The Toxic Danger of Learning How to Sell Your Small Business

The Toxic Danger of Learning How to Sell Your Small Business

Want to learn how to sell your business?  Unfortunately there’s plenty of material around to help you do it.  In fact, most of the content you find online in the “sell a business” space is about “how to sell”.  Most of it with earnest titles like:

  • 3 Steps to Selling Your Business
  • Understanding your Purchase Agreement
  • How to Select Your Best Buyer

These articles, books, courses and trainings are full of detailed, technical information that can help you understand the process of how a business is sold.  And if you learn those steps, it will bring you a little closer to selling your small business someday, right?


(Let me apologize if parts of this post feel like I’m yelling.  A recent conversation with a particularly stubborn small business owner has me a little flustered.)

Let’s be clear: learning how to sell your business is a lie.  A big, fat, well-intention-ed, time-wasting, dangerous lie.

At least it is for most small business owners.

Tricked by Learning Something

How can learning “how to sell” be a toxic waste of time?

The average small business owner thinks:

  1. I own a business.
  2. I can sell that business when I am ready.
  3. I get ready by learning “how to sell a business.”

Here is the problem with those three points.

Learning the detail of “how to sell” reinforces the unrecognized, deeply held, fundamentally fatal belief that we can sell our business when WE ARE READY.  That blinds us to the fact that we can’t sell our business until THE BUSINESS IS READY.  We are ready.  The business is ready.  Those are very different things.

What we don’t recognize, what we overlook, what we choose to ignore is this simple fact:

Only sell-able businesses get sold.

Do you get that?  (I know I didn’t in my first business.)

Only a sell-able business can be sold, and that’s true no matter how much you know about “how to sell” a business.  When we consume “how to sell” information we can’t help but pick up on the message that:

I can sell my business if I learn how to.

That belief is incredibly destructive to our chances to sell our business because it keeps us focused on the process of selling, which allows the “I can sell when I’m ready” assumption to go unchallenged.

We need to stop asking “How to sell?”, and start asking: “Will I be able to sell my small business?”

This Isn’t a Just a Word Game

Does this seem like splitting hairs?  Semantics.  Just an issue of nuance?

It is not.  Creating a business you can sell is not something that happens as part of learning “how to sell”.  It is a completely different undertaking.

“Selling a business” is a process.  It is a transaction.  It can be long or short, easy or complex, and can go wrong based on 1,000 different variables.  There is a lot to learn about “how to sell a business”, and there are a lot of good resources out there to help you do it — many that we’ve featured here on Exit Oasis.  And it’s true, sometimes sell-able businesses fail to sell because the owner (or more likely their professional adviser) lacks the knowledge to get a deal done.  Those owners should have learned more about “how to sell”, but this risk impacts a tiny fraction of business owners.  Why?

Most business owners never get the chance to fail while “selling a business” because they’ve already failed to create a business that can be sold.

The odds say that your small business is currently un-sell-able.  So even if the business was perfectly guided through the “sell a business” process, it would fail to sell – because it is un-sell-able.

“How do I sell?” is only worth asking after you’ve determined your business can be sold.   Does it even meet a buyers basic needs?  I repeat again: creating a business you can sell is not something that happens as part of the “how to sell” process.

You can’t sell a house that is on fire.  Real estate agents don’t put out fires.  They wisely understand that it would be very dangerous to believe that putting out the fire was the first step in selling a house.  First you put out the fire, clean-up the mess, remodel the house, and then you call the real estate agent so they can consider “how to sell it.”

Yet small business owners constantly approach business brokers with un-sell-able businesses.  Businesses that are broken . . . businesses that are on fire.  And they expect the “how to sell” process to address the un-sell-ability of their small business.  You own a business, but the odds say you don’t own a sell-able business, so learning “how to sell” is a toxic, self-defeating, waste of your time.

Fight the toxic “how to sell” urge you have with some information that can help you make your business sell-able.

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