Have you ever noticed how the terms 'retirement' and 'exit planning' for business owners are often used interchangeably?

Sometimes it seems as though the only socially acceptable way to exit a privately held business is to hang on until you're well past your prime, eventually giving the reins to your offspring so you can play golf for a few years before retiring into a home to wait to die.

I'm sure you have your own reasons for building a business you could sell, and while retirement is a legitimate reason, it's not the only one. (See Norm Brodsky's take on when it's time to sell.)

Here are my favorite reasons—inspired by real people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s—for selling a business before you want to retire. You may want to:

  • Become an angel investor;
  • Capitalize on an unsolicited offer for your business;
  • Write a serious check to a charity;
  • Get rid of your mortgage;
  • Start a bigger, faster and more profitable business;
  • Live debt free;
  • Take a year off to coach your kid's baseball team;
  • Buy a beach house;
  • Get out of a toxic partnership;
  • Experience what it is like to work for a big company;
  • Live in Prague for a year;
  • Ski tour through the Swiss Alps.

When I ask business owners who have sold their company to share the one thing they wish they had known before doing so, many are quick to say they wish they had known to do it sooner.

What do you want to do next?

John Warrillow is the author of Built to Sell: Turn Your Business into One You Can Sell. He has started and exited four companies. Most recently John transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which was acquired by The Corporate Executive Board. In 2008 he was recognized by BtoB Magazine's 'Who's Who' list as one of America's most influential business-to-business marketers.