Having recently spent an afternoon engrossed in the movie “House of Gucci”, one particular word that I paid attention to throughout was “LEGACY”. The notion of leaving something (upon your Exit) to be proud of, for the next generation/s (whether this be family or not) to continue and build on, was certainly one of the key storylines. Even though the Gucci story, in particular, turned ugly and lethal, the notion of Legacy for many other Business Owners does not appear to get the level of consideration it deserves, especially if there is no family member willing to take up the mantle when the Owner will/can not.
In addition, during one of the 2021 Melbourne-style lockdowns, I spent some time catching up on the latest from Changethis.com, with Decoding Family Business striking a chord. Not so much in terms of the insights, it provided (which I also agree with) but more about the greater meaning and therefore impact of “family”, whether the actual family members work in the business or not. Working with many businesses of all shapes and sizes over 10 years of Business Brokering, my view is that all business is a “family” business.
“If you’re part of such a [family] business or working for one, the business’s uniqueness will be no surprise to you. But that doesn’t mean you always understand how and why the business operates the way it does.”
Or even how decisions are made. Or whether, as a long-term employee, you should be included in some decisions, especially when it impacts your future directly… like the Exit of the Business Owner for example.
As noted in Decoding Family Business “… family businesses have three defining characteristics:
Some individuals, especially owners, have a huge impact.
Family businesses are held together by relationships, which are multidimensional and interlocking.
Everyone’s behavior is shaped by system dynamics, some of which you may not even realise.“
Remove the word “family” in regard to these points, and you could be talking about most small businesses going about their work, possibly in silence, where individuals can also be long-term employees (as opposed to direct family).
To be able to really unpack the desires and feelings of the Owner and associated loved ones is paramount to a successful sale of the business when it comes to Exit. But, so is the importance of the impact on long-serving employees, and customers, and suppliers. Each of these may ultimately influence the Business Owner, whether explicitly or not, in the details of the deal being agreed and the subsequent signing of a Contract of Sale in terms of formalising the decision.
Where long-serving employees, and customers, and suppliers are not family, even though sometimes they may be referred to as such, they are nonetheless the community that keeps the business alive and ticking. And it’s highly likely that they do/will have a vested interest in what happens to the business when it’s time for the Owner to move on.
Part of the Art of being a good Business Broker (which you must be to last 10 years in this industry) is to fundamentally understand the driving forces behind the decision-making within the business context, especially at Exit time.
In my experience, there are typically 3 reasons why an Owner/s is looking to sell:
PayDay is where it all starts. It is after all the most tangible. How much is it worth? How much does the Owner want? How big is the gap? What can be done about it?
And sometimes, it can be where it ends. What is the deal? Terms and conditions? Is this the best we can expect/accept? Time to move on…
However, what I’ve come to learn is that Freedom and Legacy definitely play a strong hand in the final outcome. It’s just that no monetary value can be placed on just how instrumental these are. To not apply the respectful amount of consideration in regard to how the Exit will impact those closest to the business, and who it will impact can come back and bite the Owner, just when they’re hoping for smooth sailing…
(to be continued…)
SOLD: Just the word needed to confirm that the next phase of a Business Owner’s life is about the start, with the past add-venture coming to an end. As you can appreciate, the buyers need to be equally as pleased. Ready to explore the same?
This particular transaction took 12 months to complete, slowly chipping away through Lockdown and COVID restrictions over 2020, to be able to finally settle in January 2021. The business sold was a small consultancy, so very important that the chemistry of the people involved worked equally as well as the mechanics of the deal.
Happy Buyer, Happy Seller and Happy Broker.
As explored in “Business is Personal; Small Business and Owners – a Love Letter” earlier this year, Small Business can be the most wonderful and fulfilling business-life partner you’re looking for.
And sometimes it is not…
When it comes to business, we like to think we are strategic and thorough in our approach. We want to believe we know where our talents and opportunities lie, we spend years (and a fortune) on gleaning advice and (maybe) attending training and professional development, we devote all our collective energies to progressing, keeping a vigilant and jealous eye on the progress of our rivals.
