Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Don't miss the opportunity to sell during this Upcycle

[Editor's Note: This article is an update of one we have published twice before over the last 20 years. The message remains relevant to the CEOs and owners of lower middle market businesses. I hope you find it useful. - dpm]

We missed the selling boom during the last positive cycle and were determined that we would not miss another opportunity.
In one of our Breakfast briefing series a few years ago, Dan McCallin former owner and CEO of Timberline Steel made an interesting statement: "We missed the selling boom during the last positive cycle and were determined that we would not miss another opportunity to sell during the next upcycle. We decided to take the steps so that we were prepared." While Dan originally made that statement during the recession of 2002, and later sold the business in early 2006, the message could certainly apply today.

The exit sales process may take the better part of a decade. With interest rates near record lows, the economy still in expansion mode, and sales multiples at high levels, there may be a tendency on the part of business owners to think that the good times will continue for the foreseeable future. While some business owners may believe they can pull the string when they are ready, the truth is, for many business owners, the exit sales cycle may take several years to execute. Professionals will tell you that in order to sell at highest value, the process includes 1-3 years to get ready, 1 year or so for the transaction, and then you may have to spend up to 3 years with the company after the sale.

Companies can focus on making fundamental improvements to their business that will help them make their company healthier and more attractive than their competitors.
1. Focus on customer net profitability
2. Upgrade management
3. Cleanup business processes
4. Develop a strategic growth and execution plan
5. Position the company to succeed in any part of the business cycle

Focus on customer net profitability. The tendency is to cling to any customers and revenue no matter the profitability level. A common comment is that "at least they absorb overhead." The notion of unprofitable business absorbing overhead may be one of the greatest false beliefs in business. In many cases, overhead that has been viewed as fixed is really a cost that can be minimized or shed. Carrying unprofitable business will be a continuing cash drain that may inhibit your business' ability to grow as the economy improves.

Upgrade management. There is still a pretty good supply of good talent now available in the marketplace. In many cases this may be talent that may not be available as the labor market continues to tighten. Take advantage of the opportunity to improve. Similarly, this is a great opportunity to review all of your employees and weed out those with below average performance, poor potential, or unrealized potential. Our clients use a simple tool to rank all employees in terms of potential and performance - the results make it very clear which ones have been a drag on the company.

Cleanup business processes. During boom times, many companies claim they are too busy to scrutinize business processes to make improvements and to streamline in order to increase throughput. That "excuse" can ultimately cost you when you try to sell.

Develop a strategic growth and execution plan. You need a plan that will allow you to be agile enough to take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace. There may be market segments that have been slow to come back; some may never come back the same way. Other market segments, however, may present huge new opportunities. Your organization needs to develop a plan and be prepared to execute.

Never waste the opportunity to improve. Take the opportunity to examine everything, reduce unnecessary expenses, trim those underperformers, examine unprofitable business, streamline business processes, etc.

Take a lesson from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. These steps can add value to your business. Your business can accelerate faster and be well- positioned to succeed in any market. The market for selling a business will likely continue to be ripe through most of 2018. Those businesses that are prepared and ready are finding a hungry group of buyers and investors with lots of "dry powder" that they need to invest.

The Mead Consulting Group has been helping middle market companies for over 25 years to add value and prepare for a successful transition. Our clients have consistently enjoyed better results. Investment bankers have told us that our clients are among th

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