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How to sell when it’s not “Just Business.”

“It’s not personal” is a phrase we often hear in business. However, for men and women who have built a company from scratch, that’s exactly what it is. And when the time comes to consider transitioning ownership, the blood, sweat and tears perspective can make it extremely difficult—from both an emotional and execution standpoint






According to a recent Washington Post‡ article, a record number of small business owners are selling their companies. When faced with the reality of selling a life’s work, as almost 28.8 million people in the U.S. will during the next 10 to 15 years, outside perspective is critical. How do you sell a business? Working with a financial advisor who is skilled in business succession and exit can help owners execute a strategic, phased approach, without being derailed by emotions.

Go back to the business plan

How do you sell a business, if you’re not clear where its heading? First, owners should revisit (or if necessary, create) the business’ goals, vision and values. What are the business objectives five, 10 and even 15 years out? What are other key stakeholders’ views and aspirations? Is there a clear succession plan in place? Owners must be clear on these items to think through a transition plan that supports them. Successfully creating and executing against the plan is the most important aspect of an effective business transition.

Be mentally ready for big decisions

While working through the business succession plan, there will be some irrevocable decisions that must be made. It can be tough for owners to make large, permanent decisions for the business and the people that those decisions will impact. Referring to the plan and making guided decisions will result in the best outcome for everyone involved.

Remember, it really isn’t personal

How do you sell a business, when it may feel like a buyer is picking the business apart? It will be challenging for the owners who view their business as their baby to not take this as a personal affront. There will be moments like this, and perspective is very important here.

This is commonly seen during the business evaluation phase. In most cases, this includes an initial offer, accepting a letter of intent and then due diligence. At the close of this step, inevitably the buyer will come back and try to obtain a discount; and while it feels personal, it’s not. In fact, most owners will admit they would maneuver the process in the same way on a different deal if they were the buyer. Managing through the various emotions in situations like this along the way is critical to ensuring the best outcome for the transaction.

Work with, and trust, your investment or financial professional

From a personal investment standpoint, money and emotion go hand-in-hand. It is critical to have someone who can take some of the emotion out of investing, to help avoid rash or poor decisions. Not only can a financial advisor help with this, they can also take a holistic, 360-view of the entire transaction to help ensure it supports the business owner’s vision and values. An investment or finance professional can work with owners through the lifecycle of their business—from the initial planning phase to identifying the best time to sell—and then ultimately help facilitate that transition.

Celebrate and plan the next phase

Planning for and executing a business sale is a very time-consuming, complicated and emotionally draining process. When it’s completed, owners should take some time to celebrate the next life phase. They will also need to create a new plan, including how to manage cash flow, investments and how to maintain their new plan going forward. As a newly retired business owner, they will have to become comfortable with their new reality, and an investment or finance professional can ease that transition by helping them ensure they are prepared for the future.

When evaluating and answering when and how do you sell a business, there are many emotions and unknowns tied to the process. Taking a phased approach, with the help of an investment or finance professional, can help ensure short- and long-term business goals are identified and accomplished, and that the business owner’s legacy successfully lives on.

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When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s Web site and go to Web sites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other Web sites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.