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From Nothing to Sell to Selling My Biggest Headache:Tracy Gunn’s Cautionary Tale of Business Exits

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From Nothing to Sell to Selling My Biggest Headache:Tracy Gunn’s Cautionary Tale of Business Exits

By , January 26, 2024
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Tracy Gunn’s journey into business exit strategies and preparation began with a whirlwind of entrepreneurial ventures – from candy stores to restaurants, she was constantly on the move. As she found herself juggling multiple businesses and staff, the realisation dawned on her that the joy she once found in her enterprises was waning. The catalyst for change came when her daughter welcomed her first grandchild, prompting Tracy to yearn for a different kind of fulfillment. This desire for a new chapter led her to the eye-opening experience of seeking a broker’s help, only to be met with a sobering revelation: the businesses she had poured her heart into weren’t as market-ready as she had believed. This wake-up call sparked a journey of introspection and discovery, propelling Tracy to reevaluate her businesses from a buyer’s standpoint. It was a shift that not only revitalised her perspective but also led her to uncover inefficiencies and areas for improvement that had previously eluded her. Tracy’s story is a testament to the power of introspection and the potential for growth that lies within moments of realisation and reflection.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Prepare for a successful business exit with strategic planning.
  • Navigate the unique challenges of the restaurant industry with expert insights.
  • Delegate effectively to unlock employee expertise and drive business growth.
  • Learn how to maximise your business’s value for a lucrative exit.
  • Strategise for long-term business success and sustainable growth.

Business Valuation and Multiple Components
We can all agree that business valuation isn’t a straightforward process. It comprises various components that contribute to the overall worth of an enterprise. A business’s value isn’t simply tied to sales or revenue. It includes intangible factors, like operational processes and its dependence (or lack thereof) on the owner. When examining the business’s profitability, it’s not just about the bottom line, it encompasses the sustainability and scalability of the business model. A business that can thrives independently of its founder often holds more appeal to potential buyers. Just ask Tracy Gunn, she can testify firsthand about the importance of these factors. In her case, her candy store had operational systems in place that allowed her to responsibly step away. However, her restaurants heavily depended on her active involvement. When she attempted to sell her businesses, it was the low profitability and high dependency that deterred potential buyers, the broker even told her there was nothing to sell. However, on reflection, Tracy recognised the lessons learned; she understood that her journey highlights the important aspects a potential buyer may consider in a purchase.

New Mindset and Six-Month Plan
A common adage goes, “Change is the only constant in life.” This holds especially true in the business landscape. Adapting to new circumstances requires a shift in mindset, usually driven by necessity or the desire for improvement. It can also involve setting timelines to achieve specific goals, enhancing focus and productivity. Tracy found herself needing to change her mindset when she discerned her businesses heavily depended on her active involvement. She understood that to make her businesses attractive to potential buyers, she needed an overhaul. Tracy gave herself a six-month timeline to implement changes. This commitment and new mindset were catalysts in transforming her businesses. The shift not only helped improve the profitability and sustainability of her restaurant but also made her much less stressed and more confident.

Watch the episode here:

Welcome to the podcast that’s dedicated to helping business owners prepare for exit so you can maximise value and exit on your terms. This is the Exit Insights podcast presented by Succession Plus. I’m Daryl Bates-Brownsword, and today I’ve got Tracy Gunn with me. Now, Tracy has a great story to tell as a business owner who was basically told she couldn’t sell her business and classic entrepreneur said, you’re not telling me what to do. Said, I got a different story to tell.

So, Tracy, welcome to the show, and thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having meYeah, I’m excited to share my cautionary tale about what not to do and then what you could do to fix it. So that sounds awesome.

Even better. It’s great to have some warnings of what not to do, but if we got some solutions on how to do better, then that makes it valuable. So, Tracy, you were telling me when we had a bit of a prep call, and you were telling me that was it a candy store you ran?

So I started with a candy store, and about after nine or ten years, I started to get bored because it was kind of running itself, and I jumped into a restaurant because that would be an easy thing to do. That’s right. And then I wound up with two restaurants because I’m a glutton for punishment.

