In our experience, it pays for businesses at an immediate pre-exit stage to work hard on building their profile within their own and adjacent industries.
We see this as being primarily about building confidence with potential acquirers, who will be ever mindful of the fear factors surrounding a potential acquisition. The issues they’ll be considering, especially in a very tight market, will inevitably be “How will I look if it fails?”, “Am I paying too much?”, “Will I be able to integrate them with our existing operations?”, and ‘What don’t I know that could cause trouble for me?”
If you can demonstrate to them that your business is making waves and being talked about, then you will have gone a long way in terms of allaying these fears. You will appear to be a confident opinion former, and therefore a market leader or contender for leadership.
So, in the year leading up to when you think you are going to exit, we recommend that you up-weight your marketing spend, and make sure that your business is really visible across your industry’s key media.
This can vary from having a strong presence at exhibitions and seminars, to making regular radio, TV, online and press contributions – wherever and whenever an opportunity can be created. And creative is the word, as you will need to strain every creative muscle to make sure that your message is heard. You will need to be imaginative, proactive and even a bit daring to ensure that your message gets through.
And what should the message be? Well, that’s where you also need to get creative. It won’t be about making noises that you are thinking of exiting; quite the opposite. Rather you will be messaging your confidence about the future, new developments, your views of the market, your opinions on changes in legislation – anything that will build your profile amongst potential investors who are following your industry or your business.
We know the difference that having high industry sector visibility can have through the experience of selling one of our own businesses. For example, I personally launched a niche market publishing business in early 1996, and successfully exited in 2000 for a high value precisely because I made sure that we focused on creating high visibility in the industry which we were writing about and amongst the investors in the company who acquired us.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be in publishing to get to create a high profile. What you do require is a commitment from the senior management team collectively to generate ideas that can achieve media coverage through their saliency or insight and to leverage their individual contacts and industry standing to build the visibility of the business.