The Art of Selling a Business: An Artist’s Perspective

As a business owner, you dream of success, profits, satisfied customers, and--hopefully--of someday retiring to start that next chapter of your life. But not all business owners retire after selling their companies. As a young family man with a passion for life, art and startup businesses, Jeremy Wells had just sold a business, and now he's taking some much-deserved time-off before going on to his next big endeavor. Jeremy shares with us his experiences in selling his company during some challenging times. Was it as difficult as he thought it might be? Did he have any regrets? What can other business owners learn from his experiences?  

Questions Answered For You

  • Was selling a business as difficult as you expected it to be?
  • Was there a time when you were doubtful about your decision to sell or whether you will get a decent amount for it? Was there ever a point that you asked yourself, "Is this the right thing? Are we doing the right thing here?”
  • What was your role throughout the business selling process?
  • How much time did it take you to sell your business?
It felt like it was time for a new challenge. There were other ambitions I had and other companies I had already started and I wanted to really pursue those a bit more. But I didn't want to just close the company down, it was too good of a company to do that.
,

I would look at them (Morgan & Westfield) as a coach really. I was the one out there on the field playing ball, but it was really nice to be able to come back to the coach and be able to get a larger perspective of the field and see what plays next. Get critique on how the past play just went, and trying to make each one a little bit better and just constantly advancing the ball.

- Jeremy Wells

Key Takeaways

  • Selling and running your business at the same time could be very challenging.  While in the middle of running your business, you have to deal with prospective buyers who ask several questions about your company – and that takes a lot of time and could feel “invasive.” Jeremy recalls his experience as “a bit like trying to design a new part of your ship while you're sailing.”
  • As a business owner, you need to have a hands-on approach in selling your own company. You’re the best person to talk to prospective buyers because you know the intimate details about your company. Seeking professional advice and guidance, however, could save you a lot of time by making the sales process more efficient.
  • Morgan & Westfield enables a company owner to approach selling a business in a way that he or she might have never thought of. Jeremy shares how Morgan & Westfield helps him during the sales process from preparing a “very impressive” business summary, to the screening of buyers, and to providing a personalized coaching that enables him to have a much broader perspective on how to sell his business.  
  • Selling your business during tough times could be tougher.  This is where a coach could be very helpful.  Morgan & Westfield makes selling a business less stressful despite the tough times Jeremy has been in to. 
  • Moving on after a successful business sale is part of the process.  As a business owner, Jeremy is excited to be working on a software platform that he would soon be launching. On the artistic side, Jeremy continues to create his own fine art and do photography. He also looks forward to going back to the entertainment industry as an actor. 

Read Full Interview

Jeff: We've all heard that there may be more to life than owning that business that you love. But if you want to find out how a fellow business owner who just sold his company is actually putting that hypothesis to the test you've come to the right place.

From our studio in Southern California, with guest experts from across the country and around the world this is "Deal Talk", brought to you by Morgan & Westfield, nationwide leader in business sales and appraisals. Now, here's your host, Jeff Allen.

Jeff: Hello and welcome to the web's number one content source for small business owners committed to building a business for eventual sale. Here on "Deal Talk" it's our mission to provide information and guidance from our growing list of trusted experts that you and all small business owners can use to help you build your bottom line and improve your company's value.

Who better to learn from than a fellow business owner who has been through the process of selling his own company. And we like every once and a while here on "Deal Talk" and you've heard a couple of shows before to talk to folks who've been through the process who've managed to live through it and if gone on to other exciting chapters in their life. Once again today we happen to have the honor and privilege of speaking with one of our fellow business owners on the line right now. And his name is Jeremy Wells. Jeremy Wells, the former owner of Imago Dei and we're going to talk a little bit about what that business is. First of all, Jeremy, welcome to the program, it's good to have you.

Jeremy:Thanks Jeff. I appreciate it.

It's very difficult when you started a company and you've worn every single hat. It’s very challenging to take that hat off and put it on somebody else. And most business owners find themselves being technicians within their business instead of entrepreneurs that are managing an organization.

