrong.

Because of all these offers, the owner began to second-guess the value of his business and became convinced that the buyers were undervaluing it. As such, we could not get a deal done, and the buyers went on to pursue other deals. Just four months later, the business started to slow. Today, it's not as valuable as it was when offers were on the table, and it will be some time before it regains its previous value.

Strong Prospects in Today's Market
The timing of a business sale can be a nebulous thing, especially in the current environment. Many people are surprised to hear that there are plenty of businesses performing well and generating healthy returns. There are great opportunities to successfully sell a business right now and maximize your investment. Even if sales are currently flat, don't misread that as a bad sign. Many analysts and economists like to toss around the phrase "flat is the new up." So if your business is holding its own--or if sales are slightly up or slightly down--consider it good news in this economy.

There is a market for your good business. The weak economy has created an abundance of individual buyers and healthy strategic buyers looking to acquire a good asset. The old economic notion of supply and demand remains very much in play today.

Should you have the good fortune to operate a business in one of the sectors below, there is a high likelihood that you will attract considerable buyer interest. These are ideal businesses for a society that is aging as well as getting comfortable tightening its belt.

Planning Your Exit Strategy
Selling a business has always been an individual decision, and timing the sale right can be tricky. It's always best for sellers to plan their exits so they can leave when they want and under the circumstances they want.

As such, it would be wise to plan an exit strategy even as you launch your business, but most people can't fathom taking that step just as they are getting started. What follows is a 10-year timeline to help you plan for the eventual sale of your business.

Let's assume you're thinking of retiring and selling your business when you turn 65. (That number could be 55 or 75, of course.) This timeline, a rough guide, will help you put the pieces in place to prepare your business for sale. If you create a plan from day one, most of your time will be spent running the day-to-day operations of your business so you won't need to scramble when you're ready. It also helps you better calibrate the best time to sell so you can get top dollar and achieve your personal goals.