There are several options open to business owners considering an exit:
There are many attractions to a sale to another party. Usually, a significant portion, rarely all, of the purchase price is paid at the time the transaction completes. The seller has no worries about future management of the business, or having ongoing responsibilities around legislative requirements, people issues or market forces. The buyer may be an experienced businessperson who brings innovative ideas that increase the profitability of the business, and improves the working environment and opportunities for current and future employees.
A larger company may provide an infrastructure that facilitates growth, providing more career opportunities for staff. The downsides would be that, once control passes to an external party, there can be no guarantees about the future of the business. The new owner may wish to relocate, downsize, or restructure the organisation.
A trade sale can be quite an adversarial process as the buyer tries to get the best price possible to the detriment of the seller. As with any business to business sale, there is likely to be some robust due diligence as part of the transaction. Often the sellers find themselves subject to quite restrictive conditions, such as the price depending on an increase in profits, or an agreement to remain with the business for a period of time.
Many entrepreneurs find being an employee after many years of running the show to be quite a challenge.