The last company I sold started with conversations to get to know the buyer nearly 5 years before we were ready to sell. While we received multiple bids to sell the company, we had one bid where we knew the principles because they had reached out every six months for years. Because of the conversations we were comfortable with the character of the buyers; we knew they demonstrated a pattern of doing what they said they would do. Further, we knew that they would steward our clients in a way that would serve them well.
If you are within 5 years of selling your practice or within 5 years of wanting to simplify your current practice, it's the right time to start conversations. While many would be sellers know what they want to achieve in a sale, often they fail to get to know the likely buyer pre-sale. The best in-class buyers will have a success plan for both you and your clients.