Are You Keeping Your Exit Plans a Secret?

By: Patrick Ungashick

Are you keeping your exit plans a secret

Owning a business is one of the greatest pleasures and accomplishments of your life. You enjoy the freedom it has brought you, the opportunity to overcome its constant challenges, and the lifestyle it has afforded your family.

Through your business, you’ve created jobs, served employees and customers, innovated your market, and accomplished more than you could have dreamed when you first started. You are proud to be a business owner.

Yet there is a secret you keep, one you feel you cannot share with your trusted employees and valued customers. You probably have not openly discussed it with your spouse and family. Perhaps you have not said it aloud to yourself. Your secret is that one day, before it gets too late, you want out of the business. At some point, you want to exit.

Your Exit Will Happen One Day

So there it is. You want to exit. Just hearing the words may bring a range of emotions: fear, excitement, uncertainty. You love what you do and are immensely proud of the business and its people. Yet one day you will want to move on.

It is not that you are unhappy. You are happy. It is not that you want to retire. Perhaps you don’t — you enjoy working and growing the business. The day is coming, however, when you can see that you will want to do something else. You have other interests and ideas that you want to pursue without feeling guilty about not giving your business your fullest attention.

Perhaps you sense the day is coming when the business will be better served by a new generation, one with the talent and passion to take what you built to an even higher level. You want the business to be in good hands after it leaves yours.

Your exit will not be tomorrow, but it will happen one day. Many owners will spend 10 or more years telling themselves they want to exit in the next five years. Maybe for you it is finally time to stop rolling things indefinitely forward.

Dealing With the Unknowns and Questions

You have spoken about this subject with hardly anybody. There are too many unknowns, too many people impacted. What will happen to your employees? How will your customers be treated? What will people say about the business after you are gone? How will things change with your family if you don’t have the business anymore? What will be the financial impact to them?

It's not just about other people. What about you? How will you feel about yourself? Your sense of identity is rooted in your business. It defines you. We live in a culture where the most common first question we ask new people in social settings is, “What do you do for a living?” You are proud to answer that you own and lead a business. How will you answer that question after you exit? Who will you be then? What will your life be if you don’t have an office to go to every day?

You have run your business honestly, always trying to be transparent with employees, customers, and business partners. On this topic, however, you feel you cannot talk to those people. You don’t know how they will react. You have heard horror stories of competitors poaching employees and customers when the word gets out that a company might be for sale, even long before it actually is for sale.

Your business is built on relationships. What will happen if customers, lenders, and suppliers learn that you may not be around for the longer term? So your desire to exit one day remains your secret. While you know intellectually that exiting one day is no different than any regular employee’s expectation of retiring one day, sometimes it can feel like a dirty secret. That’s not how you do business — keeping secrets and wrestling with big questions for which you don’t have answers.

A Better Way to Exit Does Exist

This issue is too important. Your financial security is tied up in your business. You care about and respect the people impacted by your future exit and dislike not being up front with them. You feel like there are some conversations that you need to have, and soon. But you have no idea exactly who to have them with, how to have them, when to have them, and when not to.

You have heard how difficult, stressful, expensive, and risky it is to exit from a business. Your instincts tell you that trying to do it alone, without getting help and not being up front with these people, is a bad plan. There must be a better way.

If you want the option of successfully and happily exiting within the next five years or sooner, it may be time to get your exit plan in place. To get started, download our complimentary ebook, “Your Last Five Years: How the Final 60 Months Will Make or Break Your Exit Success.”

Your Last Five Years eBook

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