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Coaching Somebody Selling Their Business

There is clearly a high level of emotional strain and stress involved in selling a business, but also uncertainty about their own future and potential financial change. So, how can a coach help make this transition a positive and stress-free event?



For some reason, in the last 18 months or so, I've had a disproportionate number of business owners considering selling their business or actually being in the process of selling their business actively. And that's a funny place to be as a coach.

First of all, you're dealing with someone who is clearly at a high level of emotional strain. You're dealing with somebody who is looking into a whole new future. And you're working with somebody whose life may well be transformed financially as a result of the intended transaction.

The other piece of the jigsaw for me is that I've been involved in a number of transactions personally, I've both bought and sold businesses. And as a mentor, I know exactly the sorts of things that are going through their mind and how they're feeling, but as a coach, sticking strictly with the coaching practice of helping people work through their problems for themselves, I have found that a number of techniques, a number of subjects are really useful and particularly helpful to people at this difficult, perhaps lonely time.

The start point is that deciding to sell your business is an emotional decision and you could be doing it because of age, you could be doing it because you want to de-risk, you could be doing it because you're bored with it and want to move on to something else. You could be doing it for other external reasons that are forcing you into signing the business. It could be you've been offered enough money that you can't refuse, it could be that you're just nervous about the future.

So as a coach, the first place that I like to start is exploring the Why do you want to sell? Question. Not because I'm questioning whether they will or would or should sell? I'm simply getting the coachee to fathom for themselves their real motivations because that leads to the second question. When it's sold when it's gone, what are you going to do? For some of them, that might mean an extended handover, they may stay with the new owners. it may be for six months a year or indeed, indefinitely, but even if that is their choice, even if that is what's going to happen? It's sometimes a good thing to explore the question ‘How's it going to be different then? It's not your train set anymore; there's a different Fat Controller in charge of it. How's that relationship going to feel? How you're going to cope with that good and bad aspects?

The other aspect is if they're not going to stay with the business for any length of time, what are you going to do? For some people is very clear. They have a burning ambition to do the next thing. They're going to open a pub in Marbella, they're going to really reinvent the next electric car, they're going to do something else, and they know what that is, but for the majority of people that I see in this situation, they don't know. And if they don't start to find clarity around that or at least some sense of direction around that during the sale process, they can start to get very disturbed, they can start to get very concerned about whether they're doing the right thing or the wrong thing, which could a endanger the deal, but may mean that the process becomes torturous, rather than exciting and a springboard for the next part of their life, it can be something that's full of dread.

As we go further through the process of preparing them for the sale of their business, it's often emotional in the context of their colleagues. If they are the sole shareholder, they realise that they're going to benefit disproportionately in a financial sense, than the people they've worked with, for a very long time, perhaps people who've helped them achieve this sense of financial freedom, but they won't have that benefit. There can be a sense of guilt around that. However, inappropriate that sense of guilt might be, it can still be that there are other dynamics such as family, and friends; how are they going to react to what has happened in terms of you being available and not working, in terms of you having a different financial perspective?

Finally, from this side of the transaction; how are they going to deal with all of the pressures of being financially independent - and I use the word pressures on purpose, because when you get out of bed in the morning, what are you going to do if you have a great deal of money, it's still going to need to be managed, you're not just going to put it in the bank and forget about it and you're going to feel obliged. If it becomes known to other people, that you've got a lot of money, you're going to have a whole bunch of people knocking on your door, saying, let me help you invest some of that money, let me help relieve you of some of that money by providing the service you never thought you needed in the first place.

So coaching people who are preparing to sell their business is a really, really valuable exercise for them. You can help them think through all of these different aspects in advance, you can help them prepare themselves for what could be one of the biggest changes in their whole life. And as they do that, they enjoy the process more, and they enjoy the exit process once they've exited.

For many, the process itself is torturous and very, very stressful. More deals fail, more transactions failed and succeed simply by the nature of the process. And as a consequence, it's never a deal that is never done until it's done. So, an equal part of the work of a coach is to help them with the what-if scenario, what if it doesn't happen? How are you going to return to a situation of coping without having sold the business? How do you re-energise yourself? How do you refocus yourself? What are you going to do with the business now that you weren't going to do before?

Selling a business not only is stressful, but it's also hugely time-consuming, it's a massive distraction. As a coach, you can help them stay focused on prioritising the things that really still need to be done, whether it's the ongoing management of the business, or whether it's personal matters, work-life balance in an extreme scenario, and you can help them prioritise everything that they do, to cope with this peak moment in their life.

So, coaching somebody who is selling their business, it's an important part of the process for them, they will need help, that's for sure. But not just help with a technicality. There are lots of professional advisors out there who can do that aspect. But the personal coaching process of how are you going to deal with these issues is really valuable, really beneficial. As I say in recent times, I've had to do that many times with a number of clients. And the outcome I know has been incredibly helpful.


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