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Selling your business – is there a right time?

Building a business with a partner is no easy feat: everyday there will be personal and professional decisions to manage. One of the biggest will be deciding if, and when, the appropriate time to sell might be. We sought the expert insight of Dave Rebbettes, the man who has managed mergers and acquisitions for over 600 companies in the last decade alone, and is Founding Director and Chairman of BCMS. Read Dave’s article below…

Many people wouldn’t entertain the idea of working 9-to-5 with their nearest and dearest, let alone start a business with them. In our family business, I do a bit of both. I started the business with my brother and father, before my two sons joined us, and my day-to-day role is alongside my wife, Rachel. It’s a dynamic that’s worked for us for the past 30 years!

Dave Rebbettes –
Founding Director and Chairman, BCMS.

 

We’re not alone. One in three client businesses sold by BCMS in the past few years are husband-and-wife teams; partners at home as well as in the office. Couplepreneurs are building highly desirable, dynamic businesses that are highly prized by acquirers, regardless of sector. That includes couplepreneurs Paul and Hilary Cole, who have brilliant been-there-done-that advice for anyone considering a sale and are featured here. Paul and Hilary are also part of the BCMS Fellows, a network of past clients who offer their advice and insights to others at events that we run nationwide. They will happily tell you that they were completely aligned on how to run and grow their business, until they reached one clear area of contention.

Paul divulged that, “Probably the only thing that Hilary and I disagreed on, was when to sell. For me it was an age thing. I wanted to retire at 58 and I achieved it. Hilary was probably happier to go on a little bit longer.”

“I would probably go on, forever!” Hilary adds.

It’s a common theme. In any business, shareholders will have different ‘exit plan’ objectives. This is particularly prevalent in multi-generational family businesses, or ones where one shareholder is at a different life point to another. But for couplepreneurs, the decision is intensified. Both income and a large part of your identity are intrinsically connected with your company, so how do you decide when to sell up?

Couplepreneurs:  Paul and Hilary Cole

What’s the answer?

Put yourself in a position of choice: a choice of motivated buyers, finding the right deal, and the right future for you and the business. Many entrepreneurs who have never sold a business are surprised to learn how many organisations are interested in acquiring their company, and how many different types of transaction are out there.

It might be a full sale to a larger trade acquirer in a similar industry, exploring ‘management buyouts’, or ‘buy-Ins’. It could include platform investment from private equity or private investors, or partial sale, if one or both of you wish to work alongside your acquirer to grow the business.

Think globally, too. Despite the uncertainty around Brexit, there is significant interest from international acquirers in UK companies: around 25% of BCMS UK clients sell to an acquirer based overseas. Whatever your circumstances, there is no ‘one size fits all’, and the right advisor should be able to talk you through the myriad options available to you.

Too close to your company?

Sometimes the decision of ‘when to sell’ is rather forced upon you. Take the story of couplepreneurs Alisa and Rob Miller, also former BCMS clients. When Alisa fell ill during pregnancy, life – and business – became unbearably stressful.

“I was in a wheelchair, and they told me I might not walk again,” Alisa has told us. “That was a real tipping point. I was talking to one of the NHS counsellors when I opened up to her to say: ‘We can’t cope with this. The strain of trying to keep the business going, while managing my health and adding a new child into the mix. It’s too much.’”

Couplepreneurs:  Alisa and Rob Miller

It was the counsellor who recognised that selling the business could be the best solution for the family’s health and happiness.

Alisa was too close to their business to see its true value and potential. “Sell the business? I didn’t think we could!” she says. “In spite of having nearly 40 people working for us, we still thought of it as our little family business, we didn’t think it would be worth much.”

But the market of acquirers thought otherwise. Both Alisa and Rob were astonished at the response when BCMS approached potential buyers, and the sheer amount of organisations that were interested in acquiring them from UK, Europe and beyond.

Communication and the sale conversation

People sell businesses for all sorts of reasons, both personal (like Alisa and Rob) and commercial (like Paul and Hilary), who had an exit plan and saw other similar company sales in a market that was consolidating. Usually, any decision to sell is a combination of both, and only you can decide when the time is right. Arming yourself with the knowledge and information you need to get started is key to the services we provide. Don’t leave it too long to have that initial sale conversation, and start to explore your options – if only to confirm that you have a variety of opportunities and choices. The end result could be better than expected!

I’ll leave the last word to Rob and Alisa: “You can’t quantify how good it feels to sell… to have the weight lifted off your shoulders…”

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