Your Bus Isn’t a Boat Just Because You Drive It To the Ocean

Small business owners, if you will let me, I will seriously mess with your head.

I can, because I know where you are right now.

Right now, you are committed. You are engaged. You are focused. You are driving the bus, and you are moving down the “run the business” road. 


But sometimes, just before you fall asleep, you admit to yourself that this will all change someday. Deep down you know that at some point in the future, when you are exhausted, bored, ready to retire, or distracted by some other opportunity, you will decide to sell your business.


If you’ve ever had that dream – if an exit from your business is something you think about even occasionally – read on because I have proof that your future isn’t what you think it is.



You see, I know what you believe.

You believe, like most small business owners, that “sell the business” is a turning point you reach sometime in the future. You believe that when you reach that point, you will simply pull on the steering wheel and veer off the “run the business” road, and start down the “sell the business” road.

One Journey, one turn, all traveled in the same vehicle.

Run the Business

                            Veer off

Sell the Business

Guess what?

That’s not how it works.

 At least not for you (or me), or the average small business owner.


We Changed, But the Business Didn’t

This is how it works for business owners like us.

We drive the bus.  We “run the business”.  Then something changes. 

We change. 

We reach a point where we decide we don’t want to do this anymore. 

We want out, or worse, we NEED out. So, we stop the manic drive long enough to look around, and say out loud. . . “I want to sell my business.”

There. We did it. We made the turn.

At that point we reach out. We talk to the business broker, the valuation specialist, the accountant, attorney or other professional that works in the “sell the business” space and we tell them, “I want out”. 

But then, something unexpected happens. The professionals start to say things that don’t make sense. 

They say:

  • “You don’t understand what’s in front of you.”
  • “You can’t get there from here.”
  • “You should have planned ahead.”

They say these things as if they should make sense. 

They say these things as if we should have known better. 

They say these things and we get our first glimpse. The fog clears. and we start to understand. When we turn from the “run the business” road we don’t see a different road, instead we see an ocean.

And we’re driving a bus.

Most of Us Drive Buses and Only Boats Sail

It’s quite simple, but it’s one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned.

From behind the wheel as we “run the business”, everything looks reasonable. We ride the bumpy road with good days and bad, but we move along. Then we reach the “sell the business” ocean – and it becomes painfully clear that what we have isn’t going to float.

The data shows that most small businesses are unsellable – and most small business owners don’t know that (I know I didn’t).   The fact that we’ve decided to “sell the business” doesn’t change the data – or the business.

The profit, team, and records for the last three years . . .they all stay the same – even though we have experienced a profound change of perspective. Our sudden, deep desire to get out – that does not impact the business.  We changed quickly, but we’re still driving a bus.

Most small businesses are buses.

Buses are not built for “sale”-ing. 

First Pain, Then I Change My Bus into a Boat

Selling my first business in 2010 was a life-changing event, but it started years earlier with deep, prolonged pain.

The path I describe above is the path I traveled. After 10 years of building my first business from nothing to 50 full time employees I reached 2005, and my own “I want out” point.

I was ready to sell. I was desperate to sell. And it was only then that I learned the painful truth that my business was unsellable.  I was exhausted, burnt out, and I had no way out. Certainly, no way that would provide even a fraction of the exit I was looking for. I was devastated but I finally understood. . .

I had a bus, but I needed a boat. 

Over the next five years I turned my bus into a boat – I changed my business.

That’s the good news. You can change your business. You can make it sellable. But if you wait until you’re ready to sell, if you make the mistake that I made (that most small business owners make) you are almost certain to fail in your conversion effort. 

Changing my business was twice as hard as growing my business. Most of the difficulty came from the fact that I was already mentally “done” when I started the process.

I had a deep wish after I realized my business was unsellable, then when I finally sold it, and even today . . . I wish I had started to change my business five years earlier.   I wish I had understood that the business I was running was not going to take me where I wanted to go.

I learned the lesson, and I’ve been able to apply it in the sale of two more businesses since I sold that first one.

Do you realize these truths about your small business?

  • A business you can sell is different than the business you are running right now. 
  • A business you can sell is a great business to own forever.
  • If you make your business sellable now, you can go wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go there.

Don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t be like most small business owners. Don’t drive your business until you reach the point of exhaustion, only to stop, look around, and realize that it won’t take you any further.

Learn to Leave.

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