Jeff: It sounds to me like you're on the road. Tell us where you're at right now.

Jeremy:Well, I'm actually parked in a beautiful shady park in Austin, and I'm in an '87 Westy. It's camper van with a high top. My son and I are on a red shirt to meet up with mom and the girls out at Garner State Park for the weekend and do some swimming in the river and camping. So I pulled over for this and I got a little office setup back here. It's pretty great little setup actually.

Jeff: That is sweet. So selling your business can afford you to now take some time-out for yourself and do some things that maybe you didn't have time to do before. And this goes for anybody who's listening to this edition of “Deal Talk.” Tell us a little bit about your business.

Jeremy: Sure. I started Imago Dei in 1999 in California, relocated to Houston where my wife's family is in 2001. The best way to describe it is it's a creative arts service firm. I'm an artist, my wife is an artist. We started producing commissioned works and pretty soon found out that there is a bigger market for decorative finishing as well, interior plaster work, decorative painting. So we quickly started getting into that, really found ourselves owning a small construction firm.

Over the years we built that up and it had various crews that were out doing insulation and sales staff that were trained design professionals but they would design solutions for people, and for walls, ceilings, furniture pieces, cabinets, and then of course still doing the artwork, but the finish is quickly surpassed even the artwork side of things.
 
 Jeff: Jeremy, altogether how long did you own Imago Dei?

Jeremy: It was about 17 years.
 
 Jeff: So you made it through the process of selling your company. Had you ever sold a business before? 

Jeremy: No, I have not.
 
 Jeff: You had not. Was it as difficult as you expected it might be?

Jeremy: Yes and no. I was expecting it to be very difficult. I'm kind of from a family of entrepreneurs. Both sides of my family they've always been doing entrepreneurial things. I watched my grandfathers build businesses and pass those on. And watched my dad build a business and sell that. And I remember seeing how difficult that was for him. Because this is sort of a specialty niche business I figured that it was going to be a bit more challenging than let's say a dry cleaning business or something like that. 

So I was geared up and expecting that it would be a bit more challenging but I didn't think that it was impossible because we've built so many systems and processes, had a really established clientele, lots of repeat clients within the design community. We have a great team and a great product. I just knew it was going to be a challenge to find the right person that would take it over. Working with a broker made it possible for me. I don't think I could've done it. I know I wouldn't have done it with the time I did it without working with a broker. 
  
Jeff: So really I think it sounds to me like the concerns were really based a lot on just kind of the unknown really about the process of selling a company, and they probably are not necessarily unique to you to Jeremy but to other business owners who are interested perhaps in selling or have thought about selling their company but they're just not exactly sure about how that would work given maybe some of the complexities of their organization, the people involved, etc.

As far as initial concerns about selling your business, I'm talking about the nuts and bolts decisions and concerns, and issues here that anybody would kind of have to mull over about whether you are actually prepared in fact to sell your company, about how long it might take or any other potential hurdles that you might have to overcome first before you know that you would be ready to go in a way of helping you get what you wanted out of the sale, anything like that? Was any of that a concern or a worry to you, or anything that kept you up at night?

Jeremy: Oh, definitely. I wouldn't say kept me up at night. There's definitely a concern. I read a book called Built to Sell. I highly recommend for anybody that's thinking about selling their business. I read that probably five years ago. And also The E-Myth which is another highly recommended book. The E-Myth, reading it five years ago it's probably my third time reading that.
 
 Jeff: Is that right?

Jeremy: Oh yeah. I probably read it every three years just to refresh myself because it's easy to fall into that habit. And that book is really excellent in setting the course straight again. In this book Built To Sell it talks a lot about what you need to do to prepare your business for sale. That was really eye opening for me because I've been doing it 12 years to that point and I loved what I did and loved the company. 

