The Shopkeep And The Hunter: Two Mindsets

In the introductory blog to this series, I laid out why, in the process of buying a business, you should not do it alone.

You need skilled, experienced M&A Advisors working with you at every stage of the 3-step process of buying a business:




Observant readers of our series on the steps to selling your business (beginning here) will notice that these three stages are the same for sellers and buyers.

There is, though, a critical difference in the mindset required for success in these two operations. In this post, I’ll discuss the mindset that a business buyer should adopt to navigate the process successfully and how it differs from the necessary mindset of the seller.

At Stillwater, when we sit down with a new buy-side client, we start the dialog by making sure we are all seeing and thinking from the right perspective right from the start.

I’ve seen how it makes a difference. If you start looking at the process the right way, you’ll save your team and you a lot of stress (and work) throughout.

I like to draw the comparison like this:


Someone selling their business needs to think like a Shopkeeper. The business for sale, in some ways, could be seen as the “product” and the sale process, like setting up a shop to showcase the product. The seller and their M&A Advisors create a highly optimized environment for the customers (the business buyers) to come in, examine the product in the best light, and decide to purchase it.

The most important thing to note for the Shopkeeper/Seller mindset is that, if done properly, the job is fairly well-defined and formalized. There is an established process, a well-drawn plan for the shop, and some security in the procedural nature of “looking after the shop” as you go through the step-by-step selling process. You know what to expect at every stage.


But for those buying a business, the Shopkeeper mentality won’t cut it. There is uncertainty in the path you take to buying a business; it’s less structured and more prone to sudden twists and surprises. The company you’re looking for may not be in plain sight, so instead, you must have the mindset of a Hunter.

Your team is searching for an acquisition that will further the goals of your business.

You may know what type of beast you’re looking for and know what you plan to do with it once you find it but at the beginning of the process, that might be all you’ve got. You’ll need to think like a hunter to proceed.

How will you find what you’re hunting for?

Where in the market is it hiding?

What’s the weather like? (i.e., How will current market conditions help and hinder you on the hunt?)

From a process perspective, selling a business may be, in comparison, relatively easy, as there is a fairly structured process in place to help a seller present themselves to the market.

However, when you are buying a business, the process is much more unstructured. Your “treasure” may be hard to find or may be snapped up by a competitor before you’ve found it.

Since the buying process is generally less structured and more prone to elements of chaos than the selling process, it is critical to get in the right mindset and stay in it.

Smart, cool-headed decisions will be required at every juncture. You and your team will be asked to think quickly. You need to be ready.

Even if you are a person who thrives with structure, who finds randomness and the unknown stressful, I can tell you with all confidence that changing your mindset about the buying process will take away a lot of the fear…

But, you do need a Guide.

Experienced M&A Advisors have hunted this territory before. They know the lay of the land. They are unsurprised by surprises. They can help you prepare.

True professional advisors will be experienced and unflappable even in the face of great uncertainty. They will see you properly outfitted for the hunt, with all the resources, tools, and protections you need (the preparation stage), find what you’re looking for in the labyrinthine forest of the marketplace (the market outreach stage), and provide you with outstanding support until the job is done (the deal is closed, and the integration completed).

That’s what you can count on with a team of Stillwater M&A Advisors. It’s what we train for. It’s what we hire for. It’s how we work.

You can start the conversation about the acquisition process with Stillwater Capital here.

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Written by: Douglas Nix