March 2015 Bar Bulletin
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March 2015 Bar Bulletin

Make Your Exit Strategy as Successful as Stephen Colbert's

By Sherry Bosse Lueders


At the end of December, I caught the pitch-perfect final episode of "The Colbert Report." For those who missed it, actor Stephen Colbert retired the fictional blowhard Stephen Colbert and his eponymous "Report" on Comedy Central to begin a new gig in 2015 as the actual Stephen Colbert, replacing David Letterman as host of "The Late Show" on CBS.

What can a small-business owner who is thinking about moving on learn from Colbert? Plenty!

Just because you created something great, doesn't mean you can't seize new opportunities. Colbert had a good thing going with the "Report" - it was funny, politically astute and had moments of brilliance. I will long miss "The Word" <sniff sniff>.

But the Comedy Central audience was a fraction of the potential viewers of CBS's late-night programming. And, after nine years on the "Report," maybe, just maybe, Colbert was ready to move on from the character he created.

Don't surprise your customers; have an exit plan. Colbert announced his plans to retire his character months in advance. Similarly, but on a much different scale, the owner of my favorite handbag shop announced her plans to shutter her neighborhood retail location several months before closing the doors for good. Loyal customers had the opportunity to pick up a final bag and the business's bottom line likely benefited from these purchases.

Decide what will happen to the business's assets. In the penultimate episode of the "Report," Colbert hilariously held a yard sale to sell off the memorabilia that had accumulated on the show's set over the years - "in the most American way possible." This somehow included R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe, who perched on a table surrounded by stuff. Stipe was eventually marked down from $1 to a quarter.

Just like "The Colbert Report," a business has tangible assets (aka "stuff") and intangible assets (such as experienced employees who plan to stay on), both of which contribute to the ultimate determination of the business's value.1

For many small businesses, when it is time for one owner to move on, their business partner(s) may plan to purchase that individual's ownership interest in the business. The terms of determining the value of the business for this type of asset transfer between existing owners are typically set forth in a buy-sell agreement between owners. How the business is valued may depend on the reason for the sale, e.g., is the business still viable and thriving, or is it being liquidated?

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