One Tweak That Can (Instantly) Add Millions To The Value Of Your Business

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If you’re trying to figure out what your business might be worth, it’s helpful to consider what acquirers are paying for companies like yours these days.

A little internet research will probably reveal that a business like yours trades for a multiple of your pre-tax profit, which is Sellers Discretionary Earnings (SDE) for a small business and Earnings Before Interest Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) for a slightly larger business.

Obsessing Over Your Multiple

This multiple can transfix entrepreneurs. Many owners want to know their multiple and how they can jack it up. After all, if your business has $500,000 in profit, and it trades for four times profit, it’s worth $2 million; if the same business trades for eight times profit, it’s worth $4 million.

Obviously, your multiple will have a profound impact on the haul you take from the sale of your business, but there is another number worthy of your consideration as well: the number your multiple is multiplying.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Quality Of Your Lifestyle & Value Of Your Company Have One Major Thing In Common.
They Are Both Dramatically (Negatively) Affected By Your Business’ Dependence On You.

When your own company requires your direct involvement and your name fills multiple circles in your organizational chart, you know firsthand what that leads to — burnout and stress.

Furthermore, no one else would want to buy such a business, regardless of how much profit it generates, because acquirers want to buy a business system, not a job.

Fortunately, there is a proven methodology for systematically increasing the value and “sellability” (a huge benefit even if you have no plans to sell) of your company, thereby increasing the quality of your lifestyle and level of personal freedom you experience every day, by transforming your company into a self-managing income-producing asset that can thrive without you.

It’s call The Value Builder System. 

The first step toward this freedom is to get your Value Builder Score to see where you currently stand.

Companies that score 80+ typically have valuations 71% higher than the average scoring (59/100) business.

Complete the 18-minute questionnaire and instantly get your score out of 100 possible points.

 

How Profitability Is Open To Interpretation

Most entrepreneurs think of profit as an objective measure, calculated by an accountant, but when it comes to the sale of your business, profit is far from objective. Your profit will go through a set of “adjustments” designed to estimate how profitable your business will be under a new owner.

This process of adjusting—and how you defend these adjustments to an acquirer—is where you can dramatically spike your company’s value.

Let’s take a simple example to illustrate.

Imagine you run a company with $3 million in revenue and you pay yourself a salary of $200,000 a year. Further, let’s assume you could get a competent manager to run your business as a division of an acquirer for $100,000 per year. You could safely make the case to an acquirer that under their ownership, your business would generate an extra $100,000 in profit. If they are paying you five times profit for your business, that one adjustment has the potential to earn you an extra $500,000.

You should be able to make a case for several adjustments that will boost your profit and, by extension, the value of your business. This is more art than science, and you need to be prepared to defend your case for each adjustment. It is important that you make a good case for how profitable your business will be in the hands of an acquirer.

Some of the most common adjustments relate to rent (common if you own the building your company operates from and your company is paying higher-than-market rent), start–up costs, one-off lawsuits or insurance claims and one-time professional services fees.

Your multiple is important, but the subjective art of adjusting your EBITDA is where a lot of extra money can be made when selling your business.

         

3 Ways To Make Your Company More Valuable Than Your Industry Peers

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Have you ever wondered what determines the value of your business?

Perhaps you’ve heard an industry rule of thumb and assumed that your company will be worth about the same as a similar size company in your industry. However, when we take a look at the data provided by The Value Builder System™, we’ve found there are eight factors that drive the value of your business, and they are all potentially more important than the industry you’re in.

Not convinced? Let’s look at Jill Nelson, who recently sold a majority interest in her $11 million telephone answering service, Ruby Receptionists, for $38.8 million.

That’s a lot of money for answering the phone on behalf of independent lawyers, contractors and plumbers across America.

To give you a sense of how high that valuation is, let’s look at some comparison data. At Value Builder, we’ve worked with more than 30,000 businesses in the last five years. Our clients start by completing their Value Builder questionnaire, which covers 42 questions that allow us to place an estimate of value on a company. The average value for companies starting with us is 3.6 times pre-tax profit and those who graduate our program with a Value Builder Score of 80+ (out of a possible 100) are getting an average of 6.3 times pre-tax profit.

