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What are you really selling?

Finding a new purpose after exiting your business

For some business owners, a life of leisure is all they dream of after a successful exit. But exiting doesn’t always equate to retirement.

Business owners are used to making tough decisions every day, but perhaps none more so than selling up. 

When you exit your business, you’ll need to adapt to a different pace of life or find a new purpose once the deal is done. Learning to let go and getting to grips with your newfound freedom – and often newfound wealth – can be personally challenging. 

From seller’s remorse to a sense of purposelessness, there are a range of issues you may face. So, how can you look forward to an exciting future, rather than constantly looking back? 

Look forwards, not back

Perhaps you feel uneasy about selling your business, or have second thoughts about your choice of buyer or investor. 

Martin Roll, a global business strategist and senior adviser to Fortune 500 companies and family offices, says it is very easy to feel regret over the sale once you are no longer devoting so much time and energy to your business. His advice? Change your mindset, and don’t look back. 

“Be excited about this next phase of life as you have the ability to fulfil lifelong dreams and goals. These may be the best years of your life. Don't dwell on wishing you could have achieved a different outcome with the sale of your company.” 

Take time out to consider what’s next

Exiting a business you have built from the ground up can leave an emotional void.  

Caroline Plumb, a UK-based serial entrepreneur who is now CEO of accountancy firm Gravita, says running your own company is something you live all day every day. To suddenly stop doing that – even when you know it is coming – can be a challenge. 

She has learned there is value in taking some time out before rushing into something else to fill the void.  

“It can feel like a separation from a loved one, and people often do odd things on the rebound. In my experience, it is important not to rush into the next big thing unless you have been planning it for a while. I have started and sold two companies – the recruitment and consultancy firm Freshminds and the fintech business Fluidly – and on both occasions have taken time to consider my options before starting something new.”

Help others

As an experienced business owner, you will have built up a wealth of experience and knowledge that can be used to help others. Many founders successfully transition from being CEOs to becoming mediators, business advisers, business owner coaches and full-time philanthropists. 

“After selling your business, you will have the traditional considerations – how can you invest, maintain and maybe grow your wealth?” says Olivier Miretti, Head of Global Solutions Group, EMEA, at HSBC. “You may also consider investing in other businesses and starting a foundation to support good causes. 

“Impact investing is also becoming a greater consideration among our clients across areas such as renewable energy and healthcare, and we help find these opportunities for them.”

You are also likely to have questions about tax after the sale of your business, and you may be considering whether to relocate to another country for personal or financial reasons. You might want to create a family office and will need to consider the laws and taxes for different jurisdictions.

Transition to a new role

Sometimes founders will stay on in an executive role after a sale. Martin Port, founder of UK field service management software company BigChange, sold a majority stake in the business to private equity firm Great Hill Partners in February 2021.

The GBP75 million investment from Great Hill, which valued BigChange at GBP100 million, saw a new chief executive come on board, and Martin is now chairman of the business. He says the transition was smooth, and he advises other founders to have confidence in your new team.

“Like many entrepreneurs, I had some preconceptions about private equity. I’d heard the horror stories: founders losing control and companies being pulled in the wrong direction. My experience couldn’t have been more different.

“Looking to the future, I honestly can’t see myself slowing down. I still have bags of ambition and I’ve learned the value of working smarter, rather than simply working every hour of the day.”

Keep in touch

Perhaps you founded your business many decades ago and it’s the only business you’ve run. If you want to work for someone else or raise money to start another business, how do you get over feelings of being ‘past it’ or out of touch with the current market?

Martin Roll advises staying in touch with former colleagues, business partners and industry contacts. Networking can help stay connected to industry peers and open up new opportunities. Most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself.

“Selling a business is a major accomplishment that only a few people will experience during a lifetime. It's important to celebrate the success, the liquidity (if any at that stage) and be proud of what you have achieved."

“With time and effort, you can adapt to your new role and find fulfilment during the new and emerging professional path," adds Martin.

Thinking about exiting your business and not sure about your next step? Get in touch, or read more.

by Elizabeth Anderson

Selling a business is a major accomplishment that only a few people will experience during a lifetime. It's important to celebrate the success, the liquidity (if any at that stage) and be proud of what you have achieved.
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