Marnie Walker and Kathryn From (Photo: Arthur Mola) Marnie Walker and Kathryn From (Photo: Arthur Mola)

Marnie Walker, founder and former CEO of Student Express, sold her bussing and transport business in 2005 after she got an unsolicited offer she couldn’t refuse. Kathryn From went looking for a buyer for her Toronto-based maternity and nursing lingerie company, Bravado Designs—and found one in Swiss multinational Medela, which acquired her business in 2011. The two women offered the following tips on how to navigate the sale of a business at the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 Idea Exchange conference, which was held in Toronto on November 26th, 2014:

1. Get your house in order so you’re ready when an offer comes in

Even when you’re the one actively pursuing a sale, you can’t control the timing of an offer, so start preparing early. Make sure your financials are in order, and have a valuation done so that you have an accurate idea of your company’s worth. Otherwise, says From, you’ll be scrambling when a purchaser shows up with a bid.

2. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of a good deal

When the offer came in for Student Express, Walker was conflicted: “I put my head in my hands, and thought, ‘I’m going to have to sell my company,’” she says. “And I didn’t want to. I really loved it.” But after giving herself a few weeks to think about it, she set aside her emotional connection to the company and recognized that it didn’t make sense to turn down the offer. Then she channeled her energy into negotiating the terms she wanted, which included a two-week turnover and 50% payment in cash.

Read: What it’s Like to Sell Your Baby

3. Aim for a fast sale

“It’s important to close as quickly as you can,” says From, who said sales at her company suffered over the year and a half that elapsed between the start of negotiations and the closing of the purchase. She and her CFO were too busy dealing with the sale to manage the company effectively, and if the purchase hadn’t completed, her business would have been bad shape.

4. Keep quiet about the deal

“I would highly recommend you not tell anyone” about your intent to sell, says From, who learned that lesson the hard way. After she told her management team about Medela’s interest, she was pestered with constant requests for salary increases and non-firing guarantees: “It was disastrous.”

5. Don’t overshare with prospective buyers

It’s not uncommon for competitors to pretend to be interested in buying a company so that they can access key information like client lists. Don’t assume you have to hand over all the paperwork a prospective buyer requests during due diligence, says Walker: “Give them only high-level numbers, and be careful about what you let them walk away with.” During the Student Express negotiations, she only allowed buyers to view documents within one room of her office; no copying was permitted.

6. Give yourself time to recover

Walker says she treated her sale like a divorce and made sure not to rush into a new venture—the equivalent of an emotional rebound. “You go through an empty period after a sale,” she says. “It’s like falling off a cliff. Even if you desperately want to something something new, wait until you’re ready.”

Read: The Emotional Fallout of Selling a Business

More from the 2014 W100 Idea Exchange:

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