Prepare Your Exit Strategy Now – Just in Case
As entrepreneurs we are constantly putting out fires, prioritizing and re-prioritizing our most urgent tasks, and changing our schedules so rapidly that committing to lunch with an old friend next week brings a certain sense of anxiety.
We run our businesses to achieve our mission and earn a profit. We periodically check qualitative and quantitative metrics against a scorecard or budget to ensure that the business is running according to plan.
We get so consumed in the day-to-day management of the business that it’s easy to overlook a key part of the strategic planning process: an exit strategy.
Recently, we were approached by an entrepreneur who had just received an unsolicited bid from a company to acquire his business. He was incredibly honest about the fact that while he wants to retire in the next five years, he wasn’t sure if now was the best time to exit. He had never really thought about when or how to sell his business.
The lesson: Even if you are many years away from selling your business, you need to ensure you are prepared for the unexpected. Business valuations fluctuate as the capital markets ebb and flow, and it’s important to maximize the value of your life’s work. There are four things every business owner should be thinking about now in anticipation of an unsolicited bid or another unexpected event that will convince you to sell:
1. Keep the Competitive Advantage.
Evaluate your market and realistically determine your competitive advantage relative to your peers. What unique product or service are you providing to your customers that a suitor can get only from you rather than your closest competitor? Any acquirer will be willing to pay more for competitive advantage instead of something they could replicate themselves.
2. Know Your Potential Buyers.
Identify three to five companies that could and would be interested in your business if it were for sale today. Think about what would make your business more or less attractive to those buyers. Consider investing in assets and capabilities that would cinch the deal.
3. Stay Ahead of Trends.
Start thinking now about the trends in your market and how you need to position your business to be successful five years from now. It is great to have a product offering that fulfills a current market need, but if you are seeing trends that your business is not quickly adapting to, you’ll need to consider the implications of maintaining the status quo. If you find yourself chained to your desk, make yourself attend at least one industry conference and just talk to people! It is amazing what you will learn if you keep your eyes and ears open.
4. Start Making Changes NOW.
Upgrade your technology platforms. Aggressively recruit the most relevant talent. Get the right resources and people in place now to start transitioning to your ideal future state. Even if you don’t choose to sell the business, these changes will likely make your business more valuable to your customers and shareholders.
Waiting until you are ready to sell is usually too late to do much to maximize the value of your business. These four simple steps may not turn you into the next billionaire, but they are sure to bring in top dollar for your business when the time is right.
Are you considering an exit or preparing for one down the road? Share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avondale associate Asim Aleem contributed to this article.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.