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Do You Want What You Say You Want?

A friend of mine (let's call her Lauren) runs a design firm in a large West Coast city.

Lauren's wife, a renowned physician, is a few years older and retired last year after enjoying the benefits of a noteworthy .

Their daughter is grown and out of the house, and they're at a place where they no longer need to earn an income to support themselves or pay her tuition.

Lauren and her wife have decided that now is the perfect time to enjoy the fruits of their labors and take time off to together while they're still relatively young, healthy, and mobile.

So you'd think they'd be to lock their doors, travel the world, and live their dream.

The only thing stopping them is that Lauren still operates her design firm. And it's a valuable enough asset that she won't simply walk away. Instead, she's decided to sell her company.

While that's not necessarily an easy task, her methodology is simple enough: let potential buyers know the firm is on the market, find the prospects she's interested in to, demonstrate profitability and sustainability, agree on a price and payment schedule, work through the transitional period, tie up loose ends, and get on with her life.

It's a lot of work, but it'll be worth it. After all, Lauren says she wants to sell her company.

But that scenario is very different from what's happened since she put her firm on the market.

Lauren's reputation and client list are strong enough that she had no shortage of admirers. She received inquiries from many suitors, including independent contractors who want to acquire her practice to expand their footprint, and large multi-national firms who want to absorb her business to establish an outpost in her city or to access her A-Class client list.

She's had at least four potential buyers who were interested enough in purchasing her company to do their due diligence, make substantial offers, and negotiate their investments, timeframe, and other requirements. Some of these opportunities have taken months of , site visits, and teams of attorneys wrangling over details, and have cost both Lauren and her suitors plenty of time, money, and effort.

But regardless of what they finally agreed, Lauren eventually turned each of her prospects away.

Do You Want What You Say You Want?

I keynoted at a conference in Lauren's town recently, and the next day, she and I went to lunch. Lauren relayed her story, explaining why each suitor first appeared to be the knight in shining armor she was hoping for and then turned into a toad.

One buyer wasn't willing to promise that they'd keep everyone in the company employed after the transition period. One wanted to drop the company title and replace it with their global name. One planned to move the office after their current lease expired. And one wanted to add additional product lines to Lauren's carefully niched offerings.

When she finished explaining why none of the offers were acceptable, I asked Lauren what she wanted.
“I already told you. “I want to sell the design firm for a fair price so my wife and I can travel the world.”

“Which of those offers wouldn't have allowed you to do that?” I asked.

“Well, they all would have, I guess. But, I mean, none of them want to buy my company for what it is. They all want to it into something else.”

Do You Want What You Say You Want?

“Is selling the company to someone who promises not to change anything at all what you wanted? Because what you told me you wanted was to sell the company so you two can travel.”

“Well, yeah, I do. I mean, no, I don't want… I mean, well…” she threw up her arms in frustration. “You just don't understand.”

I did understand.

And so do you.

As you've already figured out, it was Lauren who didn't understand.

If I was Lauren's coach, the question I should have asked was not, “” but, “Do you really want what you say you want?”

Instead, I took a long sip of water, dabbed at the corners of my mouth with my napkin, and asked, “So, how's your daughter doing in graduate ?”

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