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The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

I’m ready to own my own business, working for somebody else doesn’t suit me anymore.” Bart (not his real name) seemed to be smart guy, but I quickly figured out he didn’t have a clue. We were meeting at my favorite Starbucks in Brentwood, which was rather awkward because Bart ran into a couple people from the health care company from which he’d recently been fired.

My vision for reaching new customers was not the same as that of our private equity overlords, so I lost out, despite my eight years of success with the company.” As Bart told me his story, I could tell he was still dealing with the pain. “Those guys will never understand, so I’m glad I’m gone,” he said though I wasn’t so sure he really meant it. “So now I move on, my Dad always told me I could make more money as an entrepreneur so I suppose this is my time, I’m ready to buy a business.

I asked Bart what kind of business he wanted to buy, and he started to tell me his education and background, as though he was answering an interview question. That was my clue. For Bart, buying a business to become an entrepreneur was a personal allusion not a strategy. I see this often. Somebody calls me to say they want to buy a business; almost without exception they have recently experienced a life event leading them to believe owning a business is a good idea. Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, refers to this as an “entrepreneurial seizure,” meaning the desire to be an entrepreneur is a reaction to something else.

I have advised scores (maybe hundreds) of folks about the idea of making an entrepreneurial leap to buy a business. I don’t keep records on these conversations, but I’d guess only 1 to 2% of those actually end up buying a business.

I have been there and done that. Leaving a great job with the Walt Disney Company to buy a radio business in bankruptcy was a rather dumb idea. It worked out great in the end, for reasons I didn’t see coming. I got lucky but I still wish I had had the counsel of someone who could have told me the grass on the other side isn’t always greener. Though I am a huge fan of entrepreneurialism, it’s just not right for most people. When you come to me expressing interest in buying a business, be prepared for some hard questions.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."

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