And then a second candy store. So by 2019, I had four that I was running 42 staff doing obviously over a million in sales, but, yeah, just running. And I was the engine that made everything go, which is fun for a while, but then it gets kind of old.

Yeah. So you’re like a bicycle wheel. You’re the hub right in the middle, and everything depends on you. And nothing happened without your say so and your input and guidance. And you are like the sun in the solar system. You’re that ball of energy which listeners will soon find out really quickly. You are that ball of energy. That energy inspired and radiated out and made everything happen. So you were the real focal point of the business. Is that a fair summary?

Yeah, I mean, it is a fair summary. And again, I wouldn’t have been able to start a restaurant if I didn’t have systems in place for my candy store.

Right. And so I was doing a half a million a year in my candy store. So we were actually doing business. There were systems in place. I knew that I didn’t need to be there most of the time, but I still did do touch points.

Right. Like most people managing. And so then when I added the full on, you go deep in the zero to one part right. And then the one to ten part, you let other people do. But I still was, like you said, the engine that made sure everything got done, the touch points, with 42 staff trying to rein them in, especially in the restaurant industry, trying to make sure they show up.

Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Are they chewing their checklists? Are things getting done? Because ultimately, like, you know, you’re responsible regardless, no matter whether you’ve said it 100 times and they said they did it. If they didn’t, it’s on you.

So, yeah, I was that, and I just didn’t want to miss paint it that I was in everything, doing everything. But sure enough, if they didn’t show up for breakfast cooking, guess who was cooking for sure?

So you had four businesses on the go. Was there any commonality or any theme or connection linking point between the four businesses?

So, no. I started the first restaurant because I wanted the kitchen. And at our candy store, we do candy, chocolate fudge, cupcakes and ice cream. And I wanted to take the baking off site. I have a kitchen in the candy store, but I wanted a bigger kitchen. I wanted to maybe try donuts.

I wanted to the typical shiny object. I wanted to do other things. And so I thought, okay, this, I could use this for the other and bake here, bring here. And that’s kind of where I started. And then I was like, I just want to do something small, just like basic deli lunch.

But it kind of quickly grew into something else. The commonalities between the restaurants is basically when I did the second one, I just took the same menu and brought it over because I knew how to do that. I knew the costs, I knew about the waste. And I also brought a lot of my staff with me, so some would work day in one night in the other. So there was commonality.

And obviously I was the link between them all. Same for the other candy store, it was the same concept, just new location. So there was commonality between.

So you’re already making desserts, so I guess you just completed the menu.

Yeah, exactly.

Beautiful. And in terms of locations, were they far apart from each other?

No. The second candy store was 20 minutes away in a different state, actually in Vermont. So different laws, different things, but same thing. It’s 20 minutes away. It’s easy enough to get to, but it wound up becoming kind of the orphan child that I rarely went to. The two restaurants were both two different towns, but both in the same town. So I could basically hit the one candy store in the morning before lunchtime. Hit the second restaurant, the first restaurant. By afternoon, hit the dinner restaurant, and then home at midnight.

So really burning the candle at both ends.

Yeah, that’s what we do.

So how long were you doing that for, burning. So, those big, long days?

About two years when I had them all. And then my daughter had a grandchild, my first grandchild. And all of a sudden, just like that, I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m done.

And so that’s kind of the catalyst. But I was probably thinking it. I already had been going on vacation. People are like, you’re always on vacation. Well, yeah, if you work every day until midnight, sure, you go away for a week every quarter.

So that’s kind of what I was doing. It was already slammed into my life until Covid, obviously. But I finally had this catalyst. I was like, you know what? I just want to go and snuggle that baby for a month.

That’s really what I wanted to do. And felt like by now, I should have earned the right to be able to do that without everything falling apart. And I realised, wow, I have made a mistake here.

So, for you, it really was just like a switch by the sounds of things. I’m done. I’m ready to go. I need to get out now.

