It’s not often I get blindsided. Regardless of what scenario I’m going into, I do extensive research, come at an issue from multiple angles, and strive to eliminate any potential “shock value.” Selling my construction business over a decade ago caught me off-guard in more ways than one. For starters, I had to deal with surprises because, to put it bluntly, there weren’t resources for owners like me on how to navigate this transition. That need eventually led to me founding Exit Consulting Group.
Even going through that process essentially blind, and having things come back to bite me later, was small compared to the sucker punch I took shortly following my exit.
Telling former colleagues, strategic business partners, friends, and family blindsided me.
Now let’s back up a minute. When I sold my construction business, I was in my late thirties, basically my business prime, in an industry that expects its members to commit for life.
Owners who have pushed well beyond their prime and could’ve easily retired five to even ten years ago will most likely not have this experience. So if you’ve passed the typical retirement age or have family members continually bringing up the question of when you’ll be passing the baton, this article isn’t for you.
This is a heads up for those young serial entrepreneurs who plan to pivot anywhere from one to multiple times throughout their career.
Not everyone will be happy for you.
In fact, I experienced the gamut of emotions from infuriatingly angry to veiled envy to some genuine support. I didn’t exactly expect a parade in my honor, but I felt serious jubilation and congratulations were in order. By the end, I would’ve settled for spirited and well-intentioned high fives.
Let’s just say the spectrum of emotions caught me by total surprise.
Vendors and Strategic Business Partners
The success of my custom home remodeling business depended largely on a referral network I built over time. In return, many of my strategic partner’s businesses depended largely on my referrals.
When I announced I was out, they saw their business foundation in jeopardy.
Vendors felt a similar threat. Particularly companies with me as a main client felt betrayed. Not only had I left the game mid-way through, I had subbed in someone they didn’t like and expected everything to move forward business as usual.
Needless to say, in their world, business wasn’t going forward as usual. And they were pissed at the cause: me.
Friends and Family
The next place I took my happy dance was to friends and family. After the grueling exit process and backlash from my vendors, I was eager for my support system to do just that, support. Insert an endless stream of hoorahs and high fives.
At least that’s what I thought. The reality was a far cry from across the board celebrations.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have an amazing group of people in my network. But I was threatening the status quo. At my age, it was expected to be heading to work every day and waiting eagerly for the weekend to come. Instead I was in a financial position that I didn’t need to work for several years. Without the daily grind of running a business, I was struggling to remember what day of the week it was and debating if I wanted to meander my way to the gym midday.
When you’re in your job, struggling to meet family commitments, dealing with the declining health of parents and all the other challenges that we face at that point in our lives, you don’t really want to listen to someone as they grapple with an existential crisis or seem to be removed from all responsibilities. Despite how much they might want to truly be happy for you, it’s a stark contrast from the world they are living in. That makes genuine happiness a difficult recipe.
After my high from the sale wore off, which came much faster than expected, I found myself in the midst of a challenging identity crisis. This left me to deal with the inevitable challenge of “what comes next” and wrestling with, “who am I without my business,” in isolation.
Navigating the Aftermath
To be honest, if I had to do it again, I would go about breaking the news in a different manner. At the time, I came into these conversations on a high, almost giddy. In some aspects, I had felt that I just won the lotto or hit a huge milestone.
Knowing now the skeptical or downright frustrated reception I encountered, I would walk into those interactions with a few more reservations. Just the knowledge that I was going to be walking into a mixed bag of reactions would’ve made for a much better transition. Instead I went head on into an onslaught of unhealthy relationships with vendors and former strategic partners and wasn’t winning any popularity contests on the friends and family front.
If you’re a young vibrant entrepreneur exiting your business, I hope this knowledge helps you weather the potential relationship storms ahead. I wish that at my departure I‘d had a better idea of what was to come.
That could have saved me a lot of grief and frustration in what I had planned on being a happy time.