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How do you know when it is time to sell, retire or refuel?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I started my small business 22 years ago and have enjoyed a measure of success. I am tired of looking for the right person to take over, tired of training the ones I think may work and tired of managing employees. I love my business and the freedom it gives me, but after 33 years I'm looking forward to retiring, but don't know how. As a service business, I don't think I can get what I need if I sell it. Companies want me to stay on, which defeats my purpose!
  1. "I don't think I can get what I need if I sell it" is a very powerful statement. Fully analyze that guess. Talk to some business brokers. Investigate standard formulas for valuing your business based on sales or profits or whatever. A business is worth what somebody else will pay for it.
  2. With a service business buyers do want the key people to stay because most service businesses lose their most important assets every night when people go home. Do you think you have a better choice than promising to stay on for two years? You don't say how old you are but after 22 years in business you probably have a sense of how fast time goes by, how quick two years really is (note: I just turned 60, so I think I know). Do you have a better option? Do you want to have this same situation five years from now?
  3. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was: "know what knobs you have to turn." If you can't sell your service business without staying on for a few years, don't you want to do it sooner, not later? Won't it be worth even less five years from now, as you get older?

Tim Berry

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Tim Berry is the chairman of Eugene, Ore.-Palo Alto Software, which produces business-planning software. He founded and wrote The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. Berry is also a co-founder of, a leader in a local angel-investment group and a judge of international business-plan competitions.