Devising an exit strategy for early retirement
Q I am 45 years old and have been running my engineering company for the past 10 years. I would like to retire when I am 55. Can you give me some advice on how to put an exit plan in place?
AIn an ideal world, you would have possible exit routes in mind when you first set up the business. But at the very least you should start planning a few years ahead. Identify a particular year, level of sales or other objective (eg if you plan to retire at 55, you might want to start considering your exit at 50. You can always change your plans later if you need to)
From a financial perspective, the best time to exit is when you are in a position of strength. Aim to exit when profits are increasing and are likely to grow further. Look for general confidence in the economy and particularly in your sector. Consider the impact of any cycles or seasonal changes in your business.
An exit strateg gives your business more direction and clearer focus, since you know what the ultimate aim of your efforts is. It helps minimise future disruptions, both to your business and to your life; helps you better manage the tax implications of your departure; helps maximise what you get out.
Follow these steps when formulating an exit strategy:
- Consider the ultimate aim of your business - for example, is the end goal to leave a legacy to your family by giving over management to the next generation or simply to make money by selling it?
- Consider why you started your business - did you start your business purely to make money or because you wanted to further a cause and make a difference? Your motivations to go into business in the first place may well influence your choice of exit strategy.
- Consider what role you wish to play in the future - do you want to maintain some influence over the business (sit on the board, for example) or would you prefer to make a clean break and play out the rest of your days on the golf course?
- Consider your future personal liquidity - how much money do you want to get out of the business, and would you prefer a lump sum payment, pay-outs at regular intervals or shares which allow you to participate in the company's future growth?
EXIT STRATEGY OPTIONS
- Keep it in the family - transferring business ownership to a successor takes considerable planning, from an operational and legal perspective. If you opt to turn the family business over to your heirs, make sure that you have a solid succession plan in place.
- Sell the business to a friendly buyer - one of the easiest ways to offload a thriving business is to sell it. Before advertising a business for sale, put the word out - chances are parties interested in acquiring your business include those in your own network, like customers and employees, even family members. Those who've had some sort of connection with your business in the past are more likely to preserve its legacy - a plus point if you feel strongly about the issue.
- Sell the business to a competitor - there may be strategic buyers out there who wish to snap up your business for its client base; because they wish to take competing businesses out of the market or because they see some synergy with your business and theirs.
- Liquidate the business - don't wish your business to get in the hands of your competitors, go public or hand it over to a family member? Then wind up your business - close it down for good and sell your assets. This strategy works well for those who have high-value assets, such as land or equipment. Remember, though, that all debts will have to be paid off, first, before you get the spoils.