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Three key principles to help you weather the process, find the right buyer, and secure a good sale.

As a cleaning company owner, you may dream of selling your business someday. Many entrepreneurs do. For some, it’s an excellent—and lucrative—move. For others, it’s a disappointment—or a disaster.

Selling a business isn’t like selling an old pair of roller skates on Craigslist. You’re preparing to say goodbye to something you worked incredibly hard to build. You need to approach the process with patience and dedication—which is how you started your business in the first place.

Whether you’re ready to sell or years away, it’s never too early to do a little thinking. Here are three principles you need to understand before selling your cleaning company.

A bad business won’t sell. So make sure yours is excellent.

Think about the last time you bought a car. Did you gravitate towards the beat-up junker with overdue maintenance? Probably not.

You probably checked out a bunch of different cars. You looked closely for signs that the previous owner took care of it and asked for records to confirm its history. And you might have been willing to pay a little more for excellent quality.

The same principles apply when buying or selling a business. If your cleaning company is a disorganized mess, you’re going to have a hard time selling it. Buyers are looking for assets with existing value and future potential. If your business has neither, maybe it’s not time to sell yet.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. If you were looking to buy a business, what would be important to you? You might look for:

  • Excellent financial records and a long history of strong revenue.
  • A large, loyal customer base.
  • Satisfied employees and low turnover.
  • A clean, attractive website with high traffic and a good conversion rate.

If any of these items make you nervous, that might be an area you need to work on. Of course, no business is perfect. And every buyer will have ideas for making it better. But a good foundation is vital.

Do an audit of your business and identify the areas that need improvement. Focus your energy on optimizing that area. You might even recruit a team member for help.

Once you feel really good about where your business stands, you can think about selling.

Think carefully about what you want in a buyer.

Not all buyers are created equal. Once you list your business, there’s no telling who will approach you. Individuals, holding companies, private equity firms, and local competitors may all express interest.

Every potential buyer will bring something different to the table. It’s up to you to decide what’s most important to you.

Here are a few criteria you might consider when choosing a buyer.

  • Shared values. If you run your business based on a specific mindset, you might look for a buyer who shares it.
  • Willingness to keep your staff. Some buyers will dismiss your entire team and start fresh. Others will gladly make keeping your staff part of the terms of sale.
  • A certain price. Some potential buyers can make more competitive offers than others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with naming your price and sticking to it.

You may get lucky and find a dream buyer who aligns with you completely. It’s perhaps more likely that you’ll need to consider a few good, if imperfect, options. Either way, you’ll benefit from reflecting on your priorities early on. It can save you from agreeing to a sale that doesn’t quite feel right.

It can take months—or even years—to sell a company.

Selling is not an immediate process, for many reasons. You might not find the right buyer right away. You might decide to sell outside of “buying season.” You may need to spruce up a few areas of your maid service business to make it an attractive asset. Negotiations can take time.

Bottom line: You can’t assume things will move quickly once you decide to sell.

Patience can be challenging, especially if you have grand visions of a big check and a bit of a break. But it’s important to keep your head in the game, even once you’ve decided to sell.

Jasper Flour, the founder of Lime Maids, didn’t meet his ideal buyer until nearly five months after listing his business. He credits his patience and dedication during those long months for the successful sale of his company:

“I didn’t meet my buyer until a good 4-5 months down the line. If the business had ceased operations (or experienced high churn) before then, she likely wouldn’t have approached me. Since revenue remained stable, however, the business still looked solid and was an appealing purchase.”

Even if you’re itching to move on, don’t start slipping on good business practices and excellent service. Your ongoing diligence can have big payoffs once you find your buyer.

Whether you’re planning to sell in six months or six years, you can start preparing now for a positive experience.