Yeah, I think we have this slow burn, and then when the final straw hits, you’re like, that’s it. We’re all set, right? And it’s like, we could tolerate a lot, especially as entrepreneurs. We just have built this huge tolerance of what we can handle and juggle, and we always feel like, oh, I’ll fit it in. I fit it in. I’m already doing this. I’m already doing that. But then that one thing comes that just kind of, like, negates everything else. You’re like, we’re done. That’s it. So, yeah, that was totally true for me.

Okay, so the switch hit. You figured out it was time to get out. What did you do then?

So I did what most people would do. I would say 99% of owners would call a broker, right? Because they’re going to fix everything, right? You got to sell your house. You call a broker. You want to sell your business, you call a broker. They know everything. And so, yeah, I called my local guy. He was a customer, came in, and the fear of all that, not knowing what my business was worth, what he was going to think, showing him all the inside. It’s like having people over to your. You’re, uh, don’t look in that. Know that kind of, yeah. And he kind of did the assessment. I stressed for a few days, and then he sat me down and he was like, you know what, Tracy? There’s really nothing to sell here. And I was stunned. Four businesses, are you kidding me? We had sales, we had staff, nothing. Now, again, we take into the account that a broker often wants something that’s easy, right?

But in the moment, I was like, whoa. And did he cry?

Why? There was nothing that was sellable. Let’s call it sellable.

Yeah, but you know what he did? He basically said there’s not a ton of profit. Well, and that’s typical in a small business, because most of the time we don’t want to show a huge profit. Right. We want to not pay 40, 50% to the government.

So that’s not uncommon. So he didn’t do any allowances like putting it back in, or vice versa. But he also recognised that I was the common denominator. Right. And so he wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t 100% right either.

So, reading between the lines, the financials, what did the financials look like? Was there much cash going in and out of the business, or was it just.

No, you know what it was? There wasn’t a ton of profit. The second restaurant, which was our biggest one, it was 6500 sq ft, which is humongous. We were attached to a hotel, we had live entertainment. And so the startup of that, even though I took it over, it was kind of sitting vacant. The first year, the startups are not. You have a cost, right. But in the second year, again, we hadn’t finished. This was like the summer of the second year, right? So we hadn’t done the taxes for that one. And so we were starting to show that, okay, there’s legs here, right? We’re breaking even. I didn’t borrow any money. There was nothing like that. But we were certainly living like week to week, like most people, right. You pay the bills this week because you got paid this week. A big event gets you a little ahead. A poorly attended event gets you a little behind.

So that’s pretty normal in the first year or two. Sure.

So one business was, the profits of one business was being used to prop up and reinvest and build the next business.

Yeah, that’s the way I always did it. I just took and reinvested. And the candy store, again, we’re in a town that’s kind of on the decline, not inclined. So it didn’t show a ton of potential of growth there, but it was maintaining its own. But again, you’re not living the rich life. We’re not making millions at the candy store.

Okay.

So when you put that together, he was like, yeah, this is not going to be an easy sell. I’m out. That kind of was his attitude.

Okay, so did he give you any guidance on what you could do to make it sellable? Just said, no, this is a lost cause. I’m out of here.

No. And that’s exactly what. After I cried a little bit, I put on my big girl pants and thought, all right, wait a minute. Okay, let’s pull it together. Is he right? Maybe. If he is right, what can I fix, right? And that’s kind of like, all right, you knock me down, I might cry a minute, but I’m going to get right back up and fix whatever I need to do. So that started this whole discovery of what does it mean to exit? What are they looking for? What makes the value? Why does he not see what I see? All of that exploration started because of that. So I’m really grateful to him because I would never have known otherwise.

Okay.

And I realised a lot of people don’t know.

Well, exactly. So where did you go looking for information to go? How do I change this situation?

Well, I mean, for myself, I just did a bunch of research online. I found a lot of those online calculators to be like, wait a minute, why? I don’t understand. And numbers can make. You can make numbers say whatever you want them to say, right?