When we isolate the administrative support industry that Ruby Receptionists operates in, the average multiple offered for these companies over the last five years is just 1.8 times pre-tax profit.  

Nelson, by contrast, sold the majority interest in Ruby Receptionists for more than 3 times revenue.

There were three factors that made Nelson’s business much more valuable than her industry peers, and they are the same things you can focus on to drive up the value of your company.

1. Cultivate Your Point Of Differentiation

Acquirers do not buy what they could easily build themselves. If your main competitive advantage is price, an acquirer will rightly conclude they can simply set up shop as a competitor and win most of your price sensitive customers away by offering a temporary discount.

In the case of Ruby Receptionists, Nelson invested heavily in a technology that ensured that no matter when a client received a phone call, her technology would route that call to an available receptionist. Nelson’s competitors were mostly low-tech mom and pop businesses who often missed calls when there was a sudden surge of callers. Nelson’s technology could handle client surges because of the unique routing technology she had built that transferred calls efficiently across her network of receptionists.

Nelson’s acquirer, a private equity company called Updata Partners, saw the potential of applying Nelson’s call-routing technology to other businesses they owned and were considering investing in.

2. Recurring Revenue

Acquirers want to know how your business will perform after they buy it. Nothing gives them more confidence that your business will continue to thrive post sale than recurring revenue from subscriptions or service contracts.

In Nelson’s case, Ruby Receptionists billed its customers through recurring contracts—perfect for making a buyer confident that her company has staying power.

3. Customer Diversification

In addition to having customers pay on recurring contracts, the most valuable businesses have lots of little customers rather than one or two biggies. Most acquirers will balk if any one of your customers represents more than 15% of your revenue.

At the time of the acquisition, Ruby Receptionists had 6,000 customers paying an average of just a few hundred dollars per month. Nelson could lose a client or two each month without skipping a beat, which is ideal for reassuring a hesitant buyer that your company’s revenue stream is bulletproof.

Nelson built a valuable company in a relatively unexciting, low-tech industry, proving that how you run your business is more important than the industry you’re in.

The Anatomy of a Successful Exit

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Stephanie Breedlove started Breedlove & Associates in 1992 as a way to pay her nanny. The big payroll processors weren’t interested in dealing with one person’s wages and doing it themselves was complicated and time-consuming, too much for the then overwhelmed Breedloves.

Breedlove saw a business opportunity and started a payroll company for parents who needed to pay their nannies. By 2012, Breedlove & Associates had grown to $9MM in revenue and then she received a $54MM acquisition offer.

To give you some context of how incredible it is to sell a $9MM business for $54MM let’s look at the numbers. At The Value Builder System™, more than 25,000 business owners have completed the Value Builder Score questionnaire, part of which asks about any acquisition offers they may have received. The average multiple offered is 3.76 times pre-tax profit. Even the best-performing businesses, those with a Value Builder Score of 80+, only get offers of 6.27 times pre-tax profit on average. Breedlove got close to six times revenue.

What did Breedlove do right? We’re going to look at the five things Breedlove did—and that you can do—to drive up the value of a business.

1. Sell Less Stuff to More People

When Breedlove hit $30K per month in revenue, she quit her job at Accenture (formerly Anderson Consulting) and devoted herself to Breedlove & Associates full-time. To grow, she had a choice: sell more to her existing customers (e.g. busy couples often need lawn-care, house-cleaning, or grocery-delivery services) or stick with her niche of paying nannies. Most consultants and experts would say it’s easier to sell more to existing customers (and they’re right), but it doesn’t make your business more valuable. Breedlove decided to stick to her niche and find more parents who needed to pay their nannies, and that decision laid the foundation for a more valuable business.

Investors from Warren Buffet look for companies with a deep and wide competitive moat that gives the owner pricing authority. When you have a differentiated product or service, we call it having The Monopoly Control and companies with a monopoly get significantly higher acquisition offers.

