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What Does Success Look Like When You’re Selling Your Business?

By Steve Juetten April 16, 2024 Managing Money

Many top business coaches like Ali Brown, Brene Brown, and Stephen Covey suggest you start a project with the end in mind. The same applies to selling your business.

Along this line, if I asked you to list goals for selling your business, you might list these:

  • When you can be done
  • Who takes over (internal or external)
  • Price
  • Terms and conditions

There are other elements to a successful business sale that might not occur to you. For example:

  • What do you want your customers/clients to do, think and feel?
  • How do you want your employees and/or contractors to feel after you announce the sale? Happy for you, satisfied, fearful?
  • How do you want the buyers to feel after you’re done? Relieved, excited, fearful?

Here’s One More Success Factor

An often-overlooked element to a successful business sale outcome is what you will do when the sale is completed. Too often, business owners complete the sale of their business and then ask, “Now what?” It’s much better to have a clear and vivid image of what you want your life to be like after the sale because this vision will help you keep moving forward when the sale’s process gets rocked (and it will).

The success goals you set for selling your business drive the sales process including timing, communications, finding potential buyers, price, and the final terms and conditions. For example, if your definition of a successful sale includes an on-going role for you, you’ll want to find buyers who welcome your on-going presence and who are willing to pay you for your role.

When I sold my business, it was particularly important to me all the stakeholders (clients, 1099 contractors, buyers, and me) felt good about the sale. I valued the relationships I had developed over more than 20 years running my business more than a dollar amount. My wife came up with the phrase “winning on the way out” to describe this goal.

To support the winning on the way out objective, I set specific goals for each stakeholder. For example, I wanted each contractor that was a core part of my business to have at least one different work alternative after we closed the business. Happily, each of the contractors ended up satisfied with another job or retired.

What Does a Successful Sale Look Like for You?

To un-cover your definition of a successful sale, create a success plan:

Ask Yourself Why You Want to Sell Your Business

Come up with as many reasons as you can and then for each reason, ask yourself, “Why is that important?” three times. Write down your answers.

This powerful exercise gives you insight into the core reasons you want to sell your business. Once you know the core factors, you can more easily move towards the sale of your business. A business coach once told me, “When the why is powerful enough, the how will emerge.”

The After Sale Life You Anticipate

Spend some time daydreaming about what your life will be like after you sell your business. Will you continue to have a role in your business and, if so, be specific? Where will you live? What will you be doing? Who will you be doing things with?

Consider Your Ideal Buyer

Describe your ideal buyer. Is it someone you know or a new person? Is it a competitor? What is important to the new buyer? Name as many characteristics of the ideal buyer as you can.

Think About Sale Logistics

Determine the logistics of your business’s sale. For example, when do you want to be done? How much do you hope to have from the sale? What terms and conditions are important to you, for example, all cash up front, paid over time (often called an earn out), or a combination of these factors?

Note: Very few businesses sell for an all-cash upfront payment. Be prepared for some sort of earn-out arrangement.

What Matters to Stakeholders

Make a list of stakeholders and write down at least one thing that’s important to each person when it comes to selling your business.

Selling your business takes time and energy and the journey can be challenging. However, if you create a business sale success plan, you’ll more easily complete the journey with better results than if you navigate the sale without this guidance.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What are the key elements to successfully selling your business? What are your goals? I’m interested in what you have to say. Please reply with comments or questions. Thank you.

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The Author

Steve Juetten is the exit wizard for small to medium size business owners. He’s the secret sauce to supercharge effective and profitable business exits through careful planning and nimble execution. Drawing from the lessons he learned in the sale of his own financial advisor practice, Steve is a go-to collaborator to his fellow entrepreneurs looking to win on the way out.

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