The Business Transition Blog

Who’s Accountable for Selling Your Business?

Gord was finally ready to sell his business. He’d had enough. He was 63 years old and he felt time ticking away. Not only had his children grown up while he was working, but now his grandchildren were also missing his attention. The truth was, Gord was exhausted. By the time he finished his normal ten or eleven hour day he just didn’t have any energy left to play with his grandchildren. Even his weekends were taken up with work that he couldn’t seem to get ahead of through the week.

He had thought about selling his business on many occasions. He liked his business. He started it 33 years earlier and it was his baby. And he waffled between a desire to let it go and a need to hang on. The need to hang on and the day-to-day momentum of old habits were powerful currents while the thought of quitting was like paddling upstream. Was it irresponsible to quit, or not to quit? Was selling the business really ‘quitting’? The conflicting emotions paralysed him and as a result he never got past the ‘thinking about it’ stage.

In the quiet moments when his wife was off to church and he had the house to himself on a Sunday morning, flashes of insight would intrude on his thoughts and he would be consciously aware that he had to do something. It was his business. He ran it. It was his responsibility. If he didn’t take charge of the situation and initiate the actions required to sell his business, no one else would.

Then doubts would flood in. “What do I tell my employees? Will they be able to carry it on? Who will buy this business? What’s it worth? Is it worth anything without me there to run it? If I tell my suppliers will they stop giving me credit? Will the bank pull my line of credit? Will my managers start looking for another job? Will my customers start dealing with that new place around the corner? Who knows anything about selling businesses and what will it cost to hire them? My lawyer has been on my case for a couple years to get started on this. I’m sure he’s licking his chops at the fees involved. What about taxes? What about my kids and their interest? What will I do if I’m not working? What about… The complexity and enormity of the change seemed overwhelming and so he would go back to reading the newspaper, effectively shutting down the logical side of his brain that knew his problem still lurked in the background.

One morning he woke up from a restless sleep and knew it was time. He had to do something. As a responsible individual who prided himself on doing the right things and doing them right, he knew that putting it off any longer was being irresponsible. But now that he was ready to get started, he had no idea where to begin. His banker? His lawyer? His accountant? His financial advisor? His management consultant? He wasn’t even sure he wanted to tell his wife in case she put pressure on him to follow through on a journey that was still unknown to him.

Gord isn’t a real person, but his situation is typical and  is reflective of many entrepreneurs I’ve met who have built their business, become part of it and then have a hard time taking the next step to transition away and do something else. A few years ago, I travelled across North America on a six month sabbatical and I interviewed a number of ‘Gords’ who had sold their businesses. They had struggled with the decision – sometimes more painfully than if they were getting a divorce. They didn’t know who to talk to, who to consult, who to trust with their secret decision.

Some, who believed it was the best decision for all involved, still felt guilty. They believed that some of their peers saw selling as a failure. They believed that their employees felt betrayed or disappointed. But in the end, they realized that it was an executive, leadership decision that had to be made and they were the only one capable of making it.

One fact is undeniable. Your business will be sold. Some day it must happen. It will happen. With or without your consent. With or without your conscious choice. With or without you in control. When you begin to wonder if it is time, start the process, take charge. Be accountable to those you care about and who care about you.  Talk to someone you trust to help you identify the steps to the journey.