Last year, after 5 long years, my business partner and I sold the digital agency that we'd started, called Morgan. We sold it for a few reasons, namely that:
We were maxing out our capability to grow beyond the glass ceiling
Neither of us wanted to run the business, but more importantly wanted to focus on our core strengths
Feeling the pressure of a few large projects we couldn't see the progress that we were making
While certainly pleased with the outcome of the acquisition, when I think back at the business I'd created with Mario I second guess the reasons that we sold.
Mostly I've reassessed what I think a 'successful' business is, and not surprisingly I don't think it's universal for business to measure the mark of their success as 'making more money than you actually need'.
Retrospectively I'd say that Morgan was a successful business as we paid ourselves a reasonable salary, we had a long-term client base (that raved about us) and we had devoted employees.
We chose the type of work, and hours we wanted to do. We were happy to knock back work that didn't fit our requirements. Easy.
Businesses that are focused solely on huge amounts of cash and business growth tend to lose sight of the reason they began their business in the first place, and as a result lose focus with their core staff and direction.
This upward movement is perpetuated by the pure pot luck of burning through enough client potential that the larger ones stick, and create a foundation of the business' bottom line that isn't as stable as it should be. These agencies tend to consistently be 'high pressure' and cause attrition at a massive rate.
Ironically the attrition isn't cause by the workload; in an agency environment people know they're going to have to work hard and fast. The core reason for such high numbers of people leaving is a lack of self satisfaction with the quality of work delivered.
The pressure just doesn't allow for any genuinely good work, or innovation and eventually the momentum slows and luck catches up.
With all of this in mind, the success of a business should never be the growth, or profit made. Those should be a given, but not the reason itself.
Reasons for creating a digital agency should be to create awesome, inspiring work that makes a difference in ways other than consumer sales. Such as to educate and encourage professional development of staff, to feel good about what you do and most importantly provide you with a comfortable lifestyle where you can work around your life.
A business' success is measured by what it does for your life—and the lives of it's people—as a whole.