Case Study: How Not to Sell a Business, Part 1

A front page article in the morning paper was about a local printing company’s auction. “The six-color press was almost too big for this market,” is what the owner said. Hmm…almost? That is what’s called stinking thinking, which got me going through my file where I found a 10-year-old tale of similar reasoning. It’s about one man’s real life story of agony in losing it when he sold it. Allow me to begin with the end.

Joe opened a franchise print shop, but kept his night job as a six-color pressman for five years while he got things stabilized. Actually, he didn’t get things stabilized, but he thought he did. Nonetheless at year 12 he decided to sell and told the franchise to bring him a buyer. They did; three buyers, in fact.

Joe felt the third one was a keeper. He had an MBA and his wife was a CPA and, at 34, they were young enough to withstand the strains of business. Of course, he was basing this on his own strains, many of which were unnecessary. But I’ll get to that next month. Also, he’s assuming that MBA and CPA skills translate into small business owner skills, and they don’t necessarily, as he found out.

Profile of a Winner?

Joe decided to do due diligence. Good job. Problem is, his idea of due diligence was to have the buyers do a personality profile test. He also thought a handwriting analysis would help and he wanted to have their astrological charts done. I’m not making this up.

Okay, Joe, this was a dumb move.

I do believe in personality profiles as descriptors of a person’s preferences. And I do believe that people will generally prefer doing what they like the way they like. So people will often conform a job to their preferences rather than conforming themselves to the job, which is where the profile is beneficial. It tells you how a person will do a job, not whether they can do it.

Imagine a chatty person as a librarian or an introvert as a door-to-door salesman. The test doesn’t say they can’t do the job, rather it says how they will do it. The closer the profile and the job match, the less stress there will be for the person. The chatty person might find door-to-door sales more to their liking and the introvert may find life as a librarian more satisfying.

I’m often asked, “Is there a perfect profile for a specific job?” No. The best profile for an outside salesperson might be a single mother with two kids to feed. What I mean is motivation to do the job is not measured in a personality profile, nor is intelligence or mechanical aptitude, for instance.

However, knowing a person’s profile helps in interviews. “You’ve described yourself as a perfectionist who generally likes precise answers. Do you feel you would do well as an outside salesperson who often has to deal with ambiguity?”

Get Real

As for astrological or handwriting analysis, I’m at a loss for words. What does that have to do with a person buying your business? In fact, what does the personality profile have to do with the buyer?

My message is simple: Focus. You are selling. They are buying. Are they giving you all cash or do you have to finance part? If you have to finance any, is the collateral adequate should you have to collect?

As an aside, many often stray off into the world of how the new owner will treat the workers. While I certainly wouldn’t ignore this, it largely is none of the seller’s business. That’s a matter between the buyer and the workers.

Well, Joe didn’t focus and his tale of woe is staggering. Instead, he chose the Ouija board approach. Don’t do that. Focus on facts, not feelings. I’ll pick up more on the lessons we can learn from Joe next month.

Tom Crouser is chairman of CPrint International and principal of Crouser & Associates, Contact him at 304-541-3714 or Connect with Tom on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow his tweets @tomcrouser. Read his blog at