Exit Planning: When to start?

Legal matters, business strategy, and life perspectives from the mind of a non-attorney.

A few weeks ago, we sent out emails to several business owners, inviting them to attend a presentation on Exit Planning. We met our desired room capacity pretty quickly, but we did get a few responses like this:

  • “I’m not exiting my business for 3 or 4 years, I’ll attend the presentation then.”
  • “We aren’t exiting until next year. Will you be doing this again in 6 months?”

Two separate business owners made a conscious decision to delay attending this kind of presentation until their exit is at arm’s length.

As a person who is very educated on what Exit Planning is and how much work it takes, let’s just say those decisions scare the s*** out of me.

Yes, I know, there is a certain contingent of business owners who simply cannot – and will not – mentally or emotionally handle the task of planning for their exit. In fact, we even wrote a blog about it: Exit Planning: Why Do Business Owners Avoid It? Bottom line: It’s just too much for them, so they stick their heads in the sand.

Those responses we got – you know, a few weeks ago after the presentation – those felt different. To my mind, it feels like those business owners actually think it is OK to wait longer than they already have. Like, with the rational part of their brain.

They weren’t being emotional, afraid, or willfully negligent.

It seems like they were just living their reality.

If that is the case, I have failed you all miserably.

Why?

The truth is, executing an Exit Plan takes a hell of a lot longer than 6-12 months. If you wait until then to even start LEARNING about Exit Planning, you are way behind the 8 ball. You are asking for disaster. I’m not saying you are S.O.L, but I AM SAYING that you have effectively put the ball in someone else’s court and left value – i.e. MONEY – on the table.

Really?

Yep.

Okay… So how long DOES it take?

Internal Transition

First of all, did you know there are really only four (4) practical ways that you can transition a business internally?

  1. Intergenerational Transfer: The transfer of a business to direct heirs, usually children. About 50% of business owners want to exercise this option; only 30% do it successfully.
  2. Management Buyout: Owner sells all or part of the business to the company’s management team. Management uses the assets of the business to finance a significant portion of the purchase price.
  3. ESOP: Company uses borrowed funds to acquire shares from the owner and contributes the shares to a trust on behalf of the employees.
  4. Sale to Existing Partners.

Here’s the deal: If I’m going to be your Exit Planner, and you are considering an Internal Transition of any kind, I want our initial meeting to be at least 10 years prior to your exit.

You heard me. 10 years.

Why? 2 Reasons.

  1. In all likelihood, you are not just GIVING this thing away. And you want cash at closing, not a promise to pay.
  2. In all likelihood, the person(s) you are selling it to can’t afford to buy it, and wouldn’t be able to secure financing.

If you come meet with me 10 years in advance, we can create a pot of money for your successor(s). The concept is simple: Money gets bonus-ed into the pot if – and only if – they achieve predetermined objectives that help you grow the value of the business. Pick your scenario:

  • Give successor(s) $0.00, have a company worth $2,000,000. In 10 years, receive a 20 year note and a $150,000 first year payment.
  • Give successor(s) $1,000,000.00, have a company worth $3,000,000. In 10 years, receive $2,000,000 and a 10 year note for the balance.

I know which one I’d pick.

If you come meet with me 5 years in advance, we cannot do that.

If you come meet with me somewhere in between, the numbers might work. They might not. It’s anybody’s guess.

External Sale

If you’re planning to pursue a sale to a third party, I will be thrilled if you give me a 5 year runway to work with.

You see, Exit Planning is a lot like flipping a house:

If you give me 5 years, we can update everything: new hardwoods, appliances, siding, and roofing. We can check the plumbing and electrical. We can remodel the kitchen and master bedroom. Hell, we can even toss on an addition. And the best news: All of that will be done in 2-3 years, giving us the opportunity to truly pick our spot and capitalize on favorable market conditions when they are present.

If you give me 3 years, we can still make a ton of updates. The house will truly be in great shape for buyers. Only problem: you aren’t giving yourself any time to play the market. Once the house is ready, you’re going up for sale, whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market.

If you give me 1 year, we can update a handful of things and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s it. Smart buyers – yes most of them are smart – are going to try and poke holes to drive the price down.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, remodeling makes everything look great, but it ain’t free either. Is it really worth the investment?”

  • For most of you it’s going to mean the difference between a business that sells and one that sits on the market for 2 years before getting liquidated because nobody wants it.
  • We track ROI for our clients. We’ve never had someone come out in the negative. We generally EXPECT our clients to earn at least 30% on their investments in Exit Planning by the time it’s all said and done.

Getting Started

We generally kick off the process with a complimentary “exploratory” meeting. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and help us understand your true desires.

Assuming all parties agree to move forward, we jump into “Benchmarking” your business.

To stick with the remodeling analogy, it’s the basic equivalent of obtaining a real estate appraisal – on steroids. Yes, we deliver you with an estimate of value based on your financials. We also take it 5 steps further. We give you insight that says, “Hey, someone is going to fall in love with this house and pay 20% more if you gut the basement clean, paint the stairwell olive green and put a giant picture of Aaron Rodgers in the family room.”

At that point, whether you hire us to gut the basement and paint the stairwell, contract it out to someone else, or ignore our advice is entirely your prerogative.

 

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