Small Biz Advice: How to Make a Graceful Exit


holly-photo-280x290Dear Holly,

I’ve been running a small magazine for about three decades.  Recently I sold it to a larger media company.  I’ve stayed on board this past year to help guide the transition.  But, as the year end slowly creeps nearer, I realize we are in no shape to fully hand over the magazine to the new owners. 

I created this magazine.  It’s my vision.  The new owners are having a really hard time executing that vision and maintaining the feel and the personality that were the magazine’s trademark. 

Do you have any advice on what I can put in place so that when I leave, I will know that the magazine will continue and not lose it’s feel or the momentum I’ve established?


Floundering Founder

Dear Founder,

First of all, congratulations on the sale of your magazine.  It sounds like you’re facing a pretty common problem that a lot of founders face when they are ready to depart.

When we start a business, it’s often times born from our own values and passion.  Any great business starts with a great vision and that is a deeply personal process.  As the founder, you have to pour yourself and your personality into the business to realize that vision and get it off the ground.

The problem comes when we need the business to grow beyond our own leadership.  When we are ready to sell or replace ourselves as CEO, we must be able to articulate what that vision is.  In addition, we need to illustrate how that vision informs every aspect of the business and how it plays out in the day-to-day execution of the business.

I’ve seen too many business owners fail to recognize that there comes a point in the growth of their business where it cannot be dependent on one person’s personality.  It must become something bigger than you.

So where do you begin?  First, since you’ve been running the magazine for decades, it’s likely you haven’t really sat down and clearly articulated what your vision is.  I’m sure you know it inside and out, but if you can’t clearly articulate it in a simple way for your successors to understand, you’re going to hit a roadblock.

While you still have time, sit down and write out the vision statement for your company.  Consider what values birthed the business and why you began the magazine in the first place.   We must be able to clearly articulate that vision and communicate what the meaning of that vision is before we can remove ourselves.

Once you have answered those questions, look at how that vision affects every aspect of your business.  Are there certain criteria to be met when it comes to pitching a story?  What about the people who you hire?  What do you look for when bringing someone onboard to contribute to the magazine?  How do you decide what advertisements make it into the magazine?  Do you only partner with companies that share your values?  If so, you have to know what those values are.

Again, because you’ve run the magazine for three decades, I’m sure you’re aware of all of this.  But if you can’t clearly articulate it and pass it on to the new owners, it’s likely that the magazine will go under in a few short years.   I know you may be thinking that your vision should just be obvious since the magazine has been around for so long, but it’s not.  Never assume your thoughts and ideas are obvious to someone else.

Good luck, I’m sure you’re thinking that this seems too simple to be the solution to your problem, but it’s not.  It’s the beginning of making this transition possible.



Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.

Want valuable insight into how to grow your business?  Holly hosts free 30 minute strategy sessions at The Yard in Williamsburg.  Email her to set up a time or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How.


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