HUGH CULVER

Why I sold my company and lessons learned

Updated to Business on May 3, 2023.

I was ready to walk away from my business.

Sales were flat and so was my motivation and my creativity. I was putting out fires – not growing a business. On top of that, I was going through a divorce that needed my attention. 

And now for the happy ending…

Instead of walking away, I rebuilt the company, doubled sales, and sold the business for mid-six figures. And it all happened in 8 months.

How did this happen?

I’d like to say I mastered Tik Tok or was discovered by the Kardashians. But, it was more like the old metaphor about a ship’s rudder where you adjust the rudder just 1 or 2 degrees and, over time, you land in Lyon instead of Capetown. 

For over 5 years I had struggled to grow the business. I had a small, steady list of loyal clients who paid the bills, but growth was elusive. I was frustrated by the lack of growth and the high time commitment (not to mention stress) that came with owning and running such a small business.

Like the ship’s rudder, I needed a course change.

Instead of focusing on growing the business, I decided to prepare it to be sold.

As ludicrous as this might sound – most business advice is that you sell a business when it’s successful – this course change transformed the business and also my sales.

Ironically, when you prepare a business to be sold, it will actually run better. 

Since that sale (June, 2021), I have helped other business owners successfully prepare their business for an exit. Here are the 5 areas we focus on the most:

1. Stop and listen

For the first 4 years of my business, it was a side hustle. I had a small team who wrote and posted social media updates to promote the blogs for about 30 customers. 

This worked pretty well, as long as customers were publishing new content to their blog. When they didn’t our system broke down and we would be promoting the same content over and over.

In business, we are often offered pivot points that aren’t immediately obvious or even attractive. I needed to stop and listen to my customers

A quick survey proved there was a demand for us to write blogs for our clients. After enrolling a few clients I was finally convinced. Within six months I had four writers and by the time I sold the company, blog writing was 90% of the income and we were delivering over 100 posts per month.

Listen to your customers – you might be surprised by what they have to say.

2. Find your edge

When I added blog writing I moved into a very competitive space. Low-cost competitors, robo-writers, freelancers, and agencies were all happy to generate content for a smaller fee. 

That’s when I started to notice case studies reporting how updating and republishing old blog posts were returning impressive results. The concept is pretty simple. 

When you update keywords, content, internal links, and SEO attributes of old blog posts you send a message to search engines that this content is valuable. In return, you get better search results, traffic is boosted and more business comes your way.

After experimenting with our own blog (by this point I had published over 140 posts) we started to market our new “optimized and updated” blogging service at half the price of a new, original blog post.

By the time of the sale, over 50% of our revenues came from updating old posts.

You don’t have to be an expert in everything or serve everyone (Zoom does video calls, Calendly books appointments), but you do need your edge.

3. Build capacity

The first advice from my business broker was to make myself redundant. As he put it, “Nobody wants to buy a business where they get their hands dirty.”

When I started the company I designed every part of the client process from sales to onboarding to final delivery. I wanted each step to be perfect and I had my hands on everything. The growing demand for our new blog writing services led to recruiting more writers and building better systems. 

It also meant I needed to let go.

In the months leading up to the sale, I built systems for sales, client onboarding, client reports, prospecting, and lead generation. I also dropped my hours from 40-50 per week to 10-15.

Capacity is your ability to attract more business. Capacity also makes your business more valuable.

4. Fill your funnel

Ask most small business owners how they get sales and you’ll often hear the same well-worn reply: word of mouth, referrals, and a bit of promotion (or advertising). Nothing wrong with any of that – except it’s not predictable.

The secret to growing any service business is to design a predictable lead generation and sales system. Of course, you will enjoy the random word-of-mouth referral, but you don’t rely on it.

My pipeline tracking showed that LinkedIn was our main source of non-referral leads. I decided to build my sales funnel there.

Using a simple lead generation service I could get 20 to 30 conversations started per day. About 10 percent of those would agree to a zoom meeting. Of those, about 80 percent would close. 

Within 10 days of building a rough lead generation system, I had closed my first sale. Five months later I’d closed $240,000 in sales. All while working 10-15 hours a week.

The real surprise was I got better at selling.

5. Learn to sell

I would never claim to be a good salesperson. But having a source for sales calls every week meant I needed to quickly become one.

It started with the 3-part sales call.

Years ago I was promoting my course teaching people how to build a business in public speaking. The launches were very popular and some days I would book as many as 18 (15 minute) sales calls. I didn’t have time to chat, so I adopted the 3-part sales call that starts by offering an agenda for the call:

“First, I’ll ask some questions about your business, then, I’ll introduce how we can help, and then we’ll see if that’s a fit for you. How does that sound?”

I was careful to respect my promise of a 30-minute call—going longer rarely helped.

I also developed a two-call process: the first call established a need, and the second secured the sale. In between the two calls, we prepared what I called a Topic Map showing the prospect what topics we had chosen to write about or blog posts we were going to update. 

And here’s the trick: before the end of the first call, book the follow-up call.

Build it to sell

Most business owners are solely focused on growing their business. There are always new products to launch, new markets to enter, and new problems to solve.

All good stuff and all necessary. 

When I stepped back and looked at my business as an entity – that one day I could sell – it became obvious where I needed to put my attention.

I needed to listen and pivot based on what my customers were telling us. I needed to build a strong team and then get out of the way—I could no longer be indispensable. And I needed a reliable lead generation and sales process

When you build your business as if it will be sold one day, you will enjoy a much healthier business today.