Business owners have heard of buyer’s remorse but may not be familiar with a similar term, “seller’s remorse”. It is likely, however, they have had conversations with friends who after selling their company experienced seller’s remorse without knowing that it had a name. What exactly is this? Is it even real? If it is real and you are an owner considering selling your company, what can you do to avoid it? The first step is in understanding what this phrase refers to. Let’s dissect the term.

If we just consider the words, “seller’s remorse,” the word “seller” needs little explanation, and in this situation, “seller” pertains to anyone selling his or her company, whether as an internal or external sale. Next let’s look at the textbook meaning of the word “remorse.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of being sorry for doing something bad or wrong in the past: a feeling of guilt.” Most owners would not apply that definition to how they anticipate feeling when they sell their company. In fact, euphoria, exhilaration, and relief are probably closer to what they expect to be feeling, certainly not remorse. What could they possibly be sorry for, feel guilty about, or regret? After all, this is the day they have long been waiting for, anticipating the way life will be once they have sold their company and moved on.

Although seller’s remorse is the handy term and most commonly used, seller’s dissatisfaction better describes the situation for many business owners who sell their company. It more clearly defines what can actually happen. Owners have definitely heard the horror stories from friends about all the things they thought would happen with their sale and did not or, worse, all the things they never thought would happen and did. Just look at some common disappointments:

  1. I thought I would get a better price after all my years of hard work.
  2. I had no idea I would pay so much in taxes and fees and net so little.
  3. I thought they would keep my key employees.
  4. I never thought they would move the business.
  5. I thought they would keep me on longer as a consultant; I wanted to stay involved.
  6. I am not enjoying retirement as much as I thought I would…I waited so long.
  7. I thought I would have enough money to live the life I wanted…but I don’t.
  8. I never thought I would miss going to the office… but I do.
  9. I never thought they would radically change the company…but they did.
  10. I never knew I had other sale or transition options.

This list looks like a lot more like disappointments, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction than remorse. But these can lead to feelings of remorse, triggered by self-blame and guilt. An owner may feel ultimately responsible when the sale has negatively impacted the family, the employees, or the community. The former owner feels he or she should have known more, been better prepared, and been able to better control the outcomes. Unfortunately, the owner rarely gets a second chance. The sale of a business is not a dress rehearsal; you usually get one opportunity in a lifetime.

In summation, seller’s remorse is very real, and owners should strive to avoid it. We feel there are distinct steps owners can take to avoid these regrets and disappointments:

  • Be properly prepared for the eventual transition. Identify your goals and objectives.
  • Allow sufficient time, usually 3‒5 years.
  • Know your transition options and the pros and cons of each.
  • Be proactive; don’t procrastinate.

Most, if not all, of the disappointments on the list above can be avoided with our process of holistic, comprehensive, specialized planning and the assistance of seasoned advisors. The next phase of life can be what owners envision, a life filled with excitement and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams and goals. The best years of your life need not be spent wishing you could have achieved a different outcome with the sale of your company. Sadly, many owners will unnecessarily experience the disappointment and remorse. The choice is ultimately yours. Our mission, is the empowerment of owners, enabling you to achieve your optimum transition and prevent the threat of “seller’s remorse”.

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