I mean, that’s the reality. And so I realised by playing with the numbers, like, all right, I could see a little bit of what he was saying, but let’s just say. So I kind of gave myself a pat on the back and I thought, all right, let’s just say valuation zero. But I have something. I have customers, I have sales, I have connections. I have something that’s moving forward. Right? The train is going, so what can I do? So I just started thinking logically, like, okay, and not only logically, what could I fix or improve? But also, what do I hate? What do I hate doing? Let’s get me out of those things. If I could get some quick wins to maybe not want to be here to change that just a little bit, it would make the rest easier. So I hired someone for inventory, the liquor inventory. We found theft. All of a sudden, we were more profitable, right? That little things that were inefficiencies. But when you’re focusing on just going forward and growing, you’re not really paying attention to the foundational things necessarily, you’re thinking about, like, okay, how do I get more people in the seats? Whatever. How do I get more staff? How do I have consistent staff? But you’re not always thinking about the foundational, like, what makes this solid and easily run without me? And so all of a sudden, when he said that, I started thinking about my business, not as more, how can I get more, but how can I stabilise, right? And it just was that shift for me again, that one shift that made me look at it differently. Like, look with the eyes of a buyer. What would they not like here? Fix those things, right? That kind of mindset. And it’s funny how that happens, right? That just, like the baby was born, all of a sudden I wanted something different.

Somebody says something to you and it makes you stop and think, wait a minute, okay, I’ve been kind of, like, running, but I haven’t thought about the foundation. So let’s get back to the foundation quick, right? And I gave myself six months to do it. It was nice because I thought, all right, I can do anything for six more months. That’s doable, right?

And I just concentrated on my biggest headache, which was my giant restaurant. And that’s kind of where we started.

Okay, so what I heard there, Tracy, was that he said something along the lines that the business depended on you too much. So you heard, how do I extract myself out of the business? How do I keep the business running without me? And then you also started to explore, what are the components of how a business is valued. So we all know there’s a profit number, and there’s also a multiple, and the multiple just represents risk. What’s the risk to the buyer of that profit continuing, essentially, and what’s the ongoing likelihood? And is it a business I’m buying, or is it a job I’m buying? And hopefully a well paying job that I’m buying, rather than a poorly paid job that I’m buying?

But, I mean, in the restaurant industry, often it’s a low profit industry. It just is. There’s so many working components, and I couldn’t have picked a harder one to play in. Right.

Yeah.

And you’re exactly right. That’s exactly right. I mean, I started to think about, why is this not valuable to this person? It’s valuable to me, valuable to my customers, valuable to my staff. What do I need to fix? And now I have a problem to solve. I know what it is. Let’s fix it. And that’s kind of how I started. Yeah.

And so you started employing people with expertise to take on responsibilities, because employees always do a better job than you do as an owner, and they do what they’re asked to do. Often if you say do it this way, they’ll do it that way. They don’t change their mind every time. Like, the entrepreneur is prone to doing.

Right. Well, and they have one lane, whereas I had 50. Right. And so I’m never going to be as good. But you know what? It’s funny. I found that I had hidden things in my business I didn’t recognise. For example, I didn’t have an alcohol inventory control system, and I didn’t realise how badly I needed it because I had never run a big bar before, but yet someone on my staff knew how to do that. So all I did was just give her five extra hours a week. And all of a sudden, we had a system, and it was like, and magically found theft was more profitable, like, dealt with a problem that I didn’t even know I had because I didn’t have the system I needed. So, yeah, exactly. It’s amasing if you are able to delegate it and explain it and train that they’re willing to take it on, take it off your plate and do a better job. You’re right.

Yeah. Okay, so you gave yourself six months. So in your mind, by the end of the six months, what did you have to achieve?

So for me, I was just like, I can do this for six months. So it gave me hope, because I knew I had an end date, I had a target. Second, I was like, well, let’s see if I can turn this around. I said it’d be nice to sell, but if, let’s just say at the end of six months, he was right and I had nothing sellable, I would do what he said, which was to liquidate.

I had an out either way. If I was successful, cool. If I wasn’t successful, I had another plan, and then I would deal with the other businesses. But that turned out to be really within three months. And I don’t want to jump to the chase, but within three months, people noticed because I was talking about it.

I was talking about changes. Customers were noticing, and actually, someone at my bar asked to buy it. Within three months, I wasn’t even wasn’t. I was just in the process of making it better and more sustainable.

Right.

