Okay, so by now you should be familiar with the concept and importance of exit planning if you own a business. It is fairly evident to all that at some stage, every business owner will depart their enterprise– voluntarily and by design, or otherwise.

It is inevitable, like death and taxes.

You may also be aware that some 80% of business owners will rely totally or in part on proceeds from the sale or transition of their business to fund retirement, but that only 20-25% will actually find a purchaser if current trends continue, and for mine that’s probably best case.

That’s a big gap and a source of unavoidable disappointment for the majority.

So to spur our readers along the process of defining an exit plan, I’ve distilled the approach into a few key concepts that should only take 10 minutes to consider and jot down answers, so you at least have a plan, albeit a top-level one. Even a short, succinct plan is better than none at all, as it provides much-needed guidance and focus on some of the key issues involved in preparing for sale or succession.

So free up 10 minutes in your schedule, put your iPhone in flight mode, shut down your laptop, grab a pad and pen and close your office door. Your time starts now.

First up, define your objectives. Jot down a few ideas around how much you want to sell for and how much time you are prepared to continue dedicating to the business. Think about what you’d do once you have sold and moved on and write down a few ideas. Don’t expect an exhaustive list – that would take far more than 10 minutes – but to avoid seller’s remorse it’s important to start considering what the next chapter has in store.

Next, think about who is the most likely buyer or successor. If your business is reliant on selling time for dollars, i.e. professional services or healthcare professionals, your best bet could well be an internal successor or two, or a similarly sized and focused firm who could assume your responsibilities for a seamless transition. If yours is less reliant on owner input and more on management structure, internal systems, supply chain and a well-equipped workforce, your buyer pool extends to include larger trade, financial and strategic interests. Look around at your sector and get a feel for who the most likely candidates are, then write a brief profile or list for clarity.

Now do a quick thumbnail valuation. How much money did your company make last year? Multiply it by three. Write your answer on your pad. That is, for most small enterprises, roughly what your business is worth. Could be more, could be less, but it is a generally acceptable guide. Now look at the gap between how much you want to realise from the sale and how much it is probably worth right now.

This is the value gap, which is reality check for many business owners. Unfortunately, the market really doesn’t care how much you want for your business, only how much it’s actually worth, so understand that if you want more than what it’s worth, you’ll have to spend time building value in the enterprise. In negotiations, begging isn’t an option.

It should be pretty clear how much your company needs to be earning to achieve a valuation at the level to support your desired price, so now you need to write down a few key actions you can take to boost profits to that level. Do you need to increase sales? Decrease costs? Increase productivity? Introduce new products? Fatten up margins? All of the above?

Finally, if you are like most business owners, you’ll have little or no experience in selling a business, so the last step in the 10-Minute Exit Plan is to make a list of the people who can help you on your journey to transition-readiness. You’ll need a very good tax accountant, commercial lawyer, coach (particularly if you need to increase business performance) and business broker/M&A intermediary, at the very least. So make a list on your pad of the people you know or need to reach out to as your ideal advisory team.

Achieving a sale at all is no mean feat in an increasingly competitive market for mergers & acquisitions, but achieving one with a really desirable outcome almost always takes a little time and effort.

Can you spare 10 minutes?

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Global Recruiter Issue 6 (Australia and New Zealand) – see www.theglobalrecruiter.com for more information.