Knook #22: Christine Westbury
In my experience, people starting businesses think about the effort it takes to get something off the ground, but not much about what happens when it comes time to sell.
It’s a challenge to think about the end when you’re getting started but for Christine Westbury, that early foundation of doing everything right made the process much easier when the time was right to sell her business.
She started Clean Mixes, a bliss ball and baking mixes business, but it also provided Christine with a business platform to try out marketing and business systems. Some milestones included creating a fully outsourced model within nine months of starting the business and building the social following to nearly 18,000 followers.
I asked Christine to give me a bit of background on building Clean Mixes before the sale.
“I wanted to make baking healthily easier, where a customer could just add a few wet ingredients and know that their treat wasn’t too bad for them.
“The idea really came from my wicked sweet tooth - I decided I needed something free of dairy, gluten, and refined sugar. I had young kids and I was trying to use baking mixes just to make things easier. I was looking for a business idea that was scaleable and something that I could systemise and grow, and play around with social media too.
“I put six months of planning into it, playing around with recipes and thinking about how this would all work. I didn’t come from the food industry so it was a steep learning curve trying to understand food safety, packaging requirements, finding a commercial kitchen etcetera. I wasn’t afraid to get on the phone for help and it really just snowballed from there.
“I remember the first time I got out to our prep kitchen. I loaded up my husband’s ute and got down there and thought to myself, ‘We’ll launch with four products and I’ll make 100 of each’. It took me 9 hours to make 400 mixes and I thought to myself ‘what am I doing? How is this a scaleable idea?’. But I persisted with it.
“We launched in February 2017, and started with selling the mixes on Instagram and Facebook. In May I called New World Thorndon and asked if they wanted to stock our product and they said yes, so all of a sudden we were in supermarkets and had to scale. I was transporting half a tonne of product to our commercial kitchen, making the product and then taking it all home to package and send out.
“I moved to third-party manufacturing in October, and third-party logistics to help scale the business from there. That was a huge turning point for us because it enabled the scale - and I didn’t want to be in the kitchen because my passion was the strategy and marketing side of the business.
“My plan was always to build and sell. I had been building Clean Mixes for almost three years before I sold. I was about a year and a half in and realised it needed more energy put into the business to grow - and I wasn’t able to put more time into it level. My health was suffering a bit and I wanted to keep my family as a priority and I wasn’t able to give the business the time it needed to keep growing.”
I asked Christine what she thought were key factors in reaching a successful sale.
“I think a huge factor was the outsourced model - it made it extremely scalable for the new owner,” says Christine.
“The brand was really strong. And overall the base was set well - there were no gaping holes in the platform of the business for the new owner, so it made it easy for someone to step in and continue the growth.”
I asked Christine what her process was in the lead up to the sale.
“I made sure there were really strong relationships with our customers and suppliers. Everything was written down so it made it easy for the new owner to step in - stuff like how to order the ingredients, what the recipes are, etcetera,” Christine says.
“I followed this principle from a book called The E Myth by Michael Gerber - the crux is that everything in your business - from the little simple things through to larger processes - should be systemised so it’s really easy for someone else to step in. Clean Mixes was influenced by that philosophy so there wasn’t as much prep on the business itself when it came time to sell.
“Selling your business is an incredibly soul-revealing process. It’s something you’re heavily invested in and you’re baring your soul to see if someone else feels the same way about it.
“I started by approaching some businesses I thought might want to buy us. They didn’t end up purchasing but it was really useful because it gave me an idea about the types of questions a buyer would ask. There were some sensitivities around that because of course you’re trying not to let clients know that you’re looking to sell, but some of them might have been keen to purchase the business.
“I ended up going through a deadline sale on Trademe. I interviewed potential buyers and managed the whole process myself. It was incredibly stressful but I had to back myself to make it happen.
“Selling a business is like watching your teenager grow up. You’ve got to let go and pull back and trust that you’ve done enough to make it successful.
“I chose the new owner and we ended up meeting on the day of the sale. We sat in a boardroom and went over everything and then ended up working over a weekend at a food expo. So it was a hectic finish to the business but great to spend that time with the new owner and make sure the handover was successful.”
I asked Christine what advice she’d give to someone looking to sell their business.
Says Christine, “You need to be super clear on what you want out of the sale. Write it down - how much money are you looking for, how long you want the handover to be etcetera. Work out what needs to be done and work your way back from there. I managed it like a secret marketing project - thinking about what a prospective buyer needed to know and pitching it from there.
“Don’t think it will only take a month. These things take time so start thinking about it really early on.
“And finally, I’d say play the long game. It’s much easier to sell a business when you’ve built it with the right foundation, rather than arriving at the point you want to sell and having a stack of work to do to make it happen.”
I asked Christine what’s next.
“It’s really funny when you’ve built a business and successfully exited. People have an expectation that you’ve already got something else you’re working away on, or you’re rushing into building something else.
“Clean Mixes was meant to be a bit of fun and it snowballed into this big thing. So, I’ve taken a good six months off to spend time with my family and look after myself. And I’ve just launched Blackjet Marketing; an online marketing strategy and implementation service based off my learnings from Clean Mixes. I’m available for a small number of clients and it’s an exciting time!”
Check out Christine's new project, Blackjet Marketing, here: https://www.christinewestbury.com/