The transition zone: how to hand your business off to new owners

You want to leave behind a functioning, viable business. And you want to ensure your employees are prepared for this stressful change

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David FullerIt was one of my most embarrassing moments. I climbed out of the water at the triathlon at West Lake and in front of all the spectators, I threw up on James Sexton’s shoes. As his kids cheered me on, I moved to the transition zone where I quickly got on my bike and away from the laughing crowd.

In business. we also have transitions. This usually takes place after we sell a business, or a member of our team leaves or retires. Transitions give us time to get ready for the next stage and help those who are left to ensure they have everything they need to continue running the marathon.

When owners sell a business, there are a number of things they need to make sure happen if they want to leave behind a functioning, viable business:

  • Identifying the perfect outcome: Understanding the goal and end point, and making that clear to all involved, can ensure that everybody is on the same page and establish measurement for the transition.
  • Decision making: Who’s going make decisions during the transition period? It’s crucial to transfer decision making and have clarity around who will do what.
  • Have accountability: Who’s going to be responsible for what in the transition period? Once you’ve established the ideal outcome expected, having a timeline with responsibilities attached is so important in the communication to members outside the transition team. Your employees and stakeholders need to be kept in the loop so they understand the process, and to avoid unnecessary fear and worry.
  • Measure progress: Having a way to measure progress is essential to an ideal transition – once you’re clear on the steps needed for the transition and have a communication process in place.

Owners who are selling and want to ensure the smooth transition also need to take into account:

  • training the new owners;
  • staffing considerations;
  • financial handover;
  • upcoming issues that the new owners need to understand.

While the new owners will have a strategy to grow the business, the outgoing owners need to be able to share the vision of strategies in place and the execution of those strategies.

Buying a business is like starting a marathon or triathlon. Hopefully, the new owners are ready run the race. There are always starting jitters that go away when the buyers get stuck into the day-to-day operations.

But too much change too quickly can cause a thriving business to stumble and fall. Keeping the pace at first is always a great idea when moving from the transition zone.

When an owner sells a business, they need to understand that while they’re leaving, their employees are left behind. This can be stressful. Outgoing owners need to realize and communicate their gratitude to that dedicated team.

Having sold a couple businesses, I know some of the stresses for owners and employees left behind.

If you’re thinking of selling, get help from professionals to ensure everyone is taken care of.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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