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Is Your Client Ready to Sell Their Business? These Are the Signs

As an advisor to family business owners, we all need to be part-time financial experts, legal experts, tax specialists, and perhaps most importantly, psychologists. We all need to listen to our client’s stated needs, and then read between the lines about what they really want.

Such is the case with selling their business. Many business owners are quite intentional, with a specific plan and timeline, and a target value front and center in their minds. Many others, however, are far less certain and concrete in their thinking, so it’s up to us to interpret their actions and ultimately lead them through the proper thought process to arrive at the optimal outcome.

If you are dealing with a business owner that doesn’t have a concrete succession plan, you will be forced to look for the less than obvious signs that some decision making is in order. So what are some signs that an owner may be ready to sell?

want to sellIt could be as obvious as they’re now entertaining the various buyer inquiries that they previously ignored, or it could be more subtle, like not reinvesting in the company or its growth opportunities, or simply being satisfied with a no-growth, low risk status quo. Sometimes we see owners and their management teams begin to experience some friction, as the management wants to expand, while the owner wants safety, security, and maximum cash flow. This may show up as slow growth and cash flow maximization rather than risk taking and reinvestment.

In some cases, the precursor to the interest in selling is an owner who spends more time away from the business. Maybe they’re bored, maybe they are developing other hobbies, or maybe they are not sure what else to do with the company. These attitudes may not directly lead to a sale, but are often early signs that change may be coming.

No professional likes to lose a client, and in many cases, a business sale results in this happening to some of the professionals involved. Part of being a respected professional, however, is being the best advisor we can be for our clients, even if this may not be in our own best interest in the short term. The happiest clients I have seen are the ones who get the best advice from their advisors. That is what leads to stronger and more active referrals to other clients. So when the “ready to sell” signs begin to emerge, the best service we can provide for our clients is to get them positioned to plan for and execute the right sale process. It’s in their best interest and ours.

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