Want to know what its like to be a tax accountant? Here you go, enjoy!!
A couple of years ago I sat down with a business owner of a very successful technology firm that had been around for fifteen years. Situations like the following story motivate me to keep looking for ways to share principles I discover that hopefully keeps headaches, lawsuits, bankruptcies, and even complete dissolution of companies from happening.
One day during lunch with a technology owner, an issue surfaced that he was at a loss to interpret. Once he announced to his existing employees that the ownership would be changing over to his key employee his company experienced 90% employee turnover within one year. This key employee had been with him for over ten years, and many of the employees under him were employed almost as long. Which may indicate great management to employee relationships. So this prompted further questions, and after numerous answers to specific questions, the answer started to reveal itself. The owner then went on to describe how he couldn’t understand why his key employee, who at that stage owned 40% of the company, had been more concerned about his salary above his future employees during the last downturn. And how, as a new owner, the key employee indicated that clients should stop complaining and accept what he felt was best for them. His key employee, before ownership, had never indicated to him that this was his philosophy and the owner was spending quite a bit of effort to change this attitude to salvage his exit.
The longer we talked, the more I was convinced that the owner lived one business model, and his key employee lived another business model. Or maybe you call it a philosophy of sorts that drives a company.
This business owner’s model (#1 above) is my preferred and only common recommendation. That is to put your clients first, then your employees and lastly, structure your company, so your clients and employees take care of you. Some owners will tell me this concept sounds too idealistic and simple, but I can assure you that I’ve seen it generate a great number of growth opportunities and scalabilities for a company. The risk is that this concept can crumble fast if the structure of the company is not set up to reward the owner and revert to the “Ouch” model.
The key employee’s model (#2 above) is one I will never recommend. That is to put yourself, the owner, first and then your clients second and leave your employees to fend for themselves. Since employees generally are looking for safety in employment, this model, in my opinion, does not offer much in the way of that. Believe me when I say that when employees are left to fend for themselves, they often do in ways that are not healthy for the company. If I were a government inspector, fraud investigator, or forensic accountant I would look first for businesses with this model, as my probabilities would be very high for finding those “Ouch” moments (lack of compliance, theft, fraud, etc.).
So why do I believe the reason so many employees left? Although the employees were aware of the key employee’s model, they always relied on the owner’s model to supersede. But when the announcement came, it ripped away the only safety net (owner’s model) they understood and left them feeling scared.
When employees feel scared, they run to anywhere they can feel safe and often, like in this case, into the arms of the competition. And now this owner was left with a potential owner that would likely destroy his company without great employees and a company with a lot less value to take to a third party if he was to change direction.
As always, I look forward to your feedback and comments.
Earlier this year I was introduced to a 14 million revenue company in the construction industry with the managing three partners each earning less than their top five key employees. I was referred in because they, at the time, were considering selling the company. After initial analysis, it became clear that a few things needed to be changed. On the positive side the company had more business than they could handle but on the negative was that they could not expand. All three partners had little to no vacation in the last several years with one working 24/7 for the last three years.
In my journeys through businesses over the last several years has led me to see a common theme with business owners. The abilities individuals bring to becoming business owners are often at conflict with the later growth scalability requirements of company growth. Whether they lost their job, got tired of having a boss and/or just had the greatest idea ever it took a lot of optimistic belief in their abilities and the future. It is often that same optimism that convinces clients or customers to do business with their company.
Not surprisingly several years later the business owner starts getting tired of all the employee drama and operational headaches that pushes any owner to become envious of the simple life of his employees. They often wonder why they work more and sometimes earn less than their key employees.
One of the reasons the partners of the 14 mil revenue company for so little vacation stemmed for several reasons but two seemed to stick out. The owners were constantly being required to fix employees mistakes on worksites due to a lack of controls and how to use financial statements and other data to manage future growth. This is what I call "working in the weeds".
Now when they started the company they were sales kind of guys which usually translates to very optimistic individuals. And they were very successful in getting clients as they grew. But optimism has its Achilles heel in that it tends to ignore being critical of how things run. Operations, on the other hand, are usually run with a critical and sometimes negative point of view. It's constantly asking what could blow up or looking for possibilities that something could fail. So for three optimistic partners with a sales background putting controls into place was not something any of them wanted to focus on.
