And the Beginning!
Change is the external event, situation, or relationship that morphs into something new/different/better/worse. After a 30-year successful run, the founder/business owner sells his or her business. That’s the change. Here’s how my client, Jim, described it to me this week:
One day I’m in my office and the next day I am at home with no emails in my inbox, no meetings to attend, no need to ever think about sales and marketing, and no team members to celebrate births, marriages, and graduations with. The final six months of executing the deal were so intense that I didn’t even have time to think about life after the sale. It’s been three months now and I have no idea what to do with myself. I don’t know if I need coaching or therapy. I feel lost and invisible.
Transition is what happens internally as we move from where we were to a different (hopefully better) place. All major transitions have a phase, that’s called the messy middle. Rosabeth Moss-Canter is quoted as saying, “Everything in the middle feels like failure.” I think Jim would agree.
Then comes the new reality.
While we all know change is inevitable, it’s easy to get lost in the flood of emotions, and/or the need for action, that change ushers in, even if that change is the successful sale of a business.
Whether we’ve planned for it or not, the messy middle is an uncomfortable, scary time filled with loss and sadness about what is gone, and uncertainty and confusion about next steps. The entrepreneur’s strong impulse is to muscle through this phase to get past the discomfort and uncertainty as quickly as possible.
Here’s the good news. This is where a skilled coach can provide guidance and support, and most of all – permission for the client to be in the moment, in the process, and let go of fear or anxiety as the new normal unfolds. “Unlearning” is much harder than learning, and clients need support as they let go of old routines, identities, and successful habits, enabling them to emerge empowered to chart a course for their desired future.
If you are a service provider who works in any capacity with business owners to help them sell their businesses for the maximum buyout, I am sure you have high-fived them and popped the champagne at the closing.
It’s likely that many of you have also checked in with them a month or so later to find the initial elation gone, replaced by fear and uncertainty, and often dread over how the next ten years will unfold.
The bad news… there is no magic bullet. Every situation is different. However, there are some proven action steps you can take that significantly increase the chances of a positive outcome, and a client who is invested and involved in the future he or she is creating. Here are some ways you can help them prepare psychologically.
At least a year before the sale, begin to ask questions about what they are doing to prepare themselves psychologically for the transition.
Suggest they talk to an experienced coach, counselor, or peer who has been through a business sale. Learning about the necessary steps of major transitions and asking for guidance or support well before the event from a trusted advisor can be the game changer.
When clients express doubts and uncertainties about their future after the sale, listen, ask “Tell me more” questions, and empathize with their feelings. “I get it,” and “That really makes sense to me,” are far more helpful than, “Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be fine.” Let them know you are willing to listen and help them find resources to navigate the transition.
Check in with clients after the sale at least once a quarter for the first year to see how they are doing. If they are floundering, suggest they reach out to a qualified transition professional for support.
Any major transition, especially in the last third of life, can be the beginning of a devastating downward spiral or the catalyst for personal transformation and growth. As we know, studies show that the vast majority of business owners regret the sale. I believe that in large part, it is because they are not prepared or equipped to create a life and a future that they love.
It would be a privilege to share more about my successes with this process and all it can do for your clients who may be struggling with how to make their next chapter their best chapter.
Here’s the best news! I’m here for you. Please do drop me an email at the address below and we will schedule a 30-minute discovery call.