The ins and outs of a good exit strategy
“The challenge that business owners often face in this respect is comparable to the difficulty that many new parents have with imagining their children grown up and leaving for university. Imagine, however, if parents did not plan ahead for the cost of their education – that would be detrimental to the future of their children. The same could be the case for your business.”
Mjadu says that a good exit strategy is about sustainability and being able to measure your business performance against the goals you have set for it. “It’s really about being able to say, ‘this is when the work is done and I can exit the business or take on a different role – this is what success looks like in terms of monetary return on investment and other business growth indicators’.
“The lack of an exit strategy could be telling of a fundamental lack of measurable business goals and this needs to be addressed,” she says.
From immediate liquidation to liquidation over time; family succession; selling to staff or external investors; the open market or another business; or the gruelling but profitable exercise of taking your company public – there are many different ways in which an entrepreneur can exit their business, but Mjadu says that whatever the process, a strong and solid strategy is essential.
She shares five key points of a good exit strategy:
1. It tells you when you are done
Mjadu says that a good exit strategy should reflect a core understanding of all the intricacies of your business and should be able to tell you when the lifecycle of your business (or of your involvement in the business) should come to an end. This is usually done by including a set of tangible measurables or objectives so that it is easy to ascertain when these have been achieved.
2. It sets out the right environment within which to exit
A good exit strategy considers the economic, social and political environment at the time of your exit. Mjadu says that this is important in order to plan for a secure financial future. “Failure to think about this could result in short-changing yourself by exiting during a tough economic climate when the risk to buyers reduces the value of your business.”
She references the case of Victoria’s Secret when founder, Roy Raymond, sold the failing business for $1m unknowing that it would later grow into the multi-billion dollar empire it is now. “While Raymond’s exit was ultimately necessary for Victoria’s Secret’s growth, he sold it in 1982 during the global recession of the early eighties – one of the world’s biggest financial crises and this influenced the selling price at his exit”.
3. It compensates those who have contributed to the life of your business
It is important to consider the impact your exit could have on investors and staff, says Mjadu. “Closing shop for example, means that your staff no longer have employment at your business. Selling could mean the same.” She adds that it is important to consider ways in which your exit could also benefit these stakeholders – for example, selling to a bigger business could mean more career opportunities for your staff, as well as continued job security.
4. It compensates you
Mjadu says that entrepreneurs often struggle to recognise their own true worth, especially when this involves attaching a monetary value to what has been achieved. “The time of exiting a business is no place to short-change yourself. You need to get out the full worth of what you put in,” she says, explaining that this means ensuring that you are financially secure before and while you go into your next venture. “Your needs for retirement and medical insurance, as well as the maintenance of your living standard, should be met at your exit.”
5. It sustains your entrepreneurial drive
Mjadu says that while you may be nearing the end of one journey, your exit should enable and encourage you to continue to be an entrepreneur – and to look forward to the next journey. “Your entrepreneurial skills and capacity do not end when you exit your business and whatever your strategy, it should egg you on to more entrepreneurial activity including becoming a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs.”
Mjadu says that exiting your business should allow you a good retrospective look at what you have done over the years – and so planning the strategy early on in your business lifecycle will set you up in regards to what you hope to achieve. “Upon exit, you should be able to say that you have done what you set out to do, financially and socially, and you have some energy left to do more elsewhere.”