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Use the Threat to Better Prepare

Today there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of business. There are things you can do to prepare for an eventual sale of your company – especially now.

Many business owners are really hurt by shutdowns and reduced business. In this case, owners are  wondering if they can survive. Others are busier than ever, making components needed in critical sectors while being worried about staffing and access to materials.

My thoughts are to provide a few suggestions on what has worked effectively in the past that could also end up helping your business today and in the future

Do you make all the decisions?

We often ask this of owners and a surprising number have to think about it. Many owners are so tightly involved in the day to day, or fear something will slip through the cracks, that they can’t really even take a day off or plan a vacation.

Being able to take a break suggests you have a good structure in place and a team able to keep things going while you are away.

So, think simply what would it take for a vacation? Make a list and put those things in place. There will be multiple benefits: You get a vacation. You empower your team. You show trust. You enable the crew to take ownership of getting jobs completed.

Do you have reserves?

Having financial reserves is critical to weather a storm like this.

Asking this generates strange looks from many owners, especially when it comes to personal reserves. Many pour all that they make back into the business, considering it their safest investment. This makes a lot of sense while building up, but unfortunately may not be the smartest thing when well established – especially if you are preparing to sell and retire.

Continually investing in the business means all your assets are tied up in the enterprise. If anything goes wrong with it, your future can look cloudy and even grim.

The happiest owners are those who have been able to move resources outside the business into personal investments, retirement savings, investment real estate. With resources outside the business, the owner’s future is not tied exclusively to net proceeds from the sale of the company.

A frequent refrain we’ve heard from owners is that a particular offer to purchase is too low. “It won’t support my retirement... I can make that working another three years in the business... It doesn’t recognize my years of sweat and labor.”

The owner with resources outside the business does not feel quite so trapped, and has far better options. An offer to purchase can be viewed differently.

One client in recent years summed it up this way: “I looked on the web and found that time is not for sale.” But he also had done advance work, and had resources outside the business. He got to sell the company and also to have more time to enjoy life.

Would you buy your own business?

Step back and put yourselves in the buyer’s shoes. You see nothing but upside; the buyer - a strategic or private equity buyer – sees all of the risks. The risks include no management team, unclear financials, no formal proactive sales effort.

There usually is an upside for a business going through a transaction. But the upside requires a change in operations that could be done, but will require adjustments to achieve. This in itself is a risk, since it requires an additional investment to achieve.

The more you do to alleviate risks now, the better the company will look to a buyer group. Cutting down on the risks also will benefit you as the current owner – you can take a vacation, you have less lumpy sales, you have a team to lean on.

Consider the example given above. A do it all owner who handles every detail of a business is creating dependence. This owner is creating a huge risk for a buyer group which will need to put a new manager in place, retain the staff while orienting them to a different style of operation, re-gear the company to more actively seeking growth.

A business that is dependent on the owner is not as saleable, and will not achieve as high a price. If you were looking at your business, would it look dependent on you to continue operating?

Use time wisely

If your sale horizon is a ways off, consider using this current crisis period to make plans and implement adjustments. This is a positive step that you, as owner, can make.

Find things that will make your company operate better for you now while also opening up opportunity for the staff to take a greater stake in the future.

Don’t be blinded by excuses or the it-can-wait syndrome.

Acting now will make your business life better. It will also increase the value of your business in the months ahead.

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