The 4-year anniversary of the sale of my financial advisory business is rapidly approaching.
The memories from 30 years spent in the financial services world, including 20 as a managing partner, haven’t completely faded yet. But the time away has allowed for a fresher perspective on the journey that brought me to where I am today.
It feels pretty amazing reporting from the other side of selling a business in the investment world. There are a blend of emotions—gratitude, energy, purpose and, most importantly, happiness.
I didn’t always feel this way.
Being one of three shareholders in a “boutique” firm was like riding a roller coaster—at times completely exhilarating, and at others, totally terrifying.
We had the usual business challenges—market volatility, staffing issues, compliance rules, fee pressures. Fortunately, the successes we achieved far outweighed these challenges.
As the years ticked by, our commitment to making decisions that would ultimately benefit us when it came time for succession paid off. All the usual processes that are part of a sale were relatively (and fortunately) uneventful—due diligence review, operational preparation, deal structure, and transition.
The Internal Struggle
What took me most by surprise was the internal tug of war; the mental and emotional in-fighting I started to experience. My self-doubts and fears kicked into overdrive. Why was this so hard? This is what we had all agreed we wanted, right? What if the clients are upset? What if I don’t like it?
Up to this point, my partners and I had focused on the practical aspects of growing and managing the business with the intention to sell. What I’d failed to consider was the emotional upheaval that was inevitable when such a huge change goes from a “someday” wish to a real life opportunity.
My fear kicked in. Big time. I remember trying to put the emergency brake on and pulling all the tricks in the book to hang onto the status quo. I resisted the financial proposal. I fretted about what my role and title would be. I even started to envision scenarios that justified passing on the opportunity, and how great things could be if I just didn’t exit the business. The tension was sky high. I was worried the deal wouldn’t happen–and maybe more worried that it would.
What finally changed my mindset and allowed me to get past my anxiety was a clearer understanding of “why” I, personally, was going down this path.
Crafting a Win-Win Deal
I’d always felt like a “win-win” gal, but had lost that perspective in the swirling emotions of fear, frustration, excitement, and even relief through months of negotiations. During a particularly difficult day, however, I had a huge flash of self-awareness: There has to be a win-win or there is no deal.
More importantly, I had to know what the real “win” would be for me personally. It wasn’t price. It wasn’t my title. It wasn’t even the long-term strategy. My real “win” was this: to no longer have ownership of this business.
With that realization I was ready for my next chapter. Hallelujah! With this fresh understanding, I was able to be more open to what would be a win for the other participants as well. We got the deal done...win-win.
"Someday" Is Today
I completely understand those firm owners and shareholders who are on the fence about what they want—it’s not an easy thing to think about and plan for. I get it.
What’s not easy to understand is how many owners continue to think selling is something they can deal with “someday.”’
Selling your business takes time and preparation—something that all advisors might know, but choose to ignore, consciously or not. My number one piece of advice? Get started today, put planning in your calendar, and defend that time. Most importantly get clear on you want from the deal. Know what your “win” entails.
LAURIE NICHOLS spent 30 years in the financial services industry, 20 as an owner. She took her exit four years ago and has thrived in her latest chapter as Owner, Life Planner and Coach of Next Chapter Vision which specializes in helping RIA owners and successors identify their exit planning goals and get into action. This post marks the first in a series written by Laurie for FP Transitions to chronicle her own exit planning journey, the challenges she overcame, and the lessons she learned.