top of page

On when to reap and when to sow - Or why it pays to wait before selling a business

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

With a number of owners looking to sell their businesses post-pandemic, could some be missing out on a top deal by selling too soon? Chris Thompson, Director of the Firebird Partnership, explains why waiting can sometimes be the optimal course of action.

“We’re seeing a number of owners coming out of Covid who want to sell quickly”

I was listening to a podcast on politics a while ago, when I heard a phrase that got me thinking: "never pluck an unripe fruit from the tree."

As well as reminding me of my own rather lacklustre performance in the pick-your-own department, the phrase is useful short-hand for something I’ve seen many times in my work as a growth consultant, particularly in this post-pandemic moment.

At Firebird currently, we’re seeing a number of owners and founders coming out of Covid who have had enough of trading and want to sell quickly. The main thing we stress to those clients – to all clients wishing to sell, in fact – is that selling, when done well, is a highly proactive process. And it requires timely preparation for the best outcome.

If your only goal is to sell, and sell fast, it’s important to consider that the price on the table may be significantly less than what could be possible after holding off for a while to get the right strategies in place. As in many aspects of life, good things come to those who wait.

So thinking about our opening image, how do your wares become the talk of the town, instead of a prospect that’s both undervalued and overlooked?

“Your paperwork really needs to back up what you’re saying”

A massively helpful step in prepping for sale involves gradually separating owners/founders from the daily running of the business – an issue that fellow Firebird Director Matt Purser covered in his article about owner-managed businesses and overwhelm.

When a company is functioning with absolute dependence on one person, this really limits the scope for potential buyers, and therefore the potential final price. All critical information needs to be out of that person’s head and available to credible investors who show an interest. Expert advisers like Firebird can help make that happen.

The quality and timeframe of that information is also crucial. Frequently, as outlined in Firebird Director Lucy Haines’ recent piece about MI, there’s work to do in getting your data and figures up to scratch, and ensuring you’re building a clear picture for investors; a financial picture that matches the story you tell. It’s a simple fact and yet the value of this should not be underestimated: your paperwork really needs to back up what you’re saying, very clearly.

“The kind of growth you depict matters to buyers”

Considering the potential for your company’s future owners is another key consideration: there must be obvious room for growth for the next custodian, or else there will be limited appeal. Similarly, the kind of growth you depict to buyers matters, with quick spurts less attractive than growth which is demonstrably sustained and long-term.

Another value-generating step is to grow a company’s presence within the industry, and therefore the number of eyes on it. I found this when I was MD of tour operator Ski Famille. We were small and knew we needed to be more visible, so as well as turning our attention to the steps above, we also embarked on a long-term marketing campaign: showing ourselves at industry events, developing focused PR, trying to make ourselves as noticeable as possible, and generally being seen to punch above our weight. In other words: we were putting our ripening harvest under the spotlight.

Combined with everything else we had been doing, this worked almost too well: after a year of substantial preparation we were approached earlier than anticipated by a serious, credible buyer. The details of what happened next are described in this personal account I wrote in 2022. As you’ll see if you have a read, we made a good sale – although, if we’d taken on some adviser support and perhaps taken more time, it’s possible that particular crop could have made even more for everyone.

"It always pays to reflect on how an unknown third party will perceive the quality of a business"

Suspending the agricultural imagery for a moment (although I haven’t even touched on the value of “hand-picked, organic” workplace cultures v. those that are “intensively-farmed”...) – my overarching aim here is to stress that owners and founders must think commercially and not emotionally when it comes to sales. It always pays to take a step back and reflect on how an unknown third party will perceive the quality of a business; past, present and future.

If you want investors to stop and take note, to see the distinction in what you have to offer, there is plenty you can proactively do – and it is never too early to start. The marketplace will still be there. Its buyers will always want the finest fruit. Meanwhile, all you need is the right advice. And time.

Chris Thompson is a Director of the Firebird Partnership, with almost 20 years' experience of leading and growing businesses in the travel and tech sectors – the ski industry especially. His focus is on creating strategy, building teams, and devising processes that are both efficient and value-building.


Also by Chris Thompson:

47 views0 comments
bottom of page