TOP TIPS: How to make a successful exit


Ian Hazlem bought an NHS practice in Cheltenham in 1992 and turned it into a private practice known for excellence among colleagues and patients. He sold Arden House Dental in September 2014 and now works there full time as a dentist, coach and mentor. Here Ian shares his top tips on selling up:

  1. Getting your exit right is not easy as you usually only do it once – my advice is get advice. I worked with Breathe throughout my five-year journey and they were always there to bounce ideas off and give practical support. They helped me on strategy, suggesting I grow the practice from £650k to £1m by employing an assistant while I cut down my clinical time and focused on marketing and sales. They stopped me wasting my time with a buyer familiar to them who made a low offer and was a tyre kicker, before finding me a buyer though a Breathe connection at an additional £250k. They also helped me navigate the sale process and avoid several minefields including managing a last minute crisis with the buyer. An undertaking like this has such a big impact on your personal and professional life that you won’t regret getting help, but you might regret not doing.
  2. Start planning five years ahead – it really does take that long to get it right. My plan was always that at 50 I’d bank the success of Arden House before something happened, and I wanted to find someone I could work with to take the practice on to the next phase. I didn’t want to make another investment that would have me stuck working till 65 to get my money back – I wanted to make my family safe, then carry on working. You get what you deserve if you sell off the cuff, and for me the value in getting it right was deciding who to sell to. I’d had experience with corporates before and wasn’t enamoured with the way it was done, so I knew I was looking for a buyer who really valued the goodwill I’d built up. Selling to this kind of buyer takes longer: it was almost a year from meeting them to final signing (six months is normal for corporates).
  3. Take advice from coaches and the agents as to what sells, then build it. And actually write a business plan. It is not hard – basically your thoughts on paper, and it makes it much more likely that you will think it through and then make it happen.
  4. Fix everything before you sell and buy the kit you want – do not be the whinging associate later on if the deal involves you staying. One of the most important goals for me was to become a happy, constructive associate rather than someone simply ‘serving time’ – and having high quality surgeries to work in really helps.
  5. Do not be greedy – consider your legacy. Price isn’t everything. I gave a significant discount to get the right buyer, and turned some people down. If the top line is all you’re interested in then fine, but I still want to live in the same town. I spent 25 years building this business and I want to be known as someone who established a lovely practice that’s still a lovely practice, and I don’t want to see it become run down.
  6. Don’t underestimate the cost of lawyers and the time it takes to do things properly – you’ll need the best lawyers you can find. I used Charles Russell, who were recommended by Frank Taylor & Associates. They knew the pitfalls, what’s a good contract and what’s not, and were very knowledgeable.
  7. Keep the process confidential. Your team will fall apart with the uncertainty of change unless they are very carefully looked after.
  8. Work with the buyer before and after the sale to make the transition effective and a positive experience for the team and the patients – this is the goodwill you have just been paid for! Right now I’m still effectively running the business so there is no tsunami of change. I’m working the same clinical and back office hours as I always did and I’m showing the new owner how to keep the plates spinning, then as she builds her list I will cut down after six or nine months.
  9. Plan what you will do after the sale – work the same, work part time, retire; whatever the situation, plan your future. I’m staying on as coach and mentor for a minimum of three years. I don’t think stopping work is healthy, and I want to make sure I get a round of applause as I leave.

Best wishes


If you’d like to find out more about how Ian made his exit strategy a personal and commercial success then please call Jonathan or Simon on 0845 299 7209 and they can arrange a group Skype call with Ian.

Arden House Dental Practice

Arden House Dental Practice

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One Response to TOP TIPS: How to make a successful exit

  1. Ewan Bramley says:

    great article Ian. Glad to hear all that planning has paid off.

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