Selling your company is a career highlight for many entrepreneurs.
It signifies success. You're one of the lucky few instead of the many walking dead.
It often provides you financial security. You got a big payday.
It gives you a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. All the hard work and overcoming near-death experiences and making payroll were worth it.
But right alongside such feelings of elation are less positive feelings.
A sense of loss comes over you because you are no longer in control of your company.
Doubts may attack you: Did I sell at the right time? Did I get the best price? Did I choose the right buyer? Did I sell for the wrong reasons?
Uncertainty pervades your thinking. What am I going to do now?
It is natural to experience both sets of feelings when you sell your company. But you don't want to regret the decision or feel like you sold your soul when you sold your company.
Here are four ways to make sure you avoid seller's remorse:
1. Know that selling your company is a mixed blessing
One of the best ways to achieve this is to talk with others who have sold their companies. They don't have to be in the same industry or geography or size of company.
You will learn a lot by seeking the advice and learning from the experience of others who have sold their companies. I would ask them three questions:
- How did you feel a week after you sold your company?
- What would you do differently if you knew before what you now know after?
- What was the biggest surprise in selling your company?
2. Make a list of your "care-abouts"
There will be hundreds of terms in the sale of your company. What are your non-negotiables?
When founder Joe Roplaceholderetheli sold his company S&M NuTec (which manufactured and marketed the pet snack Greenies) to the Mars Company, he had three simple demands:
- He had a number below which he wouldn't sell.
- He wanted a guarantee that his employees would be able to work for at least a year in the Mars Company.
- He and his wife wanted to leave as soon as the money cleared into his account.
Fortunately, for Roetheli and his wife, the Mars Company met all three demands.
3. Take care of your employees
Diane Hessan sold her company Communispace to Omnicom in 2011. At the time she had about 300 employees.
Before launching Communispace, Diane had worked on the management team of another company that sold. She watched her CEO go from office to office and distribute a portion of the sales proceeds to each of his employees. She told me, "I wanted to have my day."
It took her 12 years, but the day came when she as the CEO walked from office to office to do the same for each of her employees. She heard story after story of what a difference the payout would make to her employees. "It was the most satisfying day of my life," she said.
She sold without regrets. She kept her soul.
4. Sell to the best fit, not the highest offer
Of course things will be different in the new company than they were in yours. Of course you want to get the best price possible. And you may not be lucky enough to have multiple suitors.
But the surest way to regret selling your company is to sell it to the wrong buyer. For example, if you are known for customer service, you want to sell to a company that will take great care of your customers. If you attract loyal employees, you want to sell to a company that takes good care of theirs. If you value honesty, you may regret selling to a company that cuts corners.
Adopt these four practices and you will almost certainly sell your company without losing your soul.