The sale of a business is about more than just dollars and cents. It's also about saying goodbye to a company, co-workers, and friends that have been a significant part of your personal and professional life, sometimes for many years. For many sellers, managing the emotional side of selling a business turns out to be just as challenging as the sale process itself.
Here's the problem: if you don't properly manage your emotions during the sale, the outcome can be negatively impacted. In fact, sellers who allow their emotions to cloud their judgment or interfere with the sale process are often unable to achieve the goals and objectives they identified when they initially decided to sell their companies.
How to Keep Your Emotions in Check
Savvy business sellers recognize they have a vested interest in staying calm, cool, and collected throughout the sale process. Here are several things you can do to help manage your emotions before, during, and after the sale.
- Prepare an exit strategy. Planning is an essential part of selling a small business. In addition to preparing your company for the market, you also need to prepare an exit strategy for yourself, long before you put your company up for sale. Your exit strategy needs to address the goals you hope to achieve from the sale, and how those goals will help you move forward into the next stage of your life or career.
- Involve family members. Your family has been a part of your company's journey, and like you, they may need some time to prepare for the fact that the business will no longer be a part of your daily life.. By involving your family in the decision-making process, you can help prepare them for the transition and create an atmosphere of emotional support throughout the sale.
- Create distance. Whether you recognize it or not, you are likely too emotionally invested in your company to subjectively negotiate the sale. From an emotional perspective, the use of a broker or other third parties (e.g. attorneys, accountants, appraisers, etc.) can be valuable for creating distance and ensuring that your personal feelings don't get in the way of good business sense.
- Communicate with peers. At some point in the sale process, you're probably going to need a sounding board--a group of trusted confidantes who will listen to your concerns and feelings. Peer networks are a valuable resource because they allow you to express your emotions freely, among people who have walked in your shoes and understand exactly what you're experiencing. Of course, you should also make sure your confidantes will keep the sale of your business confidential so as not to jeopardize the sales process by alerting employees, suppliers, customers and even competitors.
- Move on. Veteran sellers will tell you that the sense of loss following the sale of a business can be overwhelming. While you may feel yourself pulled back to the business, in general, it's not productive to routinely visit or check in on the business post-sale. Although it may be difficult to accept, your former employees need to move on with the new owner--and you need to move on, too. The exception to this comes when a buyer and seller agree to a transition period in which the seller will stay on for an agreed-upon time period. This helps ensure a successful change of ownership that may be especially important in seller-financed deals because the seller has interest in the future success of the business.
Its difficult to predict the range of emotions you may feel during the sale of your business. Even though you can't plan those emotions, however, you can plan to manage them. With the right mindset and a little upfront preparation, you'll get through this transition with your emotions in check and your sale intact.