My observation has been that if an individual leaves employment from a financial or operations role they will struggle with getting clients. However, if they leave employment with a sales role they will struggle with running the operations and financials. Each struggle tends to produce problems in scalability. A simple but difficult solution is to sacrifice some revenue to free up time away from the weeds and produce a macro view that finds solutions. The hardest thing to do is to refuse business and spend the extra time-solving struggles for the future. Just stop running faster through the weeds and climb a tree to look down at all the weeds.
Please share your comments and feedback below.
Today I would like to share an article that Abigail G. Manning wrote specifically for this blog. What I like about Abigail is that she is more about helping business owners understand what sexual harassment it's not which helps business owners breath easier and get back to running their companies. I can tell you from experience that what she mentions in the article below can either prevent a company sale if neglected or create exceptional company value if embraced. I hope you enjoy the article below:
"Remember the first time you wrote your resume? There was so much hope and excitement for the future. Your vision was laser focused and reflected your personal core values of what you offered to a company as well as how you expected your new employer to treat you.
You landed a job…life moved on…things got busy…dust settled on the resume. Those specific values became a distant memory as you had so many new ideas, information, and responsibilities put in front of you. That also happens to companies and their mission statements. We find our careers and our company have a life of their own where they move along reacting to market changes, demands of clients, keeping financially afloat during crisis times and expanding faster than we can keep up. Short-cuts. Oversights. Compromises. Tapped energy. Depleted resources.
It is in each of those challenges of struggle and growth that we need to uncover our values and reassess them and here’s why. Our core values dictate our actions. We need to double check what we value is matching our thoughts and actions at every interaction…from owner to client, sales rep to trade-partners, CEO to accountant, and beyond. A company culture is guided by values and is built on how people treat each other and how safe does each person feel emotionally, physically and financially. Having a person who is sexually harassing, perceived as a harasser or is acting in an unhealthy manner plummets moral, productivity, competency and quality of life.
To my knowledge…no resume or mission statement has ever read “We intend to create an unhealthy emotional environment, physical safety issues, lower individuals’ self-worth and increase harm to the financial bottom line.” Yet without building the right culture, that’s often what happens. What we really want is to attract and retain top talent, have a glowing reputation in our industry, build our teams and prevent costly lawsuits. All we need to do is dust off those values, polish them up with new wording, and then demonstrate our commitment to the values through investing in proven training to cultivate a positive company culture. A culture we are proud of because each person is confident that it is safe to trust the company’s core values will be acted out at every step and backed up in every situation. Every day thoughts, words, actions and behaviors need to be reliably consistent and align with the stated values, goals, vision and mission statement. I recommend they are rooted in TRUST. Truth. Respect. Unity. Safety. Transparency.
When we invest in our core values, we build financial value in a company that exceeds our wildest dreams…and that’s not starry-eyed vision!
By bringing transformative training and workshops to your company, you will invest in yourself and your employees by learning to build Authentic Health for everyone which will prevent sexual harassment and other unhealthy behaviors."
Abigail G. Manning
I am honored today to share an article that Karen Brown, taking time out of her extremely busy schedule, wrote specifically for this blog, Karen just published her second book Unlimiting Your Beliefs which I recommend reading, I believe you will find this very interesting.
"The #1 thing I see that gets in the way of successfully selling a business is not funding, terms, valuation. It’s cold feet because the seller doesn’t know what they are going to do after they sell the business.
Being an executive leadership/business owner coach and human behavior expert, I work with business owners prior to sale to alleviate this problem. Here is the short version of why this happens and what can be done to alleviate it.
Unconscious Values Get in the Way of Selling
All of us have conscious and unconscious values. Conscious values are things like, Integrity, which we are aware of. Unconscious values we are unaware of, and drive 90% of our daily actions. They encapsulate our purpose, and identity. Therefore, our motivation and drive. Here’s how they apply to the business owner sales situation I eluded to earlier.
To unearth unconscious values, I would recommend using a technique called a Values Elicitation. This is a five-step process of identifying them, along with conflicts within, and then resolving and in so doing, align with the result you are after. Here’s an example:
Step 1: Ask yourself: “What’s important to me about my life.” Write down the first things that pop into your head, in the way you think of them. Don’t write what you think you should.
Ask yourself a second and third time, “What’s important to me about my life.”
