So much advice about starting a small business revolves around the question, “What if I fail?” In this post, I would like to stand that kind of logic on its head, and suggest you start planning your business around another question: “What if I succeed?”

I feel that an exit strategy is a great place to start thinking about a business. First, because it focuses you on your long-term business goals. Second, because it is much easier to establish boundaries and ownership at the beginning of a venture than later, as it grows. And third, because it is a fun exercise.

Over and over, you see successful businesses fail because they never saw past the efforts of their original founder(s). Whether it is rock groups squabbling over rights and royalties decades after their heyday, the family business down the street that cannot survive into the next generation, or the growth technology firm that crashes and burns in the absence of their charismatic founder, many businesses learn that sustaining themselves is often even more important than succeeding in the first place.

But a more important question is what you can do *now* to make a longer-term exit strategy happen. For example:

  • If you are a family-run business, you might decide when and how you will bring in professional management to allow for further growth.
  • If you are a speaker, you might start thinking about monetizing your content so that it, rather than you, becomes the long-term product. (For example, many people don’t realize that as I’ve grown older, I’ve licensed other speakers and organizations to teach my programs around the country.)
  • If you are creating a new technology widget, your real goal may be to sell out to a major corporation at some point – or if you are hipsters selling organic avocado mayonnaise, perhaps you eventually want to be under the wing (and distribution) of a national food giant. (For example, did you know that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is made by Unilever nowadays?)

The 1960s self-help classic Psycho-Cybernetics revolved around a simple idea: picture a goal clearly in your mind, and your brain will start making all of the hundreds of tiny decisions each day that you need to eventually reach that goal. Over half a century later, these ideas still hold true (and the book is still a best seller).

When it comes to your business, think about the end point you are aiming for, work your way backwards from there, and many of your goals in the present moment will become much clearer.

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In closing, I want to share that this blog post is part of my own exit strategy. After more than five years of faithfully contributing monthly blog posts for my good friend and fellow writer Carol Roth, I am retiring this fall from public speaking, my psychotherapy practice … and small business blogging. So this will be my last regular post.

But I can’t leave without saying that Carol is one of the smartest AND kindest human beings one could ever count as a colleague. Her support of my own writing was a game-changer in my life, as her support of your small business ideas will continue to be for you. And I could live three lifetimes and never hope to match her razor-sharp wit, but I will keep trying.

I also wanted to thank YOU, Carol’s faithful readers, re-tweeters, and occasional commenters. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with you, too.

While I may be retiring, I’m not dead yet: this past month, for example, my new self-help book on anxiety just hit #1 in its category on Amazon. And Carol has graciously invited me to stop back from time to time – so I hope our paths will continue to cross from here. Take care, and best of success!