IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

The Emotional Side of Selling a Small Business

A business is far more than the sum of its numbers, processes, and objectives; it’s a living entity comprising human beings who are always impacted by a sale. By Jamison West

The following is an edited excerpt from a chapter in The Emotional Side of Selling a Small Business, a fictional fable based on real-life experience. Selling a business usually isn’t easy. Even the smoothest deals based on the best exit planning are complex. And the small business owners with only an abstract idea of cashing out are in for some startling challenges that can be financial, moral, and, above all, emotional. In this chapter, Alex, CEO and founder of the imagined A&S Digital Solutions, is telling his leadership team about the sale of the business.

ALEX TOOK A DEEP BREATH as he stood in the hallway outside the conference room. Closing was tomorrow, but he’d decided to tell the leadership team a day earlier than the rest of the employees. He owed them that, at least.

Alex walked into the room, greeted everyone, and sat down at the head of the table.

“I’m sure you all are wondering why I called a leadership meeting on a Thursday,” Alex said. “I have a big announcement to make, and I want you all to know before I tell the rest of the team. I am selling A&S.

“I’m selling to a guy who runs another MSP near Princeton who wants to expand into our area. He thinks we have a quality team and a great business, so he wants to keep it intact. For the most part, things should keep running just like they do—and I’ll be around for a while to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

“The contract will be finalized tomorrow,” Alex said. “I wanted to tell everyone earlier, but it wasn’t realistic to do it during the sales process.”

“So … you are saying that all of our jobs are safe?” Dani, A&S’s account manager, asked cautiously.

“Yes—they should be,” Alex said, chiding himself. “Let me shoot you as straight as possible: You all still have jobs as of now. Frank, who will be your new boss, bought this company because it works, and he does not want to mess with success. But you will all have to meet with him individually to discuss your roles and, of course, he will own the business—so he will make final decisions."

“Why are you selling?” asked Kevin, the sales manager.

“I’ve been running A&S for almost 20 years, and I just think it’s time,” Alex said. “Honestly, I’d like a break and maybe to try something new. And certainly spend a little more time with my kids before they are out of the house. The company is doing well financially, and we have a great client list. That’s what makes it a good time to sell."

Acacia, the bookkeeper, quickly stood up and left the conference room, closing the door firmly behind her.

“I believe this is a good thing for A&S and the team,” Alex continued. “It will be a bigger company with more resources and more opportunities to grow. I know each of you will perform well—and you will always have my support. It really has been an honor. Thank you.

“For now, let’s table the questions until I meet with each of you individually today. One very important thing: I’ve let you know a little early—I’m making the general announcement tomorrow. Please don’t tell anyone else until I have the chance to do it.”

He looked at everyone briefly to make sure they agreed before walking quickly out of the conference room. Alex rushed to Acacia’s office.

“Acacia, are you OK? Talk to me,” Alex said.

“No, not really,” she answered bitterly. “This is not a good time to lose my job. And I’m beyond shocked that you are dropping this on us without notice.” There was the anger.

“Acacia, just because A&S is being sold doesn’t mean you are going to lose your—”

“Oh c’mon, Alex,” she cut him off. “You and I both know that the numbers people are always the first to go. Your buyer has his own person who does the books, and they have their own systems. So yeah, they’ll keep me on for a few weeks; maybe even a couple of months during the transition. And then they’ll have zero need for my position.”

He knew she was probably right.

“Listen: I will do everything I can to keep you on,” he said softly. “And if they do let you go, I will help you find another position and a soft landing.

“How is David?” Alex asked.

Though she’d worked for him for almost a decade, Acacia tended to keep her private life separate from work. Alex knew that she had two children and a husband who had multiple sclerosis. But she rarely talked about them unless asked, and Alex had never met them.

“His MS is progressive, and he’s having some new issues,” she said.

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