Momentum Podcast: 384
Grieving A Business
by Alex Charfen
In my twenties, I built a massive organization but there came a time when I decided I wanted to get out of that company. I was on the verge of burning out and I decided to sell. What shocked me was the successful exit of my business was one of the most constraining and momentum crushing things that had ever happened in my life. One day I was critically important, everybody needed me. The next day my phone literally didn't ring. When you make the choice to move out of a business you're really going back and erasing that future you created the day you opened the business. When you sell a business, you grieve that company, but, you open the door to a new and exciting opportunity.
Full Audio Transcript
Alex Charfen: Most of my career I've helped entrepreneurs grow businesses, grow opportunities, and make the impact that they want in the world. And often, when someone has finally decided what they really want to do there's already a business, a practice, an organization in place that they have to sell, get out of, or walk away from. Grieving a business is one of the most challenging things that an entrepreneur can do but it will help you get past it and move on to what you really want to do.
This is one of those topics that I don't think a lot of business coaches talk about because how many people out there have really had experiences with dozens of people who have been in this situation? And let me paint for you this situation that I'm talking about. It's the professional who has built a business but now decided there's really something else that they want to do. It's the practitioner that has the practice that makes them look like a winning practitioner but now they want to go out and become a thought leader and share their knowledge and do something else and have a bigger impact. It's the expert that has built a business around their expertise but now has decided they want to share their expertise in a different way and move on.
And here's what often happens, when you look at the business owner who is in a business day to day, the practitioner who's practicing day to day, when you look at the expert who is running a company with their expertise oftentimes in order to move on to that other business to do what they really want to do they have to sell, close down, walk away from, and in some way get out of the business that they're currently running. And here's the challenge that we have as entrepreneurs is that when we make the decision that we want to do this, we end up grieving a business and it's one of the most shocking emotions that you'll ever feel because it actually feels like a death.
In fact, I have a client who's going through this right now. She hasn't given me permission to share this story so I won't use her name but she's one of the most amazing entrepreneurs I've ever met. She's a practitioner who runs an incredible practice and very high dollar, she's in the top one half of 1% of practitioners in her category. She does incredible work with people but like so many physicians on a daily basis, she goes into her practice and she shows up and she cares about people, and she consults with them and she gives consistently to a population who sometimes listens and sometimes doesn't and sometimes does what she tells them to and sometimes doesn't do what she tells them to. And a lot of the time she feels like she cares more about the patient than they care about themselves like she cares more about their results than they do. She's finally decided she wants to move on and go share her expertise.
She's already started a little bit of selling a digital product. It's doing incredibly well. In fact in less than a year she's almost matching her income in her clinic with her digital products. And so now it's time for her to really focus on the digital products and here's what's interesting, so two things. One, when I was talking to her this week she was saying, "I have to make the decision to close my clinic and figure out what I'm going to do next." She's been stuck in this place of, "Should I close the clinic and if so what do I do next and how do I do it? How does one lead to the other?" So I stopped her and I said, "I think first we need to make it clear that these are two separate decisions. One is get out of the clinic in some way, sell it, close it, move on. That's your first decision. The second decision is what are you going to do next? Let's decouple these so we can make the decision to get out of the business easier."
Because everything that she had said to that point made it clear that she wanted to get out of that practice and she didn't want to stay in it. So the decision as far as I was concerned is made, "You're going to get out of the business so you've made the decision. Now let's start thinking about what you do next because once that decision's made an entirely new view of opportunity and possibilities opens up to you." I said, "How does that feel?" And she said, "It feels better. I like that you separated the two decisions." And I said, "But you've been struggling with this for a long time." She said, "Yes. It feels like I'm dealing with a death." And I said, "Yeah, that's exactly how it feels." In fact for anyone who's ever sold a business or given up a business or walked away from a business, you realize that you really do grieve like you would grieve a death.
In my 20s, I built a massive organization of 15 offices in the U.S. and Latin America. We did consulting for Fortune 500 companies around the world and for global multinationals and Fortune 100 organizations. It was intense. When I met my wife, I decided I wanted out of the company. The momentum of the relationship that we had was better than the company that I had, I was traveling a lot and I was pretty much on the verge of burnout and so I decided to sell and to get out of it. And what shocked me was the successful exit of my company was one of the most constraining and momentum crushing things that had ever happened in my life. I went from one day being critically important, everybody needed me, everybody wanted to talk to me, they needed answers from me. I was running this business. I was completely significant to the next day my phone literally didn't ring. I went from all types of involvement and engagement and exchange with people to nothing. It knocked the wind out of me for months, it was hard to figure out what to do next.
In fact I started buying and selling houses just because I was bored and I wanted to do something. In fact I thought I was just going to retire and that was like the longest and most painful six weeks of my life. So for this client, when she said it feels like a death, I know exactly what she's talking about because when you make the decision to move out of a business that you've had for any significant period of time here's what you're really doing. You're going back and you are erasing that future that you created the day you opened the business and that you recommitted to everyday you worked in it because if you're honest you know if you go back to your business you had a vision for what it was going to be, you had an outcome for what you were going to create, on a daily basis that improved that got bigger. The impact you were going to make grew bigger.
The amount of people you were going to touch grew bigger and so each day from the day you started your business forward, you recommitted to this ideal outcome that was growing ever more important in your mind and when you sell or move away from or walk away from a business or transition from a business, you are not just transitioning from that business you are transitioning from that ideal future that you have created. The same way that when we end an intimate relationship, an important personal relationship, that we grieve that relationship that's the same way that we grieve a business when we decide to move away from it. And if you haven't been through it, it can absolutely catch you off guard. In fact one of the most difficult transitions that I ever watch entrepreneurs go through is the one that I went through, a successful exit of the business.
I remember Cadey and I being up in Canada at an event a few years ago and we were sitting across from a guy who was just like frustrated all day and I finally asked him like, "Hey, man, what's going on?" And he said something like, "Well I sold my video production company a few weeks ago for," and I can't remember what he said but it was a big number like tens of millions and he said, "I've never been so frustrated and I don't know what," and he said like, "I don't know what the," expletive, "to do next." I remember thinking, and I said to him, "Yeah, I know how you feel, man. I've been there. I had an exit of a company in my early 30s and it was supposed to be exciting and success and it was supposed to be this massive celebration and within just a few days, I couldn't barely talk. I was so frustrated. I felt like such a lack of momentum, I felt so constrained that the irritation levels were over the top."
And that's when I first learned that when you sell a business, you actually grieve that company. So if you're in that situation, if you are the business owner who knows there's something bigger out there, if you're the expert who has built the business around your expertise but you know you want to do something else, and if you're the practitioner who is in that equation of on a daily basis giving more and more of yourself but feeling like you're getting less and less from your patients you know you go through this equation of being frustrated with your patients than being irritated with your patients then being angry with your patients then being apathetic with your patients and then you feel patient animosity and that happens in entrepreneurial businesses with our clients, that same progression.
And when you get to animosity towards the people that you are trying to serve it's time to move on and the first step is knowing that you're going to grieve that business but often when we close down one business, when we sell, when we walk away, when we let somebody else buy it in a leverage buyout, when we figure out how to get out of that business even though we're grieving we open the door to an even greater and more intense momentum creating opportunity. If you're ready to grow the business you've always known you should have, if you are a practitioner who's in that transition going from the practice to wanting to do something else, if you're a business owner who has a business you want to grow right now go to billionairecode.com/apply and answer some simple questions for us and the questions we ask will show you we are different from any other coaching company out there, billionairecode.com/apply, fill out the application, you'll end up on a call with a member of my team and let us show you how we can help you grow the business you've always known you should have.