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The Art of a Graceful Exit

By Debra Turpin

Occasionally, I have wanted to walk away, but both practical and emotional reasons have prevented me from doing so. On a practical level, though I could sell the commercial building I own and have enough money to get by, I would feel more secure, as would my husband, if I were able to add to our retirement fund a sum of money from the sale of my company. In no way do we want to live on a fixed income, or be pressured to have to earn a certain amount, once our entrepreneurial lives are behind us.

On an entirely different level, I don't want to feel as if I gave up on the business that was my life for the past 20 years. I want to feel that the experience was worthwhile and that I had something to show for it and leave behind.

EYE ON THE DOOR. From the perspective of knowing that it is time to go, and having done the necessary emotional and financial planning, I believe that you, the entrepreneur, consider the business differently. In my case, for example, I am focused on making sure I keep a strong management team in place, and on finding someone who can eventually replace me. I wouldn't have been thinking along those lines a decade ago.

Knowing that I need to get the company in the best possible shape for an eventual sale, I am concentrating on full-service clients rather than project work, especially when it comes to clients with whom I haven't worked previously. It takes a lot of time to build relationships, and you never get it back if all you do is project work. And now that the recession is starting to fade, I need to concentrate on my bottom line and make sure it stays in the black in order to attract interest in ownership.

Tactically, beyond my company, I am pondering decisions, such as whether to sell my commercial building and invest the proceeds, no matter what course of action I take with River City Studio itself.

BROADER VISTAS. On a happier front, I am continuing my other-than-entrepreneurial activities. Besides our investment properties in Mexico, my husband and I recently visited Paris with an eye toward pursuing investments in that locale. I enjoy chatting with people via e-mail, helping them plan their vacations to our properties in Mexico, and I want to be doing more of that.

So, you see, I am planning and engaging actively on all fronts. Having experienced the shift -- the realization that I am in another phase -- I am riding it for all that it is worth, knowing that it will lead me to some place new and special. Pay attention to the signs that tell you it's time to consider "life after" entrepreneurship -- and then get to work preparing to make the best of your next stage.

Debra Turpin, 51, owns and operates River City Studio, a Kansas City-based graphic design, marketing, and Web development firm, she co-founded in 1985.

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