It may seem counterintuitive or even strangely paranoiac to plan an exit strategy before you want out, but today I’m going to encourage you to do just that. In the event that you do already want out and don’t have an exit strategy in place, you’re now finding out what it feels like to be locked out of your own car while simultaneously watching it slowly fill with water. Now where’s that damn clothes hanger…

Unless you want to end up scratching up the proverbial Benz with your last minute efforts, let’s start thinking about what an exit strategy is, what your options are, and what that means for you in the bigger picture.

By definition an exit strategy is “a preplanned means of extricating oneself from a situation that is likely to become difficult or unpleasant.” If you are the owner of your company, you have quite a few more options on the table than if you do not. Regardless of which position you are in, your exit strategy needs to be aligned with your greater goals, not simply damage limitation.

If you own your company, these are your primary options:

Sell to an outside company. If you’ve built something profitable, often there is a reward of a larger company who is willing to buy you out. This is often the right move, depending on the internal structure of the company. Ask yourself how your team would view this move? Is it more likely to improve their lives or erase years of work?

Sell to your employees. In a stable, profitable company with a well-established core, this can be a great option. If the internal structure of the company is set up for this, it can be a great way to make sure the organization remains strong after you depart.

Pass control to your heirs. Though typically the most fraught with technical difficulty of the three options, it is possible to pass your control of the company to your designated heirs.

One of these options is probably jumping out as the one that makes the most sense for your company. If you haven’t already, start a conversation with your family, friends, and advisors about your exit strategy.

Every exit is an entrance to something else, and perhaps an even bigger question than how you will eventually make your exit, is what you will be moving toward when you go. It’s vital that your exit strategy falls in line with your personal core values so that when you finally leave the place you’ve spent the last x number of years, you’ll feel more at home than ever before. An exit from an old life leaves you free to plan your new one.

I’ve made my fair share of exits. What do you have planned for yours? Contact me on the site or connect on Twitter @DoubledareCoach.

photo credit: France, Charente-Maritime (17) : Tonnay-Charente, une passerelle dans les nuages. 25 décembre 2012, 15h39 via photopin (license)