Rather than selling existing customers generic services in commoditized markets, Breedlove focused on selling one thing to as many customers as she could find.

2. Strive for 50%+ Net Promoter Score

One feature that interested acquirers look for is your customer satisfaction levels. Increasingly, they are turning to the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a measure of this. NPS was developed by Fred Reichheld and his team at Satmetrix, who discovered that your customers’ willingness to refer you to their friends or colleagues is highly predictive of your company’s future growth rate.

The NPS approach is to ask your customers how willing they would be to refer your company to a friend or colleague, on a scale of 0 to 10. They are then categorized into Promoters (9s and 10s), Passives (7s and 8s) or Detractors (0–6s). The NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Promoters from the percentage of Detractors. Most businesses achieve an NPS of 10% to 15%, while the very best companies (think Apple and Amazon) get scores of 50% or more.  

Breedlove obsessed over her company’s NPS and realized the key to driving it up was perfecting the first few interactions with a new customer. When you call a big payroll company looking for a service to pay your nanny, the response can be underwhelming. With only one person to pay, you are often relegated to the most junior staff member and even they would rather be dealing with a larger client.

When you call Breedlove, by contrast, you get a team of professionals totally focused on setting you up. You’re not an afterthought. You’re not passed on. Instead, you get the best onboarding talent the company has to offer.

This set-up team was a big part of how Breedlove achieved an astonishing 78% NPS.

3. Create Recurring Revenue Streams

The third thing that made Breedlove’s company attractive was recurring revenue.

Regardless of what industry you’re in, recurring revenue models give acquirers more confidence that the business will keep going strong after you leave.   

By 2012, Breedlove & Associates had grown to $9MM and, given the nature of the payroll business, 100% of their revenue was recurring.

4. Reduce Reliance on Customers, Employees and Suppliers

Breedlove’s company was also attractive to buyers because she had a highly diversified customer base with no single customer representing even close to 1% of her revenue. If more than 10% to 15% of your revenue comes from one buyer, you can expect prospective acquirers to ask a lot more questions.

Customer concentration is one of three factors that make up The Switzerland Structure Module. The Switzerland Structure measures your business’ dependence on a single customer, employee or supplier.

5. Find an Acquirer You Can Help Grow

By 2012, Breedlove & Associates was growing 17% per year, which is good but not blow-your-mind good. So how did she attract such an incredible acquisition offer? The trick was showing her acquirer how they could grow.

In Breedlove’s case, she sold her company to Care.com. Think of Care.com as the Angie’s List of care providers (e.g. child care, senior care, etc.). If you need someone to care for your kids or an elderly relative, you enter your address into their website and Care.com will give you a list of vetted caregivers in your area.

At the time of the acquisition, Breedlove had 10,000 customers and Care.com had seven million members. Breedlove argued that if just 1% of Care.com’s members used Breedlove’s payroll service, it would equate to 7X growth in Breedlove & Associates almost overnight.

In 2012, Care.com acquired Breedlove & Associates for $54MM—an outstanding exit made possible by Breedlove’s focus on what drove her company’s value, not just their top-line revenue.

The Downside of Selling Someone Else’s Product

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Are you tempted to re-sell someone else’s product to boost your topline revenue?

On the surface, becoming a distributor for a popular product can appear to be a simple way to grow your sales—simply find something that is already proven to be successful elsewhere and negotiate the rights to sell it in your local market.

While distributing someone else’s product may be a relatively easy way to grow your topline, all that revenue growth may do little for your company’s value. A typical distribution company will be lucky to sell for 50% of one year’s revenue, whereas if you control your product or service—and the brand that embodies them—you should be able to do much better.

How Nike Became One of the World’s Most Valuable Companies

For an example of the dangers of not owning your own products, take a look at the evolution of Blue Ribbon Sports into Nike Inc. As Nike co-founder Phil Knight describes in his recent autobiography Shoe Dog, the company started off by negotiating the exclusive rights to sell Tiger running shoes in the United States. Knight’s company was called Blue Ribbon Sports and he imported the shoes from Onitsuka, a Japanese company.

