Is your business a business or a practice? If the business is really just you and the things you do, you have a practice and that’s not good news. Even if you have a whole bunch of employees, if the business revolves around your skills, knowledge and authority it may still be a practice. That’s a problem when you want or need to exit the business.

Practices, particularly those in the medical field, are saleable but generally at much lower valuations than businesses with similar revenues and earnings because the key asset (you) will have to be replaced by someone skillful and costly. Even then, clients may decide not continue with the practice. Customer relationships with practices are almost always personal.

When your practice should really have been a business it becomes even harder to exit. If it’s not designed to run without you, or just “not designed,” most financial buyers – people who want to own but not run the business. If you we’re thinking of employee or family buyers it’s unlikely that you’ve groomed them sufficiently to succeed. Assuming you’re healthy, that leaves you stuck with buyers who will give you a small amount of money up front and put the rest of the sale price in an “earn-out” that requires you to stay, operate under their direction and meet difficult goals. If you’ve enjoyed being your own boss, working for the new owner will be very challenging. What you actually earn in that period may well be less than what you’re used to taking out of the business. If the earn-out is based on a stretch goal at the end of a couple of years as most are, odds are you’ll never see it because you’ll leave, be dismissed or fail, perhaps through no fault of your own.

To get out of the practice trap the first thing you need to do is figure out everything that you do personally or have the main responsibility for. Add to the list all those things that other people do but you’re the best at.  After you’ve made that list you have to figure out who else can do them instead. If such people don’t already work for you, you need a plan for finding and hiring them. If you’re not able to afford such people yet, you need to plan how you are going to get big enough so that you can afford them.

Once you know the who, you need to work on specifying the detail of what. While talented people will put their own spin on jobs, they should start off with a detailed description of all the steps that need to be done – that’s the process . In many ways, the written, detailed process you create is even more valuable than the planning for other people to do your stuff. Done right, they will make it easier to replace you while you’re on the road, on vacation or otherwise unable to perform. Should it be necessary for your family or a successor to replace you unexpectedly, they’ll have a much better chance of succeeding. Even better, showing them to a potential buyer for your business is likely to bring you a higher price.

Now, if you’ve gotten this far, I hope you are wondering what you’ll do with all that time you going to have! Wouldn’t that be a great problem to work on?