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Business Exit Strategy Checklist for Ultra High Net Worth CEOs

17-Point Business Exit Strategy Checklist for Ultra High Net Worth CEOs and Owners

Don’t Even Talk to Prospective Buyers Before Doing This

You’re ready to cash out the business to which you’ve devoted a large portion of your life. Very soon, as an ultra-high net worth business owner, the emphasis of your life will shift from growing a business to managing and preserving the wealth it has produced for you. For a comprehensive guide for those of you with over $5 million of investable liquid assets to help you with Wealth Management, Estate, Tax, and Financial Planning, you can request a free copy of our in-depth book here.

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But you’re not there yet. And this last hurdle in your business journey is no simpler than any previous ones. In fact, it may be the highest and hardest one of all to leap over and finish the race.

That’s why the first and most important step when selling an ultra-high net worth business is to develop a business exit strategy.

What’s unique about an ultra-high net worth business?

If your business has produced tens of millions of dollars of or more in revenue, then you have a unique opportunity to chart out the rest of your life, how you want to live it, and what you want to do with your wealth.

Conversely, if a mom-and-pop business or a startup entrepreneur wants to sell, they’re not in the same situation. There’s almost nothing in common. That’s why we created this business exit strategy checklist specifically for ultra-high net worth business owners and CEOs. If that’s you, and you’re getting ready to think about selling and moving on to the next stage of life, then move this checklist to the very top of your to-do list.

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Checklist for Developing a UHNW Business Exit Strategy

As you go through this business exit strategy checklist, your goal is to resolve four primary issues:

• Your options for your business exit strategy

• Your personal goals after your exit is complete

• The timing of your exit

• Your objectives during the exit process

With a thorough business exit strategy in place, you will no longer feel pressured to chase every opportunity that comes your way, even if the price tag seems too good to pass up. Now, you’ll know what you want, why you want it, and how to respond when an offer comes in.

Let’s get to the checklist.

1. Why Do I Want to Sell?

You might want to be done working. To truly retire. You could also be done with this venture and ready to start a new one, planning to use your net sale price to fund it. Many other possible reasons could be motivating your decision to sell. You need to know why because this affects how committed you’ll be to the process.

2. Why Am I in This Business?

Why did you start your business? What plans do you have for afterward? In other words, why now? The first item on your business exit strategy checklist is why sell, in general. This second item is about why now? What are you accomplishing by selling now that you couldn’t accomplish just as well by waiting five more years?

3. Which Professionals and Advisors Will Help Me with the Sale?

You’ll need a team of specialists if you want to get the best possible deal. Your emotions as the business owner will likely prevent you from staying logical, strategic, and measured throughout the implementation of your business exit strategy, which can turn into a grueling process.

That’s not a bad thing or a sign of weakness. Even for the most stoic of business owners, you’ve poured your blood, sweat, but no tears (stoic) into this business for many years. You will feel something when the prospect of parting with it becomes real.

Plus, you don’t have expertise in all the areas required to put in place an effective business exit strategy, which is a big deal. No one does. Some key specialists you’ll need include a CPA, an investment banker, a transaction attorney, and a financial advisor. We’ll detail much more about how you build this team in a future blog post.

4. What am I selling?

Are you selling a business, a line of products, or an online service? Are your employees part of the sale (employee buyout)? Is there any real estate involved? Think through all the elements and assets of your business as you define your business exit strategy. Which ones will your ideal buyer want, and which ones will fade away? The more complex the business, the more time it will take to answer these questions. But knowing what you’re selling will help you identify your ideal buyer. Who would want what you’re selling? What kind of business or investor would this appeal to?

5. What Are My Strategic Alternatives?

For negotiating leverage and backup plans, as part of your business exit strategy, you should have an alternative to your ideal buyer. For instance, what about an internal sale to one or more of your employees or partners? They may crave the opportunity to run the show. And being already part of it, the transition will likely be easier. As an alternative business exit strategy, you may consider selling to a competitor. Depending on the situation, that might be a great option. Again – this partly depends on your personal objectives for selling. Look back at what you wrote for Item #2.

6. Buyer’s Synergy with My Customers

What sort of new owner will your customers warmly receive? This matters because if your buyer senses all your customers will flee to the mountains when you leave, they will lower your valuation. As you develop your business exit strategy, you must consider how your customers will react to the sale of your business.

7. Ideal Timeline

Have an end date in mind. You might not meet it, but you should start with a goal date in mind. That enables you to respond more thoughtfully to offers that come in with their own timelines. It also affects the negotiation aspect of your business exit strategy.

8. Expert Advice

You’ll probably need help from your financial advisor to determine the value of your business. – assuming they have experience with mergers and acquisitions. But you need to know your bottom-line number, the one you cannot go below, to meet all your lifelong financial goals. Again, this goes back to your personal objectives and plans after selling. What do you want to do next? This plays a huge role in determining how much money you need to walk away with, which is a critical element of any business exit strategy.

9. Be Specific

As you implement your business exit strategy, buyers may come in with all sorts of proposals. Are you open to a deal that strings you along for annual payouts over several years, or do you want a lump sum all at once and nothing else? It’s your business, so you get to decide this. But it’s a critical piece to answer before you talk to a single buyer definitively.

10. Can I List the Strengths and Weaknesses of My Business from My Buyer’s Perspective?

There’s a lot to think about here too. Customer acquisition methods. Repeat customers. Reputation in the marketplace. Cash flow. Employee satisfaction. Customer service. Many more business elements that your buyer may perceive as strengths and weaknesses. Build into your business exit strategy your best selling points, as well as the areas a buyer may see as reasons to lower the price or ask for different terms in the final deal.

