Starting a Business? Plan Your Exit Now

StrategyDriven Entrepreneurship Article | Starting a Business? Plan Your Exit NowWith the explosion of startups in Silicon Valley, the idea of a flashy and lucrative business exit isn’t anything new. An exit is the word people use to describe how founders (and any investors they may have) leave a business when it’s sold. It usually comes with a dollar figure attached to clarify just how much everyone made from the transaction.

When you put an exit in those terms, “plan your exit now” sounds like a recommendation to dream about the ways you’ll spend your millions. It’s not.

Every entrepreneur needs an exit strategy before opening a business – because it will dramatically define how you’ll run the business.

For instance, you may be building a business you never intend to sell. Maybe you want to pass a business on to your children or hand it off to someone else in the company when you retire. Knowing this ahead of time will inform your decisions and influence the business’s management and growth.

In contrast, you may be a startup founder. Your mission is to pursue explosive growth, so you’ll be more likely to have a “growth at any cost” mindset. Entrepreneurs in this situation want to build as much value in the business as possible, as quickly as possible, so that they can sell the business for a lot of money – and soon.

How do you know which path is best for you? Before you start and build your business, ask yourself:

  • Do you picture running your business indefinitely? Or would you like to pursue this business idea – and then move on to the next one?
  • How much of your time and money can you put into the business before your family is at serious risk?
  • How will you guard yourself against the danger of sunk costs (convincing yourself to spend more money because you’ve already invested so much to begin with)?
  • What do successful companies in your target industry typically sell for?
  • How much do you need to grow your business to reach that sale target?
  • Does your market opportunity align with the growth you need to sell the business?
  • If your business doesn’t meet your growth expectations, what will you do?

These can be difficult questions for any entrepreneur. To complicate matters, an exit, even a good one, is not necessarily as smooth or as clean as cash­ing a big check and hitting the waves on your new sailboat.

An exit may not have a Hollywood ending

In my own business life, my company FDI became triVIN via a merger, which came with its own turbu­lence. When triVIN later sold, I stayed on for a year afterward as president and was then asked to leave. Though on paper the business was no longer mine, it’s a special kind of experience to be told that your services are no longer needed when you’re the one who built the business.

Though I made gains from that exit, it wasn’t the happy Hollywood ending that many startup founders envision. The path curved and double backed on itself before it went forward into a sale, and I didn’t get to leave feeling like the hero in my story, at least not entirely.

Yet by all accounts, it was a good ending. The business, after all, didn’t fail spectacularly or drag myself and my family deep into debt. I ended with a profit—but exits could sometimes mean locking the doors on a dead business.

For Necessity Entrepreneurs – those of us who are in business to put food on the table for our families and employees – failure is not an option, but at the same time, failure is a likely reality. The key nuance here is that for the Necessity Entre­preneur, failure is an obstacle to be overcome. We dust ourselves off and bounce back.

The part of this that traps many entrepreneurs, however, is that bouncing back doesn’t necessarily mean stubbornly pursuing a failing busi­ness, dumping more and more time and capital into an idea that has shown no signs of turning a profit.

Every exit has its trade-offs

If you opt to remain privately held – as I suspect many Necessity Entrepreneurs will – you have much more freedom in how you run your business. The trade-off is that you may have less access to capital and therefore grow more humbly in the short term.

If you’re looking for a fast-cash sale, that typically means answering to investors, which can come at the expense of your people, your values, and, at times, your customers.

The path you choose is up to you. Think about it at the start of your business, then think ahead as far as you can. Challenge yourself. Pick apart your ideas. Turn them upside down and sideways to find the best path for you.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Troy R. UnderwoodTroy R. Underwood is an industry disruptor. Part technologist, part economist, and all innovator, he revolutionized the motor vehicle industry with the nation’s first electronic title system for financial institutions, which was later sold for $106 million. His healthcare venture, benefitsCONNECT, innovated healthcare benefits administration and resulted in a highly successful acquisition. His new book is How to Launch Your Side Hustle: Start and Scale a Business with Minimal Capital. Learn more at

2020 Exit Planning Checklist

StrategyDriven Entrepreneurship Article | 2020 Exit Planning ChecklistAll business owners will stop being business owners at some point.  So, there is no better time to begin planning for the inevitable than the present.  The earlier you begin planning, the more options you will have for a successful exit.

However, like any strategic plan, it can be difficult to know how and where to begin.  With the start of the new year it’s also an ideal time for us to publish a basic “To-Do List” that will serve you in considering that most significant event as a business owner…your future exit.

DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO GO.  Establish Clear Goals and Objectives for Exit and Your Life After Exit.

  • When do you want to leave the business? Whom do you wish to transfer/sell the business to?
  • What are your values-based and legacy exit goals?
  • What is your post-exit “life-plan”? Business owners can often regret leaving when lacking a plan for life that replaces the sense of purpose and meaning they experienced in building their business.
  • Update your Personal Financial Plan. Find out how much $$$$ you will need post-exit to do all you want to do. Is there a gap?

ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE.  Without Accurate Data All Planning Becomes Meaningless.

  • Get an accurate Business Valuation. If the business is your largest asset shouldn’t you know what it really is worth to potential buyers?
  • Assess your business Value-Drivers and areas of Risk.
  • Review your Business Continuity Plan for life transitions and unexpected death or disability. Co-Owners would include a review of their Buy-Sell Agreement to ensure alignment with the current goals of all owners.
  • Review Estate Plan to ensure alignment with exit goals.

DESIGN AND IMPLEMENT A PLAN.  Build Transferable Value and Enjoy a Future Exit On Your Own Terms and Conditions.

  • Which Exit Route will best accomplish your goals? Sale to Third-Party | Sale to Insiders | Transfer to Family Members | Sale to ESOP | Absentee Owner.
  • Focus on growth and profitability today. At the core of tomorrow’s successful exit plan is today’s profitability and plan for growth.
  • Strengthen business value drivers. An owner with a sellable business will have more freedom in life and options for exit.
  • Update a strategic financial plan for the business.
  • Do you have the right Team of Experienced Advisors for plan design and implementation?
  • Who will Manage the Exit Planning Project?

The most important thing you could do in 2020 would be to GET STARTED AND GET HELP if you have yet to do so.  If you wait until you’re ready to exit to begin planning, you won’t be ready and neither will your business.  Keep in mind, that “You don’t know what you don’t know” and, like in all other areas of life, that could end up being disastrous.

There is much at stake during this most significant event in your life as a business owner.  Take steps in 2020 to be as responsible and successful in planning your eventual exit as you have been in running your business.

About the Author

Pat Ennis is the President of ENNIS Legacy Partners ( The mission of ELP is to help business owners build value and exit on their own terms and conditions. With decades of experience in financial services, for-profit and non-profit leadership and management, along with the founding of ELP in 2010, Pat has extensive knowledge and understanding of the many challenges faced by business owners.  His knowledge base, experience, and training results in a goals-based, comprehensive approach for business owners’ who are intent on building transferable business value and exiting their business responsibly and successfully.

“A successful business owner with a thriving business has tremendous impact on many people, including: their family, employees, customers, suppliers, vendors, the community in which they do business and both the local and national economies. All of this impact… all that they’ve built… is at stake when and how they exit their business. We want to help them be as impactful in how they exit their business as they have been in building it.”