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Life after business: preparing for the hardest part of business ownership

Great new beginnings start with great endings. Learn how business owners can craft their best post-sale lives with insight from our team at ATB Wealth.

By ATB Financial 15 November 2022 3 min read

Owning a business is not for the faint of heart. So what’s the hardest part? The answer might surprise you.

“It’s a sad fact that a majority of business owners become depressed within 18 months of selling,” says Myron Uhryn.

Only 40% of people who sell their businesses say their lives are more meaningful post-sale than when they were running the company,” says Christoff Boshoff.

Boshoff and Uhryn, both experienced entrepreneurs, speak from experience. Today they serve as senior wealth advisors at ATB Wealth with a special focus on helping business owners in Alberta. 

These are their tips on preparing for life after the sale of your business.

1: Avoid the identity trap

Owning a business can feel all-consuming. For many business owners, their business is what they spend most of their time and energy on, day-in and day-out. The average business owner takes 10 days of vacation a year.

This sets up what Uhryn calls an “identity trap”—a business owner defining themselves solely through their business. This can have serious consequences down the line.

“We’ve seen sales get canceled at the last minute,” says Boshoff, “because the owner is scared. They come up with another reason to not sign the documents, but typically it’s because they realize there’s nothing else after this.” 

To avoid this, business owners need to invest in sources of meaning outside their business. This will vary for everyone, but the common thread is that meaningful sources of identity seldom arise overnight.

“You don’t start building relationships the day after the company has sold,” says Boshoff.

Before the sale, try sticking your toes in the water of whatever you think you’ll want to do post-sale, whether that’s mentoring business owners, volunteering, spending time with family, or pursuing a neglected hobby. As Boshoff points out, there’s no substitute for actual firsthand experience.

“Explore and be open to exploration,” he says. “Maybe you’ll learn you don’t actually like golfing seven days a week.

“It’s a bit like having a kid,” he says. “When my wife and I had our first child, we read so many parenting books—but nothing actually prepares you for what it’s like. You don’t know until you’ve done it.”

2: Give yourself time to create a great ending

As extremely busy and driven people, business owners sometimes find it hard to step back and think about the big picture. Whether they’re worried about making payroll, expanding into a new market, or getting ready to sell, the immediate concerns of the moment often take up all of their attention. 

Myron Uhryn, Senior Advisor, ATB Wealth

As Uhryn likes to say, great new beginnings start with great endings—and great endings take time. 

“You want to be stepping into something versus just stepping away from something,” says Boshoff. “If you just step away from your business, that’s a big abyss. It can be a black hole. But if you start beforehand and think through things, it puts you on a much better track.”

Where can a business owner find time to do this? Preparing a business for sale most often means minimizing owner dependence. That should free up some space in the owner’s schedule.

3: Consider taking it with you

“A client of mine recently sold the business he ran for 54 years,” says Boshoff. “He had the same office in the same warehouse all that time.”

During their conversations, the owner expressed some regret that he’d be leaving this space—the site of many of the defining trials and triumphs of his life—behind.

“We wound up suggesting that he recreate the office in the new barn he was building at home,” Boshoff says. 

Finding ways to bring some of your old life into your new one can make the transition to post-sale life much easier. Boshoff and Uhryn suggest looking for “simple and practical” ways of doing this.

4: Move it or lose it

Boshoff adds one final note.

“Exercise is indispensable!” he says. “If you’re a business owner and you want to enjoy your wealth, you need to get a personal trainer if you don’t have one now. It will help you twofold. You’re going to get to the next phase with more energy and in better health, and it will be a grounding part of your daily routine right now.”

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