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Business owners are seeking exits without a plan, survey finds

Accounting firm William Buck warns most owners are “flying blind” when it comes to maximising the value of their business at the point of sale.


Small business owners are planning to sell up without having exit strategies in place, leaving them unable to maximise their business’s value or tax benefits, according to accounting firm William Buck.

The mid-tier firm’s Exit Smart Report surveyed 300 small-to-medium business owners and C-suite executives and found that just one-third of respondents had an exit strategy in place.


Despite this, the report said that “short-termism” emerged as a common theme among survey respondents, with 43 per cent of owners saying they wanted to exit in the next five years. Only 28 per cent were expected to be at the helm of their business in the next 10 years.


“Remarkably few business owners see their business as a long-term proposition,” the report said.


Looming retirement was identified as the primary trigger for 42 per cent of business owners to consider selling their ventures. They were also willing to seize opportunities for an earlier exit if they arose.

“Three out of five (62 per cent) [business owners] say they would sell their business if they received an offer, or if strong market conditions make it likely they could achieve a high value for their business,” it said.

“Of course, the likelihood of this happening varies depending on the health of the business and the economy.”

As a result, businesses needed to be “exit ready at any time”, the report said. “Business owners need to be mindful of an exit strategy – just in case an unexpected purchase offer arrives.”

One in five respondents said they would exit their business as part of their family’s succession plan.

But even for owners who expected the business to remain within the family’s control, good succession planning would ensure smooth ownership transitions and minimise the risk of disputes arising, the report said.

"In a family handover, it pays to start early to resolve any issues and ensure family harmony is maintained so that each family member is engaged, understands, and agrees on the transition process.”

The report found that two-thirds of business owners have not had their business independently valued in the last three years, and 20 per cent of business owners who wanted to sell did not know who their likely buyer would be.

“A lack of awareness on how to maximise the sale value of their entity, or even who would buy the venture, is setting up many owners for a less-than-optimal exit outcome,” the report said.

“This leaves owners flying blind as to the true worth of what is likely to be one of their most valuable investments, and commercially how a buyer would structure the purchase.”

Tax structuring was also deemed an area of “significant oversight”, with 59 per cent of respondents admitting that they had not given any thought to the tax implications of a future sale.

“A broad swathe of business owners could lose a large portion of any sale proceeds to tax in the event of a sale,” the report said. “However, it is a downside that has the potential to be structured effectively with the support of quality advice and forward planning.” 

Head of corporate finance Mark Calvetti emphasised the importance of planning early to ensure the best chance of a successful sale.  

"Some of the most successful exits we've seen were planned at the time of purchase," he said.

To achieve maximum value from the sale process, Mr Calvetti recommended that business owners begun exit planning at least three to five years before they expect to exit.

“The process of selling usually takes between six to 12 months and includes planning, preparing an information document and identifying likely trade and financial buyers," he said.





Christine Chen
30 October 2023