Despite their exclusive agreement with Blue Ribbon, Onitsuka started to court other American dealers. When Knight protested the obvious breach of their contract, Onitsuka threatened a hostile takeover of Knight’s business or to shut him down outright. Knight’s company was tiny at the time and so deeply reliant on Onitsuka for supply, he could do virtually nothing to enforce their agreement.

Given its dependence on Onitsuka, Knight’s company would have scored close to zero out of a possible 100 on what we call The Switzerland Structure, a measure of your company’s reliance on a supplier, employee or customer. The Switzerland Structure is only one of eight value drivers we measure, but abysmal performance on any one factor can be a significant drag on the value of your business.

Onitsuka’s snub became Knight’s impetus to start Nike, which gave him control of his marketing, supply and product development. Instead of simply re-selling someone else’s shoes, Nike developed their own designs and contracted the manufacturing of their products to other factories. By owning its own products and brands, Nike has become one of the world’s most valuable companies and regularly trades north of 20 times earnings.

To see how your business performs on The Switzerland Structure and the other seven factors that drive your company’s value, take 13 minutes and complete the Value Builder questionnaire now.

Market Share vs. Addressable Market

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Imagine you’re a farmer and you’ve been tending to your crops all year. It’s harvest season and finally time to collect the spoils of your labor.

You start harvesting your crops only to find out that pesky rodents have been quietly eating away at your fields. You’re devastated as you come to the realization that much of what you have been working so hard to cultivate has already been taken.

Feeling like there is not much field left to harvest is what acquirers and investors are trying to avoid as they evaluate buying your business. Metaphorically speaking, acquirers want to know that if they buy your business, there will be plenty of fresh farmland left for them to till.

Addressable Market

Investors call it your company’s “addressable market” and it is one of the main factors buyers will look at when they evaluate the potential of acquiring your company.

Business 101 tells us we should strive for market share so we can control pricing. Market share is a worthy goal if your objective is to maximize your profits. However, if your primary objective is to increase the value of your company, you want to be able to communicate that you have relatively low market share across the entire addressable market. In other words, there is plenty of field left to plough.  

Consider the following ways you might expand the way you are currently thinking about the addressable market for what you sell:

1. Demographics

Demographics involve segmenting a market by objective measures like gender, income, age and education level. Marriott is a hotel chain but they have created a variety of brands to address the various demographic segments they want to serve. Ritz Carlton is a Marriott brand that appeals to well-heeled travellers, but if all you want is a basic room, you could opt for a Courtyard Marriott. It’s the same company, but they have expanded their addressable market by focusing on different demographic segments.

2. Psychographics

Psychographics involve segmenting your market according to the way people think. Toyota produces the Prius, which gets 50 miles per gallon and is a favourite among environmentalists. Toyota also produces the thirsty Tundra pickup truck and, at just 15 miles per gallon, attracts a different psychographic segment.

3. Geography

Success in your local market is good but if you want to really boost the value of your company in the eyes of an acquirer, you need to demonstrate that your concept crosses geographic lines. McDonald’s has more than fourteen thousand locations in the United States but they have also demonstrated that the golden arches can draw a crowd in other markets. McDonald’s has nearly three thousand stores in Japan, two thousand in China and more than a thousand locations in each of the European countries of Germany, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

You don’t actually have to become a global giant like Marriott, Toyota or McDonald’s to increase your company’s value but you do need to be able to communicate that your concept could work in other markets and that there is still good land left to plow.

5 Ways To Get Your Business To Run Without You

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Some owners focus on growing their profits, while others are obsessed with sales goals. Have you ever considered making it your primary goal to set up your business so that it can thrive and grow without you?

A business not dependent on its owner is the ultimate asset to own. It allows you complete control over your time so that you can choose the projects you get involved in and the vacations you take. When it comes to getting out, a business independent of its owner is worth a lot more than an owner-dependent company.

