Planning a graceful exit from your small business

Image by Ann San from Pixabay

By Mark G. Auerbach

I’ve written several articles for Succeeding in Small Business about closing a business to move on and how important it is to have a “Plan B,” in case you can’t work because of injury.

But, what if it’s the final straw? We saw so many small businesses shutter during the pandemic, and saw those handmade signs on the door. “Thanks for your loyal patronage” or “Sorry, we’re closing up shop.”

I got a call from a colleague of mine who is a consultant. He was recently diagnosed with stage 5 kidney disease and his months are numbered, and to quote the Burt Bacharach/Hal David number in the musical Promises, Promises, “Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing that anyone can learn.” He has a handful of current clients, and hasn’t taken on any new ones in the last few months (although the phone rings constantly). His plan is to find his clients new resources within the next few weeks, and then close down. But he doesn’t want people, clients or otherwise, to know why.

When you are the product

He is his product, so we discussed the basics of closing shop, while maintaining his integrity and protecting his privacy. As one carefully plans the opening of a business, one should also carefully have a plan to close it down, if and when the time is right. (And, without a plan, you can leave your clients, vendors, customers, and likely next of kin, adrift).

As for rehoming the clients, he is giving them two months’ notice, and offering to help them find a new consultant, at which time, he’ll consult with the consultant to bring the new consultant up-to-speed. He’ll provide the clients and the new consultant with records, contacts, etc.

Then, there’s the part of closing the business. His accountant and attorney will file the paperwork, end the equipment leases, cancel the utilities and the subscriptions, do the taxes, etc. They’ll shut down the accounts (which my colleague has carefully listed in detail). They’ll close out the social media accounts.

But, people will ask why. He doesn’t want people to know he’s dying, and he wants to maintain control of his message, and who learns what and when. So, we explored several alternatives. He could say, “It’s time for a new act in life and a new change of scene,” but people might assume something is wrong. He could also blame it on the pandemic (as many people have done and are doing). He did not want to say that because business models had changed during the pandemic, or because business was poor during the pandemic (neither being true), he was refocusing. So, using the pandemic, he’s planning to say that “his professional and personal priorities have shifted, and he wants to follow his dreams.”

He’s in a rough spot, having to wrap up his career and his life with limited time, six months to two years, ahead. But, by having a plan in place, even with short notice, he won’t be rushed in making a stately exit. This is a plan we all should have.

To start your plan, first figure out the nuts and bolts…the people, places, and things that have to be accommodated. Then, put the right people in place to move the plan into action. Then, put the right message out there, so you have a grand, yet tasteful finale.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat in print in The Westfield News, on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on TV and radio on WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB. He also produces the TV and radio series On The Mark and Athenaeum Spotlight with Guy McLain.


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