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The Two Most Important Reasons Why Every Business Owner Needs an Exit Plan

by Clark Vitulli | Posted on March 13, 2018

Why does every business owner need an exit plan? Can’t you just focus on building and growing an excellent company, and the rest will take care of itself?

Years ago, maybe … in today’s complex world, the odds are seriously stacked against you..

Let me explain. Ultimately, there are two reasons why just building a strong business is not enough to be assured of a successful exit. These two reasons – based on my experience working with business owner clients in various industries for a couple of decades – best explain why every business owner needs to create and follow an exit plan … years before you intend to exit.

Let’s call the first reason the “Unknown Destination Effect.” Imagine you’re out for drive, but don’t have a clear destination in mind. Without knowing where you want to end up, it’s impossible to know if the next left or right turn will eventually lead you to anywhere good. Well, sometimes taking a drive on a beautiful day without a known destination can be fun. But when it comes to your business, generally you want to know where you are going. Leading your company without a clear set of exit goals is the same as driving around with an Unknown Destination. You end up making decisions without knowing if they will lead you anywhere good by the time you get to your future exit.

Here’s several examples of important business decisions that, without a clear exit plan, you won’t know which decisions will help or undermine your exit success:

  • Which will have a bigger impact on your business’s value at exit – top-line revenue growth or bottom line profitability growth?
  • How do you decide to add staff, which can strengthen the team in the future but often decreases profits in the short term?
  • Should you trim any under-utilized labor, knowing it may cause current disruptions but can increase profits and potential sale value?
  • How do you evaluate a strategic initiative that may contribute to long-term growth but will consume significant current resources and reduce profits?
  • Which will produce a greater impact on business value: vertical or horizontal growth?

These are important business decisions, that, without an exit plan to follow, you cannot know whether or not your answers will help or hurt you whenever you finally arrive.

The second reason why every business owner needs an exit plan is the law that “Time Increases Results.” This “law” refers to nearly universal truth that the more time allocated to accomplish a goal or project, the greater the probable results. Well, when it comes to achieving exit success, it’s often a surprise for business owners that many of the most important tools and tactics will take years to implement, and/or produce results that positively compound with years of time. In our experience, five years is the critical mark—if your desired exit is five years or less from now, you already may be running short of time to implement certain tools and tactics, and/or you may see greatly diminished results from your efforts.

Here are a few examples of needs that many owners have to address to maximize results at exit, but which can take years to fully accomplish:

  • Eliminate any dependency on the business owner for sales, operations, or key relationship management
  • Identify, hire, onboard, and align a leadership team that produces a track record of sustained long-term growth
  • Outgrow any customer/client concentration
  • Create brand value protected in a defensible IP portfolio
  • Time market conditions to your advantage
  • Evaluate and implement significant exit tax-saving strategies
  • Address any misalignment or disagreements between co-owners
  • Design and implement ownership and leadership transfer plans (if exiting to key employees or family)

Having a clear, written exit plan helps business owners evaluate and prioritize needs such as these, early enough so that time helps produce and compound positive results.

Put these two reasons together: The “Unknown Destination Effect,” and “Time Increases Results,” and it becomes clear that exit success requires more than just building a good company. The sooner you get started with your exit planning, the greater your likely success.


Are You Ready to Exit?

Is your current exit planning sufficient and on track? Are you missing anything? How do you know? The NAVIX Exit Plan Assessment is a tool to help you define the 15 most important areas that an exit plan needs to address.

Use this tool to quickly audit your existing exit plan, or to assist you in getting started with your exit planning.

To access our NAVIX Exit Plan Assessment click here.


As Founder / CEO of his Tennessee company, Music City Chief Executives™, Clark Vitulli chairs three growing groups of nearly 50 CEOs and Key Executives in the Nashville area on behalf of VISTAGE International. He is also a Certified Exit and Succession Planning Strategist for NAVIX, the premier company helping business owners navigate and achieve happy exits. Over the course of his career, Clark has had the privilege to help lead many business units and executive leaders, and now partners with VISTAGE and NAVIX to continue his three business passions: ~ helping companies and leaders grow ~ helping plan and execute their successful exits ~ and “giving back.”