Robert W. Bache (aka “Medicare Bob”) is founder and chief of sales for Senior Healthcare Direct, an AmeriLife company.
Selling a small business that you helped build from the ground up to a larger company is a thrilling time for an entrepreneur. Your vision, hard work and dedication have paid off, and you have an exciting road ahead. With a bigger company comes more resources and added talent that can take your products or services to a new level. Yet sometimes the transition after selling a business can be stressful.
If you’re thinking about selling a small business, it’s critical to go into it with the right mindset. When I sold my company in 2020, I knew that AmeriLife was the right fit because we shared the same vision. I appreciated its partnership model, and I knew they would place their trust in me—like they have in other owners—to continue to drive my business forward.
As I went through the process of selling my business, I learned several lessons along the way. If you’re an entrepreneur starting to work on your own business ownership transition plan or an acquisition transition checklist, keep the following in mind.
1. Stay Confident
When you’re selling a small business, the sheer scale and resources of the acquiring company can feel intimidating. You are no longer at the top of the proverbial pile, and you may be surrounded by people who are more experienced or successful than you are. Thoughts of inadequacy might try to creep in. Don’t let them. Remember, your business is being acquired for a reason—your product or service is valued. Be patient with yourself as you transition from being in charge to forming a collaborative relationship with your new owners.
2. Set Clear Expectations
When AmeriLife acquires companies, they see founders as partners. That dynamic was important to me when I started to think about selling my company because I knew I wanted to continue helping lead and grow what I’d already built. If you’re looking for a similar model, make sure to establish that early on in negotiations. Does the company you’re talking with see you as a true partner? What will your exact role be after selling a business? Will the relationship be a collaborative one? These are all questions you should ask from the start. Both you and the company making the acquisition need to have clear expectations of what life after the deal looks like. Don’t leave that up to chance.
3. Embrace Change—To A Point
A major benefit of being part of a larger company is the vast number of perspectives and opportunities for fresh, innovative ideas. New colleagues will likely have thoughts on how to tweak existing processes you put in place or the best way to develop a new product. Always stay open to change, adjustments and improvements. But also be prepared to stand your ground. You created your company, and you’re the one who knows it best. If you’re approached with an idea that you feel in your gut just won’t work, don’t be afraid to push back and ask for more information, even if the idea comes from someone high up in the new organization. You’re the subject matter expert. Know when to bend and when to stand firm.
4. Preserve Your Culture
Employees loved working at my company, and we had very little turnover because we had that personal, small business feel. Managers knew their team members well, and they were truly invested in helping them grow their careers. We had a culture of caring. When selling a small business, there’s a risk—and often a fear from workers—that your company’s small-business vibe will disappear. Don’t let it. Work hard to preserve the connections and culture you’ve taken the time to create. Be an advocate for your employees and continue to invest in great people practices.
5. Get Good At Documenting
My first 60 days after deciding to sell were all about the data. I worked closely with a private equity group to document all of my company’s processes and procedures. It was essentially a brain dump to capture all the vital pieces of information about how I operated the business. If you’re looking to sell, you can make the process a smoother one by being prepared with your documentation. Get your files in order as best you can and make sure you’ve created detailed journey maps for both your customers and your employees.
6. Keep An Eye On Your Professional Growth
Amid the busy days leading up to the sale, don’t lose sight of what you still want and need to achieve professionally and how you’d like to grow after the sale. Take time to consider your career and your financial goals, then sit down and write them out. Maybe you want to be CEO of the company that’s acquiring you one day. How will you get there?
7. Consider Your Mental Health
Don’t be surprised if you feel exhausted or a little depressed as the sale looms and you face the prospect of stepping back. Beyond career goals, setting personal ones gives you something positive to focus on. My personal goals included being a good example for my two boys—I want them to grow up seeing the value of hard work. I also wanted to spend more time with my family. My wife and I are also setting up the Brooke Avery Foundation, an organization that will help pay the medical bills and offer support for families who’ve had a stillborn child. Our first child, Brooke, was stillborn and the foundation means a great deal to us.
For entrepreneurs, selling a small business will perhaps be the highlight of your career. Take the time to think about and plan for what happens when your company gets acquired, and you’ll help to ensure the process goes smoothly. And remember that selling your business is by no means the end—it’s an opportunity to create new ways to develop, both professionally and personally, after the transition.