In my world

03 July, 2009
Umer Ashraf is a young entrepreneur who owns the Glasgow-based iCafé chain of shops. He recently opened smoothie and juice bar Paradise Bay in Oban, on Scotland's west coast
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I got a phone call this morning, congra-tulating me on being shortlisted for the Young Male of the Year at the Scottish Achievements Awards 2009 and asking me to prepare a speech, should I be the winner on Thursday, 25 June.

I am, of course, very pleased, excited and honoured to have been shortlisted for such a prestigious award and as I think about all the things I want to say in that speech and all the people I want to thank, one question constantly comes to mind: Why is it that I do what I do?

I think many of us who run our own businesses sometimes ponder over the same thought and I suppose we don't all share the same answers. Some do it for the buzz, some for the money, and some for the freedom. I share all of the above, but most importantly of all, I love doing what I'm doing and I will continue to do it at the pace I'm doing it, if not faster, until I stop enjoying what I'm doing. At that point it will be time to stop and move on.

This brings me to the next question, which is the exit strategy. Do we all have one in place? Do we all know what route we will take when thinking of either retiring, moving on or simply selling our business? A recent survey in the Financial Times showed that the vast majority of entrepreneurs (74%) in the UK were risking long-term business success by not giving proper thought to their exit strategies.

If we actually think about it, an entrepreneur's first objective tends to be to create a business upon which to build value. We often only consider selling that business when first approached by a potential buyer. This can leave us unprepared and at a disadvantage. Having a clear exit strategy in place from the outset may sound counter-intuitive but is, in fact, essential.

It is vital to plan for the future, growing the value and attractiveness of the business by implementing a clear development strategy from the beginning, including putting in place a strong management team to lead the business following the eventual departure of the entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, many do not have such plans and processes in place and that lack of planning can result in difficulty agreeing a price, with owners reluctant to give potential investors access to vital financial information. This ultimately results in not achieving the best value for the business.

My view is that we should all sit down and reflect on what we have done so far, what we're currently doing, and where we want to be in five years. If this means not being in the same business, it's vital to start thinking about a strategy.

Here are two questions for you: what do you want to achieve or avoid? The answer you give to this question provides your objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this question you can call strategy.





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