Exhaustion, elation, emptiness.
The emotions linked between an entrepreneur and their business ebb and flow throughout the business life cycle. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for business, which is why the business owner can often experience both excitement and terror in even just a day’s time. However, when it comes time to part ways with your business, the emotional roller coaster is a routine cycle.
Over the course of growing a business the entrepreneur’s attachment to the business grows, causing a highly emotional connection to the company’s success and failures. Now transition from building a business to selling a business and the “loss” can feel like exactly that—a loss. The emotions associated to the succession process really boil down to three distinct feelings: Exhaustion, elation and then emptiness.
The early stages of business are made up of many waking hours trying to perfect a product or process. As time passes, the entrepreneur becomes more immersed and overwhelmed with the day to day operations, which leads them to focus less effort on innovation and business development. This is a crucial time for an entrepreneur to re-evaluate their relationship with the business and identify which piece of the business excites them. Losing that fire can make selling the business much more attractive.
If the entrepreneur cannot change their relationship with the business to keep them excited, the exhaustion forces them into a sale, for better or worse.
After the decision is made to sell—due to an offer the owner cannot refuse or a forced exit, it’s common for the entrepreneur to start thinking about the effects of the sale; how much the business will sell for and how they plan to spend their time after the sale. A business owner should focus on nailing down their needs—there will no longer be the responsibilities associated with being “head honcho,” and that can be a shot to the ego. The lifestyle piece can cause even more stress to an already difficult decision and process.
The feeling of elation comes from the actual succession process—this can be the first inkling of an interested buyer, up until the day the transaction actually happens. It’s becoming real at this point. Emotions run even higher when the interest moves forward to finalizing a sale. The possibility of selling for a large financial gain and starting a new chapter is an exciting conversation—you built this, and there is real value in your empire.
Once a sale is final—t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted—a feeling of emptiness sets in. Without the daily responsibility of running a business, what else is there?
After years of putting everything into a business (passion, sweat and cash equity) it can be hard to find something else that makes you feel as energized as the business once did.
Overcoming the emptiness that follows a sale can take time. While some entrepreneurs are eager to move on to other business ventures, others can tend to feel defeated. And you cannot forget the hit to one’s sense of relevancy as they transition from owner to “average Joe.” When you operate as company owner you are needed daily for decision making and answering questions, but when you transition out of your role as owner that need is no longer there and you feel a real lack of relevancy as a human, which can be a blow to your identity.
Before the large price tag of an acquisition steals the focus, I encourage every entrepreneur to consider—although selling the business may be the right decision financially, is it the right life decision?
Randy Gerber is founder & principal of Gerber, LLC, and Lead Advisor, RJFS. Gerber, LLC is a professional services business located in Columbus, OH that works exclusively with first generation entrepreneurs. Gerber works with clients to plan for business growth and understand what they want out of life, then puts a holistic wealth management plan in place to make it happen.
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