Your list will most likely be 8-15 values. If some are redundant, combine, so you have a clean list. Notice what’s in the top 5. If they aren’t pointing to a purpose outside of your business, you may not be able to sell and walk away from your business because too much of your identity and life’s purpose are in it. Or, if the values pointing to a purpose outside of your business are outside top five, same result. They are literally too far down the list to provide drive and motivation for you daily. They are simply a distant bell that will never be rung. This is exactly where we see business owners crater great deals to sell their business.
There can also be conflicts within and/or between values. This comes through in feeling conflicted about selling your business. Some days you want to, others you don’t.
If you are considering selling, or building growth in your business to sell, walk yourself through this technique and see what comes up. It may surprise you and better with the information now than blowing up a viable sale."
Content provided by Karen Brown, CEO of Velocity Leadership Consulting, professional business coach to entrepreneurs, business owners and senior leaders. To learn more, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/company/25026152/or www.velocityleadershipconsulting.com.
As always, I want to apologize in advance for my lack of writing skills should there be anything grammatically incorrect, but it is the principles and knowledge that I want to share.
Quite a number of months ago I wrote blog part one to “Rule of Thumb Not Always Practical (Part 1)”. I think now is the time to complete the article with part two. For the last several years I’ve heard about so many rules of thumb when selling a business that I often just smile when one is told to me.
When I’m told a “Rule of Thumb”, from an individual, it is sometimes with the emphasis that it anything outside the “Rule of Thumb” would be impossible to happen. But let me share the definition from Wikipedia, “The English phrase rule of thumb refers to a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation.” So it seems that many individuals have put more certainty into the “Rule of Thumb” than even the definitions reveal.
I think the reason many business owners grasp so hard onto the “Rule of Thumbs”, that the business selling community has proclaimed, is often the business owner is looking for control over the sale of his business. I believe most of us look for “Rules of Thumb” when we are struggling to gain control over a situation that we understand very little. However, the problem arises when we stop at just learning the “Rule of Thumb” and fail to continue the education necessary to truly gain control over a once unknown. Only through deeper learning can we obtain the knowledge that makes it possible to make better decisions.
“Rules of Thumb” should come with a disclaimer, “Start Here Not Finish Here.” Knowing that buyers are typically more knowledgeable than sellers in many transactions means that now the hard part comes from the seller. How much time do they have to spend learning how to prepare and sell their company? Of course, that just depends, right? So, here’s my “Rule of Thumb”, spend at least 120 hours learning and working on high-level planning. Then spend another 80-120 hours prepping for eventual due-diligence once you are under two years away. But always revert back to the Wikipedia definition for guidance.
If after reading this you are still thinking of selling your business, but don't know what it's worth, if you should sell it or just need to be pointed in the right direction... contact me here http://www.austecbt.com/contact.html
As always, I want to apologize in advance for my lack of writing skills should there be anything grammatically incorrect, but it is the principles and knowledge that I want to share.
Several weeks ago I received a call from a business owner. He said, “John, there is a small company up here (Small Colorado Mountain Town) that I just walked into and they are packing up everything. There is a sign on the door telling everyone they are closing up in 30 days and a great number of the community depends on this store.” Normally this just means that the business is just another statistic to add to the 80% of businesses that fail. But when that happens I don’t normally get a call from another business owner. So I started asking a lot more questions and digging for answers.
The business had been in business for over 20 years successfully navigating multiple recessions and impressively the last major one. The business was the only one like it in the community and everyone depended on it and really liked the owner. I picked up the phone, called the owner and she explained to me that she was closing up shop because she had decided to move out of state. I asked her if she had considered selling the company and she mentioned that a couple of people had expressed interest since she posted the “Going out of Business” sign, but eventually it did not work out.
Now the reason I got into helping business owners several years ago was that I saw way too many established companies close up shop, layoff numerous employees and destroy many more client/customer relationships because they simply could not find a buyer. Every time this happens it causes a ripple effect on the economics surrounding the company.
Like most conversations I have with business owners I had to explain that I was not a business broker or a merger and acquisitions professional, but rather that I only evaluated whether the business was ready to sell and if not, help them figure out how to improve or make necessary changes to get the business ready for sale. I even went so far as to explain that I was willing to help her build a quick package to show to my connections and see if someone wanted to buy a small retail store in a great location. She told me she would call me back.
