Whether you want to retire, start a new business, or protect your personal finances, consider these strategies to exit your business.


The COVID-19 crisis forced many small business owners to make tough decisions about whether they want to continue investing in their current business or prioritize other goals, like starting a new business down the road, buying a home, or paying for a child’s education. If you have assessed your situation and decided now is the time to consider an exit, it’s important to consider the many options available, from selling part or all of your business to winding it down completely. Use these questions to help you determine your next steps. Once you’ve determined them, the worksheet at the end, which includes details and term definitions, may be able to help you get started.


How much is your business worth?

You may have a rough idea of what your business is worth based on your current revenue, profitability, or balance sheet. But if you’re thinking of potential exit strategies, a ballpark figure isn’t enough. You need to have a clear, detailed understanding of what your business is worth before you can decide how to move forward. There are a number of ways to value a business, which is important to consider if you haven’t been profitable in the last year due to COVID-19 closures or other unforeseen circumstances.

  • The asset approach to valuation includes all tangible assets the business owns and subtracts liabilities.
  • The market approach considers the market value of other companies in the same industry to arrive at a figure for your own business.
  • The income approach is calculated using net cash flow, or profitability.



Action tip: Consider using a professional appraiser. Business appraisals are similar to home appraisals: both provide an unbiased assessment of value.


Does a sale make sense?

A sale may be the best way to cash in on the value in your business. But a sale doesn’t make sense for everyone. To help you determine if you’re ready to sell, and which type of sale might make sense, start by thinking about whether you’re comfortable relinquishing control of the business (and how much). Remember, there are many ways to structure a sale, it’s not just selling and walking away. And interest rates are currently at record lows, making it easier for businesses to do deals if you’re ready.

  • Outright sale: The traditional idea of a “sale,” where you transfer ownership immediately and receive payment immediately.
  • Partial sale: Selling a stake of your business to raise capital. This can be done so you retain majority control of your business.
  • Gradual sale: A long-term payment plan for buyers who can’t afford immediate payment.
  • Revenue or profit share: May include an upfront payment similar to an outright sale, but includes terms that allow you a share of revenue or profits going forward.

It’s important that you look for buyers who agree to your terms and vision, as there’s often an intangible and emotional component to selling a business.  


Action tip: Strategically, you may want to consider selling to a competitor. However, this can be a more complex process. If you go this route, be confident in your valuation, divulge information gradually, and be ready to walk away if they refuse to budge on terms that are important to you. Working with a team of professionals — like bankers, lawyers, or even a business broker — can help.


Does it make sense to liquidate and move on?

The Business Transition Planning team at Wells Fargo Private Bank says it almost always makes sense to explore a sale first, since businesses tend to have the most value when they are operating (because of the value of your client list and other intangible assets). But in some cases, particularly if you’ve been shut down or operating at partial capacity, or if you have a wealth of inventory and/or machinery, liquidation may make sense. If you decide on this path, consider the different types of sales for your assets: consignment, internet or sealed bid auctions, and retail are the most common. In addition to any fees that may be charged if you use an intermediary to help you sell assets, keep in mind that the liquidation value of assets is generally 20% less than retail value.


Action tip: Experts recommend using a non-recourse bill of sale, which means that the buyer accepts the risks associated with the goods they’re buying. This will help you move on to new ventures with a clean slate.


Are you ready for next steps?

If you decide you’re ready to move on, there are a number of logistical steps that you’ll need to complete. You’ll need to speak with vendors, lenders, and suppliers about payoff options and contract cancellations. (If you sell, these may be transfers instead of cancellations.) Next, cancel or transfer all registrations, permits, and licenses associated with your business.  


Action tip: There may be tax implications in either a sale or liquidation. A professional can help you assess the situation. (If you aim to claim tax credits associated with a liquidation, make sure you file dissolution documents.)


How you decide to wind down your business can help pave the way for future opportunities, both personal and professional. Perhaps exiting your current business will free up the time and money you need to open a new business you’ve always dreamed of. Our worksheet can help you dive deeper into some of the questions raised in this article about whether you’re ready to move on.