business retirement plans

Don’t Sell Your Business--Downsize It

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t have to sell your business all at once.

  • You can keep 80 percent of your income and work one day a week.

  • You will end up with a lot more money at the end of 5 to 10 years.

  • You will be working only with clients and customers that you enjoy and value.


Succession planning is a hot topic today. The problem is that the only solution in most cases is either to sell or close your business. But, I want you to consider another option for the business you’ve worked so hard to build: the “wind-down strategy.” With a wind-down strategy, you essentially downsize your business.

How great would it be if you could keep your finger on the pulse of your business while reducing the amount of time you actually work by 80 percent or more! Just one important caveat: The wind-down strategy works best for professional service firms, but elements of this concept can work for all types of businesses.

Focus on the best 20 percent of your customers or clients

The first step is to take is look at your book of business. Who are you best 20 percent of customers or clients? This doesn’t necessarily have to be your largest clients, but many of the larger clients tend to be your best clients, too. After you put your list together, add up how much of your firm’s revenue these top clients account for. If you’re like most firms, it will be at least 80 percent of the total revenue.

If you are servicing 100 clients that produce $750,000 per year in revenue, then your wind-down will probably account for $600,000 in annual revenue. Think about this for a second. Eighty percent or more of your revenue probably comes from a very small group of clients or customers. How great would it be to spend your day taking care of only your best and most profitable clients?

It’s not a dream.

Put together a pro forma statement of what your downsized firm would look like

Now look at your business and see which types of expenses would remain if there were only 20 clients to service instead of 100. I bet you would cut a huge chunk of the costs out.

Overhead would go way down, as would the hassle of trying to take care of 80 so-so clients. You no longer have to put in 60-hour workweeks. Now you can work 10 or 15 hours and make a greater profit with 20 clients than you used to make with 100. That means you can take weeks of vacation at a time. Having a smaller business or practice allows you to do other things while keeping the lion’s share of the income from the former business or practice.

Compare this to selling

Let’s say you find a 10 to 15 hour-workweek attractive. Who wouldn’t? If this became your reality, guess what? You might not be so anxious to unload your business.

Let’s say you could sell your business for $1 million to a buyer that agreed to put 40 percent down in cash and would finance the remaining $600,000.

Don’t you think you would enjoy having something fulfilling to do one day per week? Suppose you could take home $400,000 per year instead of hoping you might get paid the money you’re “owed” from the complete sale of your business?

Let’s think about this for a second. You can earn $400,000 in cash and then hopefully the remaining $600,000 over seven or eight years with a lot of risk involved. Or, you can get $400,000 per year for as long as you want--with almost no risk. How? The wind-down should produce about $400,000 per year in profits. That means the business would take in $800,000, have $400,000 in costs and leave $400,000 for salary and profits. Remember, there are only 15 or 20 clients left to worry about. That means you’ll have little or no administrative costs. You could even find an outsourced solution for your administrative and overhead help

Isn’t getting $400,000 per year for working 10 to 15 hours a week an attractive idea?

Find a new home for the lower 80 percent

Of course, you need to figure out what to do with your B and C list--the remaining 80 percent of customers or clients who have relied on you for advice for years? Some of them may have started with you when you first opened your business. Can you just stop servicing them?

No. You’re not going to neglect them. You are going to find a good new home for them at another well-suited firm. And, you’ll do the right thing by offering to backstop those transferred customers or clients if there’s a problem at their new firm.

Over time, reduce the 20 percent

If you adopt this 20/80 wind-down strategy, you are likely to continue working way past normal retirement age. When you reach 70, you might want to work even less than the 10 to 15 hours per week that you’re working now.

Not a problem. Just follow the same winnowing down process. From your Top 20 percent list, be willing to let go of a few more clients—perhaps they’re on you’re A-List, but not the A+ List.  Find a good new home for them. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you have just five very, very good customers or clients. You love them and they love you.

The key here is to understand how your overhead works. Instead of having full-time staff, your business will be moving to part-time staff. You might even be able to find another similar business that’s willing to let you operate under their roof if you help them pay for their overhead.

If you do this, not only have you reduced the amount of time you must spend working,  but you’ve eliminated staffing and other fixed overhead.


Let’s say you only use this wind-down strategy for 10 years, starting in your late 50s or age 60. Instead of selling your business and hopefully getting $1 million over seven years, you’re going to earn $4 million over 10 years while working part-time.

What’s not to like? If you have any questions, please feel free to email us or give us a call at 303-440-2906.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail


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