Exiting your business: part two – three tax efficient exit strategies for entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, one of the most critical decisions you'll face is how to exit your business in a tax-efficient manner, a decision you ideally need to have made before you launch your business, to ensure you find the best solution in support of your long-term financial goals, and in alignment with your definition of success.

To understand how to plan for your business exit, working with a trusted financial adviser is essential. There are many different types of ways to exit your business, all of which will have very different financial consequences for the founder. With the right guidance and advice, you can navigate this complex terrain with confidence, ensuring that your hard-earned rewards are maximized as you seamlessly transition into the next phase of your journey.

Here are three key options to exit your business in a tax efficient manner, and with the right advice you’ll be able to decide which one is right for you:

1. Sell to Someone Else – Cash Out:

Selling your business outright is a straightforward yet compelling exit strategy. It provides immediate financial liquidity, offering entrepreneurs a lump sum of cash for their hard work and dedication. However, the challenge is not just finding the right buyer who not only meets the desired price but also demonstrating that the business can operate without you.

The due diligence process and ensuing negotiations over something you have spent your life building can be tough. Following any earn-out period or deferred consideration, you are likely to need to live off your capital for the rest of your life. Financial advisors are instrumental in this process.  Understanding how much money you need - net of taxes, spending plans and other liabilities - in order to produce the income, you desire for the rest of your life can be empowering in these situations.

While cashing out may seem like the goal, it's essential to consider the implications beyond the financial aspect. Are you prepared for life after the sale, when you are no longer involved in the running of the business?  Does this approach support your definition of success and align with your aspirations for the business? How will you ensure a smooth transition for your employees and stakeholders? These are questions that financial advisors can help you navigate, ensuring that your exit is not only tax-efficient but also that the terms of the deal will enable you to live the lifestyle you want.

2. Selling to Employees /Management Buy-Outs – Money Drip Fed Over Time:

Opting for a sale to a management team, or even to employees via an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) introduces the concept of a buy-out, where typically payments are staggered over time. This approach provides entrepreneurs with a known value for their equity while ensuring a seamless transition of ownership, given the familiarity of the new custodians.

With this steady stream of payment can come some complications. Consideration will need to be given to settling capital gains tax where applicable and ensuring that the transaction qualifies for the relevant reliefs, such as business asset disposal relief (BADR). From a planning point of view, a steady stream of payments can make it harder to make good long-term decisions when they are received. For example, when should you repay your mortgage? Can you afford to make gifts to family members? How much capital do you need to have invested in order to produce the income you need when you finally retire from the business? Having a long-term plan is important.

Selling to employees or management can be a deeply rewarding experience, as it allows you to empower and reward those who have contributed to the success of your venture, whilst maintaining or defining your future role.

Should you choose to use an employee ownership trust, the transaction could be free of capital gains tax. However, the financial rewards may not be as immediate, and may be less overall than can be obtained through other types of exits. By working closely with financial advisors, you can ensure that the transition is not only tax-efficient but also reflects your values and commitment to the business's legacy.

3. Private Equity – Currently a Popular Option:

Private equity has emerged as a popular exit strategy for entrepreneurs seeking upfront capital injection while retaining a stake in the business's growth. While this approach offers immediate financial benefits, it often requires entrepreneurs to remain actively involved in the business, contributing to its ongoing success.

Financial advisors play a critical role in navigating the complexities of private equity deals, helping entrepreneurs to decide whether terms offered aligns with your values, aspirations, and vision for your future. For example, will the initial consideration provide the entrepreneur with financial security? If the deal involves equity in a new venture or acquisition vehicle, how should this be held for tax planning purposes (including inheritance tax).

However, it's essential to approach private equity with caution, as it may not be suitable for every entrepreneur or business. Whilst access to the investment and expertise could be a game changer, it may be difficult to work alongside or being accountable to someone else.

Being a smart entrepreneur goes beyond building a successful business. You need to begin with the end in mind, understand your definition of success, aspirations for the business and your long-term financial goals. It's about planning for a graceful exit that maximises your rewards and preserves your legacy. By exploring tax-efficient exit strategies and working closely with a trusted financial adviser, you can ensure that your transition is seamless, strategic, and aligned with your long-term goals.

Remember, the power of advice is indispensable in navigating this journey, ensuring that you make informed decisions that set you up for success in the next chapter of your entrepreneurial journey.