What to plan for when selling your agency

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This post was written by a Teamwork blog guest contributor, Clodagh Higgins.

Let’s face it—selling your agency on your own can be a full-time job and a challenge alongside running your agency. Before you jump into the deep end, there are a number of steps you can take that will help you make this process as smooth as possible. When you think you’re ready to sell your agency, take a few deep breaths, and they get ready to plan, plan, plan! There are a few key things you need to do to make sure the sale goes smoothly, and in this post, we’ll outline some of the most important aspects you should account for both before and during the sales process.

1. Have a couple of exit strategy options

Are you looking for a full sale or a partial sale where you stay with the agency for a period of time? What would you like to do after the sale? Very few agency owners irrespective of age are planning to sail off into the sunset once they sell—they are usually thinking of their next project or business. As a business owner, it's important to have multiple exit strategies in place for your agency. Retirement is one option, but you may also want to consider partial retirement, where you sell part of your agency and continue to work in some capacity. Think about what that role might be and what it could look like. This can give you retirement income while also providing continuity for your employees and customers. Whatever exit strategy you choose, be sure to plan ahead and think carefully about what's best for you, your agency, and your team.

2. Get all your processes and procedures in order

If you haven’t already, we recommend checking out the Entrepreneurial Operating System by Gino Wickman to help you get set up. According to this system, there are six business fundamentals to organize around:

  1. Vision: Develop and communicate a strong vision for your agency, crystallize eight key aspects on paper then communicate this information early to your team.

  2. People: Get the right people in the right seats. Are the people on your team in the right position or do they have the capacity to grow into the role?

  3. Data: Get the pulse on your agency numbers. Develop a scorecard where you are measuring at least ten key metrics to start off with and have a measurable outcome assigned to each person on your team.

  4. Issues: Build a solutions-oriented environment. Issues are problems you need to resolve in your agency. It’s important to identify, discuss, and solve each one in a way that moves your business forward each week.

  5. Processes: Systemize how you do things in your agency, document your core processes, and adopt systems across your organization. The goal is to create a plan where each person on the team contributes to the systems and it’s easy to train new people as they join.

  6. Traction: This is where it all comes together and you bring the vision to life. Each quarter you are focused on goals that move the agency forward. Improve the way you conduct each meeting at your agency to improve the productivity of the whole business.

We also recommend conducting quarterly reviews and regular hackathons to ensure your team is keeping up to date with all the changes in the technology world.

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3. Build a pitch deck for your agency

It’s important to make a good first impression when presenting an overview of your business to a potential buyer. When crafting your presentation, be sure to include the following information:

  • Meet us (share more about your history and how you got started)

  • Why are we looking to sell

  • Our values

  • What we have done

  • Financials

  • Awards & Accomplishments

  • Where we are (locations and clients)

  • Where is the opportunity

  • Where we see ourselves in the future

  • Where we need help

When talking about your portfolio of clients and case studies to back up all your results, what is your secret sauce that gets results? What problems have you solved for them and how?

What makes your agency unique from others? (Spoiler alert: This cannot be you as the agency owner). When creating a detailed business plan and financial forecast, your goal is to show a well-oiled machine that generates profitable revenue and gets results for happy clients without you, the owner, involved.

4. Don't announce it to your team until the deal is done

Entrepreneurs are often risk-takers who are comfortable with change. They’re used to changing their plans on the fly and making decisions quickly. Employees, on the other hand, often prefer stability and predictability. They like to know what to expect from their job and their team. As a result, it's important to be thoughtful when you share information with your team. If you're considering making a change to the business, don't tell your team until the deal is done. 

By waiting until you know for sure what’s happening, you can avoid any unnecessary stress or anxiety on their part. After all, the deal may fall through! Sharing news about a potential deal before it’s done can cause uncertainty in your agency, which can cause people to leave because they think they might not have a job after the sale. Negotiate confidently and be prepared to walk away from a deal if it's not right for you.

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5. Prepare for a long sales process

Even if you are well prepared, it can take a long time to sell your agency. There are a number of factors that can influence the length of the sales process, including the size of the agency, the type of business, the asking price, and the level of interest from buyers. In general, the larger and more complex the agency, the longer it will take to sell. The same is true for businesses that are not well-known or that are niche businesses. If you’re looking to sell quickly, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations and to price your agency accordingly. Even if you’re willing to accept a lower price, it’s still important to allow enough time for interested buyers to conduct due diligence and reach a decision.

6. Engage a coach or consultant to help you with the sale of your agency 

Any agency owner knows that the sale of their business is a complex process, filled with a lot of potential pitfalls. That's why it can be helpful to engage the services of a coach or consultant—they can help you manage expectations, both your own and those of potential buyers. They can also help you identify key issues that need to be addressed before beginning the sales process. In addition, a coach or consultant can provide valuable insights into the minds of potential buyers. Their experience can help you understand what buyers are looking for and how to best present your agency in order to attract interest. Ultimately, engaging the services of a coach or consultant can help to increase the chances of successfully selling your agency. 

We have seen owners get wrapped up in the process, neglecting their day-to-day operations. Sometimes ego can kick in if a large agency shows interest in a smaller one and red flags can be ignored or overlooked. If you get some help from someone who can have meetings on your behalf, you’ll be able to keep a level head.

While there are a lot of steps involved when selling your agency, if you have an exit strategy in place, get all your processes and procedures in order, build a pitch deck to help potential buyers, make sure you keep your plans under wraps, and prepare for a long sales process, you will have everything in order so that the transition is as smooth as possible. 

If you like this post, we think you might be interested in reading our new State of Productivity Report! You’ll get insights into what productivity looks like across a number of industries. 

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