5 signs it’s time to sell

Recognising the clues that you’ve reached the end of the journey with your business

Despite the challenges of Covid-19 and the continuing uncertainty around Brexit, there are still buyers who are ready and willing to snap up the right business.

As Martin Brown, our CEO, says: “There’s still an awful lot of money to be invested – and we’re working with buyers that want to do progressive things around purchasing to grow.”

Julian Goulding, of legal firm Blake Morgan, agrees. “I’ve seen more activity in recent weeks than I’ve seen in the previous six months with plenty of buyers out there. Of course, it depends on the industry sector – some are doing better than others. Some buyers are looking for bargains, some are looking to expand their business and some are looking to buy as a strategy to help their business survive.”

It’s clear, whatever their motivation, that there are buyers in the marketplace – but as a business owner, are you ready to sell? Here are five common signs that it might be time to exit.

1. Aspiration

One tell-tale indication is the realisation that you’ve achieved your business ambitions, or that you expect to hit those targets in the next 12 months to three years. “Those aspirations could be defined by time, the owner’s age or the monetary value of the business,” says Martin, “but if they’re coming to fruition, it’s time to at least consider your exit options.”

2. Passion

Another sign you should step away is finding you’ve lost the passion – the energy and drive – that helped you launch the business. Julian says: “It can happen any time, but in the current circumstances, for example, it can’t be underestimated how draining it has all been and some people are concluding they can’t and don’t want to run a business anymore.”
He adds: “Other business owners realise there’s no-one in the family to take on the reins, so sale is there only alternative if they want to step down and realise the value of what they’ve put into the company.”

3. Glass ceiling

Building a company is a journey with very different phases of growth – or “glass ceilings” as Martin calls them – along the way. He explains: “We often see entrepreneurs or business leaders who take the business through two or three of these ceilings but then find the next stage unattractive because the commitment required isn’t justified by the rewards it will bring.”
Julian adds: “A business owner may find they’re reluctant or unable to put funds in or make hard decisions like making long-standing staff redundant as part of a restructuring. So maybe it’s time to hand over to someone else to do these things.”

4. Market cycle

Martin sums this up by saying: “This is about not ending up being the guy who’s selling Filofaxes when the iPhone is launched!” He continues: “You want to be selling when you can maximise the value of your company. That could rest on the state of economy, a change in legislation or the relevance of your technology in the marketplace.
“Timing – and a bit of luck – are key. We’ve all read about the start-ups that aren’t even making profit but then get bought for big bucks by a giant like Microsoft because their technology is the hot property at that moment.”

5. Forced

Sometimes the sign you should sell is that matters in your personal life simply become more pressing than your business. Martin says: “It’s a horrible place to be when you’ve toiled for years but, sadly, sale can simply be forced on you by death, divorce or illness.”

With plenty of buyers and finance still in circulation in the UK economy, if any of the above is relevant to you, perhaps it’s time put up the ‘for sale’ sign.


This article is written for the St James’ Place Entrepreneurs Club newsletter. The opinions expressed by third parties are their own are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.