But it felt like it was time for a new challenge. There were other ambitions I had and other companies I had already started and I wanted to really pursue those a bit more. But I didn't want to just close the company down, it was too good of a company to do that. So I thought, "Let me look into selling it." Reading that book really exposed a lot of things that I needed to shore up in terms of building better processes.

One of the biggest things I tried to think about is what am I doing in the company that somebody else is not doing? And then how do I either document that process and create a procedure for it that anybody else could do, or how do I hire somebody else who could do this. And that doesn't mean necessarily that they need to be the only person to do it, or maybe in addition to me.

That was blankly processed. I can imagine most business owners that are small businesses. That's kind of a challenge to hear because most of us we take such pride of ownership in our companies that we kind of feel like if it can be done right I better do it myself kind of thing. It's delicious really because there's so many good people out there.
 
 Jeff: And so the idea is to kind of get your head around the idea that it is okay in fact to take a hand off the wheel so to speak and let somebody else maybe do some of the steering, certainly at least over in this area with respect to a one maybe or two aspects of the job that you normally might have handled yourself, but this would free you up to handle more important things in other aspects of the business that need to be addressed.

Jeremy: Yes, exactly. It's very difficult when you started a company and you've worn every single hat. It’s very challenging to take that hat off and put it on somebody else. And most business owners find themselves being technicians within their business instead of entrepreneurs that are managing an organization. 

And I found myself kind of doing both. Half the day I was doing this and the other half I was doing that. It was a lengthy process to get through that. Once I felt like it was out of place for us heading in the right direction, maybe not fully there yet but at least knowing what my exposer was and have a plan B, sorted that out. That's when I started looking for somebody that can help me with the process and looking for a broker.
 
 Jeff: Who was that broker? What company did you end up going with if you don't mind my asking?

Jeremy: No, of course not. Actually I gave myself a year and I interviewed several different brokers. I met with some folks from Austin, I met with Houston people, I met with a few people out of state. I ended up finding Morgan & Westfield. And over the course of that year which is clear to me they were going to be the best fit. I was right on that. They were invaluable. I really would not want to go through the process without them. 

One of the things that was helpful about them in particularly was the knowledge base both on their website but also just having a person to reach out to and saying, "Hey, is this normal? What do I do with this situation? Or this person is asking for this. Is that something I should give them at this point?" I got several offers along the way, too. And running those offers by them and going, "Hey, this seems good. Is it?" And they would poke holes in it. They would see things that I didn't see because they have that experience of doing so many more transactions. So I looked at them more as a coach. I was still the one who was talking to perspective buyers. 

Because I'm kind of a metrics guy I built an app to manage this whole process, so the analytics on it were interesting for me. Over the course of about 10 months I had 106 people that I spoke with. That was way more than I anticipated. Out of those 106 I think I met with 30 or 40 and then progressed it to different stages.

Jeff: Were all these people folks who you approached yourself or who approached you? Tell us how that worked. Would you say 140 people altogether?

Jeremy: I think it was 106. I don't have...

Jeff: Okay.

Jeremy:None of those people were ones that I approached myself. The nice thing about Morgan & Westfield is they wrote up a wonderful business summary describing the company based on an in-depth profile and interview with me and tons of reports and numbers, and looking at all that. They wrote up a really good business summary. I think it was over 50 pages. It was very impressive.
 
 Jeff: And they listed that summary on several different sites. I want to say 20-25, something like that, way more than I had time or desire to manage. And then I would pay them a monthly fee to manage that ongoing, very reasonable, and it was great. 

And so out of those sites that they have the listing out there I would get emails sent to me after... After an interested buyer had signed an NDA they would send you an email and start a conversation with them from there.
 
 
Jeff: My name is Jeff Allen. We're talking with Jeremy Wells. He is now the former owner of Imago Dei. That's a custom paint and custom wall covering if you will, or wall treatment type of company. He's now going on and doing other things with his life after having sold his business. We're going to learn more about his experience and having sold his company when "Deal Talk" returns right after this. 

If you'd like to share your knowledge and expertise on any subject related to selling businesses or helping business owners improve the value of their companies, we'd like to talk with you about joining us as a guest on the future edition of Deal Talk.

