"Why Should A Business Owner Build To Sell?": Interview with Author and Founder of The Value Builder System™ John Warrillow

A new client to our firm will first go through the essential step in our process of clarifying their financial and values-based goals. And while at the same time having an additional goal in mind of identifying their ideal route for exiting the business.

We recently had a client successfully sell their business to a key employee and one of their children, and another client sold to a third-party strategic buyer. A primary reason they were both able to leave successfully was that their businesses were sellable. The businesses had value apart from the owner, they were profitable with strong prospects for growth, and had other drivers of business value that were attractive and strong.

If you want to be in control with a number of options for your eventual exit, then right at the heart of your exit plan will be an emphasis on building the business the right way today. We very much enjoyed a conversation with John Warrillow, the Founder of The Value Builder System™ recently on the ExitReadiness® PODCAST discussing the importance of “building to sell”. You will be well served if you invest 50 minutes to listen in and learn from John’s personal experience as a successful entrepreneur and his analysis of over 40,000 businesses.

Those of you who listen to the podcast with John will also be provided a code for a 25% Discount on our next ExitReadiness® BASECAMP on July 31st at The Lurn Center in Rockville, MD.

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

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 35 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.

These 3 value drivers and the other 5 referenced with be the focus in Day One of our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP on May 15 and 16 at The Lurn Center. Register today and take time to think and plan strategically to build the value of your business.

Did Microsoft Pay Too Much For LinkedIn?

Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn provides an illustrative example of a strategic acquisition – the type of sale that usually garners the most gain for the acquired company’s shareholders.

You may be wondering what a billion-dollar acquisition has to do with your business, but the very same reasons a strategic acquirer buys a $26 billion business holds true for the acquisition of a $2 million company.

The financial vs. strategic buyer

A financial buyer is buying the future stream of profits coming from your business, whereas the strategic buyer is buying your business for what it is worth in their hands. To simplify, a financial acquirer buys your business because they think they can sell more of your stuff, whereas a strategic buyer acquires your business because they think it will help them sell more of their stuff.

One might argue that Microsoft overpaid for LinkedIn given that LinkedIn only generated a few hundred million dollars in EBITDA last year, meaning the good folks in Redmond paid an astronomical multiple of LinkedIn’s earnings.

But earnings are not the only thing strategic acquirers care about when they go to make an acquisition.

 Microsoft‘s acquisition of LinkedIn is a classic example of a strategic acquisition. The Redmond-based technology giant has been undergoing a major transformation from being a software company focused on operating systems to a business concentrating on cloud-based software applications. Microsoft enjoys a dominant market share in the basic tools white-collar business people use to get their job done, but other software packages have begun to nip at the heels of their dominance in many product lines.

Take Microsoft Office for example. Many businesses use competitive offerings from Google and Apple. Even more companies cling to older versions of Microsoft Office software, even though Microsoft is keen to move everyone over to the cloud-based Office.

In purchasing LinkedIn, Microsoft saw an opportunity to suck data from LinkedIn into Microsoft’s cloud-based software applications, making them irresistible. Imagine you’re a sales person and you just landed a big meeting with a new prospect. You enter the appointment as a Microsoft Outlook event and suddenly the details of the event feature everything LinkedIn knows about your prospect.

 Now you can make small talk about where they went to school, the previous jobs they have held and know the scope of their current role – all without ever leaving Outlook.

Microsoft is betting this kind of integration across its platforms will compel more people to upgrade to the latest software applications. While your company is likely smaller than LinkedIn, the same thing that makes a giant buy another giant holds true for smaller businesses. To get the highest possible price for your business, remember that companies make strategic acquisitions because they want to sell more of their stuff.

Register today for our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP and be prepared for a sale to a strategic buyer.

5 Ways To Package Your Service

If you’re a service provider, it can be difficult to separate the service from the provider. Your customers might demand you, which means you can’t scale your business beyond the number of hours you’re willing to work.

In the absence of a point of differentiation, offering generic services leads consumers to evaluate the people doing the work. Referring to your service in a generic way e.g. “graphic design services”, or “lawn care services”, means you’re lumping yourself in with the other providers of the same service.  A quick scan of your LinkedIn profile will reveal that you are likely an expert in your industry which means prospective customers will often demand you, rather than your underlings.

The secret to overcoming this dilemma is to “productize” your service. This involves marketing your service as is if it were a thing. When people start buying the thing, rather than the people providing it, you can grow well beyond the hours in your day. 

Proctor & Gamble is the granddaddy of product marketing, so grab a tube of Crest toothpaste and follow their process for productizing your service:

1.     Name it

Crest is the brand name and it is always written in the same font. Having a consistent name avoids the generic, commoditized category label of "toothpaste." Do you have a catchy name for your service?

2.    Write instructions for use

Crest gives customers instructions for best teeth cleaning results. If you want your service to feel more like a product, include instructions for getting the most out of your service.

3.    Provide a caution

The Crest bottle tells you that the product is “harmful if swallowed." Provide a caution label or a set of "terms and conditions" to explain things to avoid when using your service.

4.    Barcode it

The barcode includes pricing information. Publishing a price and being consistent will make your service seem more like a product.

5.    Copyright it

P&G includes a very small symbol on its bottle to make it clear the company is protecting its ideas. Do you Trademark the terms you use to describe your service?

 Productizing your service is the first step to separating your service from its provider and the key to getting your service company to run without you.

Product and business differentiation will be one of the Value Drivers discussed at the ExitReadiness® BASECAMP. Register Here.

Why Companies are Adopting Subscription Billing Models

Volvo recently announced they will make their cars available on a subscription model where consumers will pay one fixed fee per month for access to a car which includes insurance and maintenance.

Everything from tooth brushes to flowers are now available with subscription billing.

Could you offer some sort of recurring plan to your customers? Here are six reasons to consider offering your customers a subscription:

1.     Predictability: When you have subscribers, you can plan what your business needs in the future. For example, the average flower store in America throws out more than half of its inventory each month because it’s too rotten to sell. At H.Bloom, a subscription-based flower company that sells flowers to hotels and spas, say they throw out less than 2% of their flowers because they can perfectly predict how many flowers are needed to fulfill their orders.

 2.    Eliminate Seasonality:  Many businesses suffer through seasonal highs and lows. In fact, a whopping thirty percent of a typical flower store’s revenue comes on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day – ultimately leaving them to scramble and make a sale in November. By contrast, H.Bloom has a steady stream of subscribers that pay each month. At Mister Car Wash – where they offer a subscription for unlimited car washes – they receive revenue from customers in November and April even though very few people in the Northern east wash their cars in rainy months.

3.    Improved Valuation:  Recurring revenue boosts the value of your business. Whereas most small companies trade on a multiple of profit, subscription-based businesses often trade on a similar multiple of revenue.

4.    The Trojan Horse Effect:  Once you subscribe to a service, you become much more likely to buy other things from the same company. That’s one reason Amazon is so keen to get you to buy subscriptions to things like Prime or Subscribe & Save. Amazon knows that once you become a subscriber, you are much more likely to buy additional products.

5.    The Sale That Keeps On Giving:  Unlike the transaction business model where you have to stimulate demand through advertising to get customers to buy, with a subscription based model, you sell one subscription and it keeps giving month after month.

6. Data & Market Research:  When you get a customer to subscribe, you can start to see their spending and consumption habits. This data is the ultimate in market research. It’s how Netflix knows which new shows to produce and which to kibosh.

Recurring Revenue will be a Value Driver discussed at our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP. Register Today.