Here are five ways to set up your business so that it can succeed without you.

1. Give Them A Stake In The Outcome

Jack Stack, the author of The Great Game of Business and A Stake In The Outcome wrote the book on creating an ownership culture inside your company: you are transparent about your financial results and you allow employees to participate in your financial success. This results in employees who act like owners when you’re not around.

2. Get Them To Walk In Your Shoes

If you’re not quite comfortable opening up the books to your employees, consider a simple management technique where you respond to every question your staff bring you with the same answer, “If you owned the company, what would you do?” By forcing your employees to walk in your shoes, you get them thinking about their question as you would and it builds the habit of starting to think like an owner. Pretty soon, employees are able to solve their own problems.

3. Vet Your Offerings

Identify the products and services which require your personal involvement in either making, delivering or selling them. Make a list of everything you sell and score each on a scale of 0 to 10 on how easy they are to teach an employee to handle. Assign a 10 to offerings that are easy to teach employees and give a lower score to anything that requires your personal attention. Commit to stopping to sell the lowest scoring product or service on your list. Repeat this exercise every quarter.

4. Create Automatic Customers

Are you the company’s best salesperson? If so, you’ll need to fire yourself as your company’s rainmaker in order to get it to run without you. One way to do this is to create a recurring revenue business model where customers buy from you automatically. Consider creating a service contract with your customers that offers to fulfill one of their ongoing needs on a regular basis.

5. Write An Instruction Manual For Your Business

Finally, make sure your company comes with instructions included. Write an employee manual or what MBA-types called Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These are a set of rules employees can follow for repetitive tasks in your company. This will ensure employees have a rulebook they can follow when you’re not around, and, when an employee leaves, you can quickly swap them out with a replacement to take on duties of the job.

You-proofing your business has enormous benefits. It will allow you to create a company and have a life. Your business will be free to scale up because it is no longer dependent on you, its bottleneck. Best of all, it will be worth a lot more to a buyer whenever you are ready to sell.

How much goodwill do you have in your business?

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The term “goodwill” is often thrown around in conversation as though it is a subjective description of how much your customers like your business.

In fact, when it comes to valuing your business, there is nothing subjective about the definition of goodwill. It is defined as the difference between what someone is willing to pay for your company minus the value of your hard assets.

Let’s imagine you own a plumbing company and the main physical assets in your company are the five vans you own and some tools with a total value of around $100,000. If you sold your plumbing company for $1,000,000, the acquirer would have paid $900,000 in goodwill ($1,000,000 – $100,000).

When a company sells for the value of its fixed assets, it is often a distressed business one step away from closing down. One way to think about your job description as an owner is to maximize the difference between what your business is worth to a buyer and the value of your fixed assets.

Marriott buys more than bricks and mortar

For an example of the difference between valuing a business for its hard assets vs. its goodwill, take a look at the recent acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide by Marriott. Neither Starwood nor Marriott own many of the hotels that bear their name. Instead, they license the name to operators, franchisees and the owners of the bricks and mortar.

So why would Marriott cough up $13 billion for Starwood if they don’t even own the hotels they run? In part, Marriott wanted to get its hands on the Starwood Preferred Guest program, a loyalty scheme which has proven more popular than Marriott’s program for frequent travellers.

Similarly, Uber is worth something north of $50 billion because more than one million people per day hail a ride using Uber, not because they own a whole bunch of cars.  

Chasing hard assets at the expense of goodwill

Many owners focus on building their stockpile of hard assets, not understanding the concept of goodwill.

Accumulating hard assets like land and machines and equipment is fine, but the savvy owner, looking to maximize her value, focuses less on the tangible assets and more on what those assets allow her to create for customers. There is nothing wrong with owning hard assets unless they take away from capital you could be investing in creating goodwill. Then the opportunity cost may exceed the value of owning the stuff.

Arguably both Uber and Starwood would be a shadow of the companies they are today had they pursued a strategy of accumulating hard assets. Would Uber ever have made it out of San Francisco if they had to buy a Lincoln Town Car every time they wanted to add a driver to their network?

