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Boni and John Wagner-Stafford on making a business exitIt’s one of the most important decisions you will make. And one of the most difficult. Is it time for you to exit stage left and say goodbye to your business?

There are a few unmistakable signs that it is indeed the right time – for you and the business – to move on.


A successful run and natural progression, like retirement, may be the impetus for your exit. It may be that all the goals you identified in your succession plan and exit strategy have been met. If so, you’ve prepared for this moment and you’re likely ready.

Or perhaps you’ve done such a bang-up job that the needs of the business have outgrown what you can reasonably provide. It’s time for someone else to take the helm.

But you could also be encountering one of these reasons:

  • You’re no longer having fun;
  • Your business growth has stalled, you’re out of ideas and oomph;
  • You have come to despise the hiring and firing, and paperwork;
  • You’re frazzled, stressed and your health is suffering;
  • There’s conflict (or divorce) between partners;
  • Not enough working capital to continue;
  • The death of a business partner has forced your hand.

But just because it’s the right time for you to exit doesn’t mean it’s the right time. Both the business and the market environment should also be in the right space.

The business

When you’re having a tough time in your business, your business can be unhappy and unhealthy, too. Before you make your exit move, your business should be in great shape, with:

  • Strong sales and performing products and services;
  • A competent management team;
  • Well-defined repeatable and documented processes;
  • Demonstrable history of profitability;
  • Solid customer base;
  • A plan for continued growth.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best time to sell your business is likely when it’s doing better than it ever has.

The environment  

Market conditions, technology and the regulatory environment can all affect your business, and your exit strategy. Some questions to ask:

  • How many other businesses are for sale in your area or market? Too many – a buyer’s market – and it may drive down your price and make it harder to attract a buyer.
  • What’s happening with the economy: is the lending environment such that prospective buyers will be unable to access financing? Has a swath of corporate downsizings increased the number of potential new business owners looking for their next career move?
  • Are there regulatory changes on the horizon that will affect your business in a positive or negative way?
  • Is new or developing technology going to be a threat, or an advantage?

Preparing to exit  

Whether your plan is to sell, transfer or merge, there are key activities to undertake to ensure you’re prepared and to position your business to command top dollar:

  • Boost profits: Your tax strategy will shift. Rather than low profits to reduce tax payable, when you’re readying your business to sell you want to leave as much money in the business as possible. Prospective buyers will want to see strong financial performance and profits.
  • Clean house: Polish up the balance sheet, ensure all taxes payable are up to date, discontinue products or services that aren’t doing well, review and prune any fringe benefits that are overly generous, and be sure you have a couple of years worth of audited financial statements.
  • Work with an adviser: You’ll want someone with experience in your industry and with the exit strategy you’re employing. They – along with your accountant – should also be able to help you with a valuation that will establish a reasonable price for your business.

If your business is in decline and not valuable enough for someone else to acquire, you may simply decide to liquidate inventory and close your doors.

Regardless, how and when to exit your business is a significant decision that deserves careful thought and planning.

Between them, Boni and John Wagner-Stafford have five decades of experience as entrepreneurs and/or providing consulting services to other small businesses across Canada. Boni and Joni are the authors of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Plan, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.

Boni and John are Troy Media contributors. Why aren’t you?

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