Planning an exit for a family business can be delicate because they are often more than a source of livelihood; they represent the legacy and pride of the family. After having interacted with many family-owned business leaders I realized that many of them don’t prepare enough for a smooth handover. Which is why, in this article, I am going to address business exit planning for family businesses – its importance, challenges, and the best strategies to employ. 

Business Exit Planning for Family Businesses

A family business is owned and controlled by members of a single family, typically over multiple generations. These businesses can range from small, locally-owned shops to large multinational organizations. Family members often play major roles in the day-to-day operation of the business. However, depending on its size, non-family members can also be employed. 

Three individuals engaged in a business meeting with documents and a laptop displaying graphs

Since the management of family businesses is usually handed down from one family member to the next, many family company owners believe they do not need a business exit plan. However, the importance of a business exit plan cannot be overstated, and a lack of it can cause serious damage to the stability and continuity of the business.   

What is Exit Planning for Family Businesses

Exit planning for family businesses involves preparing for the eventual transfer of ownership, management, or both of a family-owned enterprise. Exit planning prepares you for the day you finally exit your company, whether planned or unplanned. 

However, more importantly, it allows you to identify the best exit strategy and how to use it to achieve your personal and business goals. For instance, if you want to transfer the business to a successor, a concrete plan helps you to identify a suitable successor within the family and prepare the person for a leadership position. 

Importance of Exit Planning for Family-Owned Businesses 

If you have plans to exit your business, whether in the distant or near future, the best way to do it is by planning ahead. A well-drafted business plan will secure your financial future, as well as that of the rest of the family. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the benefits of exit planning for family-owned businesses: 

Promotes Business Continuity 

Exit planning guarantees the continuity of the business beyond the current generation. With a plan in place, disruptions to business operations can be kept to a minimum, and the business can be positioned to run smoothly even in your absence. 

Maximizes Value

The number one aim of any exit plan is to maximize the value you can get from your business. Exit planning allows you to identify the areas of weakness in the business and implement strategies that can improve profitability, reduce liabilities, and increase market competitiveness.

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Preserves the Family Legacy

For many family-owned businesses, preserving the legacy is a major goal, and exit planning helps you to achieve just that without any fuss. By selecting a successor from the family, you can make sure that the business continues to reflect the vision and mission of the founding members of the vision.

Minimizes Disputes

Once family members get a whiff of you considering an exit strategy, conflicts are bound to arise, which can jeopardize the entire company if you are not careful. However, with a well-thought-out plan in place, you can take strategic actions to meet your business and personal goals, regardless of the opinions of others. 

Challenges of Business Exit Planning for Family Businesses

Having seen the benefits of business exit planning, there’s no doubt you want to create one for yourself. However, you first need to be aware of some of the challenges you can expect while planning an exit. They include: 

Identifying a Suitable Successor

Identifying a suitable person within the family to take on the leadership of your business can be a challenge. You want someone who has the necessary skills and experience and also shares your vision for the business. 

Here are some qualities to look for in potential successors:

Training the Successor

Once you’ve identified a successor, the next challenge is ensuring they are adequately prepared to step up for their new role. You must provide them with the necessary training and support to develop the skills needed to succeed. 

This process can be quite time-consuming and stressful, especially if the successor lacks expertise in business matters. 

Keeping Emotions in Check 

Exiting any business comes with its fair share of emotional ties, even more so regarding family businesses. The truth is it’s natural to feel a strong emotional connection to your business, especially if it’s been in the family for a long time. 

However, these emotional attachments can complicate the exit planning process and make it harder for you to let go. 

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Evaluating the Business 

Family businesses may have intangible assets that make valuation more complex. Disagreements about overvaluation can arise, especially from family members with different perceptions of the business’s worth. It’s advisable to seek professional assistance from a qualified evaluator to guarantee an objective and accurate valuation.

Best Exit Strategies for Family-Owned Businesses

When planning for a business exit, you must consider the exit options available. Before choosing an exit strategy, it’s important to understand its benefits and challenges and how they affect your personal, financial, and business goals. 

Family Succession

Family succession is one of the most common exit options for family-owned businesses. It involves transferring ownership and management of the company to a family member, such as a child or sibling. For this to work, however, you need to identify suitable successors and groom them for leadership responsibilities. 

Pros 

Cons 

Sale to a Third Party

Selling the business to a third party, such as an individual, another business, or even the existing management team, is another exit strategy to consider. This approach allows the family to liquidate their investment in the business while transferring ownership and management to new owners.

Pros

Cons 

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Family Limited Partnership (FLP)

A Family Limited Partnership (FLP) is a legal arrangement that allows family members to pool their assets and invest in the business together. The structure is typically divided into general partners and limited partners. The former are in charge of the company management and operations, while the latter are only passive participants.

Pros

Cons

Liquidation

In cases where no suitable succession or sale options are available, liquidating the business may be the only viable exit strategy. Liquidation involves selling off the business’s assets and winding down its operations, with proceeds distributed to the owners and creditors. 

While liquidation may not be the desired outcome, it can provide closure and enable the family to move on to other opportunities.

Pros 

Cons 

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Related Questions 

When Should I get Started with Business Exit Planning?

Ideally, you should begin planning your exit from a business at least five years before your anticipated exit. Planning early allows you to maximize the value of your business, figure out any utility patent management issues, address any potential challenges, and guarantee a smooth transition. It also gives you enough time to identify and prepare your successor for leadership.

Who Should be Involved in Family Business Exit Planning?

Major stakeholders in the company should be involved in the exit planning of a family-owned business. This includes current owners, family members involved in the business, potential successors, high-ranking employees, and a team of advisors, including an attorney and a Certified public accountant (CPA).

How do I Know How Much my Family Business is Worth?

To determine the value of your family business, you will need to carry out a business valuation.  The valuation process involves a thorough assessment of the financial performance, assets, liabilities, and market comparables of the business. It is advisable to hire a professional business valuator to provide an objective and accurate assessment of its fair market value.

Conclusion

Planning an exit from your family-owned business is a challenging task. It is advisable to start the process early, outline your personal and business goals, and seek help from professionals, such as an attorney and CPA, to ensure a smooth transition. This way, you can carefully choose the best option for yourself, your family, and the business you’ve built.