How to sell your business: Planning the exit strategy

Young man on telephone with feet up on desk, exit strategy concept

Most people start a business without an exit strategy. Suddenly they wake up and realise it’s probably their biggest asset, perhaps after their home but what are their options? Pass it on to a family member (can be complicated) or sell and reap the rewards.

I’ll split the question in two parts:

Planning the exit strategy

The sooner you start planning an exit strategy the more value you will get and the quicker the sale when you actually put it on the market.

There is much more to the value of a business than merely EBITDAR (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and restructuring/rent), which is often banded about.

These are the drivers to a better business value that you can plan to implement or improve.

Financials

As just mentioned, it’s not just how good your P+L and balance sheet look but also how good the reporting is. Do you receive these important reports in a timely, regular way?

Assets

The value of stock and equipment. Have you got old, redundant stock? Is the equipment up to date and in good repair?

>See also: How to value the goodwill

Location

Is it location dependant? Could it be relocated? If you are in leased premises, how long is left on the lease? If you own the premises are you going to retain the freehold and issue a new lease?

Systems and processes

How easy would it be for someone to take over the business and actually run it? Are the systems and processes mapped out? Are you using up to date software?

Dependence

What percentage of turnover is dependent on one customer, employee or supplier? Can you reduce that dependence?

Cash flow

Does the business swing between high cash/no cash? Could you improve the cash position by charging a deposit or reducing payment terms?

Recurring revenue

Is there a percentage of revenue that comes in every month without more sales effort, such as maintenance or service contracts?

Customer satisfaction

Do you have regular, happy customers who would recommend you?

Cost of entry to the market

For someone to start out would it require a big investment in capital equipment?

Growth potential

Are there new markets you can move into? Have you a list of lapsed previous customers who could be marketed to? When your business is on an up and growing it is easier to sell than one on the way down.

 USP

How strong is your Unique Selling Point compared to your competitors?

Finally, it’s all about you…

How dependant is the business on you being in the middle of it? Will customers, suppliers and staff only talk to you? What happens if you go on holiday? Can you change this?

>See also: Valuing your business for sale

How to sell the business

The options are a trade sale or a sale to someone new to your business sector. In both instances, get a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed before you get too far into negotiations.

Trade sale

This is to someone already working in your sector. It’s a much easier, quicker sale as they are aware of the good and bad in the sector already and don’t need to do time-consuming research. You could approach your competitors yourself and save on agent’s fees but be careful not to disclose too much about your customers and suppliers.

New to the sector

You will need to not only provide info on the business but also info about the sector itself – how large is the market? What’s the competition like? etc. Probably best to sign up with a business transfer specialist.

Don’t take your foot off the gas…

It can take time to sell a business, so have patience and do not “let your foot off the gas”. Keep moving the business forward and don’t let up – this is very important so that you can maximise the sale price.

Simon Rigby is the principal of SME Assistance

Further reading on exit strategy

How to sell your small business without a broker – Small Business guide

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