Selling a Distressed Answering Service

Prior posts have addressed the right time to sell your answering service, the wrong time to sell, and about leaving a legacy when it’s time to move on. However, there is one more scenario to consider. It’s a distressed sale. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s an apt description for a difficult situation.

For years you worked hard to build your answering service into something that made you proud. After some initial lean times, good years followed. Profitable years. A time when everything fit together and worked well.

You were on top. But then something happened.

Perhaps you made a tactical error: moving in a direction that didn’t pay out, investing in the wrong technology, overextending your reach, pulling back your involvement at the wrong time, or a health issue that tore you away. These things happen.

Or maybe the instigating issue was outside your control: a financial downturn at an inopportune time, a local business disturbance that rippled through the area economy, a key employee who left—along with staff and clients—to start a competing service, your accountant embezzled your cash reserves, a lawsuit crippled your operation, or a key employee abruptly quit and left a hole too big to fill. Though we hope against experiencing these crises, they do occur.

If this is your situation, I am truly sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult it is.

You now have to sell, and it won’t be easy. Here are some tips to help:

Avoid the Vultures

There are companies looking to capitalize on your misfortune. Shun these sharks. They want to take advantage of you and your crisis. Don’t let them. Remember, this industry is full of nice people, too. They will empathize, show respect, and be kind. Though you have no reason to expect a nice payout, they can help you leave with some dignity.

Identify Priorities

Determine what is important to you: a quick exit, an ongoing role in the buyer’s organization, protect a key employee, or not being taken advantage of. Work towards accomplishing your key objective.

Envision Your Role

Maybe you just want to walk away. That’s okay. But perhaps you need a job. What part of the business do you like? What do you excel at? Maybe you’re great at customer service or have an impressive sales closing ratio. Perhaps you love the technology side or are at your best when training new operators. Yes, it is hard to become an employee at a company you once owned, but if you can make the transition, it might be a great fit and provide a needed paycheck.

Seek Help

Though embarrassing, don’t go through this alone. You have friends in the industry who you trust and respect. Approach them. Maybe you can sell to them and avoid the circling vultures. Another option is a hands-off approach, where you hire someone else to find the right buyer and manage the sale for you. If you are emotionally and physically beat, this may be the best way to go. Either way, seek someone who will take care of you as a person and not take advantage of your situation.

Though your distressed answering service won’t get you much money, following these tips will allow you to make the best of the situation and exit as gracefully as possible.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider and consultancy for the call center and telephone answering service industry. Contact Janet at or 800-901-7706 to arrange a private consultation about buying or selling an answering service.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.