Taking the big decision
Many entrepreneurs choose to sell for personal reasons – a change of lifestyle, or to pursue other interests. David, however, saw that the continued commercial success of his business gave it clear appeal in the marketplace. “We won a big contract that put us in a strong situation in terms of market share in our part of the country, which I knew would make us a very good add-on to an acquirer who didn’t have that geographical cover. We were in the position where I knew we were very attractive in terms of market share.”
David’s previous experience here was key: “The sale in 2005 showed me a lot about the process of finding a sales agent, finding a buyer, and the steps that you have to go through before you can complete the sale successfully.”
He saw the signs of a business ready to push on to a new level, and that was what drove him to appoint BCMS and find a potential acquirer.
“I was very pleased with the way we were winning and mobilising new contracts and I thought, we’re on the front foot, so if the process of selling didn’t work out for whatever reason, we would still be in a good place. We weren’t desperate to sell and it wasn’t a forced sale.”
But, as David explains, no matter how well prepared you are as a business owner, the challenge of selling a business while continuing to run it successfully is a tough one…
“That was the most stressful thing, because at the same time I was going through all of the negotiation and, latterly, due diligence, which was very, very rigorous. We were winning more contracts than ever, which meant there was an awful lot to do.”
With BCMS, David prepared and developed the key marketing messages for the business; what he calls “our selling proposition”.
“We were very well prepared by BCMS, thanks to the work done on the Information Memorandum [a document that details all the benefits of acquisition] and then some coaching sessions [the ‘Dry Run’ negotiation training BCMS offers to all clients]. Obviously, you’ve got the adrenaline of meeting people for the first time, but even so, we’d got our ducks in a row. We had got our head around what our selling proposition was.”
Looking back, looking forward
Having approached his own sale so pragmatically, what advice would David give to other business owners looking to sell?
“I think that when you start you need to have your exit plan in the back of your mind. If I was to be allowed one other piece of advice, it would be: use an experienced advisor. Many entrepreneurs think they are self-reliant; they’ve done everything on their own without anybody else’s help and so why would they need an advisor? My view is that a sales agent who does nothing but this sort of thing, helping people through the process, is essential. For me, the advice and support was indispensable, and I couldn’t have done it without BCMS.”
Often business owners worry that some part of their identity will be lost when they sell up. David offers his personal perspective: “It is different in the sense that I have nothing more to prove, I’ve been there and done that, and had a successful outcome.”
David is fully retired now, and enjoying life after sale. It’s been a major change, as he explains: “We’ve moved from Kent, where everything is very busy, to a quiet little fishing village on the north Norfolk coast. Life is wonderful; just being part of the community there and making new friends. It’s an absolute delight not to have the pressure. After that, I might look for a non-executive role, and who knows?
“But I don’t feel under the kind of pressure that I did in the past.”