Selling the practice: Handover and what to do next
Once you have agreed all the terms of the sale itself you will need to agree how you will handle the transition period.
First you will need to tell your team. Once they understand and are happy with how the sale will affect them, they will be able to reassure your clients that there will be no significant changes (or to be clear on what those changes will be). We were also able to talk about the additional expertise available to our clients with an expanded team.
Retaining the maximum number of clients gives the best value to the new owner, and the best price to the seller, so first impressions matter when introducing the new owner.
Work through your client list to identify key clients who need to be told in person, or at least by telephone. This may be because of the size of the client or their relationship with the owner. These are clients that you must work hardest to keep.
Arrange to meet as many of these clients as you can to make a face to face introduction to the new owner. Your clients will be watching how you and the new owner interact with each other, so it helps if you are selling to somebody that you like and respect.
Agree an introductory letter and email for the remaining clients. Those people will want to know that the rest of the team are remaining, any benefits of a bigger team. You will also need to disclose any key changes such as office location, and whether fees will be charged on the same basis.
The clients may also ask what you are going to do yourself. It is better to answer this question emphasising what you will do “after the handover” rather than “after the sale”, and also to reassure those clients that the new buyer will be in touch with you afterwards.
We invited all clients to book an appointment if they had any particular queries for the new buyer or to join us for drinks in the office to meet him less formally. Not many took us up on these offers but clients said they appreciated the invitation. This was a good way for us to ensure that anyone who wasn’t on the key client list was still made to feel special.
This client preparation was all done prior to the actual sale, but you could wait until afterwards.
On the day of the sale you should handover all client and business records to the buyer. Don’t forget to make arrangements for any archived records. The vital thing to happen on the day is to transfer insurances to the right entity.
We had issued a press release embargoed until the official sale day. Do watch what is actually printed. In spite of explicitly stating that the two offices would remain, one of our local papers headlined the article that our office was closing. They amended the online copy promptly, but didn’t print the article in the paper edition, so we lost a good PR opportunity.
There will be a handover period as a condition of the sale. This is commonly two months during which the vendor must be available to make introductions and answer any queries on previous work.
Remember that the smoother the transition, the higher the client retention and the more you will receive as the sales price. Although this handover won’t take up all of your time, you should postpone your long overdue holiday until after the handover.
After the official handover period, your time is your own, although professional pride and financial interest in client retention may encourage you to be available for additional queries from the new owner.
Then … it’s over
Hopefully, throughout the sale process, you will have worked out what you wish to do with your spare time. You may take an initial holiday but what will you do with yourself long term?
I am writing a business book, and doing some other writing and speaking. I have also taken on a part time FD role, some business coaching and consultancy. I love what I’m doing now but I know that I will still shed a tear when the signs outside my old offices are changed.
If your business has been as much a part of your life as mine has, then don’t forget to line up what you want to do in the next stage of your life. It’s not just about money in the bank, but time for yourself too.
Enjoy yourself, and good luck.
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Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the...