By Steve Sarracino, EO speaker and vice president of American Capital Strategies.
Most entrepreneurs sell a business once, but private equity and strategic acquirers are pros at buying companies and structuring investments to their advantage. In fact, there are private equity firms that specialize in taking advantage of unprepared sellers. So what should you do? There are some simple steps you should take to position yourself to get the highest value.
- Implement your own improvements. Follow the best practices that private equity firms employ when running portfolio companies— implement your own business improvements. After I buy a business, I implement a 100-day plan and try to force some quantum change (excite the employees and drive strategy). For instance, I bought a consumer services business that had 20+ brands. In our 100-day plan, we decided to focus on the four key brands, hired general managers or brand managers, and let the smaller services fall to the wayside. In one year, we experienced a 30-percent increase in net income. In truth, 100-day planning can be a useful tool for you to enact change quickly while driving excitement or quantum change among the employee base.
- Point out your business flaws to buyers. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is important to point out the flaws of your business to buyers. Buyers will find these flaws eventually, so you should take the opportunity to frame the issues properly. I am in the process of buying a software company that should double its revenue this year despite having an abysmal go-to-market strategy and sales force. Any smart investor will view this deficiency as an opportunity— and you should, too. In particular, point out weaknesses around things that buyers (private equity groups) will view as “easy fixes,” such as sales, financial controls, operations controls, IT infrastructure, or any business process that investors have dealt with numerous times. Turn your deficiencies into opportunities— it’s all about how you frame it!
- Surround yourself with quality advisors. Make sure you have good advisors, particularly a good corporate lawyer and broker. The lawyers I hire have completed hundreds of deals, and often they are dealing with the seller’s counsel that may work on a couple deals each year. In several cases, I have seen my lawyers negotiate favorable structures that the sellers’ counsel didn’t understand. Most of parts of the deal’s structure (e.g. earn-outs, preferred stock, seller paper) tend to be favorable only to the buyer, so hire a good lawyer that understands these issues.
When it comes to getting the highest value for your business, sometimes it only takes a good third-party perspective and some focus; other times, it can be a little more complicated. As a business owner, you can help implement best practices to maximize value, but start now and take it seriously. When it comes time to sell, you will be viewed as more polished and professional, which is the best way to ensure you maximize value in any market.