Exit Strategies for Businesses

ESOP as an Exit or Succession Planning Strategy

Are you ready to move on?

A business exit strategy is a crucial plan that every entrepreneur or business owner must have in place to secure their financial future. 

It involves the process of selling one’s ownership in a company, with the aim of maximizing profits or limiting losses. An exit strategy is not to be confused with trading exit strategies in securities markets. 

The importance of an exit strategy cannot be overstated, as it helps ensure a smooth transition and protects the interests of all stakeholders, including customers, employees, and investors. A well-formed exit strategy takes into account the business’ finances, operations, and all necessary actions to sell or close, while considering the long-term goals and future direction of the business. 

Having an exit strategy in place is a proactive step that business owners must take to ensure the success of their business and secure their financial future.

The members of the team discuss exit strategies for businesses.

The benefits of a well planned exit strategy

In our experience creating a thorough exit strategy before it’s necessary offers more benefits than just being prepared for unexpected events and an eventual sale. It establishes a solid base for purposeful business practices and maintains a focus on goals. Essentially it acts as a true north for the business and the business owner – helping to stay true to the course despite circumstances that may arise and dealing with changes in a way that helps keep the business focused on its ultimate goals.

Even if the plan goes unused for several years or decades, it offers the following benefits to business owners:

  1. Decision making. Steering business decisions with a clear direction: By having the future of their business in mind, entrepreneurs can make informed and strategic decisions, as well as set goals that align with their expected business outcomes, and with their exit strategy.
  2. Value. Preserving Business Value: An exit strategy entails a comprehensive evaluation of finances, which leads to a well-defined value for the business, enabling entrepreneurs to make informed choices when it comes to exiting the business.
  3. Transition. Smooth Transition Guaranteed: An exit strategy outlines the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in the business, facilitating smooth and predictable transitions. As well as allowing business owners to make appointments or updates in a role with a very specific endgame in sight. 
  4. Goals. Realizing both Business and Personal Objectives Post-Exit: Implementing a well-designed exit strategy, aligned with the business’s value and potential, can negate negative outcomes enabling business owners to have clearly set professional and personal aspirations to work towards. 

(extra text for a quote inserted as an image on the page “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ― Alan Lakein, author )

Furthermore, having a well-thought-out business exit strategy is crucial for several other reasons. 

It helps prevent burnout for business owners who have invested a significant amount of time and energy into their ventures. With a plan in place, they have systems for recording important information regularly and can avoid the last-minute scramble to get their business ready for sale. 

A business exit strategy requires keeping up-to-date financial data, giving business owners a better understanding of their revenue streams and helping them make informed decisions. This includes deciding whether to focus on short, medium, or long-term income projects. 

Finally it forces the business owner to take intentional steps to having an effective leadership structure is important for the smooth transition of a business, whether it’s being sold or passed down to the next generation. 

By outlining a clear succession plan, owners minimize the risk of chaos and ensure the business continues to thrive. 

When all is said and done an exit strategy provides all the information a successor would need to run the business smoothly, saving them time and resources in the transition process. The problem being that without a clear exit strategy and plan most business owners run the business with themselves as the main cog in the system without thought on how to keep the wheels turning once they are no longer an integral part of the system, when the owner has given their exit the proper attention it changes everything about how decisions are made. 

(extra text for a quote inserted as an image on the page “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” — Warren Buffett, investor )

Why an ESOP based exit strategy is different

An exit strategy that involves an ESOP is more of a business succession strategy than a clean break. By selling the company to employees, owners essentially get to choose their buyers and they get to leave a legacy to their employees.

With an ESOP, the company is more likely to continue its standard operations than it would be with another exit strategy, such as strategic or private equity. There are advantages to all three, but the right business exit strategy comes down to your objectives.

ESOPs are ideal when owners want their company to remain relatively the same after they’ve left. These owners typically want to maintain the company culture and offer their employees security of being invested. Many start the process of selling to an ESOP about five years before they want to exit.

With strategic and private equity sales, owners are often selling to an “outsider.” This outsider is more likely to make changes to the company and operations.

You have options

As opposed to other forms of external transfers, a partial sale of a portion of the business to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) can be done instead of a full sale. This option is favored by some business owners who opt for a partial sale in their initial transaction. By selling less than 50% of their business, the owner retains control and continues to play an active role in its operations. 

In conclusion, every business owner should have a well-thought-out exit strategy in place to secure their financial future and ensure a smooth transition for their business and its stakeholders. A well-planned exit strategy offers numerous benefits, including informed decision making, preservation of business value, a guaranteed smooth transition, and the realization of both business and personal objectives post-exit. An ESOP-based exit strategy is a unique and effective way of combining an exit strategy with a business succession plan. By selling the company to employees, owners have the opportunity to maintain the company culture, offer security to their employees, and leave a legacy. The option of a partial sale allows owners to retain control and play an active role in the business if they sell less than 50% of their shares. Every business owner should consider their options and choose the right exit strategy that aligns with their objectives and long-term goals.