Which you hadn’t done before. So making a business or running and owning a business that wasn’t dependent on you was something new for you.

I mean, I had done it in the candy store, but with the restaurant, you add three other layers, right? You have front of house, back of house. You have so many different components, and I don’t know, everywhere is different, but it’s always been difficult in our area to have staff. There’s restaurant staff, cook staff. There was a time I was working for a big chain, and the owner or the manager said, your biggest problem is always going to be your staff. You’re always going to have trouble finding people in the kitchen to show up and be consistent. You’re always going to have servers who don’t show up or bail last minute, like those kind of things. But if I could fix some of the other things, those things wouldn’t be as bad when they happen.

Okay, so you had some vision of what you needed to change, and a lot of it was around structure and getting people to run their own roles and getting just more people to do things that you weren’t doing. And that attracted someone. So someone could see that the business was running better. That possibly saw you looking less stressed and anxious all the time. And she’s obviously got doing okay at this business thing. I wonder if she wants to sell it. How did you respond? What happened? What was the process from there?

It’s funny, because I’d be at the bar. We had a big bar that sat 40. And so towards the end of a couple of months in, I wasn’t as stressed. You’re exactly right. I wasn’t, like, running from here and there. I had shored up a lot of the holes. And so I was just chatting with people at the bar while the bartenders were doing their things, and I was telling him about my plans and about my grandkids, blah, blah, blah. And so he was like, so you really want to sell? And I was like, yeah, that’s what I’m working towards. I’m ready to go. I want to be near the grandkids, whatever. And so he was like, would you sell it to me?

And I was like, he was not somebody who had owned a business. He had a 401, and he always dreamed of owning a bar and restaurant. And he was a regular. He was in there a couple of nights a week, and he sat at that bar and just chatting with me and he was like, you know, I think I would love to do this. And I was like, really? Well, let’s have a chat. So all of a sudden. And that gave me a little bit. It’s nice how a little inspiration to keep going, right? To make it that much more, to pull it all together, tighten up the numbers, all the things. Because when we finally sat down, I had to show them all the things, right? To show them the numbers, show them where we are, what we’ve done, what I’ve changed, that kind of thing. And again, humbling, but from a place of confidence, because now I knew what I was talking about.

So did you bring an advisor in at this stage to help pull everything together?

No, I was kind of burnt out on the broker.

Yeah. Okay, so how did you value the business with this client?

I just sat down and I walked through the numbers with him, showed him where the costs were going to be continual, where the costs were done and paid for, and just laid it out. And I just said, like, listen, this is what we are making a month. This is what I was going for. A one multiple. Because a couple of months ago they told me it wasn’t worth selling. So I was going to be happy with any kind of exit. Right. Sometimes just listen. I wouldn’t have to take it apart. That alone would. I mean, I might have paid him to take it at that point just because taking it apart is a pain, too. There’s a lot to do. It’s a whole another job.

I set a number that was on the higher side. He set a number that was kind of low based on his 401k. And we kind of met in the middle. And so for me, it was just kind of fun to be able to look somebody in the face, somebody that I knew already anyway. But to really just discuss the reality without any hidden agenda.

Nothing hidden like this is what it is. Right. Because I certainly didn’t want to sell with anything hidden in the corners. Right.

So, Tracy, was this just the restaurant or were you selling all four businesses to one person?

No, this was my big headache. So this was my 6500 square foot restaurant. This monstrosity that took most of my time. It was my biggest headache. The other ones were manageable, right? This one was my till one or two in the morning on the weekend kind of a gig, and I was kind of done with it.

Okay, so we’ve parted with the problem child. You’re able to look the person in the eyes at some point. Did you get a lawyer in to help go through the finer details?

No, we actually got all the way. We kind of figured everything out. He figured out we had a closing date. He figured out all of the licensing things. Because our town is pretty small. They know us.

In our state, you kind of have to start from scratch with your alcohol license. So we got all those things lined up. I helped him. We communicated really well together. And the biggest hitch, honestly, was our landlord, who kind of just jerked us around for months, like, just not wanting to sign the new lease.

