When it’s time to sell

Bruce Wilson
Founder and consultant,
Bruce Wilson & Company

When I get asked by an owner about selling their company, my answer is always the same: always be building. You never know what the future will bring. Some owners have a long-range plan that envisions a legacy, with sons and daughters taking over. Some owners get surprised when they realize that the family has no interest in being involved. Other owners hold and eventually sell to employees who can carry on the tradition. Others find that personal challenges, divorce or health issues derail their plans and they end up having to sell the business. If none of the above is a factor, a good option is to slowly phase out, travel and live off the profits from the business.

To either sell a company or hold on to it, you need to make your business more consistently resilient in the following areas:


  • Build a strong management team with a strong second-in-command and support team who can run the business in your absence.
  • Take care of your customers, vendors and employees. Make sure you have the right relationship managers in place to ensure continuity and trust and a people-first work culture that keeps good employees and attracts new ones.
  • Develop a stable base of repeat customers to improve your cash flow.
  • Empower your people to lead, make decisions, take action and become less dependent on you as the owner. Take time away from your day-to-day interactions at work so your people can build the confidence they need to operate without you.


  • Perform a SWOT analysis to focus on ways to improve and make sure you are not dependent on a few customers or one type of client.
  • Build up a strong recurring revenue model as a recession hedge versus cyclical, construction and project-based revenue, which is less certain.
  • Invest in business software to automate your fixed asset accounting, support business processes and capture data that will help you understand where you are making the most money. Determine which clients deliver the best lifetime value, retention and referral percentages. Create a useful set of metrics so that you can make changes to increase profits.
  • Have a consistent, best-practice driven marketing, communications and public relations program to increase company value and brand awareness. When it comes time to move forward, your comms team will be critical to helping you manage the transition process and have a positive impact on how clients and the broader market perceive your brand.


  • Know your end-game and contingency scenarios. Why do you want to sell? What do you want out of it? Will your employees be well cared for? Outline your priorities so that when it comes time to make the big decision, you may not be able to achieve all your priorities, but you will achieve the ones that are most important to you.
  • Build a bench of professionals who can serve as your brain trust and help you grow and maximize value. Depending on what you’re looking for in a partner, this list can include CPAs, attorneys, exit planning advisors and brokers.
  • Whether you sell or not, play the long game. When it comes time to sell, it can take six-to-nine months or longer to prepare and complete a transaction.
  • When you select a broker, review possible buyers to see which ones you believe are a fit. You must decide if price is the determining factor or if fit is more important.

Some brokers are recommending that you get a quality of earnings audit done by an accountant who is not your current accountant. Quality of earnings can also be done after you get a term sheet, which is the offer to buy. The buyer will, as part of the due diligence, have it done at that time. Due diligence can be painful. Make sure your employee records are in perfect shape, including I-9s. The better your records are, the faster it goes.

Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm. Bruce Wilson is founder and consultant of Bruce Wilson & Company and can be reached at. bwilson@giemedia.com


September 2023
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