25 October 2009

That old question that I must have heard a thousand times, “so, what is your exit strategy?” always makes me smile. As if you’d tell someone you barely know.

I always say, “well I’ll be leaving work at about 7pm this evening.” I hear this question 3 times a week.

I think it is important to know where you are going. Businesses need direction. I am a great believer in goals and raised a laugh at the How-Do convention recently when I admitted my wife and I have a “50 year plan.”

But why not? I work on the principal that you need to know where you are going. What is wrong with mapping out your life to when you are in your 90’s. You are far more likely to get to a desired location or destination if you have thought about it prior to setting out. One thing is for sure, I know we will be together as we are both integral to it.

What happens when you go shopping without a clear understanding of what you want to come home with. My wife’s wardrobe was littered with rubbish when I first met her. Shopping was haphazard and directionless and she probably felt this was part of the fun. Ask her now how much more fun shopping is, especially when she brings me along.

So when do you sell your business? You have to have made something worth selling first of all. This needs a plan in its own right. When we set up UKFast we were tiny. The smallest company in the fastest growing business environment and for years no one knew we existed.

But we had a plan, and we were sticking to it. And when the internet bubble burst and businesses were dropping out of the sky affected by the calamity we just carried on regardless. And still no one really knew who we were.

And over the years we have readdressed the plan, yet we still continue to stick to it. Even during the recession we felt it was more important to keep firmly on track than to falter.

And as the business got bigger so do our goals. Our latest 5 year plan includes a target and MAP to hit £100m turnover. Now as this plan unfolds people are begging to take note of us.

The problem with our initial plans were they were too small, and therefore so was the outcome. You get what you focus on so in my opinion you are better aiming higher. If you miss you still are probably better off than you would have been if you’d been conservative.

But on the journey of growing your business, when do you sell? UKFast is already worth far more than we anticipated in the first plan we wrote. So surely I’d be happy to sell?

For me it is not about the money.  It is about the game. I love work. I love people and I love competition. If I didn’t work at UKFast what would I do? I’d be bored sitting on a beach for more than 22 minutes. I don’t drink and I am consumed by learning.

For me, you sell when you stop learning or when you cannot learn at the speed you need to, to continue driving your business in a controlled fashion.  I am fortunate to work alongside my wife. When we have problems we are able to tackle them together.

We are on a weekend business trip and I am writing this, she is tackling a “too heavy for me” book on Balanced scorecard management, whilst we fly from Rome to Amsterdam for our next meeting.

If you have a business partner that is this close you are able to take on much more than if you do it alone.

What is most fun about UKFast is that we are having to learn at such a pace it is incredibly exciting. We take it so seriously that each year we review our goals together in the Maldives and have the final week of a 3 week break where we then strategise and plan for the future.

We have literally hit every goal we have set, and the crazy ones which take time all have a MAP (massive action plan) and we monitor their progress.

So when do you sell you business? In my opinion only when you are bored. But if you are bored, simply pick up a book and find another challenge. There is always something out there waiting to tax our hungry minds. After all isn’t that why we are in business in the first place?

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