Interested? Contact our host Jeff Allen directly. Just send a brief email with "I'd like to be a guest" in the subject line. In a brief message include your name, title, area of specialty, and contact information, and send it to jeff@morganandwestfield.com, that's jeff@morganandwestfield.com. 
Selling your business may be the most important business transaction you'll ever undertake so don't go it alone. Work with an organization that has made it their business to sell businesses and that's all they do. Morgan & Westfield at 888-693-7834. At Morgan & Westfield we know that selling your company is not something you should take lightly. It can be a stressful, difficult, even emotional process. That's why it's important to work with a team whose one and only specialty is selling businesses throughout the United States. Morgan & Westfield will help you every step of the way. From helping you plan your exit strategy, to preparing a comprehensive appraisal, and locating the right buyers. Without the right team behind you, you could be leaving money on the table. So don't leave your most important business transaction to chance. Call Morgan & Westfield for a free consultation at 888-693-7834, 888-693-7834, or visit morganandwestfield.com.
Are you a professional adviser, accountant, attorney, or a wealth manager, or do you provide other professional services? Contact us today to see how our reliance program can help you increase your firm's revenues. Call Morgan & Westfield at 888-693-7834. That's 888-693-7834. 
 
 
Jeff: Welcome back to "Deal Talk." You can hear our show any one of four channels, iTunes, Stitcher, and Libsyn. But the only place that you can get all of the show notes, that is the complete text of everything that we're talking about right now, every word coming out of my mouth and my guest's mouth is morganandwestfield.com. Just look at directly under the media player there and then you'll see all of the show notes. You can take and copy and paste, or better yet there should be a PDF link there. You could just simply download the document to your PC, or your iPad, or mobile device, whatever the case may be. And you can refer to it again, and again, and again, just like you can refer to this show again and again, and play it over and over again because there's always going to be, some information that you may never catch the first 5 or 6 times that you'll listen to the program. 

Jeff Allen with you and my special guest today on this edition of "Deal Talk" is Jeremy Wells. He is the former owner of Imago Dei. He is a business owner, and we want to talk to him about his experience having sold his company recently. And I think it's through these experiences Jeremy that we can help other business owners understand what it's like going through the process because we would like to think that so many of our business owner audience members and regular listeners to "Deal Talk" do have it in mind at some point down the line to move to another chapter in their life or to the next chapter. And be a little bit more comfortable with the idea of selling their company when the time is right for them of course.

And so it's kind of here I'd like to get back into our discussion about after contacting Morgan & Westfield to help you sell your business, and it made you feel a lot more comfortable involving obviously a professional in the process and kind of I freed you up did it not to kind of do some other things and just continue to run your business, is that correct?

Jeremy: Yes. Part of what I was not looking forward to was it's very challenging to try to begin the process of selling the company when you're right in the middle of running your company. It's a bit like trying to design a new part of your ship while you're sailing. 

It can be invasive. There's prospective buyers calling and wanting to know about the company, and meet with you, and ask you lots of questions. In some ways it feels like you're taking away the opportunity to meet with somebody for selling something new or designing something new. It feels like I'm taking time away from that. 

One other processes that I really enjoyed out of that was that working with a broker and working with Morgan & Westfield they handled a lot of that for me. So they would do all the initial intake. So people that were just kicking the tires, that sort of thing, I didn't even know about that. Out of the 106 or so people that contacted me, who knows how many others there were that I didn't even hear about. There is a major efficiency gain by working with somebody in that sense.
 
 Jeff: What was your role Jeremy in kind of throughout the process. What largely was it that you had to do to kind of help Morgan & Westfield to help you so to speak? 

Jeremy: I was the one who speaking with all the prospective buyers. They were the ones who were... I would look at them as a coach really. I was the one out there on the field playing ball, but it was really nice to be able to come back to the coach and be able to get a larger perspective of the field and see what plays next. Get critique on how the past play just went, and trying to make each one a little bit better and just constantly advancing the ball. 