And so for us, that’s kind of how it went, which is like, okay, we got all this. We kind of came up with an agreement. I should have hired a lawyer. It probably would have been smarter, but I was just happy to be moving the process along, and I was happy to get an exit and be able to walk away feeling good about it, that that was okay with me. And I felt like he was trustworthy. He was a smart man. He had a corporate job. He had the money. So it wasn’t like a big, huge risk for him. I mean, it was. But it wasn’t right, because I knew that things were working. So, yeah, no, didn’t hire a lawyer. Probably should have. I mean, looking back, it probably wasn’t wise, but in the midst of it, it just felt right. Sometimes you go with your gut.

Okay, so how long ago was that now?

That was 2020.

So what’s happened in that time? Is the restaurant still running? How’s it going under new ownership?

Actually going really well. And actually. So we have a caveat in there in that we got all the way to the finish line, and my landlord wouldn’t sign, like I mentioned. So then a month goes like, we were supposed to close February 2 of 2020, and then we go to the next. The landlord pushes them off.

So I said, don’t worry. We’re going to be fine. Everything’s fine. And then the next two weeks later, he comes in. He’s like, they won’t return my call.

So I said, okay, that’s okay. We’re going to get there. We’re going to get there. The last meeting he had was March 16. No, I’m sorry. March 14 of 2020. Can you see where this is going?

Oh, yeah.

And the landlord ignored him again. He offered him four months rent up front just to sign so we could be done. Everything else was signed. Everything else was done. And then two days later, they shut down the whole state. So the cautionary tale there is landlords can get in the way. So we got all the way to the finish line, and it didn’t happen.

But I will say this. It was good for him, because he would have been in a lot of trouble. We were closed for four months after that. So that one never sold, honestly. Well, we sold in the sense that we sold. We signed paperwork, but it never got the handoff, which was a shame for him, but also a saving grace for him. So, yeah, that’s kind of what happened with that one. So we were shut down for four months. I mean, timing was not great for Covid.

Yeah, there’s a lot of horror stories out of COVID And then some winners as well.

Yeah, no, and you know what? That one did really well. And in the end, we wound up just handing it over to another guy who just took it over, and he’s doing great. It’s still there. He was looking to expand his restaurant.

It was a better fit. But also, during COVID I knew it was going to be a problem for whoever got it after that. So I kind of dashed all hopes of selling and just looked to be done after that. So that summer, even though we weren’t allowed to fully operate as usual, we’re not allowed to do live events and all those things, we knew it was kind of this losing cause for a while. And so this guy Jimmy, he’s in our town.

He’s still running it. He put it under his name, and basically, he revamped a little bit. He didn’t do as much of the live entertainment because the first two years, he couldn’t. But it’s going great. And you know what?

If I had held on, I would have been killing it right now, because restaurants are doing really well right now. Well, you win some, you lose some. It’s awesome.

Tracy, what’s the state of the other three businesses? Where are you at with those?

So the other one I had, the second one, the restaurant was going great, because, again, I could just focus on the one. I actually reopened both of them, which was hard to do at the same time. The second one, we wound up doing ghost kitchens. We were doing amazing. And yet again, my lease was up in March of 2021, five years. And they wanted to redo the lease, but they wanted to control all my hours. They wanted to tell me when I could be open and not. It was a municipality owned. It was an airport restaurant. And I was like, no, we’re not doing that.

And so, unfortunately, it came down to a lease again. And so I liquidated that one because there was no other airport to move my flight deck restaurant to. So we liquidated that one and because of the lease negotiations, and they actually gave it to somebody else, which again, landlords. I’m not a fan. So that was restaurant two.

But again, I got out of it. The great news was I made a lot of money that last year, so that was excellent. And I wasn’t inclined to give up my rights as an owner. I wasn’t inclined to, especially the tail end of COVID to have a municipality tell me I had to be open two shifts a day, seven days a week in a Covid environment. There was just no way I was going to agree to that.

So what did I think was right? No, but I just made the most of it and did what I did, and I didn’t want to be there anyway. Honestly, I was making money and I was making it work, but I didn’t want to be there. So now I’m shut down. I had a partner who actually started earning in at the candy store in 2020.

