“WHEN” you Sell your Business (not “IF”)

If you own a business, you may not ever think about selling it. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t. Sell it, I mean, not just think about selling it.

You may change your mind one day, and after looking at various options, decide to sell it. That actually happens more often than many people would imagine.

There is a whole other way of looking at this question, and I think it makes a lot of sense, and it also helps get a number of important discussions under way.

My colleague Grant Robinson, founder of the SuccessCare group that is now part of BDO, likes to put it quite forcefully, and he says it like this: “One Day you WILL sell”.

Let me say it a bit more crudely. When you are dead, you cannot own your business anymore. (It must be a law or something!)

Whether you like it or not, and even whether you know it or not, it is true. When you die, you actually “sell” everything you own, including that business you worked so many decades building.

If we know that we will sell one day, and we have no choice in the matter, well, why should we care? If we have NO choice, why bother worrying about it then?

Well, you may not have a choice over the question of “whether or not” you sell, but you sure have plenty of choices as to the HOW, the WHEN, the “to WHOM”, and especially the terms and conditions. “The terms and conditions are the most important part of any deal”, my Dad always said. (Yes, I was paying attention).

You can act like you will own your business “forever”, and as far as you are concerned “forever” and “until I die” may be synonymous. But aren’t the cemetaries full of people who thought the world would stop turning after they stopped breathing?

I trust that my point about not being able to own a business forever has been made. I hope you also noted the part about “the business you worked so many decades building”.

If you have children, you also likely spent many decades helping them “build” their lives. They are likely also the key people who will control your legacy after you are gone.

You have the option of continuing to work in your business, for the long term, as if you will own it forever. That is your right, and you would not be the first (or the last) person to go about your life and your business this way. For many, it is the only thing that they know how to do.

I would offer you another perspective. At some point, it usually makes sense to stop working IN your business, and start working ON your business. I am not claiming any original thought in this concept, books have been written about this.

At the same time, you may love the fact that you have built a great family business. Family businesses can be wonderful, and very often they are.

But have you ever looked at it from the perspective of the family, instead of always concentrating on the business? Do you realize the difference between a family business (where the noun is “business”) and a business family (where the noun is “family”)?

The subtitle (or secondary title) of my book, SHIFT your Family Business, is “Stop working IN your family business, Start working ON your business family”. The book came out in July 2014, and I have since looked for other ways to get the message across, but I think that it still resonates well.

If you stay the course, work on making the pie as big as possible, and get carried off to the morgue with your boots on, you will SELL your business on terms dictated by others, and it will be too late for you to have a say on any of the important Terms and Conditions.

There is a better way. You know there is. But only you can make that call.