11. Rate your Commitment

If you’re ready to sell, then be ready to sell. If you’re not up for all the paperwork, meetings, documentation, and negotiation this process entails, then you’re probably not ready to sell, and you don’t need to define a business exit strategy. Rate yourself from 1 to 10.

‘1’ means you really aren’t sure about selling, but if someone made you an offer you can’t refuse, you’d probably take it. ‘10’ means you’ll travel the globe and even up to the space station if that’s what it takes to land the meeting that will close the sale. If you don’t find your rating above at least a 5, you might want to put a hold on creating a business exit strategy.

12. How Quickly Do I Want to Exit the Business Fully AFTER the Sale?

Some buyers (and your employees and customers) may prefer that you stick around after the sale to help with the transition. Others may not care. But what about you? Do you want to be all the way out immediately after the sale? That will entail a different transition and negotiation process than if you’re open to working through a transition period of six months or a few years. Make sure this is clear in your mind and include the relevant timeline in your business exit strategy.

13. What Are My Plans After Selling?

You’ve implemented your business exit strategy down to the last dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’. You could relax. You could spend time with family. You could travel the world for a year. You could run for office. You could start a foundation. You could do any number of things after selling. This question matters because it affects your need and urgency to sell and how quickly you want to exit the business after the sale – what the previous item was about.

14. Can I List My Must-haves – My Deal Killers and Deal Makers?

Negotiation is all about knowing where the hard lines and the soft lines are. You never open negotiations with a hard-line proposal. Before starting this process and as you dive deeper with the help of your team of specialists who will probably ask a lot more questions that didn’t occur to you, you need to be clear about which items are non-negotiable and put them in your business exit strategy. Otherwise, you’ll reach the end and realize you’re not getting the deal you really wanted. That’s one of the primary reasons deals fall apart at the last minute.

15. Describe My Picture of a Successful Exit

What is your ideal process and outcome? Can you describe that in a short paragraph or even a sentence? Again, this is about knowing what you want, which you must be clear about before entering any negotiations about price or terms. Then, does your business exit strategy reflect this vision?

16. What Is My Cost of Selling and Exiting My Business?

You’ll have to pay your team of specialists their fees. Do you know what they charge for their services? Do you know how long you’ll need their help? As you’re assembling this team, get clear definitions of this item. Lawyers aren’t cheap. Again, we’ll say much more about assembling your team in a future blog post.

17. Do I Have a Tax Minimization Plan?

Exiting an ultra-high net worth business means a windfall of cash, either all at once or spread out over a period of time. What’s the government going to have to say about that? Your financial advisor should have a clear plan for how to minimize your tax bite, so you get to keep the most money possible from the sale of your business. It’s your business, not the government’s, so make sure you keep as much as possible. If your financial advisor has limited experience with implementing a business exit strategy, you should get a new advisor who specializes in M&A, even if it’s just to help you for a limited time.

business exit strategy

More Help With Your UHNW Business Exit Strategy

Read this article for more about cashing out your business and securing your wealth.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, or the surrounding regions and need a financial advisor who specializes in M&A, especially for ultra-high net worth business owners, schedule a call with Pillar today and see if we’re the right specialist to add to your team. We’ve done this many times, and we can also recommend capable experts we’ve worked with before who can fill the other roles on your team.

Business Exit Plan

Here are seven exit strategies for business owners to consider:

  1. Liquidation.
  2. Time-Dependent Liquidation
  3. Keep Your Company in the Family.
  4. Market the Company to Managers and/or Employees.
  5. Sell the Business in the Open Market.
  6. Sell to Another Business.
  7. Initial Public Offering

Common Exit Strategies

Common types of exit strategies include initial public offerings (IPO), strategic acquisitions, and management buy-outs (MBO).

The exit strategy that an entrepreneur chooses depends on many factors such as how much control or involvement the entrepreneur wants to retain in the business, whether they want the company to continue to be operated in the same way, or if they are willing to see it change going forward. The entrepreneur will want to be paid a fair price for their ownership share.

A strategic acquisition, for example, will relieve the founder of their own responsibilities and mean giving up control. IPOs are often considered the ultimate exit strategy since they are associated with prestige and high payoffs. In contrast, bankruptcy is seen as the least desirable way to exit a business.

Venture Capitalists

A venture capitalist (VC) is a private equity investor who lends money to businesses with high growth potential in return for an interest in the company. This may include financing startup projects or assisting small businesses that want to grow but lack access to equities markets. Venture capitalists are willing to risk investing in such companies because they can earn a massive return on their investments if these companies are a success. VCs experience high failure rates due to the uncertainty involved with new and unproven companies and privacy rights.

Start a Small Business

Getting out of a business that you have been developing for years may be difficult. And there is a possibility if you still want to get back in business. Having a small business can be the solution. To start a new business after leaving the old business requires careful preparation. Do you need help to start your new small business after leaving your old business? As high-net-worth entrepreneurs, you can contact Pillar WM as your professional advisor.

To be 100% transparent, we published this page to help filter through the mass influx of prospects, who come to us through our website and referrals, to gain only a handful of the right types of new clients who wish to engage us.

We enjoy working with high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors and families who want what we call financial serenity – the feeling that comes when you know your finances and the lifestyle you desire have been secured for life, and that you don’t have to do any of the work to manage and maintain it because you hired a trusted advisor to take care of everything.

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