In your case, focus on what creates value for customers and you will maximize the value of your business far beyond the value of your hard assets.

Thinking Vs. Doing: The Owner’s Dilemma

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There’s a steady breeze from the northwest, which cools the warm Caribbean afternoon. Framed between a palm tree and the turquoise water, you notice a man reading. He appears to be working, which seems strange given his appearance: shaggy blonde hair, linen shirt, surf shorts and flip-flops.

You squint and realize the man is Richard Branson and he just happens to be running Virgin Group Ltd., a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. He is working where he usually does, at Necker Island, a 74-acre retreat he owns in the British Virgin Islands.

Branson, of course, is far from a negligent founder, he has managers running the various businesses that make up the Virgin Group and visits his companies regularly, but he does not manage the day-to-day operations of any of his businesses, which frees up his time to think.

The train conductor vs. the thinker

Your role as a CEO can be divided into two buckets: one for managing and the other for thinking.

The managing bucket is where, metaphorically speaking, you ensure the trains all run on time. In this role, you’re establishing goals for your employees and holding them accountable for achieving their targets. You’re making sure your products and services are of a high quality and that your biggest customers are happy.

When you’re wearing your manager hat, you’re scouring your company looking for small enhancements every day. This obsession with continuous improvement is what big companies call “six-sigma thinking,” but you probably just think of it as building a great company.

The other bucket is reserved for thinking and it’s where you create the future of your company. In this visionary time, you get to design new products, imagine new ways of serving customers, or contemplate where you could take your business in the years ahead.  

Your visionary hours are spent dreaming and imaging what your business could be, instead of worrying about what it is today.

The most valuable companies

The question is, how much of your time should you devote to each role? If your goal is to create a more valuable business—one that someone might like to buy one day—our data reveals that you should start gradually increasing the time you spend on thinking and hire someone else to do the managing.

For example, after analyzing more than 20,000 businesses who have received their Value Builder Score, we have discovered that companies of owners who know each of their customers by first name (i.e., managers) trade at just 2.9 times their pre-tax profit, whereas the companies of owners who do not know their customers’ first names (i.e., thinkers) trade at closer to 5 times pre-tax profit.

Further, companies that would suffer if their owners were unable to come to work for three months, receive significantly lower offers when compared to companies that would not feel the absence of the owner for a month or two.

Finally, in a recent survey of merger and acquisition (M&A) professionals, we asked who they like to see an owner hire if they can only afford one “C-level” executive. The M&A professionals overwhelmingly identified a general manager/second-in-command as the most important role a founder can fill ahead of a chief revenue, marketing or financial officer.

In short, the owners of the most valuable businesses have found managers to ensure the trains run on time while they spend an increasing amount of their energy thinking about what’s next for their business.

Rich vs. Famous

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Have you set a goal for your company this year?

If you’re like most business owners, you’re striving for an increase in your annual sales. It’s natural to want your company to be bigger because that’s what everyone around us seems to celebrate.

Magazines profile the fastest growing companies, industry associations celebrate their largest members, and bigger seems to be better in the eyes of just about every business pundit with a microphone.

But growth can come at a steep price and can even detract from your ability to build your personal wealth.

The Contrasting Exits of Michael Arrington

For example, let’s take a look at an entrepreneur named Michael Arrington. Arrington started Achex in 1999. It helped facilitate payments in the early days of the internet, and Arrington was focused on growing it. He accepted two rounds of outside capital to fund the company’s expansion.

Achex was ultimately sold to First Data Corporation for $32 million in 2001. Unfortunately, because Arrington had been focused on growth above all else, he had not only raised two rounds of financing but also reduced his personal stake in the company down to next to nothing. As he told Business Insider, “When I started my first company, Achex, we raised $18 million in venture capital in 2000 from DFJ. The company later sold for $32 million, but due to a 2x liquidity preference (common in those days), the founders essentially got nothing, just a few hundred thousand dollars to not block the deal.”

