Digitally Sold: The Logistics of Transferring Your Online Business
In the days before the Internet, selling a business was a slow but straightforward process: The buyer would drive across town, view the business in person and “kick the tires” before signing on the dotted line. The seller would then sign over real estate deeds, transfer inventory, provide in-person training and hand over the keys.
Since the advent of online businesses, however, what used to take weeks now happens in a matter of hours or days. But while selling an online business typically means less paperwork than selling a brick-and-mortar business, the logistics can be confusing from a seller’s perspective.
Here are a few things you should do once you find a buyer:
1. Nail down training time in the purchase agreement.
As soon as you accept an offer on your business, you’re going to be anxious to jump into your next big venture. However, savvy buyers often withhold a portion of funds until you finish training them on the nuts and bolts of the business, so your work isn’t over just yet.
To gain some closure, be sure to specify how much training you’ll provide in the purchase agreement, including how many cumulative hours you’ll spend and how long the buyer has to claim those hours. Plan on visiting the buyer for a couple days of in-person training and handling the rest via phone or email.
2. Define which assets must be transferred before funds are released.
When businesses change hands, it’s common for the buyer to deposit a portion of the funds into an escrow account and not release them until you hold up your end of the bargain. While it can be scary to give up control of your business before you have the cash in hand, realize that putting the funds into an account controlled by a third party offers protection to both you and the buyer: It ensures the buyer actually comes forth with the funds and that you fulfill the criteria set forth in your agreement (such as business training or the transfer of intellectual property).
To minimize the chance of disputes that could keep funds tied up, create a detailed asset transfer list that specifies which items will transfer to the buyer at closing. Be as specific as possible, and get the buyer to contractually agree to release the funds as soon as those items are transferred.
3. Create a training manual.
Even simple back-and-forth email questions about the business can quickly eat up your time, so it’s a good idea to put together a training manual or video series that shows how you complete basic business tasks. This will offer some reassurance to the buyer and minimize the legwork you’ll have to do after the sale.
4. Delete your personal information from business accounts.
Handing over your business’s account information to the buyer means that someone else will soon be able to access all your old emails, social media profiles and online accounts. While you probably used those accounts for business purposes 95 percent of the time, there may be a few personal contacts and emails in the mix. Make sure you permanently delete personal email messages from your inbox and unlink any personal credit cards from online accounts associated with your business email.
5. Transition recurring revenue.
If your business earns money from subscriptions, SaaS tools or memberships that automatically renew on a monthly or annual basis, you’ll need to help the buyer gain permission to collect recurring revenue from those clients. Handling this up front can help prevent headaches and service disruptions a month down the road.
Instead of living across town, your buyer may live across the country or halfway around the world. And instead of handing over the keys to the building, you’re transferring account passwords, intellectual property and domain names. That’s the beauty of having an online business -- you can live virtually anywhere.
But distance doesn’t mean you should close the lines of communication after price negotiations are complete.
The faster you can come to an agreement on logistics, the sooner you can dive into your next business idea.