Selling Your Business Is Like Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s not often that I’m able to weave grandmothers, due diligence and airborne mashed potatoes into one post, but last year I managed to do it in a New York Times piece titled 5 Reasons Selling Your Business Is Like Thanksgiving Dinner. I had a ball writing it, and I hope you’ll have fun reading it. Here is an excerpt that includes reasons number one and two:

I had a professor in graduate school who once compared the world of business to Thanksgiving dinner. His comment was directed at a room full of students who, at the time, were intent on climbing the corporate ladder. According to him, those of us who were willing to work hard and get advanced degrees would have the ability to leave the chaos and humiliation of “the little kids’ table” (supervisory and front line management positions) and graduate to sitting with the grown-ups (director level and above). And wasn’t that what we all aspired to?

In lieu of another tired business analogy that revolves around sports or military strategy, here are five reasons why selling your business is like Thanksgiving dinner.

1. An emotional outburst can ruin an otherwise lovely gathering

I’ve often thought of my professor’s description of the little kids’ table as I’ve watched small-business owners go through the process of selling. It is not uncommon to see tears, yelling and tantrums on the sell side of a deal. The buyer, who brings almost no emotional baggage to the table, rarely exhibits such behavior.

Selling a business is an emotionally charged event. So much so that I have rarely seen an instance where a business owner doesn’t “lose it” at some point during the process. Anyone familiar with the process knows that an emotional issue can kill a deal just as quickly as any detail uncovered on a financial statement.

There are books and organizations dedicated to helping business owners anticipate and overcome the emotional challenges that come with selling a business. If you haven’t reached a point where you can be objective about your business, discuss its strengths and weaknesses openly, and see it for what it is during the sale process — namely an asset with market value — then you may not be ready to sell.

2. There’s no substitute for experience

Grandmothers make the best Thanksgiving dinners, hands down. This is presumably because they’ve prepared the meal 30 times before they become grandmothers. Successful business sales take place with a team of experienced professionals who are both generalists and specialists in their field — including lawyers, accountants, financial planners and intermediaries.

Small-business owners tend to be extraordinarily successful do-it-yourselfers. When my husband and I started our coffee business I decided I would take care of payroll myself. How hard could it be, I reasoned, and why not save the $45 per month I was going to pay a service to do it? Somewhere along the road to employing 14 baristas, I should have started filing my employee withholding monthly instead of quarterly. Being a newbie, I didn’t realize this until I got a nasty letter from the Internal Revenue Service saying that I was behind and that if I didn’t get current they would seize everything I owned. Oops.

When it comes to selling your business, don’t go it alone. The cost of inexperience is simply too high.

You can read the rest of the post here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of Midwest Living


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