Nobody talks about what really matters when you sell your company. They talk a lot about money, as if that’s all you should be thinking about, when really there are other things that matter just as much—and sometimes more.
Selling your business is one of a handful of decisions in life that are irreversible. There is potential for an outcome that doesn’t align with your values, and even destroys the legacy you have spent many years building. If you want to look back on the decisions you make and feel at peace with them, there are a few questions you can ask yourself beforehand. (Feel free to use these workbooks if you find them helpful).
What is the purpose of my business? Other than generating cash flow for its owners, your company exists for a reason. Getting clear about your own priorities and what you want for your employees and customers will help you find the right buyer or investor.
Why do I want to sell or take on a capital partner? CEOs who are looking to sell could be anywhere on a spectrum of feelings. You might be tired and hoping for an exit; stressed and hoping to take some risk off the table; or energized and looking for resources to seize an opportunity. It is important to know whether you want hands-on help with your business problems, a hands-off partner who will let you do your thing, or a sale to a strategic buyer where you will have no involvement after the closing.
Who will be affected by this transaction? You might have the ultimate say over what happens—in the end, this is your own decision to make—but you are not the only one who feels its effects. Think about the people who have helped your business grow over the years and what you want for them. In addition to employees, consider your suppliers, your community and your family.
What kind of buyer or investor would be a good fit? Before you start a sale process, decide whether you want a financial investor, like a private equity firm, or a strategic or corporate buyer. Then, when somebody approaches you with an offer, try to understand how that investment fits into their strategy. A buyer who understands your industry and cares about the culture of your company will behave differently after a sale than a firm that just wants to acquire a new playing card for their deck and will soon try to discard the business, one way or another.
If there is anything I have learned from sitting on both sides of the table in these situations, it’s that spending time and getting to know your buyer is the most important investment you will make. That knowledge, and the knowledge of your own values, is your best chance at an extraordinary outcome you can feel proud of on the day after the sale.