In Articles & Case Studies

For many business owners, selling their business is a highly emotional separation. Recently, I heard one business owner likened the experience to getting a divorce.

She was the original founder of her company, building it from ground up to a small, multimillion dollar operation. But by year 10, she felt burned out. She was tired of the financial management and administrative headaches. She had loved building the business, but she didn’t love the oversight that went into keeping a dozen-plus people employed, paid, and engaged.

At the closing table, pen in hand, she had many thoughts running through her head. “Was it really that bad? Should I have stuck with it? Could I have found a way to enjoy the work again?”

In essence, she said, selling her business came with all the second-guessing and heaviness that went into a divorce. She was in a bad relationship, but it was still hard to move on. She went home that day and mourned.

But the next morning? The next morning, she woke up with a profound sense of lightness. She was free to do something new. Free from worry and obligation. Free from any mistakes she made building her first business and equipped with a decade’s worth of experience and education to fuel something new.

I’ve learned a few things about entrepreneurs over the years: Many of them hold on to their businesses for too long. But once they do let go, it doesn’t take much time before they find a new project to capture their interest.

Many people hold on too long out of a desire to protect their employees. But, ironically, often what they’re doing is the exact opposite. When people delay a sale, when they try to push through the burnout, they end up treading water. Growth stagnates, and the overall viability of the company declines.

We didn’t represent this woman in selling her business. But from what I can tell, her employees are in good hands. Her company was acquired by a strategic business looking to build a better foundation in the U.S., and the new firm is now better positioned to land contracts with customers who want a global solutions provider.

That’s a win for the team members she left behind. And leaving them, she’s found, has been a win for her too.

The whole reason for exit planning is to prepare your business for sale and to execute on that plan when you’re not burned out. You will not only have a better chance of selling, and get a better value, but you’ll be less emotional when the time comes. With planning, hopefully, your sale will feel less like a divorce and more like an achievement worth celebrating.