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How do I sell my business without employees finding out? Dave Fishwick replies


I have a small business that employs 11 people, including warehouse staff, drivers and office workers – it’s fairly niche, and for that reason don’t want to reveal what it is or where.

It has been around for decades, has a good name, healthy balance sheet and I own a relatively modest building outright that contains a small office, warehouse and yard – but the time has come for me to sell.

I have no one to take over the reins and I’m ready to retire. Ideally, I’d like to sell the business and the premises, for a new owner to keep the staff on and also, I don’t want them to find out that it is up for sale.

However, it’s a minefield. Is there a secret eBay for selling businesses around that can help me put a price on it and sell without all and sundry finding out? I also don’t want to get ripped off and for someone to low-ball me: what tips do you have? 

For sale: How can I secretly list my business for sale? Our business doctor Dave Fishwick answers

For sale: How can I secretly list my business for sale? Our business doctor Dave Fishwick answers

Dave Fishwick, This is Money business doctor, replies: There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s life when it feels right to sell their business and move on in a different direction. 

I have numerous companies, and one day I will need to answer this very question myself. 

One of my own businesses is very niche. My first preference would be to sell the business to a member of staff, a manager or a group of existing staff members. 

I am a big believer in loyalty, and I think it would only be fitting to give your team the first refusal. 

I also think you could speak to the bank on their behalf and maybe keep some equity in the business and help them acquire the funds to buy you out.

Perhaps keep hold of some shares and sell them once they have available funds to pay you. 

Also, this allows you to keep a foot in the camp, and just in case, things don’t work out for you in your new projects.

If the staff are not interested in buying the business or taking a share, I would quietly speak to an established business broker. 

They will work out precisely what the company is worth and help you find a buyer, and do all the legwork for you, allowing you to arrive at a fair valuation for the business as a going concern and offer advice on the best way to maximise the value. 

You must remember to use NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements), and that will allow you to be fully protected when disclosing confidential information about the business to the broker and or potential buyers.

The value of a business varies massively, depending on the net income plus depreciation, minus any capital expenditures (CAPX) and working capital (W/C) costs. 

You will probably have an idea of what you would be prepared to take, which is a good starting point. 

Dave Fishwick

You could also speak to local commercial estate agents about pricing and marketing the business confidentially, inviting further enquiries only from pre-qualified interested parties.

I was recently contacted by my bank manager, asking if I would be interested in buying another niche business in the Lancashire area. 

I think it would be a great idea to discuss your thoughts with your local bank manager because they may already know of a good home for your business and would be able to help with the funding needed. 

Another option is you could cautiously approach your competitors. They will understand the company and will probably be very interested in buying you out and eliminating the competition by taking over and increasing their overall market share.

If you had to go away for ten years, which one of your competitor’s stock would you invest all your money into?

That would be the competitor I would go and see first; and they will probably have the foresight and the money to pay you. This option will also avoid you paying any brokerage fees.

However, I would definitely keep your existing property and rent that back to the new business owners. 

I currently own and rent out some commercial property, which I find to be an excellent hedge against inflation. 

You can even use a commercial letting agent, and they will take care of absolutely everything and just send you the money each month. Good Luck!

Tricky question: Rishi Sunak recently answered that his biggest weakness was 'working too hard'

Tricky question: Rishi Sunak recently answered that his biggest weakness was ‘working too hard’

My biggest weakness? Not knowing how to answer that in a job interview!

A while back, I went for a job interview. I was a little rusty, thought it went well – although I didn’t get the job. It was a good experience to get back in the ring.

However, despite preparing, I really stumbled when I was asked what my biggest weakness is and it derailed the next few minutes of my interview as I tried to recover from my indecisiveness.

How on earth do you answer this tricky question without landing yourself in it, or making yourself sound like a smug Charlie?

Dave replies: With job interviews, as with most things, the more you practice, the better you become. 

Although you didn’t get the job, as you say, it was a good experience and great practice, so it was well worth your time applying, and the next time you are asked that question, you will be ready. Remember, your best teacher is your last mistake!

There is a range of standard questions which tend to come up in lots of interviews, which are not always job-specific but designed to find out what kind of person you are and how organised and prepared you are for the discussion. 

This is one of those questions worth scheduling a response to.

There may not be just one best answer to the question, ‘what is your biggest weakness?’ 

However, I speak live in large venues around the country about business, and I always do a questions and answers section at the end. 

This question is one that I am asked regularly. I always initially say, That’s a great question, and then I will first speak about my stronger points. 

Then I will answer the original question by saying, ‘My weakness can sometimes be kindness and loyalty, and a never give up attitude.’ 

Over the years, occasionally, giving up on a project is the right thing to do. 

However, I have won more than I have lost, and it is a little like playing golf and shooting a hole-in-one every single time. That really would take the fun out of the game. 

You occasionally do have to go into the rough a little, to make life more interesting.

One interviewer might be impressed by the response, ‘I can be too much of a perfectionist’ or ‘too demanding of myself’, whereas another might find that answer a bit cringe-worthy. 

The question does invite a generic kind of answer, though, to avoid giving a solution which would effectively rule you out. Other than that, it might be as important how confident and convincing you are in delivering the answer.

My advice for interviews is that it is crucial to be very prepared. If you turn up late or without having researched the company, or not adequately having pertinent questions at the ready, as well as practised responses to questions, you’ll give the impression that you are not taking the opportunity as seriously as you should, if you really want the job. 

Search for a job you can be passionate about, and try to work for someone you admire.

Always remember your best skills and attributes and what you have to offer an employer. Never give up, and best of luck with your next interview.

Ask Dave Fishwick a business or career advice question

Self-made millionaire and entrepreneur Dave Fishwick is our new columnist responding to your questions about business and careers.

Dave has a hugely successful minibus and vehicle business based in Lancashire and rose to fame with his BAFTA-winning television series, Bank of Dave, which saw him battle the big banks.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you own a business, thinking about starting one or have general career questions. 

In his spare time, he likes to give talks to inspire people to be the best they can. 

A Netflix movie about Bank of Dave is set to air at the end of the year/start of 2023 and he has been a friend to This is Money for the last decade. He now wants to impart some of his wisdom and advice to our readers.

If you would like to ask Dave a question, please email him at [email protected] 

Dave will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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