April 15, 2018

My Why is Showing and I’m Not a Bit Embarrassed

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Have you ever had an experience that really makes you go hmmmm?

It happened to me a number of weeks ago. It made me reflect hard about why I do what I do and it has taken me a little bit of time to fully process it.

I was at an event where the topic was helping entrepreneurs exit their businesses. I was the only attorney at a table of mixed advisors (finance, banking, consulting, wealth management etc). We were role playing and as luck would have it (for me not everyone else at the table who groaned) we were assigned the task of putting on an attorney’s hat and figuring out why, from my profession’s perspective, we should convince a business owner to use an exit professional before they sell their business. We were instructed to come up with our top two “what’s in it for me’s” at the table and then share those with the room.  

I usually jump right in but this time I stopped to think for a minute... the non-attorneys didn’t. They dove right in with these attorney whys: money (increasing your billable hours), more referrals, enhancing your professional reputation and prestige, getting the deal of the year, etc. I was taken aback but then waded in.

“Guys, I try to keep my third eyelid hidden in public (humorous shark reference) but honestly I think we have a little disconnect here. I advise business owners to get exit help because I want to see them reach their stated goal.  An exit professional will help them get to where they want to go -- that’s always my why.”

The table members were momentarily silent (and I assure you not in a “boy did she nail that” sort of way) and then guess what happened next? They laughed. All of them except another woman at the table who quietly said, “That’s my why too.” I was flummoxed, but the public humiliation wasn’t over just yet.

Next we moved from the table to the whole room. When it came time to publicly share our table’s answer (you know the funny one about looking at it from the owner’s perspective), the moderator also laughed and made a comment about all standing up and singing kumbaya.  I admit I was a little peeved (even though I got one prop from a colleague in the room for honesty) but after having time to reflect I’m actually really glad it happened.

I truly enjoy helping owners sell businesses. It’s really rewarding work. Stressful sometimes, but fun. There is nothing better than being part of a team that assists someone in transitioning to a new adventure, monetizing their life’s work and riding off happy after what is usually a decade’s long climb.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting I’m devoid of self-interest.

I’m running a business myself.  I have team members counting on me for their family’s livelihood. I need to put my own kids through college, but I can tell you with 100% certainty and with complete honesty that I never think about that when I’m sitting down with a business owner who is buying or selling.  I’m always thinking, “How can I serve this business and business owner?”  Really.  I also know I’m not the only professional with that view. I really believe in cost effective solutions and practical advice. The people I typically collaborate with do to, even though their outside voice may say something different in a room of “advisor bravado”.

But the experience also made me examine a little deeper the perspective of someone who is driven by those factors. So instead of judging them for the “me first” mindset, I sat with it for awhile and guess what? I saw how my “take” might be holding me back. It made me confront those pesky gremlins I don’t look at too often like my feelings about money, value and gender norms.

What does all this mean for clients? Well, like anything else it is information you should factor into your “buying” decision.

When you are selling your single biggest asset do your homework. Shop around. What works for your WPO friend might not work for you. Ask questions—a fair amount of them. Dig into the soft stuff.  Find out what your exit professional’s philosophy is. Listen to the questions they are asking you. Experience absolutely matters (that’s a given) but so does their approach. And here is the real core---the relationship, the why. It has to work for you and your exit professional both or you will not get the best outcome. Communication is key. Remember Kumbaya ain’t necessarily a bad thing and neither is a fair payout for an exit well delivered. It’s all in the balance.