Selling a Business through the Rear View Mirror

When we talk to entrepreneurs, they always have lots of war stories to tell. For most small businesses, there’s no ‘right’ path to success. Family situations, new opportunities, market changes and personal capacity all shape the future of a business and no one can predict when these factors will come into play. A common theme of these stories is entrepreneurs holding themselves responsible for not knowing. “If I had only known!”

In most cases, there are forces affecting their business that owners have absolutely no control over. This makes it critical for entrepreneurs to make proactive decisions about things that they can control. When we talk to people who are selling their businesses, they have loads of advice that they would give to younger business owners.

It is not possible to go forward while looking back. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

For many business owners, thoughts of selling their business don’t enter their minds until they are ready to sell. The day to day work of running a small business can tap all of the resources of even the most experienced entrepreneurs. When our sellers look back, they can identify several opportunities that they should have taken advantage of that would have led to a higher selling price or better terms of the sale. It doesn’t end there, though. These missed opportunities not only affect their business sale but also their future – a low price or extended terms may have negative impacts on their ability to retire the way they’ve dreamed of.

Clients often tell us that they were so busy growing their business that they didn’t look up to see what obstacles might come between them and their retirement goals. When they finally get to the point when they want to sell, the sale rarely goes the way they always thought it would. It’s often hard to move on and enjoy retirement after a setback like that.

“When we work with clients early in the sale process, we help them create the future they want,” says Travis Kellett of Bridgepoint Business Brokers. Travis and his team have observed the experiences of all of their clients over the years so they know the effects of not planning early. “In some cases, it takes years to prepare a business for sale so the seller gets exactly what they want. It’s never too early to start!”

What’s the best advice Travis has for business owners? “Most of our clients regret not thinking about selling sooner. They were so busy ‘building the business’ that they didn’t build a business that would sell for their price and their terms. I heard once that the day you start your business is the day you start planning how to exit the business. That’s proactive thinking that all entrepreneurs could benefit from.”