Companies whose shares trade on public stock exchanges get most of the attention from investors, but the vast majority of companies haven't gone through the cumbersome process of doing initial public offerings. If you invest in a privately held company and receive stock, your options for selling your shares are much more limited. Below, we'll look at several alternatives you can pursue to sell shares of privately held companies.

Sell the shares back to the company
The easiest way to sell shares of privately held stock is to get the company that issued them to buy them back. The process of a buyback is relatively simple. However, the sticking point is that the company must authorize a buyback, and if other shareholders want to sell their shares as well, then the company might not be willing to accommodate every shareholder's request.

Sell the shares to another investor
Unlike with publicly traded stock, where the exchange handles matching up buyers and sellers, you'll have to do your own legwork to find a buyer for privately held stock. To comply with SEC regulations, a company must be willing to provide substantive disclosures to potential investors, including certain financial statements as well as other non-financial information.

If the company isn't willing to do so, then you can only sell to what the SEC calls an accredited investor. This includes directors or executive officers of the company, as well as any individual with a net worth of more than $1 million or annual income of $200,000 or more for individuals or $300,000 or more for couples in each of the past two years.

Sell the shares on a private-securities market
In recent years, markets have sprung up to try to facilitate transactions on privately held companies. Numerous well-known companies stayed private for years, locking out outside investors and locking in employees and early investors who had shares they wanted to sell. The Nasdaq Private Market recently purchased SecondMarket Solutions, which had provided such services, but others such as Sharespost also work to link up buyers and sellers.

Get your company to do an IPO
Finally, some companies go public specifically to allow shareholders to sell their stock. The registration process is long, complicated, and expensive, but existing shareholders can include shares as part of an initial public offering. Many institutional investors use IPOs as an exit strategy, but for most individual investors, it takes a group effort to get a company to respond.

Investing in privately held stock can be lucrative, but it creates complications when it's time to sell. By following these leads, you might be able to find a buyer for your privately held stock.

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