Begin with The End in Mind

Often business owners are exhorted to build their business with "the end", or their eventual exit in mind.  This can be a good idea in that it lends toward building your business to have "transferable value", or value that someone else will want to buy and own when you're ready to leave.  Value apart from you the owner.

It is also wise to build your exit plan with the end in mind.  The end being, not just your eventual exit from the business, but also your exit from this life.  In other words, creating your business exit plan with your "desired legacy" in mind.  Each of us leaves a legacy, but we don't all leave the legacy that we want to leave.  

We find that when thinking of legacy, business owners often focus on the transition of wealth.  And certainly, the effective distribution of wealth to future generations is a most important consideration.  At the same time, there are other significant and unique factors pertaining to the legacy of a business owner:

  • Family peace and harmony
  • Provision for family and others
  • Sustaining the culture of the business
  • Effective transfer of personal and business values to future generations
  • Reputation and role of the business in the community | Family name in the community and marketplace
  • Continued service to employees, customers, vendors, local economy
  • Being prepared for the unexpected
  • The way(s) in which the business owner wants to be remembered

This is a limited and representative list of issues and categories for reflection and planning pertaining to the legacy of a business owner.  You may have other priorities and desires.  The point is, in order to leave your desired legacy, it will take reflection, planning, and time to execute the plan.  Get started as soon as possible, as we don't know how long we have to create a plan for our desired legacy.


Built to Keep as an Exit Route

At a dinner party over the weekend my wife mentioned that one of the things she wanted to do was travel across the U.S. by train.  In between the main course and dessert, a few others also weighed in with what might be categorized as "bucket list" goals.  One of mine is now to travel across the U.S. by train.

Helping business owners clarify and establish their post-exit bucket list, financial, values-based and legacy goals, and choosing an exit route that provides them with the greatest opportunity to realize their goals, is what we most enjoy about the work we do. 

Establishing clear goals is essential and foundational for a successful exit plan.  For example, if an owner's passions now fall mostly outside of the business, selling to a third-party or an ESOP might afford them the most time and money, sooner rather than later, to pursue those non-business related interests.  Or, perhaps a sale-to-insiders or children could make the most sense if an owner has strong desires to transfer the business to those who helped build it, or to keep the business in the family. 

But what about "keeping the business"?  Is keeping the business a legit exit strategy?  And, could keeping the business best help me realize all my goals and objectives? 

First, keeping the business is indeed an exit strategy in that you would simply own the business until it was transferred, or shut down, upon your exit at death.  Too often this an exit route by default, due to a lack of strategic planning, not resulting in the true desires of the business owner being fulfilled.  However, with the right planning, keeping the business and transferring it at death, may certainly be the strategy that will prove most impactful in goal attainment. 

We have found that an owner who builds their business to keep it with the flexibility to accomplish all of their non-business goals and objectives, can end up having the greatest number of options for their eventual exit.  Let me explain.  If an owner builds in a way that allows them to realize their goal of traveling the world most of the year, and the business continues to prosper and grow while they're away, they have built a business others will want to own.  This owner would have the ability to attract third-party buyers and possibly have them bid for their business in a controlled-auction (depending on the size of the business).  However, this same owner may have an exit goal of transfer to key employees who have been instrumental in its growth.  Because the key employees currently run the business and it's very profitable, the owner is able to seriously consider the sale-to-insiders option, or perhaps an ESOP. that this owner much enjoys owning their business (that has been "built to keep") and all of their goals are best attained by keeping it, their exit strategy might become keeping the business and transferring it at death.  This owner has more options because they have built a business that others want to own, but that they don't have to sell in order to accomplish their personal and financial goals.  They built it so they could keep it (if desired) and still pursue all of their non-business goals and dreams.

If you "build to keep" in a way that affords you the time and money to accomplish your non-business goals and objectives, you can increase your options for a successful exit.

Contact us through if you need help in clarifying your goals and objectives or building to keep.


Build and grow the right way...

Like most successful small business owners, George had invested much of his life and resources in his business over the last twenty plus years and realized personal prosperity and respect within the marketplace.  The business had been profitable, with revenue generally stable and increasing, and George continued to see his personal standard of living increase.  

