As a business owner considers selling their business, the first thing they should do, according to Harvey Nelson, CEO of Main Street Gourmet, is not sell because you have to sell.
“A lot of it is timing,” he says. “You got something successful. You have a business environment that you have to be aware of. You have to know there's multiples out there, are they high are they low? Where are we with that? Then it really is a personal thing.”
Nelson says a lot of preparing to sell is about self-awareness. That means knowing what your values are, your personal goals and your family goals. It’s about understanding your risk, knowing how much risk to take or whether you’ve taken enough risk. Owners should also consider whether they’re able to give up control and whether they’re diversified enough.
“We sold the same business three times,” he says. “The first time we needed to limit our risk. Me and my friend Steve started this and we had everything in there. At some point, we needed to get something out. So that was one reason to sell. The next time we did it things were going really strong. We had great results and it was a really good time to sell. We thought it could keep growing, but we didn't want to be greedy and we took some off the table. Then this last time, we were both ready to start unwinding. Steve actually retired right away and I've done the transition, but again, it was all about knowing ourselves and the timing of that.”
Another consideration is whether and how much interest to maintain in the business. Nelson says he’s it’s worked out well for him to keep a minority interest in his company. But that consideration, like the others, is personal.
“So when you're doing it, one of the things you're looking at is if you still feel strongly, which hopefully you do, when you're going to sell to somebody, you want it to be a win-win,” he says. “They're going to pay you, but you want this thing to keep going.”
Nelson says when looking to maintain a minority interest, it should be done while you're still confident in the business, confident enough to reinvest. And where ownership intends to stick around and continue to run the business, it should be with the idea that the investment will fuel the company’s growth.
“The first two times we did it, me and Steve were going to keep running it, so we knew we were really just investing back in ourselves,” he says. “So, if you're selling but staying on, then you're investing in yourself.”
At the recent Cleveland Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, Nelson, along with BNY Mellon Wealth Management President - Ohio Region Ron Ambrogio; BDO USA LLP National Managing Partner Matthew Becker; and PCX Corp., City Visitor, PorchLight Destination Services, Advanced Hydro Chairman Rocco DiLillo about preparing your company — and yourself — for an eventual sale and liquidity event. Hit play on the video above to catch the full panel discussion.