A new decade always comes with a slew of predictions that can be scary. Will a new superbug take hold? Will the stock market crash? Will the economy tank?
These are all excellent questions, but without a crystal ball, you can feel helpless. However, there are three practical steps you can take to inoculate yourself from whatever the coming years will bring:
Inoculation Strategy #1: Stop Trying To Time The Market
Many founders try to time the sale of their business to coincide with the peak of an economic cycle, reasoning they will get the best price for their business when the economy is booming.
While this is true in theory, when you sell your company, you need to do something with the money. Perhaps you’ll consider investing in real estate or buying stocks. Still, most investments are impacted by the same macro-economic environment your business enjoys, which means you’ll be buying into just as frothy a market.
The alternative to timing the market is to consider selling when your business meets two criteria:
First, if your company is on a winning streak, it will command a premium compared with average performers in your industry. Pick a time to sell when your revenue is growing, gross margin improving, employees are happy, and customers satisfied.
Second never sell before you have all of the information you’ll need to survive due diligence. After you agree to terms with an acquirer, they’ll need some time to verify your business is as advertised. A sophisticated buyer will look into every aspect of your operations, including your financials, customer contracts, employee agreements, the way you produce your product or service your sales and marketing approach and just about every other facet of your business.
You can’t wait until due diligence to prepare this package of information. The volume of questions will suck up too much of your time. React slowly to an acquirer’s request for information and “deal fatigue” will set in. This malaise happens when an acquirer loses interest in closing an acquisition because it is taking too long.
The way to immunize yourself against whatever the economy may be in the years ahead is to sell when you’re on a winning streak, and you have the data assembled to skate through due diligence with ease.
Inoculation Strategy #2: Pick Your Lane
The global economy has been expanding for several years, fueled by low-interest rates and optimistic consumers, which can be a dangerous time for founders. When the economy is hot, it’s tempting to expand outside of your original product and service category as customers seem to be willing to buy just about anything from you.
The problem with diversifying too broadly is that you can become less attractive to an acquirer over time. Acquirers buy what they could not quickly build on their own. When you diversify too broadly, a buyer may pass reasoning, that it would be relatively easy to compete with your similar products or services. They know you’ll want to get paid for all of your business, yet they may only want a small part of it.
Remember that acquirers only buy what they could not quickly build themselves, so they place a premium on buying a business with a definite competitive advantage — for example, a proven brand that consumers prefer or a protected technology innovation.
No matter what the economy has in store for the years ahead, do one thing better than anyone else, and you’ll always have a ready pool of potential acquirers for your business.
Inoculation strategy #3: Create A Vision Board
A vision board is a display of images that illustrate where you want to be in the future. Creating one by grabbing a stack of magazines and cut out pictures that appeal to you and communicate the life you want to lead.
A vision board is a compelling way to immunize yourself from the inertia that sets in once the startup years of your company are behind you. When you’re no longer struggling to find the next customer or wondering how you’ll make payroll, running a business may become less exciting. When you no longer need to draw on your creativity and problem-solving skills, one day may flow into the next, and you can become content, but perhaps not truly happy.
Think about a time when you were happiest. You were probably doing something new, perhaps in a new place with new people, learning, contributing and growing. Most owners are happiest when they are starting and growing a business, but when a company matures, it can become stifling.
The problem is, it can be challenging to leave a successful business. Your lifestyle needs are satisfied through your company, so why go? That’s where a vision board can be handy. It allows you to decipher the difference between being happy and merely content. When you find yourself feeling comfortable but not necessarily happy, that might be the perfect time to sell – regardless of what’s happening in the economy at the time.
Why is Prevention is better than Cure for your business?
To grow a valuable business – one you can sell – you need to set up your company so that it is no longer reliant on you.
This can be easier said than done, especially when, like a PR consultant or plumber, what you are selling is your expertise.
Imparting your knowledge to your employees
To scale up a knowledge-based business, you first have to figure out how to impart your knowledge to your employees, so that they can deliver the goods. However it can be difficult to condense years of school and on-the-job learning into a few weeks of employee training. The more specialized your knowledge, the harder it is to hand off work to juniors.
Sell the prevention, not the cure
The key to scaling up a service business can often be found by offering the service that prevents customers from having to call you in the first place. You have to shift from selling the cure to selling the prevention.
Fixing what is broken is typically a hard task to teach; however, preventing things from breaking in the first place can be easier to train others to do.
For example, it takes years for a dentist to acquire the education and experience to successfully complete a root canal, but it’s relatively easy to train a hygienist to perform a regularly scheduled cleaning.
It’s almost effortless for a real estate manager to hire someone to clean the eaves trough once a month, but repairing the flooded basement caused by the clogged gutters can be quite complex.
For a master car mechanic, overhauling an engine that has seized up takes years of training, but preventing the problem by regularly changing a customer’s oil is something a high school student can be taught to do.
For an IT services company, restoring a customer’s network after a virus has invaded often takes the know-how of the boss, but preventing the virus by installing and monitoring the latest software patches is something a junior can easily be trained to do.
Benefit of preventive services
When you’re selling your expertise, it can be tough to hire a team to do the work for you. As ironic as it sounds, sometimes the key to getting out of doing the work is to offer a preventive service, which not only maintains your business income, but also eliminates the need for someone to call you in the first place.