An ultra-marathon is any footrace over a distance greater than 26.2 miles. Typically race distances start at 30 miles, with a number of events covering more than 100 miles. At first glance, this may not look like it has much in common with the world of corporate transactions. However, there are more parallels between an ultra-marathon and a business sale than you might expect…
Preparation is everything
Be honest. If you turned up at the start line for a 50-mile run, having done absolutely no training, the likely result would be a bit of a mess, wouldn’t it? You might even end up doing yourself irreparable damage.
The same principles apply to a business sale. The journey you’re about to take will be a lot more pleasant if you’ve taken the time to get yourself in shape first. In an ideal world, you’ll make a start a couple of years before the anticipated finish line, take expert advice on the best way to get rid of any excess flab, make sure you’re performing to your maximum potential and deal with any recurring niggles. In the real world, you may not have the luxury of that kind of time but, for both an ultra-marathon and a business sale, it’s good advice to try to identify and deal with the obstacles ahead of time, rather than risking them tripping you up when it matters most.
You’ll need to balance it with your day job
Ultra-running is demanding and time-consuming, and very few competitors have the luxury of being able to devote themselves exclusively to their sport. Family, work and other commitments frequently require a bit of creativity and diary-juggling, and sometimes something has to give. The ideal mix is different for everyone, but the need for balance is universal.
Very few business owners, when contemplating a sale, will be able to imagine quite how much of their lives the process will consume. A typical transaction (if there is such a thing) can easily take 2-3 months from the signature of heads of terms to completion, and very few business owners are able to ignore the day job whilst they focus on compiling legal and financial due diligence information, digesting lengthy and complex legal documents, attending meetings and (more often than not) maintaining confidentiality. If business performance starts to slip during this period the sale can be put in jeopardy. Equally, neglecting family and friends for an extended period can cause its own issues. Whether you’re training for a big race or preparing for a sale it is a good idea to talk to someone who has already been there, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, and keep a sense of perspective.
Expect both the highs and the lows
Anyone running further than the 26.2 mile marathon distance can expect to experience both euphoric mental and emotional highs and some extremely challenging lows. It is commonplace for a runner to be at rock-bottom and ready to quit at the next checkpoint, only to find that five minutes later they are back in the game, tapping into reserves they didn’t know they had and feeling like they could go on forever.
Similarly, it is a rare business sale that doesn’t have some challenges along the way, and when you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar sale process it can be difficult to keep a sense of perspective. It won’t all be a walk in the park but it’s important to remember that, just as buyer requests for due diligence information and outstanding points on the sale agreement can mount up quickly, with the right advisers, they can also be resolved quickly. As ultra-runners say, it doesn’t always keep getting worse!
Be warned – you may want to do it all over again!
Given that running an ultra-marathon involves extensive preparation, requires a big time commitment and will (putting it mildly) take you on a fairly intense journey, many runners view their first race as a one-off event. However, once the blisters have healed and the legs stop feeling sore, a runner’s thoughts will turn to the question “What next?”. The answer, more often than not, is to start looking for the next race.
Although many sellers will have an eye on retirement, and the words “Never again!” are frequently heard at completion meetings, once the ink has dried on the documents many sellers find themselves feeling a bit restless. Just like ultra-runners, with one long-term goal in the bag a surprising number of sellers find themselves looking for the next opportunity…
Steve McElhone is a Partner in the Corporate & Commercial Team at BHW Solicitors, with over 20 years’ experience running corporate transactions. He ran his first ultra-marathon last year and will be competing in the Dukeries 40-mile race in Sherwood Forest on 11 May.