Actually, she started in February of 2020, and she was earning in and taking over the candy store because she wanted to own her own. We shut down after mid Covid. We shut down the second one because Vermont had a lot of restrictions in Covid couldn’t survive there. So we just condensed back down to one. And she was here for two and a half years. And two and a half years in, she was like, you know what? I don’t know that I want to own a business.

So I’ve had a few different exits and then comebacks after two and a half years. I was like, okay, what are you going to do? Right? I mean, she didn’t want to have it, and ownership is not always what you think it’s going to be. So that one, I came back in and I realised in letting her run everything, I still own part, and she owned part, that she had undone a lot of the systems because she was here all the time.

So I had to come back in the last year and reinstitute a lot of systems. So that’s kind of where I am with all of those.

So you still own the initial candy store?

I do.

Working, what sort of time in that one now?

None

None?

None? Okay. I just have staff that do it instead like I did originally. And my big goal is to just get to North Carolina near the grandbabies. And that’s actually, we just signed a lease to open another candy store down there just because it’s easy for me to do. I’ll just get it going and do the thing and then I can be there all the time. So that’s great. So that’s where we are.

Right. And then I started the side things that I’ve been doing that are much more interesting and fun and more mobile, which that’s the lesson out of all of that is did I want to be tied to a place, right. And have a business in a place. And for me, the answer was no.

So you’ve gained a lot of experience around how to prepare a business, how to run, and have, I guess, how to have a job.

You learned how to have a job, and you went through the process of extracting yourself out of a job and learning how to run a business without being in the business so that you could sell it. Had a couple of false starts. Covid interfered with a whole lot of things, change your life priorities.

And you. Just alluded to something there that you’re dabbling or playing and energized with a new activity or enterprise. What is it you’re working on now? Mostly, Tracy.

So a couple of years in, after I kind of exited in all these different ways, I started to think about, why didn’t anybody warn me about, like, why didn’t I know about any of this stuff, right?

And so much of entrepreneurship is figure it as you go, right? Like building the plane as you’re flying. And I thought, gosh, this is the one thing that probably is the most important thing. And yet I had no. I find myself to be a pretty intelligent person.

A glutton for punishment, sure, but pretty smart. Why didn’t I ever think about what my business was worth? Why didn’t I ever think about how to make it worth more, right. Why didn’t I think? I just thought about my pain points or what my goal was, right, which was to grow or whatever.

And so I started thinking about, gosh, people need to be talking about this. And it just surprised me again. The broker, he had this opportunity, like, oh, hey, if you fix these things, maybe come back to me. Well, he didn’t even open that door for me. I thought, gosh, brokers are leaving so much money on the table by not having either somebody to refer them to, to help them get ready or just telling them where to start, right.

That there is hope. Don’t just give up. And so we started this consulting business just helping people to prepare in the same way, teaching them the things that I did, how I did it, why I did it, that imperfect as I am, I was able to do it even while running four businesses. And if I could do it, they certainly can do it and get an exit instead of just liquidating.

So now you’re sharing all of your experience. What’s the, I guess, double edged question here? What would you do differently if you were to do it all again? And I guess assuming that’s exactly what you’re teaching the clients you’re working with, what to do differently? Learn from my mistakes, so to speak.

Right. Well, there’s a lot of cautionary tales in there, but I never regret the lessons I’ve learned so much. My capacity to do is incredible, and it’s only after 17 years has just grown. But the cautionary tale is to think about what do you want in the end game right now? I didn’t know that I was going to have grandchildren, but I certainly knew that I didn’t want to be in my town after my last one graduated. Like, I just kind of was tired of New Hampshire.

I wanted to go somewhere, I wanted to travel, I wanted to explore, I wanted to do stuff. But yet I built four businesses that were right. So. But I didn’t think about it. I never took the time to really lay out what do I want, really, what’s my big goal here?

And I think that for me, is what we usually wind up focusing on the most is that so many of us are in it. We start it, then we’re in survival mode, then we kind of figure out a happy medium and we exist in it, right? Maybe we grow, maybe we don’t. But that very rarely do we stop and think, what do I really want? Is this going to get me?