That's how I would really describe them, as kind of the coach for you along the process. It's your company. You got to be the one to sell it. They were great in terms of providing the initial business summary and being able to describe your business in a way. Answering all the questions that most people would have which also had saved you a lot of time. Because there are things that I wouldn't have thought to put in a business summary. But at the end of the day you're the only one who can speak to the intimate details of your own business. So you've got to have a hands-on approach to it. And I was totally fine with that. Working within that framework allowed me to sort of build that into my normal routine.
 
 Jeff: These prospective buyers we'll call them because only one person ended up buying your company of course. But this all came through in a matter of how much time, from the time that you picked up the phone to call Morgan & Westfield to the time that you started getting these calls coming in. How much time went past?

Jeremy: That's a good question. I initially reached out to Morgan & Westfield. It was in the spring. And it wasn't until I was still interviewing other brokers, it wasn't until the fall that I decided to pull the trigger. It took about 2 months to get the company ready for listing. It was the end of January that we actually posted the company on the networks. 

So from that time until we actually had a contract in place I want to say we were under contract by September. It was eight or nine months or so. And then during that time it was about four more months until we actually closed.
 
Jeff: Okay. The process took about a year, which is not really an unusual amount of time. That's kind of what we understand is kind of normal for a business transaction any more these days. So did things go pretty well? Did they either meet your expectations or beyond kind of what you expected based on maybe what little you knew about selling a business in the beginning?

Jeremy: It's hard to say. It was a difficult year for me. I had some health issues come up with some family members that required a lot of my attention immediately. And that happened three weeks after the business was posted for sale. And it was difficult to manage that and the company, and selling the company on top of that with my other business. And then on top of that business it's a little bit slower that year. It was a stressful year. But again, that's where that coach principle is really helpful because even during that process and throughout that stress I had somebody who was kind of coaching me along and helping me with the process.

Obviously we got through it. Our sales were quite a bit lower actually than they had been historically as a result of all those things. That's where, again, Morgan & Westfield is helpful in kind of looking at that thing. "Hey, your numbers aren't where they've been historically. I really think we should consider lowering the asking price." And we did. But it was still in the number that I felt was fair and justified given the year we had had. 

I could've waited another year, a year and a half or two, and built sales back up and that sort of thing. But once you're already engaged in that process it's really difficult to make that mental shift to go back. And I'd already started on so many other things.
 
 Jeff: I know that you and your wife obviously very passionate about your business. Was there at any time of point where you were kind of doubtful about your decision to sell or being able to get a decent amount for it? Was there ever that point that, "Is this the right thing? Are we doing the right thing here?

Jeremy: Sure, definitely. There's always going to be times like that. I don't know if I was ever doubtful about the decision to sell. If you study this idea of vocation. It's a Lutheran term and it gets back to this idea, from the Latin, it's a voice within you speaking. So it's the idea that God designed each of us to do a specific thing and have a specific purpose in life. and I've been really doing a lot of soul-searching over the last few years and studying this idea of vocation and what has he designed me for.

As I began to get more and more clarity around that I just realized that it's time for me to move in a different direction. Questioning the sale wasn't really something that I struggled with. It was more a matter of just managing all of the moving parts. Because you've got personal life, business life, the sale of that, it was a lot. I don't think that most people would've gone through that because of all those other issues. So my experience is probably a bit different than what most people go through.

I would look at them (Morgan & Westfield) as a coach really. I was the one out there on the field playing ball, but it was really nice to be able to come back to the coach and be able to get a larger perspective of the field and see what plays next. Get critique on how the past play just went, and trying to make each one a little bit better and just constantly advancing the ball.

Jeff: What are you going to do now Jeremy? You've sold your company and you got through some rough times. You had some family illnesses and you just talked about vocation and being able now to kind of go on and look at that next chapter, kind of take that next road, that new road often to the horizon. What are you thinking about?