Consequently, when (as a business owner) we’re ready to exit, it should be the easy bit.
We don’t expect there to be any particular complexity in this part of the plan. We’ve decided we want to relax and have fun, and envisage the only obstacles to such goals might be finding the right buyer, so that the business is sold for a song. We adopt an almost laissez-faire, she’ll-be-right-mate attitude, and readily take up suggestions of others without rigorous scrutiny, sometimes, without thinking about things too much at all really.
What becomes painfully obvious when we do get serious is that is what we’ve missed for many years. We fail to note that our business is so much more that just-a-business and not worth nearly as much as we think we deserve, because we insist on being haphazard and even slow about the planning and execution of the Exit. We stick to being guided by internet searches, hearsay, unlearned opinions and muddled instinct when we should be harnessing reason and independent advice from those who play in this space. We end up being a lot more miserable than we might be because we have not taken this part of the business lifecycle more seriously.
And we don’t because we assume that what worked for others will work for us too.
It doesn’t readily occur to us to take our unique situation, both in terms of the business itself and what it means to us and our family and our staff and our suppliers and our customers and our community overall, into account. But most of all, personally and individually.
We’re always looking for clues as to when to even acknowledge the question of Exiting the Business in the first instance, and then when to think about actioning it. Here are 7 to get started:
- No Longer Enjoyable: some owners may not enjoy operating the business any more.
Whilst this might seem simplistic, it’s not. If we’re finding it’s a struggle to do what we once did with joy – why? is it the business itself? is it the people we are working with? is it what’s happening at home impacting on our workplace? Have we found something new to tickle our fancy? Are we just over it? Do we want to leave a legacy that is represented by our business, continuing well into the future, but want someone else to take the reins?
- Personal Debt: successful businesses can be sold to pay off owners personal debt.
Have we found ourselves in a position where we’re staying awake at night worrying about the amount of debt we’re carrying and/or meeting the repayment regime? Is the business the one asset that could be sold that will address this, freeing us up from the burden and for our next add-venture? Is it a choice between the business or the family home?
- Capitalisation: to reap the dividends for many years of hard working by capitalising.
“Capitalisation of profits implies plowing the money back into the business, or keeping it on the balance sheet for some future, yet-unidentified opportunity, or to return some or all of the profit to its shareholders, in the form of cash dividends or new shares” (investopedia.com) Do we really want to sell, or just be able to get some hard-fought-for funds out? Is selling shares a way to do this, and to eventually move the business on over time? Is it a way to at least share the load?
- Ill Health: the owner may need to sell on health grounds.
We’ve had a health check and the feedback is not what we wanted to hear. What do we do now? Do we put the business on the market tomorrow? Do we think all will be right and not worry about it? Do we start making calls to work out what options we have over what timeframes? Do we remonstrate ourselves for not having the business in a more saleable shape?
- Limited Potential: not seeing potential or poor performance.
What future does our business have? Is our business ready to take on new initiatives? Is it in an industry on the decline or incline? Can it be reworked, repurposed, recycled, or refurbished? Do we know what to do to bring it into the 21st century but don’t have the energy or the care factor? Do we not know what to do, and not really sure which way to turn or who to pay attention to? Is this as good as it’s going to get for the foreseeable future, and therefore now would be the time to move it on before there’s more deterioration?
- New Project: owners may want to free up time to pursue a new project in mind.
Freedom plays a big part in thinking about Exit. If we didn’t spend all our time running our business, what would we do instead? What could we do instead? What have we learnt through being a business owner that we can now apply to another path? What angle in our existing business have we discovered that excites us more? Would we actually prefer to be doing something completely different?
- Work/Life Balance: balancing work with life, or maybe even retirement.
Maybe we’ve just had enough…
We want more balance, whatever this means for us.