And what does the end day look like? And so we start now, if I had done it differently, the candy store, I definitely built that way of being not the person behind the counter, not the person here. I definitely did that. The restaurants, that was a different animal, and I didn’t do that. But just thinking about the end in mind, starting with the end in mind, and it can change.

But is the goal to eventually sell? Is the goal to be mobile? Is the goal to be able to explore the world and be able to work from anywhere? Well, if that’s the goal, these models that I have will not work, right? That choice or just acknowledging that goal would have filtered a lot of my decisions and still does.

When people approach me and they’re like, hey, we have two restaurants. You want to take them over? I’m like, for a minute I have shiny object, and then I come back to, what do I want? No, I do not. But I mean, it’s still tempting, but it still keeps me in line. It keeps me in my lane.

So the big lesson is, begin with the end in mind. Know what you’re working towards just so you’re not on that hamster wheel doing the same thing again and again and again. Make sure that when you’re building and owning your business, you’re working towards something. You know what that end plan is, and it’s okay for plans to change is what.

So let’s. Let’s. Let’s wrap things up. Tracy, normally I ask, what’s the key message? You want business owners and listeners to this podcast to take away with them, but what is it you want business owners to know that they need to do? If they’re thinking about exit, they’re thinking about, hey, I want to get out of my business in the next one, two, three years. Hopefully they’re not giving themselves a six month timeline like you did, and they’re taking a little bit of pressure off and giving them a bit more time. What should they be thinking about?

Well, I think people just don’t realise, like myself, that there’s a whole process here, right. That it’s not going to be easy, we think, oh, it’s going to be easy to sell, right?

Oh, everyone will want my business. Well, no, you don’t even want your business most days. Right. So I think, again, end in mind that you need to prepare and that it is hard to sell because for a lot, I mean, there’s not enough buyers. There’s going to be so many.

The silver tsunami that’s coming, all these things you have to prepare, and now is the time, right? That’s saying, like, when’s the best time to plant a tree 50 years ago? When’s the next best time? Right now? It doesn’t matter if you want to exit in ten years or 20 years, you really should be thinking about these things so that you have something to aim for and that keeps you online for what you want.

So that’s the main thing. And that was the cautionary chair. I was like, why didn’t anybody tell me? Well, could anyone have told me? Maybe not, but I’m going to be a voice for that. Like, you need to prepare and you need to know what you want and work towards.

So that sounds like. Totally. Yeah, Tracy, that’s a great way to finish off. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your exit insights with us today.

Well, thank you for having me. I hope everyone goes out there and prepares, even just a little bit. Just pick where you’re going.

About Tracy Gunn

Tracy Gunn is a seasoned entrepreneur and founder of Exitable, a company specialising in helping business owners exit their businesses on their own terms. Drawing from her personal experience of transforming her “unsellable” restaurant into an attractive acquisition in just 3 months. Tracy works with clients who are looking to exit their businesses due to loss of passion, retirement, or the desire to pursue new opportunities. With her guidance, clients develop tailored exit plans that not only make their businesses sellable but also transferable and desirable to potential buyers. Tracy is on a mission to help 1 million small business owners develop and implement Exit Strategies by 2028.

If you would like to learn more about how to start preparing your business, then you can get more information here: It All Begins with Insights.

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

CEO | Succession Plus UK

Darryl is a dynamic, driven Business Mentor and Coach with over 20 years of experience and passion for creating successful outcomes for founder-led businesses. He is a great connector, team builder, problem solver, and inspirer – showing the way through complexity to simplicity.

He has built 2 international multi-million turnover businesses; one now operating in 16 countries. His quick and analytical approach cuts through to the core issues quickly and identifying the context. He challenges the status quo and gets consistent, repeatable and reliable business results.

Originating in Australia, Darryl’s first career was as an Engineer in the Power Industry. Building businesses bought him to the UK in 2003 where he quickly developed a reputation for combining systems thinking with great creativity to get results in challenging situations.

A keen competitive cyclist, he also has a B Eng (Mech) Engineering and an MBA.