“At that point, I realized that I was going to have to tell the employees.”
You might have put years into building your small business, but there will come a time when the best decision for the future is to exit. Selling a small business can be very difficult. Whatever your reason for holding on to the business, one thing is certain – when the time comes to exit, it can be very emotional.
Yet, many small business owners are unaware of the fact that selling a small business can take an emotional toll. After all, it is a big change. It’s about loss, grief, and letting go. And when it comes to making decisions about business transition, emotions are often the driving factor. It’s not always easy to let go of something you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
So how do you make this important decision?
First is by understanding the different emotions that you might feel while undergoing this transition. As well as knowing what you can do about it.
Three Common Emotions
You did it! All the sleepless nights paid off. All the risk and labor, the worrying and strategizing, you surpassed. Now, it’s over. There’s drowning sadness — not the depression type of sadness — but the pure sadness like a child leaving home to go to college.
The process of selling a small business or handing it over to another person is like sending your child off into the world and hoping that they do well enough on their own for you to be proud of them. The thought of losing control over the business that you have spent months or years building can be overwhelming. You know your customers by name. You’ve created friendships with many of them. Your employees are treated like family. And more often, you would feel like you can never find another that will give you such fulfillment. You might also be thinking, “I’ve worked so hard. I’m not ready to let go yet!” That is completely natural; it is a part of the grieving process.
However, this feeling mustn’t stop you from moving forward with your plan. If anything, it should motivate you to move faster and ensure that everything goes smoothly when the time comes for the actual exit.
The fear of selling a small business can be paralyzing. “What if the buyer doesn’t want to keep all the employees?” or “What if they close my business?” are all fears that may come to mind when thinking about selling.
You might have been asked, “What’s delaying your exit?” You would state your reasons, but behind it can be the message, “I am afraid”. In most areas of our lives, fear tends to hold us back. It is crippling. And as a small business owner on the days of exiting a business, this feeling might stop you.
You built your strengths and identity around your small business. Losing it accompanies the fear of losing a part of your identity. You will also fear that no one can run it better than you, at least, you think. Letting your business go is difficult. Seeing another person running it is a tug to your heart. Know that every small business owner has experienced fear, and it’s never easy to overcome. Unknowns are scary, but the process of exiting your small business shouldn’t be uncertain.
It’s not uncommon for many small business owners to get frustrated when preparing their businesses for sale. There are so many decisions that need to be made, and what seems like endless options to choose from.
Sure, the process will be frustrating even if all goes well. You’ll have to deal with employees who are unhappy about being sold, customers who feel abandoned, and even family members who feel disappointed about the fallout. It’s important that you don’t let this frustration interfere with your exit preparation.
How to manage these emotions
Despite the fact that it’s natural to feel sad, worried, or frustrated, you can’t let those feelings deny buyers or impose the terms of the sale. As much as possible, you should manage your emotions while maintaining a healthy distance between them and your decision-making process for the business exit. Here are some ways on how you can navigate them.
Acknowledge and prepare for the emotional rollercoaster
The emotions of an owner are an important part of their decision-making process when selling a small business. One cannot make rational decisions when they are in the middle of the emotional roller coaster that comes with an exit.
Pay attention closely to your emotions and how it affects your behavior towards your decision. You can start by asking yourself these questions, “How do I feel?” and “How do I know?”. Once you’ve identified these emotions, the next questions to ask are; “How is this affecting my current situation?” and “What is the rational thing to do about it?”.
By being aware and understanding the reasons that might be behind these emotions, you will be able to assess its impact and come up with a more rational decision.
At the same time, you also need to be aware of the emotions of others. You need to ask, “How do they feel?” and “How will I know?”. A lot of times, these can be communicated through non-verbal communication — so you need to pay attention.
Your family, business partners, and employees will undergo different emotions during the transition. Imagine, keeping the decision to yourself. Then one day, a family member who helped you build your small business read about the sale in the news – that can be a massive headache that will harbor unnecessary stress, for both parties.
There may be rules in place for your small business regarding the amount of information that you must share. Determine what you must say and when you should share it. As much as possible, do not wait for the key persons in your small business to know this big transition from others. Include your circle in this emotional journey and communicate clearly to them what to expect before, during, and after the sale.
There’s no shame in needing support
Remember that you don’t have it all figured out. Rather than stuffing all your feelings inside, talking about your worries or fear to a colleague, a family member, a fellow small business owner, or a consultant will help you get it off your chest and arrive at a better understanding.
It is challenging to manage these emotions, seeking support from others will put things in perspective. Moreover, talking to someone during this significant transition will help you avoid any liabilities that may arise, in turn, saving you from additional emotional stress.
What’s next for you!
After confronting your emotions and selling a small business, you don’t want to wake up asking yourself “Okay, what do I do now?”. And yes, you will still be flooded by these emotions even after the sale.
Developing a plan after your small business exit will lead you to have a structure rather than going aimlessly about your day. Here are some things that you may try:
- Organizing your finances
- Joining a peer support group
- Getting a coach — ideally, someone that could provide insights in this transition
- Taking a vacation — highly suggested!
It may feel strange to suddenly be able to see potential new opportunities after months or years of focusing on building your small business. Embrace this exploration — it can be an exciting period for you!