After a couple of days, I thought maybe it was just another tragedy in a community that depended on this business. Then I received a call from California from a friend of hers that was calling to figure out what I was about. Then I thought maybe this was not going to end as a tragedy after all. So after explaining what might be possible for this owner, her friend told me he would convey this back to the owner. The following day I received the owner's Profit & Loss statements. I was expecting to see something wrong with the numbers but they looked very solid with a 70k net income. So I sent back an email requesting more financials like the Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement, but then I never heard back. So I sent a follow-up email a week later, but again no response.
So I decided to give it another week, but there was no communication from the owner. So I called back the business owner that originally called me in the first place to ask if they had any new information. Apparently, the owner of the retail store just closed the doors on December 31st and liquidated her inventory. So I called back her friend in CA and I heard the same information. So a business of 20 years disappeared in 30 days. Not exactly the story I was wanting to write.
I always understand and respect any business owner’s decision to do what they want with their business. But I couldn’t help but be a little sad that this course of action was taken without an attempt or effort to leave an established business to continue servicing the surrounding community.
I find it fascinating that the statistic of companies that fail in startup and the number of companies that fail to sell is around 80%. So if 1,000 companies are started then after a few years only 200 survive and out of those only 40 will eventually sell. Those statistics do not indicate that buyers do not look at those companies for sale, just that no buyer wants to buy them.
In another blog, I plan on writing here soon, I will reveal one current buyer's journey looking for a business to buy. When he shared with me his numbers and process it even surprised me. He agreed to let me share his journey.
Please share your comments and feedback below. I would love to hear from those who have read this blog..
This blog will be short and to the point today. My apologies for not blogging for the last several months. I do tend to send out more quicker thoughts via my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Links to these social media pages are on located at the bottom of this website.
If you have done any research on the probabilities of companies selling then you know the numbers published by merger & acquisition, media experts and/or anyone else with knowledge in this area is about as daunting a number as startup survival statistics. So I thought the other day I would ask a valuation expert what he personally thought the statistics were. So here are the statistics from his observation: 10-15% of companies sell to a third-party, another 15-30% transfer to insiders and the rest 55-75% either liquidate or just walk away from their company. Granted that many in the liquidation category are small business owners who only built themselves a job, but its still a pretty scary number to think about. Interestingly his statistics seem to be similar with many published statistics.
So for some 55-75% of business owners, that survived the nearly 80-96% failure rate of startups, they left with nothing more than the sale of assets and/or what money they were able to save for retirement. When I started this company it was my goal to understand all the reasons why the number was so high. I thought if I could discover the reasons then I could prevent a large misfortune from continuing, because, after all, if the reasons were known then how could the number be so high, right?!. What I found and continue to find is, like my last twenty years of investment experience, most reasons have been written and ignored by business owners for the last several hundred years.
I suspect business owners, who end up liquidating, truly want to know the information but they can't get their heads above the weeds long enough to take the time to self educate and/or time to change the business into something transferable. I mean have you ever seen many successful business owners who work only 40 hours a week?
It's the gap I saw several years ago and wanted to find a way to help. It's what motivates me everyday to get up by 5:30 am and keep working often till 11 pm to keep trying to pursue the best methods and solutions. If I didn't have this early persistence I probably would never have developed my new 22 areas and 149 question pre-third party business sale assessment. And I suspect that many business owners could say the same about the pain it took to build their company. But if you are not leveraging some expertise from either a mentor(s), other business owner(s) and/or professional then you fact the statistics alone and hope that you figure it out sooner than later. My hope is that you reach out sooner to someone you can trust. Some things take years to put in place to avoid liquidation. And if you would like more questions please call or email me.
Please share your comments and feedback below. I would love to hear from those who read this far..
When I started exit consulting business owners a few years ago I kept wondering why my advice to quite a few owners to start working on their business rather than working in their business seemed to get immediate agreement, but then they dragged their feet or never implemented strategies.
I went through the process of looking at the owner as too busy to handle anything but working in the business. First I observed those business owners who have driven themselves into a corner and now they act like wild injured trapped animals desperately looking for a way out, but these owners would eventually find their way to something different with help or not. So this was not the group I was interested in using to solve the question. If this describes you, please stop reading and just call us.
Next I observed those owners that were working in their business and exhausted working out the daily grind. The mystery from this group was why, when presented with another way to change their structure and role within the company, some still would continue doing what they did everyday even if they might verbally agree it was the better way to go. Then it struck me one day, remembering the book, E-Myth Revisited, that I had read numerous times years ago, that one root of the problem was possibly very simple..
