Entrepreneurs are a rare breed; mercurial, passionate, focused, obsessive. It’s what makes them so special. And it’s what helps them turn great ideas into great businesses. But there’s one thing that my 20 years in business has taught me. And that is that while most entrepreneurs are great at building businesses, they are often not so proficient at extracting the eventual value they deserve when they come to exit the business.
Time and time again, I see entrepreneurs selling businesses for less than they should have got. And yet it is so avoidable. As someone who has gone through the process myself, selling my business in 2016 to HCL Technologies, I understand what it takes to ensure you really do get the reward for all your proverbial blood, sweat and tears! In fact, it’s what I now do for a living; helping entrepreneurs realise the value they deserve. And it’s why I’ve created a simple five step methodology to help them secure a great exit.
1. Plan ahead
Sure, you have no intentions of selling your precious ‘baby’ right now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t already have a plan in place for when you ARE ready. My advice? No later than three to five years before any likely exit, you need to have created a plan that you and your management team buy into and which then dictates the strategy of the business going forward.
2. Make the plan focus on the right metrics
Obsess about top line growth and margin protection. These are the hallmarks of a well-run business. And if you can demonstrate a consistent track record of achieving them, your exit multiple will increase commensurately. So, build a plan that simply and realistically focuses on revenue and margin as your desired outcomes. If you find yourself thinking about things that don’t meet these twin objectives, be ruthless and disregard them.
3. Don’t waste money on M&A specialists too early
All too often, responsibility for getting the business ready for sale is abrogated to an outside M&A specialist by effectively outsourcing the task to them. But without the plan approach I outlined above, you’ll just end up spending money you didn’t need to spend getting the business set up for an exit. You’ll also find yourself massively distracted as a result. So, pick your moment wisely when it comes to outside M&A advice but know that the right advisers will be worth their weight in (your) gold.
4. Advice you can trust
Getting the right advice will prove invaluable to your efforts (just as getting the wrong advice will be disastrous). So, seek out people through referrals. Seek out people who have walked in your shoes. And seek out people who you actually like; mutual affinity goes a long way when you are in the trenches together trying to get your business sold.
5. Don’t over fixate on your exit
If you have one eye on the future with your simple plan to be structured for a great exit outcome, all you need to then do is get on and do what you do best; growing your business. All too often I’ve seen entrepreneurs start to develop what I call ‘exit fever’; suddenly the prospect of potential riches becomes tantalising and it becomes an unhealthy focus.
Just remember this (with a hat tip to Field of Dreams); if you build it, they will come. Great businesses have a habit of being bought. So devote all your energies to building the best business you can. Your just rewards will then follow.
Sandra Palmer is the founder and CEO of Not So Blonde.