We don’t want to die with our particular appetites and intense sensations tragically unexplored.
If we use ourselves as our point of reference, what would our life without the business look like? What would we talk about?
How would we identify ourselves? to others?
What have we enjoyed in the past and might we recreate?
What might we learn to say no to and contrastingly, to emphasise going forward?
What’s becoming evident to us as the Business Owners that we are, is that what’s been happening of late (or for the last number of years) cannot continue. Even if we’ve done well, we probably can’t just shut the business down without affecting and upsetting many others, and maybe we don’t really want to do this either. So what are the real options?
Selling the business is definitely one…
If any or all of these possible considerations are resonating, it’s time to work out what to do. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it has highlighted how something can come out of nowhere and completely disrupt our world, whether we’ve been fabulous folk, excellent at business, or otherwise.
Let’s put this learning to good use…
Call me +61 3 8560 0524
Small Business – I admire and respect you. What a dream maker you are. How well you do for the fortunate.
Small Business Owners – How tenacious and trusting you are. You embark on this roller coaster for your own particular reasons, knowing that to not follow this dream outweighs the dream itself, hoping your business delivers way beyond expectation.
But, now what?
First up, let me note for the majority of us, there has never been a ride quite like the year that’s been, the year of 2020. So many hurdles, so many scunned knees, so many headaches, so many false starts, so many obstacles, but still we’ve managed to hang in there. These many opportunities provide a way to find meaning and gratitude, resilience and fearlessness in doing this good work, which is also life-altering. All hail to us.
Having spoken with many a Small Business owner, trying to work out what the best way forward is and therefore the decisions to make has for the most part tough to witness and participate in. It is always a privilege to work along side you. My wish is that with my saleability and exit option expertise goggles securely fastened, I’ve done my best in supporting you towards a decision worth making. And as a result, I share a couple of observations that may prove beneficial over the year/s to come…
Personally, regardless of what life throws at me, I can’t imagine not playing in the Small Business world. To me, it offers variety beyond compare, with so many different characters to meet. As no one Business is the same, nor is the Owner, nor is one conversation a copy of another, even though when talking to me specifically about what I do, many have a similar intent.
There is no other form of enterprise that can generate so much energy, be so completely frustrating and add so much spice to life, possibly all at the same time. There is certainly nothing dull about working with Small Business. The ingenuity and sheer audacity of the Owners involved is a privilege to behold. The pride I hear in their voices when talking about their business is heartwarming and genuine. No doom and gloom to be found. If it does feature, then maybe the Owner is coming to the realisation that they may now be in the wrong game.
Taking this a step further, Small Business can be the most wonderful and fulfilling business-life partner you’re looking for. If I can offer any sort of guidance as to what to do with your small business post pandemic, it is to treat it as such. Support it, guide it, open doors for it, be the purposeful example of love-in-action you can be to enable your business to do its thing.
Many underestimate the impact our Small Business has on us personally, and overestimate how others should value it. Stories and history and media celebrate it as one of life’s ultimate goals, “the backbone of the economy”, even the solution for our pain and struggles. However the harsh reality is that Small Business is not for everyone, and nor should it be. It is in fact hard work (as all good things are), but, if you can crack the code, it is ultimately worthwhile.
Where I see it coming unstuck is when Small Business is to be an easy cure all. Fundamental values such as respect, humility, financial realism, and commitment towards it are ignored, as are the people to care about within its contours. Small Business is after all, a human-to-human contact sport. One that an Owner wants to be prepared to play over a long period, including being OK with doing all the hard stuff that comes along with such an add-venture.
Of course, the problem with alleged guru’s of Small Business is that their rhetoric can cause unrealistic expectations to be developed about what it actually is, and what it can do and/or should do for each of us individually, possibly sabotaging the very thing we wanted to hold so dear in the first place.
Make no mistake, Small Business is an emotional process; it is personal.
To truly make it work over the long-haul, it has to be.