Jeremy: One of the things that I'm working on right now that I'm really excited about is a software platform. It's something that I'd been developing within Imago Dei specifically for use in that industry. One of the things I realized is that there's no software out there for anybody that builds a recipe for a service. And so what I mean by that as a painter there's a certain amount of steps that go into something. I've got prep the wall, I've got to paint the wall, I've got to put maybe two or three coats after the primer. And then maybe even a top coat on top of that.

So there's four or five layers that go into something but I'm not going to charge the client for each individual layer, just one of those. So I give them a single item on their invoice. I developed a software that calculates all of the individual component cost, their labor cost. And then adds on your cost of goods sold and whatever the user determines as their profit margin, and spits out a price. And not only that but it also applies a volume based algorithmic discount to each individual item. It does an incredible amount of computing on the back end.

It's something that I developed for my own business and out of a need. And then a couple of years I realized, my goodness, I couldn't run my company without this. It's called Productive. The website is productive.pro. And so over the last couple of years I realized, "If I can't run my business without this I bet there's other businesses out there that would benefit from this as well." So we've been turning it into a web-based application. We've got it now on Amazon servers so it's nice and solid. I've done a lot of work on the front end, on the back end, making it where it can support volume and growth. 

We're getting really close to launching that. We're doing a kind of pre-beta signups right now and getting other users. Flooring companies, caterers, obviously painters, photographers, concrete guys, there's a whole lot of trades out there that deal with selling a single item that's composed of multiple parts and it's a really great platform for that. Anyway, I'm really excited about that.

On the artistic side I'm still creating my own fine art. I do photography and I'm also an actor. I have an agent in Houston. There's a big market for film and television right now in Austin, Atlanta, Louisiana, all over Texas, and of course L.A. So that's been a lot of fun is getting back into that. But I grew up in the entertainment industry as a kid, so it's been fun to get back into that as well.
  
Jeff: My gosh, with all those things you got going on, with all the hatch you were and the things you were interested in I don't how you have any time to get in that van of yours and take off with the family and go have a good time. But it sounds to me like you deserve it and you're looking forward to it.

Jeremy: I am. One of the things I'm trying to do this summer is it's really hard for us to just pause in life and we have this tendency, we have this drive that we have to be productive with our time. And I really feel like I've been given a little window here. And before I just dive into the next venture I want to take a moment to reflect, and pause, and listen for what's next. I felt like if I stayed in Houston I would just get busy behind my computer and starting another company or two or three. 

And so what we're doing is we're going to hit the road and we're just going to drive from national park to national park across the country and see beautiful spaces, and get in wide open places, and find that sacred space.
 
 Jeff: It sounds to me like you're doing all the right things. And Jeremy Wells, it's just been a tremendous conversation today, really enjoyed having it with you, learning more about the sales process. All the best of success and good luck to you in the future my friend.

Jeremy: Thanks Jeff. I enjoyed it as well. I appreciate it.

Over the course of about 10 months I had 106 people that I spoke with. That was way more than I anticipated. Out of those 106 I think I met with 30 or 40 and then progressed it to different stages.

Jeff: That's Jeremy Wells. There he goes. He's a business owner and also too an experienced now business seller, having sold his business Imago Dei. We enjoyed our chat with him. And we'll be talking with other folks just like you who owned businesses and who are now doing other things, because they were able to actually experience that process of selling their companies themselves.

If you'd like to have more information about what Morgan & Westfield does by the way all you have to do is simply get in touch with them on their business line at 888-693-7834. Morgan & Westfield brings you by the way "Deal Talk" on each and every episode, and we're glad that they do. My name is Jeff Allen. Until next time, thanks so much for listening. Here's to your success.

While we take reasonable care to select recognized experts for our podcasts please note that each podcast presents the independent opinions of such experts only and not of Morgan & Westfield. We make no warranty, guarantee, or representation as to the accuracy or sufficiency of the information provided. Any reliance on the podcast information is at your own risk. The podcast is for general information only and cannot be considered professional advice.

 
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