Life After Exit

I recently had the honor of speaking on the Life After Exit panel at a unique event entitled Maximizing Your Exit Strategy: A Business Owner’s Conference presented by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch in partnership with Babson Executive Education near Boston. The room was filled with entrepreneurs and business owners from ages 42 to 79, with businesses ranging from manufacturing to service. The audience had one common goal, they were all trying to figure out how to exit their business.

The majority of the day was informative with helpful discussions around the current M&A market, tactical steps for an exit, value drivers, business lifecycle and methods of business valuation. However, the room really came alive on one essential topic, what happens after you sell the business. As the panel began, the reactions in the room ranged from utter silence, to muffled laughter to glib remarks like “I’ll golf everyday”. The truth of the matter is that the majority of business owners spend day and night, probably for decades, working in their business. They give little thought to what next.

It’s hard enough to go through the sales process, sleepless nights, worries about people and money, but without a sense of life after exit, doubt may creep in. The best way to assure a smooth transition is to plan your “life after” well before the sale.

Here’s my top three ways to help you shift roles from business owner to life manager and get back into the world in a new way:

  1. Give yourself six months to find yourself again. Sounds corny but after the first two weeks of doing everything you always wanted to do, you’ll wake up and realize there is no rush. Now you’ll need to fight the urge to get busy, going slower is very hard. Read books on topics that interest you, take an on-line course, yes go to the gym or do cardio daily, just don’t jump into another full time commitment too fast, you deserve to design this next chapter.
  2. Prepare a Life After list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Your old bucket list may have too many check marks to get you excited, take some time to dream again. What did you want to do when you were young? Did your career sidetrack you? It’s now your time to recall old dreams and create new ones. It’s also just fine to look at those long held dreams and dump them, some things just expire with time. Be open to ideas and see what shows up.
  3. Network When You’re Ready. It may take weeks or even months but at some point you’ll probably want to reconnect with the world in a new way, networking can provide the route. The easiest way to attract new folks and to let the world know you’re coming back into the game is to update your LinkedIn profile, new title, new role and all sorts of people will reach out to you In addition, your best colleagues over the years will likely resurface and play an important role in your future. The strange relationships that go by the wayside are your old day-to-day office connections, they tend to go away with the sale. Part of the process is letting go.

The audience at the conference walked away with solid information on how to sell the business and hopefully a keen awareness on the need to think about their own Life After.

Do yourself a favor, buy a blank journal and start doodling. Jot down your ideas for phase two of your life now, you’ll be amazed how many bright ideas you have bottled up inside you. I’m a big advocate of books, pick up a few on retirement, a few on reinventing yourself and a few on investments, these will be key topics for your Life After plan. Most of all, keep in touch with the outside world and talk through your transition with those who’ve done it, you’re really not alone even though you’ll feel like it from time to time.

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