The truth is, if it is to go wrong, it did so before it even began or when early warning signs were not detected or paid attention to. Often the business that does kick on is a non-identical twin to the one you kicked off with, and you have to be OK with this. The market always provides clues once you start and ongoing. To ignore them is at your peril so you have to be sure to follow them…
You have to use not only your heart, but also your head. Yes, you want to build the business that makes your heart and ego flutter. But you also need to consistently evaluate the path you’re being led down, the values of those you’re dealing with, and how they treat themselves and us, making the necessary adjustments on route. You and your Small Business deserves this.
My one big lesson for you to take away is this: while ‘love’ may make you feel better about your Small Business, it doesn’t actually solve any of its problems unless you both do the work. Think of it as a loving relationship, and we all know how scary but how worthwhile it can be.
Yes, the roller coaster of emotions can be intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion that got you here will eventually come and wash it all away.
One of the defining characteristics of loving Small Business is that we are able to think outside of ourselves and our own needs to help care for another person or group, and their needs as well. Or at least, this is what we should be aiming for. If it’s just about making money, this will eventually fizzle out.
One question that doesn’t get asked nearly often enough is: exactly what are we sacrificing, and is it worth it?
In loving relationships, it’s normal for both parties to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. This is healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.
But when it comes to sacrificing one’s own self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s physical body, one’s ambitions and life purpose for your Small Business, and it is not reciprocated, then that can sometimes become problematic. Your Small Business is supposed to supplement your individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If you find yourself in situations where you’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behaviour, then that’s essentially what you’re doing: you’re allowing this beast of your own creation to consume you and negate you, and if you’re not careful, it will leave you as a shell of the person you once was. Not ideal in anyone’s language.
So let’s ask the question another way: would you tolerate the impact your Small Business is having on you in your best friend?
Amazingly, when you answer this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is ’no.’
Why therefore do we tolerate behaviour that we would never ever tolerate in our friendships?
Sometimes, the most loving action you can take for yourself and your Small Business is to not continue. Tough call to make no doubt, but it does not go against the fact that it might actually be the right decision.
Because what you want to do with your Small Business, and what is actually likely, can be miles apart. Genuinely understanding, and subsequently loving and treating your Small Business with all it deserves must be the first and foremost move into this new year, given a possible new phase of operating may be thrust upon you.
You can ‘fall in love’ with a wide variety of business ideas and models throughout the course of your life (goodness knows I have!). You can fall in love with people who are good for us and people who are bad for us. We can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways.
Love is not unique.
Love is not special.
Love is not scarce.
But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust.
There can be many “loves” throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they may be very hard to get back. Proving a point with your Small Business is not worth this.
Small Business is a wonderful experience. I believe it’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is definitely something to aspire to and enjoy. But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experiences, it cannot be used to define us, our identities or our life purpose. You cannot let it consume you. You cannot sacrifice your identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment you do that, you lose love of it and potentially lose yourself.
Because you need more in life than just your Small Business.
It is great.
It is necessary.
It is beautiful.
Love it by all means.
But Small Business in and of itself is not enough.
Small Businesses don’t usually give up on us, we give up on them.
Small Business will look after you if you do likewise.
However if it’s no longer for you, make the call…
The answer is YES for 63% of those we asked, based on this questions “Would you consider buying a percentage of a business now with an option to buy the rest when the situation resolves”?
(Q8 from the Xcllusive Business Buyers Report – April 2020)
We saw a little of this pre-COVID 19 but expect this method to increase in the future. It means the buyer and the seller will share the risk. This is very encouraging for the future.
Complimentary to this: What are the characteristics that will compel you to buy in this environment?
- Low fixed overheads relative to sales level
- Good forward plan
This is something business owners can do now to prepare their business for sale.
If you’re considering selling, have a really good look at your overheads – there’s never been a better time to renegotiate and reduce your overheads. Create a short but solid forward plan using bullet points to show the direction of your business..
To find out what else Buyers has to say, go here to read the full Report.