Why You Must Always Prime Your Business For Sale

Depending on where you are sitting right now, this might sound like crazy talk, but by keeping this in mind it’ll make you a whole lot more professional.

As any accountant worth their salt will tell you, priming your business for sale – even when it’s very early days – is good for your business. And no matter what type of business we run, the holy grail for many is to sell. It’s a buzz when we hear a similar company has been bought up. The mindset of taking your company to market is both practical and useful.

How to handle it, though? Well, definitely don’t stress out. It’s a simplified version, of course. But the key question to ask yourself is:

What would embarrass the heck out of me if someone had a nosey around?

Viewing your business objectively

It starts with one of the first things I talk to my clients about: viewing your business objectively.

Often, the founder(s) of early-stage businesses are so intertwined with the day-to-day and making their ‘baby’ healthy and strong, they end up making every single decision; from who to cold-call next to when the toilet paper needs ordering! It’s where the cringe expression ‘founder syndrome’ comes from: there’s an (understandable) inability or reticence to hand over responsibility. You gotta learn to let go.

Founders tend to generate subjective / biased (rather than objective / neutral) decision-making, which is never good for the long term. Imagine your business scaling and you still being responsible for every single decision! Did you learn how to delegate or are you still in charge of the coffee order every month? For all eight offices?! Worldwide?!?

A healthy business has a life of its own. Let it breathe. Since it has its own needs and desires, it’s your job to observe and identify what’s best, in line with the vision and values.

Some things you won’t be able to do, but that’s all right. It’s about identifying, noting and prioritising. Fail to do this and you lose sight of the big picture and effectively create the worst job in the world for yourself.

The sooner you can adopt an ‘overview mindset’, the better. Once you’ve established it, don’t change back. It’s hard to adopt but easier when still operating on a small scale. 

When a business begins to ‘elevate’ – and by that I mean becomes bigger than the sum of its parts – it needs to be robust enough to be able to take the hit of a market shift or a bad recruit and yet still absorb, process and move on from the damage.

This early-growth stage is a precarious one in your enterprise’s development. My advice is to externalise; talk to other business owners (in your specific market if possible) and generally ‘third-person’ yourself.

The alternative is to become insular, biased and immune to outside influence or experience. You create a bubble and sit in it.

Preparing your business for sale

This is where the concept of preparing your business for market comes in. What would happen if someone came knocking and asked for a look around your bubble? What’s the drawer you absolutely don’t want them to open?

Which element of your SME gives you a: “God, don’t look in there! It’s full of used tissues and old scratch cards!” feeling.

So ask yourself:

Do you have a documented sales process?
Do you have quarterly board meetings?
Does the company have a unifying vision?
If not, then how does your recruitment work?
Where are your monthly management accounts?
Are your contracts up to date?
Have you backed up your servers?
Where is your three-year plan?

And so on and so forth.

“Ah yes!” You cry: “All that’s on a list, we just haven’t gotten around to it yet! We’re too busy being successful.”

But really, that’s what selling your business is about: gauging success; assessing its value, finding out what’s wrong and what would therefore, inadvertently, push the price down.

“We DO have a lovely house, but if I’m honest, the roof’s a bit tatty. I reckon they’ll ask if we’ll take off ten grand.”

“Oh! Yup; there’s a bit of damp there, you’re right. Who wouldn’t insist on a £5k reduction?”

You’re not selling your business, true. But engage with the process of taking it to market and you’ll see all its flaws surprisingly clearly – and, usually, how to fix them up.

Think: what’s going to embarrass me; my leadership teams; the wider business? 

Find the answers, write them down, prioritise them, tackle them. You’ll be amazed how much more professional and slick you’ll end up.