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I Exited My Company in Just 7 Years — Here's 3 Things You Need to Do to Have a Successful Exit Discover the 3 crucial factors you need to know to ensure a successful exit.

By Aaron Marcum Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurship is more than just money. It's about your legacy — learn to choose lasting impact and personal fulfillment over hefty paydays.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Building and establishing a company from the ground up is often the dream for many entrepreneurs — pouring their hearts and souls into their vision and watching it transform from an idea into a living entity. But sometimes, the end goal isn't just to create but also to create with a successful exit in mind. A profitable initial public offering (IPO) or a strategic acquisition by a bigger company can be how the story of years of laborious efforts ends for many entrepreneurs, ultimately leading to financial independence.

Having exited two of my own companies and coached countless others through the process, I've learned a lot of things in writing an exiting story. Sure, the financial rewards are undeniably enticing, but it is also important to recognize that exiting isn't always the best option. In fact, a strategic exit hinges on three key factors: recognizing the signs that the time is right, meticulously preparing your company for a smooth transition, and understanding when holding onto the reins might be the wiser choice.

Related: Your Company May Have a Costly Trust Problem. Here's How to Fix It — And Boost Your Profits.

1. Pay attention to the signs and recognize when it's time to exit

The decision to exit isn't and has never been a light decision that can be made overnight or within a single meeting. It's a pivotal moment that will impact an entrepreneur financially and shape the business's future.

They say that timing is everything, and I couldn't agree more. Look for periods of favorable market conditions, such as high demand for your specific industry or technology. Just like my second venture, which capitalized on the booming market for big data in home care, aligned my exit with a favorable market upswing. The decision significantly increased the company's value.

It's also crucial to recognize that sometimes, your skillset is no longer the driver of your business's growth. I experienced this, which prompted me to bring in exceptional talent when my last company matured. That decision strengthened the company; if I hadn't recognized how my contributions had plateaued, the company would have struggled to climb to new heights. Understandably, you might feel like the most logical option is just to exit the company. However, stepping back to a mentorship role could be a far better alternative so you can continue to contribute strategically without hindering the business's growth. But again, this is not another decision that could be taken lightly; it requires thorough evaluation.

2. Prepare your company for a successful exit

Before you get swept by dollar signs, you must address one of the most crucial aspects of a successful exit, which is often overlooked — due diligence. Traditionally, the focus has been on the buyer's due diligence process. However, it's equally important for you to investigate the buyer. Research your buyer's past acquisitions, run a "background check" of sorts, and get information on how their past acquisitions went. If you could, reach out to their current employees as well. This doesn't make you a weird and paranoid seller; it just proves how you're committed to looking after the business even when it's sold, ensuring it runs smoothly and thrives in the future. After all, due diligence is a two-way street. This level of scrutiny also allows you to understand their culture. One costly mistake I made in my first exit was losing focus during the buyer's due diligence process, which lasted four months. My company's growth stagnated, and our valuation dipped. Red flags are as important as dollar signs, so don't think twice to walk away if their values clash with yours.

Related: How to Strategically Exit as a Leader

3. Develop a post-exit strategy for continued engagement

An exit strategy can undeniably motivate many entrepreneurs — a great chance to cash in and move on. However, it shouldn't always be the ultimate goal. Does money weigh more than your legacy and vision? Perhaps. But that's yours to decide. Money is only one top factor when deciding to exit; for me, it's never the most important. I value living my best life as an entrepreneur, ensuring that all my ventures create freedom for myself and my family.

Suppose you've successfully built a business that runs smoothly without your constant intervention and still provides you with financial freedom and the time to pursue other passions. In that case, I think selling might not be the best idea. Personally, I also find it very satisfying to lead and further grow a thriving business, often more satisfying than getting paid once.

But assuming you pursued selling it and you exited, what comes next? You start with another vision and start with new strategies. Wouldn't it burn you out? Would it make you more fulfilled to start over and over, repeating the same process of creating and selling for money? Maybe, or maybe not. The point is you have to develop a post-exit plan that doesn't dim the light of your burning passion. It's okay to pause and enjoy a well-deserved break. Don't lose your north star; strive to make your life more fulfilling, way beyond money talks.

Related: 8 Lessons Learned From Building and Selling a Startup

Build a legacy, not just a series of sales

The definition of happiness and success may differ from person to person, depending on what motivates them to wake up every day. Is it the daily grind that motivates you? Or probably the challenges of building something from the ground up? Regardless, you have to remember that as an entrepreneur, success can also mean recognizing your limitations and knowing when to stop. This goes beyond ensuring your creation's future success and the dancing dollar bills in your head. Entrepreneurship is more than just money. It's about your legacy — learn to choose lasting impact and personal fulfillment over hefty paydays.

Aaron Marcum

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of Breakaway Home Care Accelerator

Aaron Marcum is the author of #1 Amazon Best Selling book, “EntreThrive – The Entrepreneurs Eight Laws to Accelerate Financial Freedom While Creating The Good Life.”

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