That's a question with no simple, all-encompassing answer.

On the surface, there's a strong emotional appeal to sell a controlling share to a private equity firm (PEF). The idea of partially cashing out while still having ties to your company is a powerful one.

But assuming the acquiring firm takes control, you're back to basically working "for the man," which may well have been the reason you originally founded your own company. There's always the possibility that your vision and the vision of the PEF dovetail nicely, but it's more likely there's going to be at least some level of conflict.

In other words, if you go the private equity route, choose carefully and consider how important your legacy is to you.

In other words, you'd better be sure the dollars you're getting out of the deal are enough to make you happy.

Consider a couple examples:

1.      An entrepreneur sells 70 percent of his company to a PEF. He gets cash out for 35 percent at the closing table, with the second installment coming in five years, assuming certain financial milestones are met. But in those five years, the new owners leverage the company to the hilt, making the cash out less of a windfall. Is that a good deal?

2.      A different entrepreneur sells 60 percent of his company, which he receives in one fell swoop, to private equity. Within a few months, the company triples in size, making the original payout look less appealing. Is that a good deal?

The bottom line is that there's never a guaranteed good result. And not all PEFs are created equally. The number of these firms has skyrocketed in recent years, which likely means the percentage of them that are bad actors has increased, too.

Here's something else to think about if you're uncertain about selling to a PEF: If your business is attractive to someone, maybe you should think twice about selling - and potentially missing out on huge profits.

PEFs aren't out to lose money, so even if you believe your business is struggling, the fact that someone wants to take a chance on you might be a sign to stay fully aboard. That's even more valid because PEFs are looking to make money in a relatively short timeframe.

If your business is cash-strapped, it's usually better to think about loans first. Yes, many people are scared of debt - and too much debt can be crippling - but there are ways to make your debt work for you.

You also may be pleasantly surprised to find that your company is eligible for loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the gold standard in business lending.

In conclusion, selling a chunk of your business to a PEF may well be a high risk/high reward proposition.

If you're thoroughly convinced you have no better options or are looking to wind down your career, a PEF may be right for you. But odds are your situation isn't as gloomy as you believe and it's better to maintain control of your company, even if that means taking on debt.

Published on: Jun 6, 2018