What a Study of 14,000 Businesses Reveals About How You Should Not Be Spending Your Time

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In an analysis of more than 14,000 businesses, a new study finds the most valuable companies take a contrarian approach to the boss doing the selling.

Who does the selling in your business?  My guess is that when you’re personally involved in doing the selling, your business is a whole lot more profitable than the months when you leave the selling to others.

That makes sense because you’re likely the most passionate advocate for your business. You have the most industry knowledge and the widest network of industry connections.

If your goal is to maximize your company’s profit at all costs, you may have come to the conclusion that you should spend most of your time out of the office selling, and leave the dirty work of operating your businesses to your underlings.

However, if your goal is to build a valuable company—one you can sell down the road—you can’t be your company’s number one salesperson. In fact, the less you know your customers personally, the more valuable your business.

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.

 

The Proof: A Study of 14,000 Businesses

We’ve just finished analyzed our pool of Value Builder Score users for the quarter ending December 31.  We offer The Sellability Score questionnaire as the first of twelve steps in The Value Builder System, a statistically proven methodology for increasing the value of a business.

We asked 14,000 business owners if they had received an offer to buy their business in the last 12 months, and if so, what multiple of their pre-tax profit the offer represented. We then compared the offer made to the following question:

Which of the following best describes your personal relationship with your company’s customers

  • I know each of my customers by first name and they expect that I personally get involved when they buy from my company.
  • I know most of my customers by first name and they usually want to deal with me rather than one of my employees.
  • I know some of my customers by first name and a few of them prefer to deal with me rather than one of my employees.
  • I don’t know my customers personally and rarely get involved in serving an individual customer.

2.93 vs. 4.49 Times

The average offer received among all of the businesses we analyzed was 3.7 times pre-tax profit. However, when we isolated just those businesses where the owner does not know his/her customers personally and rarely gets involved in serving an individual customer, the offer multiple went up to 4.49.

Companies where the founder knows each of his/her customers by first name get discounted, earning offers of just 2.93 times pre-tax profit.

When Value Is the Enemy of Profit

Who you get to do the selling in your company is just one of many examples where the actions you take to build a valuable company are different than what you do to maximize your profit.  If all you wanted was a fat bottom line, you likely wouldn’t invest in upgrading your website or spend much time thinking about the squishy business of company culture.

How much money you make each year is important, but how you earn that profit will have a greater impact on the value of your company in the long run.

         

5 Simple 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

         

Why Bother Doing It The Hard Way

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Whether you want to sell your business next year or a decade from now, you will have two basic options for an external sale: the financial or the strategic buyer.

The Financial Buyer

The financial buyer is buying the rights to your future profit stream, so the more profitable your business is expected to be, the more your company will be worth to them. Strategies that are key to driving up the value of your business in the eyes of this buyer include de-risking it as much as possible, creating recurring revenue, reducing reliance on one or two big customers, cultivating a team of leaders, etc.

The Strategic Buyer

The alternative is to sell to a strategic buyer. They will care less about your future profit stream and more about what your business is worth in their hands, typically calculating how much more of their product they can sell by owning your business. Strategic buyers are usually big companies, so the value of being able to sell more of their product or service because they own you can be substantial. This often leads strategic buyers to pay more for your business than a financial buyer ever would.

For example, Nick Kellet’s Next Action Technologies created a software application that takes a set of numbers and visually expresses them in a Venn diagram. Next Action Technologies was generating approximately $1.5 million in revenue when they received their first acquisition offer; Kellet’s first valuation was for $1 million, a little less than revenue, which is a pretty typical from a financial buyer.

Kellet knew the business could be worth more to a strategic buyer, so he searched for a company that could profit by embedding his Venn diagram software into their product. Kellet found Business Objects, a business intelligence software company looking to express their data more visually. Business Objects could see how owning Next Action Technologies would enable them to sell a whole lot more of their software, and they went on to acquire Kellet’s business for $8 million, more than five times revenue – an astronomical multiple.

Preparing For Every Eventuality

The question is: why bother making your business attractive to a financial buyer when the strategic buyer typically pays so much more?

The answer is that strategic acquisitions are very rare. Each industry usually only has a handful of strategic acquirers, so your buyer pool is small and subject to a number of variables out of your control; the economy, interest rates, the competitive landscape and a whole raft of other variables can all impact a strategic acquirer’s appetite to buy your business.

Think of it this way: imagine your child is a promising young athlete who’s intent on going pro. You know that becoming a professional athlete is a long shot, fraught with unknown hurdles: injury, the wrong coach, or just not having what it takes to compete at the highest levels. Do you squash her dream? No, but you do make sure she does her homework, so if her dream fades she has her education; you make sure she has a back-up plan.

The same is true of positioning your company for an exit. Sure, you may want to sell your business to a strategic buyer in a spectacular exit, but a financial acquisition is much more likely, and financial buyers are looking for companies that have done their homework – companies that have worked to become reliable cash machines.

Six Power Ratios To Start Tracking Now

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Doctors in the developing world measure their progress not by the aggregate number of children who die in childbirth, but by the infant mortality rate – a ratio of the number of births to deaths.

Similarly, baseball’s leadoff batters measure their “on-base percentage” – the number of times they get on base – as a percentage of the number of times they get the chance to try.

