goldfish jumping out of fish bowl

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Selling a business is one of the biggest decisions a business owner or entrepreneur will ever make. Whether it’s your first sale, or your fortieth, the process can be long and complex, and will likely require more mental and emotional preparation than you first imagined.

Knowing when to call it a day

Exiting a business isn’t necessarily about cashing out once and for all. While for many business owners the decision to sell means the culmination of a lifetime’s work, the reasons for selling can span a broad range of possibilities.

“For some it’s retirement. Others are serial entrepreneurs and will be looking to start another business and repeat the trick,” says Simon Smales, a relationship manager at RBC Wealth Management in London. “Others wish to grow the business to the next level and this will usually involve selling some of their shareholding to a private equity firm or listing on the stock exchange to help fund that growth.”

Once you’ve made the decision to sell, the next hurdle is coming to terms with handing over the reins. For many, this is the biggest challenge to overcome. Katherine Waller, a relationship manager at RBC Wealth Management in London, says this is due to the emotion and hard work that goes into building a successful business, as well as the personal and financial risks taken to build it.

“Many business owners and entrepreneurs can find it challenging when negotiating an exit strategy, even if they plan to continue working with the new management team,” Waller says. “Such an exit can lead to exciting new ventures and a change in their financial profile. But this can also create new and unexpected burdens including the struggle to relinquish control of something that is so important to them.”

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Plan your financial future

The financial impact of selling your business is an important consideration. Don’t make the mistake of deciding to sell before considering how much you will need to fund your lifestyle post-exit. This can become problematic when what you want to earn from the sale differs from the amount you actually need.

Dion Lindskog, head of wealth structuring at RBC Wealth Management in London, says this is when effective financial modelling comes into its own. “We use a modelling tool that can take into account the after-tax returns from a number of investment sources and your income requirements to see whether or not your objectives can be achieved.”

Effective personal wealth planning will help determine exactly how much capital will be needed and whether this can be achieved solely through the proceeds of a sale. This is just one reason why it’s important to consider an exit long before the event is likely to happen.

“All too often the decision on how and when to exit the business may be focused on a personal need or on the growth and value the owner can continue adding to the business,” Waller says. “Instead, you should consider both what you need and how you can continue to grow the business to its greatest capacity ahead of an exit.”

Will it be a complete or a partial sale?

Another factor to consider is whether you will sell the entire business or instead sell part of it and continue to be involved in it going forward. To that end, it is important to consider the following:

  • Will you continue to work and invest in new businesses?
  • Who do you need to provide for?
  • What type of legacy do you wish to leave?
  • Are you interested in growing the business?

The answers to these questions will help you decide whether you should exit, what format this will take and the value this strategy will add to your family and your business.

While making a partial sale is attractive for business owners who want to maintain ties with the company, there are circumstances when a complete sale is in fact the best course of action, says David Tosh, a relationship manager at RBC Wealth Management in London.

“More often than not it seems to make more sense to sell the entire business rather than seek a partial sale or an investment partner. Some businesses are victims of their own success and outgrow their capital and cash flow,” Tosh says.

“Some of our clients have decided that an outright sale benefits everyone because it allows them to secure their financial future while also ensuring the future of the business under the stewardship of a new owner. Entrepreneurs are typically head strong and it often does not sit easily for them to be directed by new co-owners on what was their business creation.”

No matter which direction you take, it is essential to be mentally prepared to exit your business both in terms of letting go of the reins and also in reconciling the difference between what you think your business is worth and what it is actually worth.

“If you’re not ready to sell your business, it doesn’t matter how much you can get if the psychology isn’t there,” Smales says.