Exiting Your Business is Like Running a Train with No Conductor

Train tracks at sunset

As a business owner, we are the conductor of our small business. The train runs because we tell it what has to happen and when. But, when we want to stop being the conductor, for most small business, this means the train will not run any longer. If we want to get off the train we need to have a plan on how to ensure the train can continue without its conductor.

So, in this analogy, you may be thinking, “a train does not run because of a conductor, there are many other positions in the process of managing and operating a train.” You would be correct. It is not just the conductor, that manages the passengers, or the engineer, who manage the speed of the train, nor the different managers that are in charge of all the employees, crew, and freight. It is also those in charge of the scheduling, communications, signals, track maintenance, IT, inspection, repair, equipment (including the trains, cars, tracks & stations), inventory, technicians, mechanics, training, health & safety, and the staff that serve the clients. When we look at all these responsibilities, it is easy to draw a parallel to all the responsibilities we have in our small businesses.

We started with an idea to build a business (our train), to go to a specific location, serve specific clients, and create the delivery process to manage all of this. Our process of operations includes delivering our service and/or product, hiring – training- firing – managing our staff, investing our time, energy and money, making decisions on our schedules, direction, investments, etc. We built a ‘rail line’ of business that provides a much-needed service to many people and/or businesses.

What often happens for small business owners that are thinking about what to do to not ‘run the train’ any longer, is that there is an uncertainty about what that looks like. If you are the person that covers all the responsibilities, it is even harder to imagine. What happens when we are still the ‘conductor’? How does the business run without its key person?

I can tell you, it doesn’t. So what can you do to ensure it will continue when you are ready to leave? Here are five possible ideas you can focus on and build into your business to ensure you have an exit that aligns with what you want.

1) Sell the Business (to Another Conductor)

This is the most obvious path that most people think about. People come to me and ask, how would I sell my business and what does that even look like? Selling the business to another ‘conductor’ to take over, requires your business to have a specific job description and value assessment for the next ‘conductor’ to most easily step into that job. Preparing this takes time. If you have not set-up your company to be ready for you to walk away at any moment, it can take several years to create this readiness so that the business has value for the next owner. Expect a timeline of 2 to 5 years to get your company, people, and value ready.

Some of the VALUE comes from:

  • Systems – the systems you have in place, that helps the next owner know what has to happen, when it has to happen and how to make it happen.
  • Assets – the assets in the company (like business structure, equipment, tools, technology, inventory, good will, brand recognition, etc.) must be worth something and must be salable. This doesn’t mean it must be in pristine condition, but only that it is worth something to the next person.
  • Relationships – if you have a great relationship with your supplier and you get great support and service, then this makes it easier for the next owner to continue with services of the same consistent value for the clients. Having poor relationships requires the next owner to have to either manage these poor interactions or spend extra time looking for new connections.

2) Sell the Business (to Another Train Company)

This solutions allows another business to take over the company and roll the people and assets into their company. Many of the same values are required as the first (to show the worth of the company), but future systems, assets, and relationship will likely change as the purchasing company brings the ‘trains’ into their organization.

3) Sell or Transfer the Business (to Employees or Heirs)

This transition time will take longer, as the company not only requires a plan to prepare the company to run without the current ‘conductor’, it must also have a plan to prepare the employees or heirs for their new roles within the company. You must also have a plan to transition the clients to accept the power transition. If your clients expect you to do the work, they may leave and take their business if they are surprised by the change of leadership.

4) Keep the Business (have Other People Run It)

You may want to continue to oversee the business at a high level, not doing the day-to-day work. This is like being the owner of the ‘train line’ but not an employee in operations. This could be achieved in two ways:

  1. Hire the right people to take over all the positions you do not want to do any longer. You will still be the manager (of CEO) of the company, so you will still need to make decisions, but depending on the size of your team, you may be able to offload many of your responsibilities from HR, sales, marketing, and product/service delivery.
  2. Create an online process that takes the work out of delivering your final product/service. This may be an online course & training program or online store. It is also possible to replace certain tasks to online, like prospect nurture sequence & sales.

You may be the owner of the ‘train line’ but you will have many responsibilities. The very least will be overseeing what has been completed and that everything is running as it should be. Likely you will still wear many hats, just not as many.

5) Close the Business (Sell Off the Assets Only )

Finally, you may simply wish to sell off your assets to your competitor. Any or all assets, many I mentioned above, can be sold off separately or together.

I was part of a corporate shutdown that went through the process of trying to sell off the business in its entirety. There was no one in the industry that was interested in buying the company, so they settled for selling off the customer service & support branch of the company to their closest competitors. It meant that 40 people lost their jobs and the product development was shelved. It was a great move for the competitor as they maintained the customer base and could then service the or add more sales in the future.

In all five cases, the business must be able to run without you. You cannot be the conductor, if you want to step away from the train. There is no way to stop being in charge of the operations of the train and not be on the train. Prepare well ahead of time (years ahead) to be ready to exit your business.

Action Talks Live: The Author Event

Author Alert! Are You Interested in Speaking at an Inspirational Event?

Writing and publishing an impactful book is a big project. But it can help you make a HUGE impact in the world …as long as you get the word out about it! That’s why I’m encouraging you to apply to speak at my friend Susan Crossman’s ActionTalks LIVE: The Author Event in San Diego July 11-13, 2024.

The event is designed to powerfully showcase the inspirational Tedx-type talks of 30 heart-centered authors who have written a book to support their business and make a difference in the world.

The event will be livestreamed through two mobile apps, including Susan’s Visionary Authors app.

This is a pay-to-speak opportunity that is overflowing with value and as one of Susan’s speakers you will receive:

  • The opportunity to deliver an inspirational talk live on stage
  • The recording of your talk
  • Professional headshots
  • A personalized mobile app through Susan’s Visionary Authors mobile app
  • Access to the ACTIONERA Marketing Portal for book and business marketing
  • Clips from your talk for social media use
  • Project trainings from speaking, marketing, and mobile app experts
  • Promotion and exposure in the ACTIONERA TV app

Click here to find out more about the opportunity: Learn More Here

Susan believes in combining creativity with practicality and she aligns herself with high- integrity people who are motivated to do good things in the world. This event could well be a gamechanger for you as an author, a speaker, and an inspirational speaker!


I’m Ready! Register Here Now!

What’s your Business Challenge?

“I find that a lot of business owners want to get out of their business because they are so tired of doing everything all the time”

Trying to find that work-life balance can be a real challenge. As an entrepreneur, we find ourselves struggling almost all the time managing the business.

In today’s episode of Business That Matters, Barb shares with Warren Coughlin, her insights on why businesses should plan their Exit Strategies early.

Key takeaways:

  • The challenges of balancing work and life
  • The importance of small businesses
  • The Importance of letting go and
  • The key to exiting your business

Watch the Episode

TAKE THE TEST: Does your business have what it takes to run without you? Take this scorecard to assess your Exit Readiness » https://blitz-exitplan.scoreapp.com/

You are thinking about growing your business. BUT, I bet, you’re not thinking about when you will leave your business. The best time to invest in an exit plan is when you want to grow not when you want out. Want to see how your business fairs? Take this free assessment.

Get Your Score

This article is 100% original content – The articles you read in this blog are 100% created by Barb Stuhlemmer, not AI.

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