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Why and how to hire past owners when buying a scuba dive business in tropics

So you’ve just bought your dream scuba diving business on a tropical island.

You’ve done all your due diligence, and you (and maybe your partner) have decided that “THIS is the place we want to live“, and “this dive business is the answer to how we can enjoy this lifestyle“.

You’re settled in and finding a new house, all the business, immigration and tax stuff is sorting itself out. And now you are ready to have fun with your new scuba diving business and get on with life here.

So why hire the past owners?

So why hire the past owners when buying a dive business in tropics? You want to put YOUR stamp on it with some new ideas etc, and this past owner will just get in the way? Lets ask for a couple of weeks ‘help’ to show us the ropes and then we’ll get on with it that’ll work out just fine.

Sit down with a cup of coffee and really think about it though. This will not be a standard business in any sense. I have now lived and worked in the scuba dive business on tropical islands for 20 years, and have yet to see 2 that are the same. The guy/girl who knows exactly how THIS one works is the old-owner. It makes sense to have them assist the hand over.

You certainly want it to be amicable! I have yet to meet anyone who moves to the tropics looking for agro or a fight. Just not why ANY of us are here.

Old Owner Still Living Next door

There is a 50/50 chance that the people you just bought the business off are hanging around. Maybe you’ll be in the same Rotary Club, maybe your kids will go to the same school, maybe the same Tourism Association. You don’t want to start your new life in paradise with a falling out/Barney over something that can be sorted out in advance.

You don’t want the past owner just wandering in when and however he wants. Remember this member of staff (which is what they become) is used to walking about as God/Emperor (use which ever one you want, but believe me, as a business owner myself i see some of my/our weaknesses, lol!). He/she comes and goes whenever they want at whatever time they want. Certainly NOT used to having to do work in someone else’s business, and certainly not in “their own shop”.

HIRE the Old Owner

This is possibly the most important part of this, pay the past-owner a salary and give him/her a job title

Seems silly, but I advise putting him/her on a fixed time contract (how long? see below), with a set salary (with all benefits of other staff in regards to Superannuation, health etc, you would normally give a short term employee).

Have them sign a standard employment contract that all the other staff have. Include all normal contract clauses for salary, daily start times and finishing times, days of week worked, time off, sick leave, superannuation, all the way down to discipline and conduct. This immediately sets the relationship in everyone’s mind. Have them into the office and have a sit down “hiring discussion”. Don’t just wing a contract at them over a wet dive centre counter and have them quickly sign. Set the relationship properly and you will reap the benefits for the next few weeks.

Now if everything goes rosy and well of course, this newest staff member becomes the New Owner’s pet employee, and ends up having cups of coffees in the afternoon. However this has to be on YOUR terms and invitation under your scuba diving business. YOU are the boss here as soon as the deal is done!

The rest of the staff will of course defer to them for weeks, probably months. Another season to have a fixed term contract.

To have this all done in black and white and laid down for you and the old-owner makes it cleaner and simpler for everyone. It helps you plan a specific calendar for the hand over and future plans you have for the business without interference from a past owner.

Follow-up consultations

Follow-up consultations can be very useful to write into an agreement. Not too many, and certainly not “give me your cell number and I’ll call (whenever!) I have a question/problem.

As a follow-up thought, I also recommend that if the old-owner is still going to be around in the country/region, see if you can ad-hoc hire them to come in and trouble shoot equipment. Making this on a formal basis of “we will pay you for your work” takes away the risk of overstepping a possible friendship in asking too much of their time without recompense.

Seems obvious doesn’t it? I have seen this go really well, but unfortunately I’ve also seen it go sour.  recommend folowing this simple advice and stay friends with old owners and staff alike.

(if you haven’t read my article The REAL worth of a scuba dive business…” I recommend you do now to see where I am coming from )

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