Selling a service-based business may be the furthest thing on your mind. Or maybe, it’s something you’ve been quietly thinking about? The fact is that stepping away from your business is simply just another stage in the journey. But when handing over your business feels tempting, it pays to have your ducks in a row.
Can I interest you in buying some quail's eggs?
Why is my broccoli not growing?
And shall I follow through on the promise I made at my wedding?
It’s funny, the fluky things that make us ‘fall’ into business, isn’t it?
If you haven’t noticed, it’s what seems to be the common thread with every Business Your Way guests on the podcast.
The above questions (and the answers to them) may seem odd to say the least, but gosh, do they fire up a rich conversation with Sarah Davies from ‘Sweet Spot Business Coaching’.
Like me, Sarah is a New Zealand strategist and coach for service-based business owners. But it is her background and what came out of it that is the focus of this podcast and blog.
Sarah had a business in beautiful, customised, organic macrocarpa raised garden beds, all planted out. Complete with a failsafe plan for home gardeners.
… WHICH SHE SOLD!
Followed by a marketing agency that specialised in horticulture and in professional services.
… WHICH SHE SOLD!
You guessed it…It’s the selling a service business that perks my interest.
Because selling a service-based business once could be a case of good luck, but when you do it twice, there’s some skill involved.
And I’m keen to know what that is!
So I ask…
How to sell a service-based business?
It may seem strange to talk about selling a service-based business as a business coach, but Sarah points out it’s one of the many ways she helps her clients. To be fair, it’s just another stage of business ownership many of us go through when you think of it.
But it’s a notoriously hard one to pull off successfully.
- When you’re a service-based business owner, a lot of the business value lies with us, the owner. We’re in the business of selling the ideas that live in our brains, rather than a product. And it puts us at the centre of everything.
- But also, In New Zealand, people want to build a relationship before they put their name on the dotted line (rather than what happens in the UK where the signature comes first, Sarah finds). It makes you as the owner of crucial importance!
So can you sell a service business when in its very nature it relies so heavily on the owner? When the very act of selling automatically takes the centre of the business out of the equation?
Sarah’s experience with selling a service-based business
Sarah’s experience is enlightening.
The sale of ‘Patch from Scratch’, was fairly straightforward.
She sold the business to an industry insider who was getting himself an expansion of the existing services (as opposed to selling to a rookie in the industry). Also, the business had a significant product element to it, taking some weight off the previously pictured service conundrum.
But selling a service business, true to the word, like a marketing agency, was a lot more complex.
Sarah sold this business because of a vow she and a husband made at their wedding: They promised each other they would always support the other one’s dreams. Sarah herself had pursued a number herself. Now it was her husband’s time….And it meant a move to Singapore.
Sarah considered keeping the business going from Singapore.
She also considered walking away.
Both of which she dismissed because of her sense of responsibility toward her staff and her clients.
But what she found was that when you are at the centre of your business, the existing contracts you may have in place mean very little when you’re selling a service business. Rather, it’s the standard operating procedures that provide the value and the continuity. Because good standing operating procedures are your brains, your insights and experience ‘on paper’.
Without them, when you plan on selling a service-based business, your business is WORTHLESS!
(I’ve spoken more about implementing standard operating procedures in previous episodes. You can find the relevant blogs and podcasts here and here)
The Selling-A-Service-Business Aftermath
Walking away from her marketing agency wasn’t easy, Sarah found.
Like many of us, she discovered she was her business and her business was part of her. It’s probably very recognisable: when you pour everything you have in your business, your business becomes your identity. Suddenly, without it, she struggled with who she was.
Of course, it won’t come as a surprise that Sarah returned to being a serviced based business owner upon her return to New Zealand. This time , she turned her passion and attention to coaching other service-based business owners.
Having experienced selling a service-based business herself, it’s something Sarah now helps other people with.
The Service-Based Business Doctor (Advice Beyond Selling A Service Based Business)
But of course, Sarah helps her clients with a wide variety of other things that have nothing to do with selling a service business.
When I ask her about that, she says that most of her clients know what they want. Not all of them realise what’s stopping them from achieving it, though. Which is where she comes in.
No matter whether her clients are still in the idea stage, or whether they are 16 years in and counting, there are three big things Sarah thinks service providers need to turn their minds to.
Niche Down To Grow
It’s very counterintuitive, but the sooner you realise who you serve AND learn to say ‘no’ to who is not your ideal client, the sooner you will arrive at the successful business you dream of.
Sarah doesn’t mince it though: transitioning is messy. Always. But it’s worth it. And she’s thrilled to help you with it.
Use The Salami Technique To Avoid Overwhelm And Procrastination
This one’s quite self-explanatory. But it’s also powerful. Because running a service-based business can be quite overwhelming. Breaking it up and focusing on one step at a time is the way ahead.
Sales Needs To Be Win-Win
Sometimes, Sarah finds people are successful enough in their business. Sales come in. But ‘happy’ is not the word that comes to mind when they think about their business. Sometimes they don’t even like their clients.
Sarah says it’s a shift from being re-active to being pro-active that’s needed. It implies creating the business you want, with a client-service provider relationship that no longer conforms to the old-fashioned ‘how high do you need me to jump’.
It’s very free-ing and mostly it’s met with respect.
Keen To Learn More?
If like me, you can’t get enough of Sarah’s wisdom (that, I need to add, goes way beyond the process of selling a service-based business), you may want to sign up for the FREE ZOOM-based training week she has lined up, starting on the 8th of May. It’s called The Client Conversion Kickstart.
During the training, you’ll learn…
- How to be referred by people you’ve never met before.
- How to turn your knowledge into an irresistible package or offer.
- How to stand out and be heard in a noisy world.
- How to banish those awkward sales conversations.
- How to convert more leads and identify your potential client's biggest problem in less than three seconds.
During this week, Sarah leads 3 training sessions and a master class. You can expect some homework notes or decision making after each training. After this week, you will notice your growing confidence in these key areas.
Also, the next intake for Sarah’s group program Beyond The Hourly Rate kicks off on 31st May. It is an online group program and community that offers a targeted approach to launching and growing your business based on your chosen business model.
Get In Touch With Sarah Davies