Acquirers also like tracking ratios, and the more ratios you can provide a potential buyer, the more comfortable they will become with the idea of buying your business.

Better than the blunt measuring stick of an aggregate number, a ratio expresses the relationship between two numbers, which gives them their power.

If you’re planning to sell your company one day, here’s a list of six ratios to start tracking in your business now:

1. Employees per square foot

By calculating the number of square feet of office space you rent and dividing it by the number of employees you have, you can judge how efficiently you have designed your space. Commercial real estate agents use a general rule of 175–250 square feet of usable office space per employee.

2. Ratio of promoters and detractors

Fred Reichheld and his colleagues at Bain & Company and Satmetrix developed the Net Promoter Score® methodology. It is based on asking customers a single question that is predictive of both repurchase and referral. Here’s how it works: survey your customers and ask them the question, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend <insert your company name> to a friend or colleague?” Figure out what percentage of the people surveyed give you a 9 or 10, and label that your ratio of “promoters.” Calculate your ratio of detractors by figuring out the percentage of people surveyed who gave you a score of 0 to 6. Then calculate your Net Promoter Score (NPS) by subtracting your percentage of detractors from your percentage of promoters.

The average company in the United States has a NPS of between 10 and 15 percent.  Reichheld found companies with an above-average NPS grow faster than average-scoring businesses.  

3. Sales per square foot

By measuring your annual sales per square foot, you can get a sense of how efficiently you are translating your real estate into sales. Most industry associations have a benchmark. For example, annual sales per square foot for a respectable retailer might be $300. With real estate usually ranking just behind payroll as a business’s largest expenses, the more sales you can generate per square foot of real estate, the more profitable you are likely to be.

4. Revenue per employee

Payroll is the number one expense for most businesses, which explains why maximizing your revenue per employee can translate quickly to the bottom line. Google, for example, enjoyed a revenue per employee of more than one million dollars in 2015, whereas a more traditional people-dependent company may struggle to surpass $100,000 per employee.    

5. Customers per account manager

How many customers do you ask your account managers to manage? Finding a balance can be tricky. Some bankers are forced to juggle more than 400 accounts, and therefore do not know each of their customers, whereas some high-end wealth managers may have just 50 clients to stay in contact with. It’s hard to say what the right ratio is because it is so highly dependent on your industry. Slowly increase your ratio of customers per account manager until you see the first signs of deterioration (slowing sales, drop in customer satisfaction). That’s when you know you have probably pushed it a little too far.

6. Prospects per visitor

What proportion of your website’s visitors “opt-in” by giving you permission to e-mail them in the future? Dr. Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson are the cofounders of Conversion Rate Experts, which advises companies like Google, Apple and Sony on how to convert more of their website traffic into customers. Dr. Blanks and Mr. Jesson state that there is no such thing as a typical opt-in rate, because so much depends on the source of traffic. They recommend that rather than benchmarking yourself against a competitor, you benchmark against yourself by carrying out tests to beat your site’s current opt-in rate.

Acquirers have a healthy appetite for data. The more data you can give them – in the ratio format they’re used to examining – the more attractive your business will be in their eyes.

Did you miss the perfect time to sell your business?

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August was a rollercoaster ride for stockholders. Triple digits wins followed by even larger losses left the average investor reeling and were a good reminder that markets move in both directions.

Valuations of privately held business have also been somewhat turbulent of late. The average offer extended to users of The Value Builder System was 4.2 pretax profit in Q1, 2015, but dropped to 3.9 in Q2.

Does that mean you have missed the opportunity to sell your business at the peak?

Maybe. But should you care? Probably not.

The thing many of us forget is that when you sell your company—–possibly your largest asset and the biggest wealth-creating event of a your lifetime—–you have to do something with the money you make.

These days, that means you’ll have to turn around and invest your windfall into an asset class that is arguably somewhat bubbly in historical terms. The stock market has more than doubled since 2009. The price of residential real estate has been growing at a rate of 1 percent per month in many major centers. The same trend can be seen in many markets that offer exclusive beach houses or ski chalets.

Who Is Richer: Samantha or Scott?

Indulge us in a hypothetical example. Let’s look at two imaginary business owners, each running a company generating a pretax profit of $500,000. Let’s imagine that Samantha sold her business into the teeth of the recession for three times her pretax profit back in 2009. She would have walked with $1.5 million pretax to invest in the stock market.

Now let’s imagine business owner Scott who decides to try and time the market. Scott waited out the recession and sold his business last month for four times pretax profit, walking away with $2 million before deal costs. At first glance, Scott looks like the winner because he sold at the peak and got four times profit instead of Samantha’s three times. But when we take a closer look, Samantha would probably be better off today. Assuming she had invested her $1.5 million in the stock market back in 2009, when the Dow was trading below 7,000 points, she would now have more than $3 million, or a third more than Scott, who waited and sold at the “peak.”

Timing the sale of your business on the basis of external markets is often a zero-sum game, because unless you’re going to hide the proceeds of a sale under your mattress, you’re probably buying into the same market conditions from which you’re selling out.

A better approach is to optimize your business against the eight things acquirers look for when they buy a business, regardless of what’s happening in the economy overall.

Find out how you score on the eight factors that drive your company’s value by completing the Value Builder questionnaire.