There are many tools available to help individuals get into business, but there are few that help them get out.

When you started your business initially, you probably created a multi-year business plan with other business owners and mentors reviewing each detail of it. You reviewed different contracts from vendors and scoped out office space while weighing the pros and cons of each decision. You hired each employee with careful consideration and oversight.

And now, as you begin to think about how to transition away from that business, you need the same professional review and supervision as you did when you were first starting out.

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Creating a comprehensive but easy to enact exit plan for your business ensures that your decades of hard work and careful planning continue to bear the fruit you spent so long cultivating.

A properly created exit plan is a customized, comprehensive approach to designing and implementing a business owner’s successful exit from his or her business. The seven steps discussed here use an owner’s unique personal objectives to convert the current reality into the desired outcome.

The exit planning process helps maximize the financial return, minimize tax liability, plan for contingencies and increase the likelihood of a successful transfer of the business.

Establish exit objectives. By outlining your objectives, you will start to create an exit plan that works to achieve your goals. Key objectives in most exit plans are desired departure date, value needed from business and identifying to whom or what you want to sell or transfer your business.

Tally your business and personal financial resources. How much is your business worth today? How much cash flow does it currently generate? And how much income do your non-business-related assets produce? Your exit plan uses the answers to these questions to project future cash flow, as well as the future value of your business and other assets. The combination of steps 1 and 2 projects how much value or cash flow increase is necessary to meet your goals.

Build and preserve value. Based on the first two steps, the exit plan will provide specific recommendations to help grow business value, protect existing value from the action of others and preserve company value by minimizing income taxes.

Sell your business. If you choose to sell your company to a third party, the exit plan will design strategies to improve the likelihood of a successful sale, minimize the taxes paid upon sale and maximize the sale price and terms.

Or transfer ownership to insiders. Insiders include a business owner’s children, co-owners or key employees who often do not have the financial resources to pay owners what the business is worth. If you choose to transfer your company to insiders, the exit plan will ensure that you receive the money you desire from your business, minimize risk for nonpayment and ensure that you retain control of the business until payment has been fully made.

Ensure business continuity. The exit plan coordinates your business continuity with your lifetime objectives. The purpose is to ensure that your goals, such as transferring the company to the successor of your choice or having family members receive the full value for your ownership, are met no matter what happens.

Tie your plan together with your personal wealth and estate planning. After your exit plan is complete, it is folded into your total estate plan. The design of the exit plan emphasizes tax efficiency and ensures that your family receives the amount of annual income necessary to satisfy the financial security goal set up in the first step.

The transfer of your business may seem like a massive undertaking. That’s why breaking it down into steps helps you know where to start and not be overwhelmed. Talk with your trusted professional adviser regarding the details of your business but also use this as a road map for knowing what to do and when to take certain actions.


David A. Cole is a Certified Public Accountant and Personal Finance Specialist. Find more information at his website, exitplanningcpa.com.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily the Tulsa World. To inquire about writing a Business Viewpoint column, email a short outline to Business Editor Colleen Almeida Smith at business@tulsaworld.com.