Here to There: Successful Transitions

RunnersIn every successful sale of an accounting practice a good transition is essential. And to have that, both the buyer and the seller must be involved. Almost all major failures in a transition come from either a buyer or a seller not doing the basic things.

These are the things that will get you from here to there successfully:

1. Seller and buyer work together in notifying the clients. Selling a practice is not like selling a house where the seller may never see the buyer. In a practice sale both parties must contribute after the closing or there will be disaster.

2. Seller speaks well of the buyer and encourages the clients to use the buyer. The seller does have power over the clients, at least initially, so must believe in the buyer or should not sell the firm to that buyer.

3. Seller and buyer communicate well and often with clients about the change. Lack of regular communication is a deal killer. Both buyer and seller should be honest with clients and communicate in various ways and often to assure clients of quality continued service.

4. Buyer is competent and experienced. The fact is that not all accountants have the experience or skills to own a business and do the back-breaking work to keep clients happy. Sellers need to do due diligence on the buyer.

5. Buyer responds well to clients and gets back to them promptly. Keeping clients in a sale involves the same thing it takes to keep clients happy anytime. Clients want to feel important and to have their solutions met in a fair and timely way. This is a stressful time for them and they need some extra hand-holding.

6. Seller does not continue to do work with the clients, indicate he/she will in the future nor recommend that they go to someone else. Just as there are bad buyers there are bad sellers. It is unethical and irresponsible to continue to do work for clients when you have sold that work to the buyer, regardless of whether the seller is within the bounds of a formal non-compete agreement or not.

7. Buyer keeps as much the same as possible, at least for the first year or two. It is a huge temptation for buyers to want to do it "my way." Rapid and/or large changes in staff, location, prices, culture, etc. will drive off clients. Go slow with changes.

8. Seller and buyer make sure employees are on board with the change. Employees are often worried about the change, just like clients, and need assurances and encouragement. Both buyer and seller need to identify possible defections ahead of time and deal with them.

9. Seller and buyer communicate any known dissatisfaction and move quickly to find a solution. Clients and employees will grumble because no one likes change. Seller needs to support the buyer in helping keep clients in the flock.