At the same time, George had an ongoing irritant, and that was his inability to "really take a vacation".  George and his wife Susan were able to "get away" a few times each year, but it was seldom more than a week, and he most always remained tied to the business in some way or another while he was gone.  His phone and computer would still see a lot of action on "vacation".

Five years ago, George was "ready to sell the business and retire".  They now had four grandchildren they wanted to spend time with, they wanted to travel, and simply "enjoy life" while they were still very healthy.  George's transition from being "all in" to "I'm done" happened quite fast, surprising both George and Susan.  Coincidentally, around that time, George was approached by a couple of potential buyers interested in purchasing his company.  George was excited that he would now sell his company and he and Susan would be free to do all they wanted to do.

George experienced what he called "a sad awakening" when the most serious buyer made an offer that was significantly less than what George and Susan needed, along with an "earn-out" requirement.  George would have to remain on as an employee for three more years in order to earn 25% of the proposed sale price.  The potential buyer pointed to areas of risk including "the business still runs too much through you George", a lack of management team incentivized to remain during the transition, an inability to produce requested financials in a timely manner, and an unproven growth strategy as reasons for the low offer.

George had a huge decision to make, take the low offer and adjust downward the plans that he and Susan were looking forward to, or, reject the offer and invest more years in building his business the right way for a successful sale in the future.  Not an easy decision considering a few days ago both he and Susan were envisioning travel and "grandkid time" becoming reality within the next few months.  As George is now an employee working hard to earn the balance of his reduced payout, and Susan is doing much of the grandkid time by herself, he came to understand the hard way that you can never start too soon in building your business the right way for a successful exit.

 Let us know if we can help you build the right way for a successful exit.



Accelerating the Transferable Value of Your Business

At the heart of an effective and successful plan for a business owner's exit is what we call "transferable value."  The transferable value being the value of your business apart from you the owner or what someone is willing to pay for the business without you.  

Following are a few sample questions for gauging the strength of your business transferable value:

"Can I really take a vacation from my business?  If so, for how long?  Would I be on the phone or my computer much of the time I'm away?"

"Do we have the right incentives in place to motivate, reward, and retain key employees even through a transition of the business?"

"Do we have a management team in place to take us to the next-level of growth?"

"Are our operating systems strong and could they support future growth?"

"When was the last time we had either a legal or HR audit?"

"Do we have recurring revenue?"

And, because potential buyers are buying future cash flow, right at the top of the list of questions would be, "How strong is our EBITDA or free cash flow and do we have a plan for growth?".  

The following sample scenario depicts the impact of strong cash flow and revenue growth on business value:


Revenue = $ 2,500,000

EBITDA =   $ 250,000 (10%)

Biz Value Multiple of EBITDA = 4 X

Business Value = $ 1,000,000

End of Year 5 with Revenue and EBITDA growing at 10% (8% after inflation)

Revenue = $ 3,673,000

EBITDA = $   367,000 (10%)

Biz Value Multiple of EBITDA =  6X

Business Value = $ 2,200,000

NOTE:  The multiples used are for illustration purposes only.  For a business of this size, multiples are often lower.

So, if your post-business or legacy plans are contingent upon the future sale of your business to a potential buyer, the following are some action steps you should take as soon as possible to know how to increase cash flow and growth:

  1. Get an accurate current valuation of your business.  Find out what your business is really worth now.  Meaningful planning requires accurate data.
  2. Get a personal financial needs analysis.  Find out how much you will need to do all you want to do post-exit.  Not back of the envelope but legit financial plan that considers taxes, cash flow, goals, etc..  
  3. Perform a financial GAP Analysis.  Subtract what you have (personal assets and business value) from what you will need.  If there is a GAP, it will represent the amount your largest asset will need to increase in value, unless you have other assets with greater growth potential.
  4. Assess your value drivers and design a plan to accelerate value and growth.

It takes financial resources and planning to accelerate the value of your business, so the more time you have to budget, plan, and execute the plan the better your chances of a successful exit or transition.  Contact us for help with accelerating the value of your business and anything mentioned in this post.