More often than you’d think, we get questions from clients about preparing their digital assets in the event they decide to sell their businesses (such as due to early retirement). The right time to start thinking about this is actually early in your business—the next best time is right now. First things first, this isn’t legal advice. If you are selling or thinking of selling your business, find a lawyer and/or broker who will make sure that you comply with your local laws.
Every business owner should think about these necessary steps to ensure you can transfer your digital assets efficiently to a new owner. Whether you are actively selling your business or have never even thought of it, there are some essential steps you should take to make any transition easier and more efficient.
Step One: Take an inventory of your digital assets, usernames/passwords, and how you manage them.
Ideally, you will “autopilot” this as part of your workflow as you add new tools. Then, you can keep this list up to date instead of scrambling to find logins and passwords. Desperately searching for these when you need to hand them over is stressful, and being unable to do so can and will slow down any transition.
At a minimum, log the following in a secure document, password keeper such as LastPass, or a notebook—we’d love it if you kept both secure digital and physical copies:
- Access URL
- Phone associated with 2-factor authentication
- Payment method
Remember to include items such as website hosting, email host, email marketing provider, domain registration, social media accounts, and any mission-critical apps, such as shopping cart accounts like ThriveCart.
When it comes time to sell, you’ll give this log to the new owner, and they should change the passwords and phone numbers to their own. This process requires coordination, so be sure to plan this when you start considering a sale.
Step Two: Separate Your Personal Assets from Business
Just like how you should not blend your business and personal finances, your digital assets need to be separated to ensure a far easier transition.
This separation process may mean setting up a separate domain registration for your personal domains (such as a family blog, your own portfolio, or just a parked “your name” domain). This will save you from having to do messy transfers in the event of a business sale. Instead, you can simply hand over the login credentials to that business account.
Our favorite domain registrar, Hover, has a nice explanation of how to transfer domain names, and the basic process works on most domain registrars. This resource is good to check out now as you’re planning for how to separate personal and business assets.
The same goes for website hosting—except forSquarespace accounts, which are handled differently (more on that in a moment).
When it comes to social media, ensure your business social media accounts are linked with a business email addresses, not your personal address. Facebook is a bit trickier, as you do need to start a page with a personal profile, but in that case, you’ll simply add a new owner to the page.
Step Three: For Squarespace Users, Transferring Ownership is Simple
One of the advantages of Squarespace is that they make transferring sites to a new owner very simple. Just add the new owner as an administrator, and then transfer ownership using these instructions.
Step Four: Sort Your Email, Contacts, & Calendar
Email access and your associated contacts and calendar are the messiest part of transferring digital assets to a new owner. So do yourself a huge favor and get this sorted out years before you need to!
- Keep your business and personal emails separate. When you leave your business, you are also leaving your business email address behind. This transition means that all those friends and family you’ve been emailing from your work account will no longer have a way to keep in touch. To make this less of an issue, set up a free Gmail account for your personal messages.
- The same goes for your calendar. You can make your personal calendar “talk” to your business calendar and have it all show up in one place (and remove it with a click of a button when the time comes). Still,you do not want to hand over a business calendar with years’ of your book club meetings, medical appointments, and dog grooming. Talk about awkward!
- Because personal and business interests inevitably collide, keep a contact list outside your business workspace of personal and professional relationships you wish to continue after you leave your company. Google Workspace allows you to export your contacts, and you can easily import them to your personal gmail too.
- If you’re a Google Workspace user, you should also know about Google Takeout, which allows you to export all your data – very useful when selling a business or implementing better separation of business and personal systems.
Step Five: Google Business Profile Ownership
Make sure your Google Business Profile is associated with your business address. Then, when it’s time to sell, you’ll simply add the new owner to the profile as an administrator and remove yourself. It’s pretty easy! You can read a guide about this here.
Note: If the new owner moves the business to a different location or service area, they will need to go through Google’s verification process.
Step Six: Have a plan for future email management.
We’ve discovered from our clients who’ve sold their businesses that there needs to be a plan for managing the inevitable emails that come to the new owner, but are meant for the previous owner. You have a couple of choices here.
- Some new owners will allow the previous owner to retain email access for a specified time. Talk to your business attorney if this is an option for you, as the new owner typically expects the old owner to pay for this access.
- A common solution is the new owner manually forwards those messages to the old owner for a specific timeframe.
- We have also seen people successfully negotiate that the new owner sets up an autoresponder for the previous owner’s email address.
This all applies to name@ email addresses vs generic ones such as info@.
Step Seven: Address Payment Processors
It’s not uncommon for businesses to have several payment processors (Stripe, PayPal, Square etc.) associated with their websites or other digital storefronts. Each processor has its own policies concerning ownership transfers.
Make a log of all that you use—even if they’re inactive. Then, delete any inactive accounts (for example, if you used Square years ago, but no longer do), and start the process of ownership transfer with the remaining ones early in the transition.
Again, this is another place where two-factor authentication is essential, and you may need to change the phone number when you sell your business.
Help! I have sold my business and didn’t think about any of this! What do I do now?
First of all, don’t panic! You’ll need to follow the same steps as above, but keep the following in mind.
- Give yourself time! Handing over your digital assets takes quite a while and can be complex! Even with the best intentions, this will take longer than you think. Plan at least six weeks to give yourself the space for unforeseen problems.
- If you haven’t done an inventory of everything to turn over, start there!
- Start your Google Workspace transition sooner than you think.
- Discourage the new owner from completely relaunching their assets (such as a website) on day one of their ownership, in case there are any technical challenges or glitches.
- Don’t let this friction spoil how you feel about the sale or the new ownership. This can be a frustrating process, but it’s completely solvable.
- Don’t forget about the telephone! Most of the services you use have phone support, and they are used to dealing with these questions. Call them and talk to them—they can often manually take care of part or all of the process for you. (Be prepared to verify your identity with them, though—they take data breaches seriously.)
- Ensure the new owner has updated all of the payment methods for all of the services in your inventory. It’s very easy to miss one, so that’s why the log is so important.
Remember that your business is not only what you produce, but how you produce it. Thinking of your digital assets and tools as an invaluable asset will make any transition easier and more efficient.
Three Key Takeaways to Remember About Your Digital Assets
- Start separating your business and person accounts, such as domain names, social media accounts, and web hosting services ASAP—even if you never plan on selling.
- Document all your logins as you create them and keep them update—LastPass is a great option for this.
- If you sell your business, plan for the transition of your digital assets far in advance—this process takes far longer than you’d think!