A lot of founders have the goal of selling their agency one day. But for some, the the last few years made them want to sell as soon as possible and just get away.

I call this selling out — rather than selling up — because the sole aim of the sale is to get out. They are tired, stressed, run down and frustrated. They feel shackled to the business, like a nightmare job they can't resign from. They just want to be free, and the only route they can see is out.

That means they don't get the best price — a suitable reward for all the years of care and hard work they have put in. But also it means they don't put the business on an upward trajectory with its new owners. Typically the quick sale is done as an acqui-hire — to a business that just wants to dump the beloved brand and merge the staff into their own teams for quick growth. Often it's a business that finds it hard to recruit great talent themselves, because of their culture. So the exiting founder sells the people, rather than the business.

But also, this sort of exit doesn't really put the founder on an upward trajectory. They escape, burned out, and don't really know what to do next.

Worse, they most probably still have a couple of years of earn-out, in which they now have all the same responsibilities but with a boss who wants them to drive the numbers to make the sale pay, a different culture, and less power and freedom.

I've seen plenty of founders regret selling out, and while others haven't regretted it (because their need to get out was so strong) they realise they've lost out.

So, if selling your agency comes to your mind, be very careful to not slip into selling out. If you want to exit, the route should be through selling up.

Selling up is selling your business while you still love it and are filled with energy for it. It's selling reluctantly, because there's still loads you want to do with it — but someone has made you an offer so good you can't refuse. That offer isn't just the money, it's about the future it'll mean for the business, and the future it offers you. Everything points up, not just out.

So to sell up, rather than sell out, you first need to fall back in love with your agency.

Love is a symbiotic thing. Loving your agency shouldn't be unrequited. So your business needs to give you plenty of love too. This isn't just about you giving and giving and getting nothing back.

This week, think about your relationship with your agency as an owner. What would it take for you to fall back in love with owning and running it? Do you feel you get enough back from this relationship? What do you want from this relationship? Not just in financial terms, but from enabling your life's purpose and ambitions.


Ways we can help:

  • We organise and facilitate Agency Owners Retreats to help an agency owner(s) step back and think about what they want from their relationship with the business. Not just financially, but in terms of supporting life goals, enabling work ambitions, and being proud. Stepping through these reviews is a key part of reevaluating the owner/business relationship and starting to fall back in love with your agency. Find out more and arrange one for your agency: https://www.convivio.com/courses/retreat-agency-owners/
  • Our core work is to help agency founders establish and run advisory boards to support them. This means they're no longer alone in their work at high altitude in the agency, and they have support and accountability. It helps them to feel back in control of things and know the right things are being done. We've developed ways to help agencies of all sizes do this, by having either a 'virtual' advisory board, a shared one, or a dedicated board. Get started with yours: https://www.convivio.com/pricing/
  • I'm running a couple of afternoon Zoom workshops on The Pyramid Of Purpose, our tool to help agency founders design the purpose, culture and strategy of their business — and then support and guide their work as CEOs. Book your place: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-pyramid-of-purpose-for-agencies-tickets-357963968867

A newsletter to improve your agency's health

Research, expertise and insights so your leadership time has the maximum impact

We will never share your details with anyone else