Arrington then went on to start the technology blogging website TechCrunch in 2005. This time Arrington wanted to grow the business, but not at the expense of his equity. Instead, they grew the company within their means and funded the business largely out of cash flow. Arrington still owned 80% of the company, according to Business Insider, when he sold it for approximately $30 million.

Apparently Arrington had learned his lesson—growth is good, but not at the expense of all else.

The Alternative to Growth at All Costs

The alternative to focusing on sales growth as your primary objective is to focus on the value of your equity within your company. Growth will have a positive impact on your company’s value, but your growth rate is only one of the eight drivers that impact what your company is worth. As you build your business, you will be faced with many forks in the road where growth may come at the expense of both your company’s value, and your personal wealth. For example:

  • You may have to dilute your personal stake in the company by taking on outside capital. Depending on the return your investors are looking for, and the performance of your company after you take on outside investors, your smaller slice of the larger pie may be worth less than a larger slice of a smaller pie.
  • Cross selling your largest customer more products and services may be a relatively easy way to grow your top line, but if they already represent more than 15% of your sales, the extra revenue may dilute the value of your company because acquirers discount companies with too much customer concentration.
  • Giving lazy customers 90 days to pay may keep them buying, but those charitable payment terms may detract from the value of your business because an acquirer will have to fund your working capital.
  • You could choose to invest your sales and marketing resources into winning a big, one-time project that would boost your sales but this may not boost the value of your business, which may be more positively impacted by a smaller amount of recurring revenue.

Growth is important and how big your company can get is one of the eight drivers of your company’s value. But growth is only one of eight factors—to learn about the other seven, get your Value Builder Score.

90 Days That Will Define Your Business Forever

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You’ve done the hard work of winning a new customer, but it’s what you do in the next 90 days that determines if it’ll stick around.

The first 90 days of any new relationship are critical:

  • A president has about three months to inspire the electorate and gain the political capital he needs to govern.
  • A young team prospect has but a few months to impress his coach before being sent down to the minors.
  • A new CEO has 90 days to learn her job before the rank and file start expecting tangible leadership.

The Onboarding Window:  The First 90 Days

For a young company, the first 90 days of a customer relationship are equally important.  Research into the subscription business model shows that getting a customer to effectively start using your product in the first 90 days leads to an increase in lifetime value of up to 300 percent for some companies.

Take a look at marketing software provider Constant Contact, which used to struggle with the first 90 days of a new customer relationship. In the old days, Constant Contact took a “who, what, when” approach to onboarding new customers. Who stood for who a customer wanted to send an email campaign to; what stood for what the customer wanted to send; and when described the timing of the campaign. After users signed up for its service, Constant Contact would ask customers to upload their email database (the who in the three-step onboarding process). This required the new user to upload a customer list–which is the trickiest part of the onboarding experience. It required the customer to leave Constant Contact’s site and struggle with how to export a contact list–often from a jury-rigged database kept in Excel or Outlook. The process was awkward, and many new customers stopped using Constant Contact because they hit a barrier before they had a chance to fall in love with the Constant Contact software.

What, Who, When

Wanting to stem new customer churn, Constant Contact changed its on boarding to focus first on the what. Immediately after signing up, new users were encouraged to create their first email campaign. Suddenly customers were seeing their campaign come to life in front of their eyes. Constant Contact offered customers a library of stock images that looked more beautiful than anything a business owner had used in the past. Customers could see firsthand how professional their company was going to look.  Only after the customer had completed the what stage and earned the emotional reward of seeing its first campaign come to life, did Constant Contact switch to the who part of creating a campaign. The difference was, by this point, Constant Contact had enough relationship equity with the customer to get it over the hump of uploading its database.

This minor reordering of the onboarding flow led to a dramatic reduction in customer churn–which is the death knell of any subscription business.

Whether you’re in a subscription business, or still using a transaction business model, how you treat a customer in the first 90 days will go a long way in determining their overall satisfaction.  To benchmark your customer satisfaction against world class brands, get your Value Builder Score now. 

