We've got a fast-growing global business with big value and potential, which we're keen to exit for personal reasons. We've spoken to M&A firms that suggest a subtle approach. There are plenty of ideal potential acquisitors. Spoken to a couple in other guises they're interested in, advised to be subtle about exit, but want to get on with it. Thoughts?
What do you see when you look at the stock market over the last two weeks? The Dow was down over 900 points this morning. Why are you even thinking of selling your business in this sort of market when there are no buyers?
If the above makes sense to you then its wrong. The Dow recovered because buyers saw an opportunity and the Dow recovered to be down about 250 points. As I write this is its about 480 points down.
The bottom line. You have your reasons for selling. A buyer will buy for their reasons. You have to find the right buyer which normally takes time and presenting your business as professionally as you can and having experienced advisors around you to help you be successful. If you are highly motivated to sell, try to solve what's causing you to be highly motivated so you can just be a motivated seller and let the market do what it does; bring together a willing buyer and a willing seller.
There are plenty of ways to present yourself that won't seem desperate, such as saying that you feel that your original vision could be better realized as part of a larger organization (either because more resources or complementary offerings) or the perfectly acceptable "founder wants to move on to other things"
Any buyer will be more interested in the potential post-close than in why you sell. Appease their fears about the quality of the business and the transition (retention of talent and management is often the #1 risk when buying a small business)