The root of the struggle, for the owner, to travel from working in the business to working on the business was not that they didn't know the right path to follow, although this is an obstacle, because there are a number of paths, tools, professional advice to help the owner achieve this goal. But rather it was much deeper in the reason owners go into business in the first place.
I've often been told that I'm always trying to make every company a giant company and that probably holds many truths. But it was probably this earlier naive assumption of mine that prevented me from really listening to owners telling me what they really wanted. I believe now they were just trying to tell me "Get rid of my pain", but all I heard was "So I want to grow big." Granted I believe strongly in the tools of growing big gets rid of a lot of pains, but I also discovered that it created a different kind of pain that the owners were trying to convey to me, but I wasn't listening to at the time.
The simple curious question, "Why did you start this company?" I posed one day to an owner and many more owners led to what I believe solved the puzzle to one root issue. In the book, E-Myth, it talks about the technician, manager, and visionary levels for a company ( I strongly recommend you read it). So my theory is this, if you went into a business because you loved doing the work (ie. financial advisor, plumber) but just didn't like having a boss then you would qualify for a technician ownership status. And if you qualified as a technician owner then anything that would force you into a status of manager or visionary owner would be met consciously or subconsciously with resistance. So even if a technician owner pursues the path to working on his company he/she will start to self sabotage his company to get back to working in his company.
So I took this theory on the road and discovered by listening, truly listening, that it seems to hold true not only at the technician level but at the manager and visionary levels as well.
So if you get this far in my article ask yourself two questions "Why did I start this company?" and "What level do I like to play in my company?" I believe, if you seriously honestly answer that question, you will understand a lot of emotional conflict you have felt up to this point. A simple example of this conflict is maybe that your company needs a visionary to grow bigger, but your love is really just being a technician. The good news is that you can do just that, but it will take a rewiring of how you think about company structure.
My apologies, here I go again trying to make you a bigger company without listening to you. So if you would like for me to listen to a business issue causing you pain please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I just responded to a LinkedIn article on outsourcing. "One of the difficulties of outsourcing is leaving the challenge of discovery to someone else. Another difficulty is when we outsource, a bit of fear creeps in, because we might be giving control to someone who might screw up the credibility we so painfully built. "
Years ago I spent a lot of time working with independent accountants who owned their own practices. I heard the positive and horror stories of accountants that referred their clients to another professional because they wanted to add value to their client relationships. But it was those negative experiences that the accountant received that often prevented them from ever referring a client again even if it meant the client would experience a negative result.
Being able to refer another advisor or outsource a part of your operations means that you must spend time learning different tools of accountability and discovery. For an advisor or business owner that spends his/her time learning and developing the process to refer or outsource effectively both are able to extend their sphere of influence beyond their own efforts. But beware, this is not an easy task to take on as it will take time and investment to develop. But I can assure you that if you do take the time and make it successful you will find a bigger platform to work from.
Getting referrals or outsourcing can be very satisfying but earning the right to be referred or becoming the outsource provider is a large obstacle that takes time to develop.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty..” ― Theodore Roosevelt
Please check out recent article by John Hamel published in Construction Business Owner Magazine Link : http://www.constructionbusinessowner.com/strategy
First I want to thank Louise Pumphrey who is a great insurance strategist for one of my clients for answering a question about what if a bankruptcy happens for a business owner in connection with their cash value in their life insurance policy.
Second let me tell you that I am not an attorney and I do not sell insurance. Just in case you were scared that I might sound too brilliant or sell you something. What I do is help business owners put in place a plan to prepare for the identified "what if's" so they do not get ding'd on price once the buyer of their company starts the due diligence. Then I ask for the experts, like the attorney, accountant or in this case the insurance advisor to provide advice and solutions to solve the "what if's."
I received a call the other day to help an owner work out of a chapter 11 bankruptcy who has yet to file. I don't normally work with owners that are looking to file bankruptcy but rather with owners who have great success in growing their companies. But the call certainly prompted me to start asking the question about what would happen to the life insurance cash value, an insurance product often used to mitigate business "what if's", should the business owner, for some unforeseen reason, had to file for bankruptcy. And the short answer is this, "it depends". Mostly it depends on the state laws you are incorporated in and also what attorney you hire to file your bankruptcy. I'm also sure an attorney could list a dozen other "depends" in addition as well.
