You're Selling Your Business. What Next?

Don't hold on till the bitter end just because you're scared of change. Seven steps to a successful post-exit life

Written by Wayne Vanwyck

If I sell my business, what will I do with myself? I’m not good at sitting still, I get more stressed on vacations than I do in the office and I can only do so much golfing.” Many business owners look ahead and all they see is a black hole. I know—I’ve been there myself. It’s not easy to imagine a life that is so different from the one you’ve had for the past thirty-plus years.

One psychiatrist explained it this way to a former business owner who had trouble coping: “When you sold your business, you died. The person you were no longer exists. You have to reinvent yourself.”

MORE REINVENTION: Will You Reinvent or Cannibalize Your Company? »

Pretty strong words. Post-exit life is a new reality, and that’s pretty scary for most people, especially those who have had significant success in their business. One day you’re the boss: giving orders, solving problems, making major deals and holding the seat of power. The next you’re just another guy or gal that has to take out the garbage, clean the kitchen and struggle with decisions like what to make for dinner.

It’s a serious transition and for many, it won’t happen without a fight. Business brokers frequently complain of owners walking away from a deal at the last minute because they haven’t made the emotional commitment to sell.

MORE WALKING AWAY: How to Avoid Letting Your Emotions Blow the Deal »

So, how do you move forward? Janet Christensen, a certified retirement coach and associate at The Achievement Centre in London (which I founded) said this: “There’s no cookie cutter approach. What works for one won’t work for another. You have to find your own path.”

“Some people will die with their boots on,” she goes on to say. “They continue to be active, passionate contributors who have no intention of retiring. Some retire and enjoy many dynamic years of volunteerism, travel, sports and time with grandchildren. Others retire and regret it. The rate of depression is 25% for retirees and the highest rate of suicide in the US is for men, age 72!”

MORE TIME FOR YOURSELF: The Hidden Danger of Retirement »

As a general rule, we tend to get what we expect in life. If you expect your life to be over when you retire, it likely will be. If you expect life to be even better, filled with enough time and money to do the things you always wanted to do, then that’s more likely to happen. The path you choose is up to you—if you’ve given yourself enough time to take these seven steps:

  1. Take stock and reflect on where you are today—financially, socially, physically, your lifestyle and in your relationships.
  2. Given your current status, test your expectancy. What do you expect to happen if you don’t make any changes to your current trajectory?
  3. Look to the future and envision the full life you want vs. the one you expect.
  4. What’s the gap? What’s the difference between where you are and expect to be compared to your preferred lifestyle?
  5. Begin immediately to mend the gap. Set specific goals. Look at them daily.
  6. Take action. Build new habits if necessary. Make choices that fit your vision. Delegate more.
  7. Start down the road that will take you where you want to go.

While that last one may seem self-evident, I’m surprised at how many people want to end up in one place, but start on a path that takes them somewhere else. They want to visit Vancouver, but out of habit, they get on a train to Moncton instead.

That’s what happened to Kevin. He and his wife Susan (not their real names) were growing their business as a legacy for their kids to carry on. They opened new locations and took on more staff, overhead, and headaches. It was only during a time of reflection and strategic planning with me that they woke up and realized that they were heading down a road that wouldn’t take them where they wanted to go.

MORE LEGACIES: What Happens When Kids Take Over the Family Business »

Kevin and Susan wanted more time to spend in Florida, and a less complex but successful business for their kids to take over. Growing their business in a traditional sense was making the business more complicated, and cutting into their vacations. Had they not lifted their noses off the grindstone, they would have continued on a path towards misery and away from their vision.

“Do you want to leave your business on a high when you are most successful, or suffer the indignity of being pushed out because you are no longer the best person for the job?” Christensen asks. Timing your exit to leave on your terms and at your time—while your team is still begging you to stay—is a much better feeling. But that won’t happen if you haven’t figured out what’s next.

Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum and the author of the best-selling books,Pure Selling and The Business Transition Crisis. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 30 years.


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