The lifecycle of most businesses from the owner's perspective is generally the same. First, you start or buy the business. Then, you grow the business. And finally, at some point, you exit the business.
During these second and third phases the differences between higher quality and lower quality entrepreneurs is really apparent. Specifically, the best entrepreneurs are able to maximize the value of their businesses and exit them at a price substantially greater than the price they paid to acquire or start the business.
So, what do these entrepreneurs do that increases the value of their businesses to themselves and potential acquirers. Here are the eight most common things they do.
1. They position their companies in a clearly-defined niche
Your business must be the best it can be at what it does, without trying to be everything to everyone. A business that knows its customer segments, their needs and language, and how to solicit a response from them is a lot more valuable than one that is a mixture of everything, or an unknown in its market.
2. They coach their teams to run the business without them
Could other people ever run your business without you? They'll have to, if you're selling! So why not make this your goal from Day One?
Make an organizational chart of how your business will look when it's time to sell it. List all the various workers in marketing, operations, and those they report to. It's okay if it's just you or a handful of people currently filling all those roles. Doing this will help you organize who is going to do what in your business before you hire a new person.
Then, over time, you can find other people to fill those positions one by one until you're out of the picture.
3. They build relationships with customers
Goodwill, such as your reputation and brand in the minds of your current and prospective customers, is considered an asset on your company's balance sheet. You build this over time by treating people right and maintaining good relationships.
If you intend to sell your business someday, or if you just want to have the option, this is something you have to make a priority throughout the business's life. You can't just start doing it well suddenly in the final year. Relationships and recognition take time.
4. They make sure their businesses are stable
Make sure you're not overly dependent on any one customer, vendor, employee, or anything else. Diversify your strengths. If you have any "whale" customers that make up a large portion of your business, try to get at least 80% of your business from other people.
The new owner does not want to take the reins and have revenues drop in half in the event your biggest customer leaves.
5. They maximize their revenues
This one's self-evident, but deserves to be repeated. Make sure you leverage the 4 proven ways to increase your revenues: getting more customers, increasing your average order size, get customers to buy more frequently, and finding new ways to monetize your customers and visitors.
A company with higher revenues and which shows growing revenues will be more valuable and attractive to buyers.
6. They hold expenses accountable
You boost your net profit (and therefore the value) by reducing your expenses. However, no one ever shrank themselves into wealth. You're not going to grow your business by keeping expenses lower-but the numbers will increase as it grows.
Your goal is to keep the percentages the same, such as keeping advertising at 20% of your revenues whether earnings are $100,000 or $1,000,000 per year.
Basically, you'll want to make sure that budgets are made and followed, to keep spending within projected limits and to avoid costs creeping up that don't generate more revenue in return.
7. They keep great records
Keep excellent records of everything for the new owner-your files, databases, customer communications, marketing materials, financial records, employee agreements-everything.
Committing to do this now will make your life so much easier between now and the time you sell. Keep good records for your own efficiency, protection, and to make your business look a lot more attractive to buyers than one where all the records are filed away in the old owner's head.
8. They develop a plan for when it's "done" and ready to sell
I don't want you to have plans on top of plans, but each of these will take certain actions to make them happen. So here's what to do: Add these end results into your existing business plan, and use your best judgment when choosing how to make each of them happen in your company.
When it's all said and done, the next few years are going to go by whether you maximize your business' value or not. At the end of, say, 5 years, would you rather have a stable, attractive, polished business ready to sell for top dollar, or be left taking what you can get for what you have?
If it seems like a lot, remember you have until the time you sell to take care of these things. You don't have to do it all now! Just add these elements I described to your vision of what you want your company to be, and keep your eye on it until the big day finally comes.