How to Get Rich in 3 (Really Difficult) Steps

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Becoming wealthy may not be your primary goal, but if it is, there is a reasonably predictable way to get rich in America.

Step 1: Ignore Your Parents

Parents around the world typically encourage their kids to get educated so they can get a ‘good job.’ This may mean becoming a doctor or lawyer, although neither tends to be a path to significant wealth. High-paying professions provide an excellent income stream, but two insidious forces undermine the professional’s ability to create significant wealth: tax and spending.

Tax

It is difficult to become wealthy on the basis of a salary alone. Since income is taxed at the highest possible rate, you’re left with not much more than 50 cents on the dollar.

Spending

The other problem with having a high income is that it creates a ‘wealth effect’ that triggers spending. Thomas J. Stanley, the famous author of the research-driven classic The Millionaire Next Door, points out that some professionals—in particular, lawyers—spend a large portion of their income to give the impression that they are successful, in part because they do not enjoy much social status from their job. In other words, when you earn $500,000 a year, you buy a Range Rover or send your kids to an elite private school at least in part because you want people to think you are wealthy.

Step 2: Start Something

Most wealth in America is created through owning a business. Recently, Mass Mutual looked at the proportion of business owners that make up a number of wealth cohorts. They found that 17 percent of people with between $100,000 and $500,000 to invest were business owners.

Keep in mind that there are about 8 million employer-based companies in the United States, meaning that the incidence rate of business ownership (the natural rate at which you find business owners in the general population) is about three percent. Said another way, if you grabbed 100 people walking down the street, on average three of them would be business owners. On the other hand, if you took a random sample of 100 people with investable assets of between $100,000 and $500,000, 17 of them would be business owners, meaning you’re over five times more likely to find a business owner in the $100,000 to $500,000 wealth segment than you are to find an employee in the same segment.

The trend becomes more pronounced the higher up the wealth ladder you go. If you look at wealthy investors with between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in investable assets, you’ll see that the proportion of business owners in this segment goes up dramatically—to27 percent.

The Very Rich

Among investors with between $1 million and $10 million in investable assets, the proportion of business owners jumps to 52 percent. As for those investors with $10 million to $50 million sloshing around in their bank account, 67 percent are business owners; and for investors with $50 million dollars or more in investable assets, 86 percent are business owners.

Simply put, if you meet someone who is very rich, it’s highly likely they are (or were) a business owner.

Step 3: Get Liquid

The next step for you as a business owner is to focus on improving the value of your business so that you can sell it for a premium. Just being a successful entrepreneur is typically not enough to become rich. You have to find a way to take the equity you have locked up in your business and turn it into liquid assets. When it comes to selling your business, the three most common options are:

  • Acquisition: This is the headline-popping way some entrepreneurs choose to trade their shares for cash. When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, founders Brian Action and Jan Koum got very rich.
  • Re-capitalization: A minority or majority “re-cap” occurs when you sell a stake in your company (often to a private equity firm) yet continue to run your business as both a manager and part owner, with a chunk of your wealth in liquid assets outside of your business.
  • Management Buyout: In an MBO, you invite your management team (or a family member) to buy you out over time, usually with a mixture of some cash from the profits of your business as well as debt that the managers take on. There are other, less common ways to turn your equity into cash (e.g., an IPO), but the key is turning the illiquid wealth in your business into diversified liquid wealth. The best part about selling a business is that the wealth created is taxed at a very low rate compared to employment income, so you get to keep most of what you make.

You might argue it is better to keep all of your wealth tied up in your business as it grows, but that can be a risky proposition—just ask Lululemon’s Chip Wilson or BlackBerry’s cofounder Mike Lazaridis. If you keep your money locked up in your business, it also means you may not be able to enjoy the benefits of wealth. You can’t use illiquid stock in a private company to buy an around-the-world plane ticket or a ski chalet in Aspen. You actually have to get liquid first.

There are many good reasons to build a business; and for you, wealth creation may not be as important as making an amazing product or leading a great team. But if money is what you’re after, there is no better way to get rich than to start and sell a successful business.