The success of your digital agency is entirely dependent on the people that work there. What you’re really selling to your clients is the time and skills of your team: yourself included. But when people are the real heart of your agency, this can make it more difficult to sell the business, compared with businesses built around selling a product.
If you want to sell your digital agency, the first thing you need to do is take yourself out of the equation, and make yourself unnecessary for its continued success. But how can you do that, without disrupting your business or unsettling your team?
Types of Sale
At a very high level, there are three main ways you can sell your digital agency:
1) Financial acquisition – this is where your agency is acquired for purely financial reasons. If you’ve got great profit margins and a long-standing customer base, your agency might attract interest from buyers looking to benefit from your agency’s strong financial position.
2) Strategic acquisition – this is where your agency is acquired for strategic reasons. It might be a competitor looking to acquire your customer base or team’s skillset, or a company you’ve previously worked closely with who are impressed with the quality of your work, and want to use your agency’s team and expertise to expand their service offering.
3) Buy-out – this is where your agency is purchased from within – by employees or shareholders, such as your senior team – rather than being acquired by a separate business.
How to Prepare for Selling Your Agency
Whatever type of sale you’re considering, in order to make the transition successful, you need to remove yourself from the day-to-day running of your agency. There are four things you need to do, to ensure your agency isn’t destabilised when you decide to sell it.
1) Implement Processes
One of the most important things you need to do is ensure your agency can function without you. Documenting and implementing your agency’s operating processes will make it possible for your agency to run just as smoothly with or without your input. Your team should work to continuously refine and improve these processes, to be as efficient as possible.
2) Prioritise Your Agency’s Culture
Selling your agency has the potential to have a huge impact on your agency’s culture, due to a change in leadership, with different people making the decisions.
During the transition, culture is particularly important. So, long before you start to consider selling your agency, you need to make culture a priority: building a team with a shared vision, mission and goals. If you make culture part of your agency’s hiring process it will become an integral part of the agency and your team, and won’t depend on your input.
3) Remove Your Personality from the Agency
In small agencies especially, the founder’s character and reputation can have a huge impact on the agency – attracting job candidates and attracting potential customers. However, if you’re looking to sell your agency it’s important that you detach your personality from the agency: your team works for the agency, rather than you, and your clients work with the agency, rather than you.
This is essential for reassuring your team that your job could be done just as well by someone else, and smoothing the transition period when it comes to making the sale.
4) Teach Your Team to Manage Their Own Work
In order to sell your agency, you need to remove yourself from the day-to-day operations. This means your team can’t rely on you to tell them what they ought to be working on. Encouraging and enabling your team to manage their own time and workloads is essential – it removes their reliance on you, and allows you to take that important step back from the running of your agency.