But you should know that in many states there are some protections to your life insurance cash values against creditors. John Hancock Insurance company has a good piece on this subject, just click link for the pdf Document. I'm not promoting John Hancock but just sharing information as this disclosure will make my attorney happy.
The benefit to you, should you go through a bankruptcy, might provide you enough funds to start another company or enjoy a long overdue vacation mending your wounds. But because of the possible protection against creditors please think carefully before you pull out cash value, from the policy, in a last ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy. Obviously the product was not designed for this purpose. But remember you can always be creative in the way you use products and/or agreements to protect your company and yourself.
And this is where I stop writing because I'm not an attorney and it would be silly for me to write as if I were. But should you have more questions on this matter please contact me and I can get you in touch with a couple of attorneys who will answer some of your questions as a matter of curtsy to Austec.
Several years ago my business law professor, Lloyd Peak, introduced me to the picture above. He showed us how people could all look at the same lake but depending on the viewpoint each observation was likely to be different. The differences could be the angle of the sun hitting the lake, the times of day, the season during the observation or the personal past experiences influencing the observer. I'm sure you could also describe a thousand other different reasons for the various differences in observations.
As owners we often see, through a filter, our businesses in how we want them to be viewed to others. After all, isn't that why we spend so much time branding and marketing our companies to be viewed in a certain way? But are we painting a picture that is only valuable from our view point and not our successors? We can certainly go through the merger & acquisition process and find out the view point of purchasers or ask potential internal successors about their views. But will that give us enough time to go back and fix issues to paint a different picture?
If you want to maximize your companies value you will need to first understand what the purchaser likes to see and if that is a white shiny picket fence then you need to build and paint a white shiny picket fence. But let me warn you ahead of time. Do not paint a white shiny paint over a rotten fence. Otherwise you might be staring back through gray shiny bars or looking at a very large bill sometime later down the road.
Plug for Austec: We spend a lot of time listening to expert advisors, to past business owners who have sold a company, transitioned the company to insiders and/or purchased a company in hopes of transferring that knowledge to other business owners. We really want to help you not make the mistakes of previous business owners by waiting too late to fix the issues that can take years to address before you transition the company. Call us today at 720-519-6073 for a friendly conversation and/or a high level assessment report.
Now to share what inspired this article:
A business man walked into a bank in New York City and asked for the loan officer.
He told the loan officer that he was going to London on business for two weeks and needed to borrow $5,000 and that he was not a depositor of the bank. The bank officer told him that the bank would need some form of security for the loan, so the business man handed over the keys to a new Ferrari.
The car was parked on the street in front of the bank. The man produced the title and everything checked out. The loan officer agreed to hold the car as collateral for the loan and apologized for having to charge 12% interest.
Later, the bank's president and its officers all enjoyed a good laugh at the business man for using a $250,000 Ferrari as collateral for a $5,000 loan.
An employee of the bank then drove the Ferrari into the bank's underground garage and parked it.
Two weeks later, the business man returned, repaid the $5,000 and the interest of $23.07. The loan officer said, 'Sir, we are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multimillionaire. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $5,000?'
The business man replied, 'Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for only $23.07 and expect it to be there when I return?'
Don't ever underestimate a business man!
Have a great rest of your week!
Austec Business Transitions, LLC.
I was reading an article this morning about the "Rule of Thumb" to have your exit planned on the day you start your business. This might surprise you that I would be reading about the exact work that we do for our clients, but I'm sure that it probably does not.
When I left college I only knew my future as far as my next job and I certainly did not image I would be starting a couple of companies years down the road. A couple of my advisors told me when I left college to make sure that my job fit my personality which was another "Rule of Thumb". I remember thinking to myself, "yeah that's nice but I have to make money" and I could only think as far as getting that first big paycheck. It was only twelve years later that I could get the fog out of my head from chasing a paycheck and realize that the "Rule of Thumb of job personality" was correct.
And although I agree with the exit planned in the beginning theory it is not always what faces us first in founding a company. Most startups have very limited cash and often are started because the owner is just looking for a way to generate some income to live on. I've had owners of a company tell me that they would never have started the company except they were forced to figure out something after the recent layoffs at work. Some mentioned they just couldn't take it from their boss anymore.
