Beat Seller's Guilt

Coming to terms with conflicting emotions is normal, and knowing you are not alone is the first step to a successful transition

Written by Wayne Vanwyck

Gord was finally ready to sell his business€¦maybe. He was 63 years old and felt time ticking away. Not only had his children grown up without his attention, his grandchildren were missing him too. The truth was, Gord was exhausted. By the time he finished his normal 10 or 11-hour workday he didn’t have any energy left to play with his grandchildren. Even his weekends were taken up with work he couldn’t get through during the week.

He’d thought about selling many times, but it always felt like quitting. Besides, he liked his business. Having started it 33 years earlier, it was his purpose in life. So he waffled between a desire to let it go and a need to hang on.

In the quiet moments when Gord 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. If he didn’t take charge of the situation and initiate the actions required to sell his business, who else would?

Then doubts and questions 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 other jobs? 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?. What about taxes? What about my kids and their interest? What will I do if I’m not working?

The complexity and enormity of the change seemed overwhelming, leaving him paralysed.

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, 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’s situation is typical and 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 leave it and do something else. A few years ago, I travelled across North America interviewing a number of entrepreneurs who had sold their businesses. They had struggled with the decision—sometimes more painfully than if they were getting a divorce. At the time, they didn’t know who to consult and trust with their decision.

Some who sold and believed it was the best decision for all involved, still felt guilty. They incorrectly believed their peers saw selling as a failure and their employees felt betrayed. 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: you have to move on eventually. Your business will be sold, close or transition to someone in your family because you will initiate it or die. 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, that’s when you need to start the process and 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.

Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont., and Callright Marketing Services in Kitchener, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum, the author of the best-selling book Pure Selling and his recent book The Business Transition Crisis: Plan Your Succession Now and Beat the Biggest Business Sell-off In History. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 28 years.

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