Don't misunderstand me, because I'm not indicating this is the best method to start a company. Rather that sometimes with little cash and very little time to generate income to pay the bills most startup owners would be hard pressed to spend the time thinking about their exit. Many companies are just asking the question "Will I have the option for an exit?”
Rule of Thumbs are often very helpful to keep in mind but not always practical to implement early and often can only be understood fully after we've messed up. Hindsight allows the brain to make that "aha moment" that recognizes the "Rule of Thumb". But if you want to avoid the self-discovery mistakes and avoid driving with a rear view mirror then I would suggest you find a mentor or advisor who has made lots of mistakes and/or seen many more. It is only by listening to these advisors that you possibly can avoid some of the same mistakes.
I personally have several mentors that have steered me around very difficult potholes and yet I still find myself sometimes driving forwards by looking in the rear view mirror. Mentors and advisors cannot always prevent us from driving with the rear view mirror but they can be a passenger who says "Hey!!! Stop it!!"
To be continued....
If you are reading this and have a successful and profitable company I probably do not have reiterate what you have experienced or the many articles and research that describe how hard it is to get to this point in your life.
But what I do have to reiterate is how you got to this point. Like many of us who started a company at some point in the past we had a blurry vision of what could be a possible successful company. Now you may have drawn out a precise picture of the business, such as the picture above, calculating each angle and dimension with a lot of research or you may have just spent hours envisioning the picture in your mind late at night.
Possible next, you scrounged for every dime possible and used the money to buy your first equipment or to lease that first office. Or maybe you were lucky and inherited enough money to fund the first step. Whichever it was, you probably were nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.
Nobody told you to risk your financial savings, possible bankruptcy embarrassment and putting up with all individuals telling you would never make it. And if you were married that your spouse might ask you multiple times a week “Can you tell me why again?”
Do you remember how agonizing it was to get that first client or customer and how that only continued? But somehow in spite of recessions, angry clients (because your new employee turned out to be a flop), or the laws changing, you found a way to hang on and survive. Or maybe it was that first time you were notified of an audit by the friendly IRS that shot panic through your mind and then remembering someone in the past saying you should buy a false tooth with cyanide to avoid torture. But it turned out that you did mostly right and only had to make some changes and pay up the differences. Of course you quickly fired your accountant and eventually found one that had more talent.
Then came along your first management employee, oh man, did you screw that up royally. Who would have thought that guy, with such a great Harvard like resume, could piss off so many clients that fast. And only after he was fired and gone did you discover that you had three vendors you were paying each month, but for some reason no one can track them down now.
Or how about that time your partner got his first divorce? Thank God you happen to run into that lawyer a few years previous and he straitened up your documents. Because, had you not done that work you’d be staring at the butt ugliest prima donna business partner ever. So you missed that train wreck, but you certainly felt the passing concussion of wind and noise sweeping past your head. But hey, your partner now has that new special someone coming around a lot and you’re way more prepared this time, right?
Your business is now finished, beautiful and you’ve been driving it for years now. Now all of your kids are out of the house, some are in college and one has even tied the knot. You might even be a grandparent in the coming year. “How did I get here so fast?” you’re asking yourself. At the same time you are constantly having business meetings and occasionally travel for a client meeting or conference. Still you are looking to grow the company further with possible acquisitions looming on the horizon.
Following on the heels of those acquisitions you finally have a management team you can trust that allow you to travel the world with your wife for a month at a time. You built that vehicle in the plans and upgraded it into something very different from your first dream. Such as the vehicles below. However there is not much left to do but constantly tweak this and that. Life is still challenging but one day you start to realize that you and your company are not the same entity.
At first this is a confusing thought, “How is this company not me?” “Without me there would be no company?” But just like your car takes you everywhere and cannot go anywhere without your instructions you realize it’s time to find another funner (yes I said funner) vehicle and adventure. But first you must lay your hands on the time tested vehicle and thank God that it allowed you to fund your family’s adventures, kids college education, freedom to make your own way, built you stronger & smarter and has now allowed you the opportunity to use the value you’ve built to fund the next vehicle and adventures. It is then and only then that you realize there is a life beyond your company. What will be your next vehicle and adventure?
John Hamel is the Managing Member of Austec Business Transitions, LLC. helping businesses optimize value relative to exiting their company.