Why You Should Exit While You’re Ahead – A Cautionary Tale

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The very best time to sell your business is when someone wants to buy it. While it can be tempting to continue to grow your business forever – particularly when things are going well -- that decision comes with a significant downside. 

Take a look at the story of Rand Fishkin who started his entrepreneurial journey when he joined his mother’s marketing agency as a partner:

When Fishkin realized how much his Mom’s customers were struggling to get Google to display their company in a search, he immersed himself in the emerging field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

He began writing a blog called SEO Moz, which led to an SEO consulting and software company. By 2007, Moz was generating revenue of $850,000 a year when Fishkin decided to drop consulting to become solely a software business.

The company began to grow 100% per year and by 2010, Moz was generating around $650,000 in revenue each month, attracting the attention of Brian Halligan, co-founder of marketing software giant HubSpot.

HubSpot wanted to buy Moz and was offering $25 million of cash and HubSpot stock – an offer almost five times Moz’s $5.7 million of revenue in its last complete financial year.

But Fishkin wasn’t satisfied. He believed a fast growth Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company was worth four times future revenue and was confident Moz would hit $10 million by the end of that year.

Fishkin counter offered, saying he would be willing to accept $40 million. HubSpot declined.  

New Plans Ahead

Instead of selling Moz, Fishkin raised a round of venture capital and started to diversify away from SEO tools into a broader set of marketing offerings. The further Moz veered away from its core in SEO, the more money his business began to lose.

By 2014, Moz was in full crisis mode, and Fishkin had begun suffering from a bout of depression. He decided to step down as CEO, describing his resignation as a “lot of sadness, a heap of regrets and a smattering of resentment.”

Fishkin became a minority shareholder in a company he no longer controlled where the venture capitalists had preferred rights in a liquidity event.

A Lesson Learned

In the ensuing years since turning down Halligan’s offer, HubSpot went public on the New York Stock Exchange and had been worth nearly 20 times as much.

Fishkin revealed that today, his liquid net worth is $800,000 – much of which he was about to spend on elder care for his grandparents. The Moz stock he holds may or may not have value after the venture capitalist get their preferred return. At the same time, Fishkin estimated HubSpot’s offer of $25 million in cash and HubSpot stock would now be worth more than $100 million (based on the increased value of HubSpot’s stock).

Fishkin’s tale is a cautionary reminder why the best time to sell your company is when someone wants to buy it – a story that is shared in his book Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.

What if an offer was made for your business today? Would you be ready to sell? Would you regret if you said no?

5 Ways To Package Your Service

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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 “productise” 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 productising 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, commoditised 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?

Productising 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.

www.valuebuildersystem.com

Why Companies are Adopting Subscription Billing Models

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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.

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.

The Big Thing Holding Back Small Businesses

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Small businesses stay small either by choice, or because they start chasing growth in the wrong places.

When you strip away the layers, it all comes down to darts.

Imagine a dart board with a bull’s eye and around it is a series of wider and wider circles. The bull’s eye is where the people just like you hang out. They are the people (or businesses) who feel the problem your company set out to solve. They are usually your first customers and raving fans.

The further you go outside of your bull’s eye, the less these prospects feel your exact pain.

Why do entrepreneurs go outside their bull’s eye? When you’re a self-funded start-up, you’re scrambling — just trying to bootstrap your way to a company. You don’t have a lot of money to invest in formal marketing, so you rely on word-of-mouth and referrals, which also means you’re often talking to people outside of your bull’s eye.

These prospects may experience the problem you’re trying to solve, but they are slightly different (that’s why they’re not in the bull’s eye). They like your product or service but want a little tweak to it: a customization or a different version. You don’t see the harm in making a change and start to adjust your offering to accommodate the customers outside your bull’s eye.

Your new (slightly-outside-the-bull’s-eye) customer tells her friends about how great you are, and how willing you are to listen to your customers, and she refers a prospect even further outside your bull’s eye who again, asks you for another tweak.

Making these changes to your original product or service to accommodate customers outside your bull’s eye seems innocent enough at the time, but eventually, it undermines your growth.

Why?

To grow a business beyond your efforts, you need to hire employees (or build technology) that can do the work. As humans, we are usually lousy at doing something for the first time, but can master most things with enough repetition.

Think about teaching a toddler how to tie his shoes. The first few attempts are usually rough. It’s a new skill and their tiny hands have never had to make bunny ears before. You break it down for the child and show them how to master each step. It can take weeks, but eventually they get it. As adults, we don’t even think about tying our shoes — we’ve mastered the skill by repetition.

The same is true of your employees. They need time to truly master the delivery or your product or service. Every time you make a tweak for a new customer outside your bull’s eye, it’s like changing the instructions on tying your shoe laces. It’s disorienting for everyone and leads to substandard products and services, which customers receive and are less than enthusiastic about.

Having unhappy customers often leads the owner to step in and “fix” the problem. While some founders can indeed create the customized product or service for their new, outside-the-bull’s-eye customer, they are making their company reliant on them in the process.

A business reliant on its founder will stall out at a handful of employees when the founder runs out of hours in the day.

The secret to avoiding this plateau, and continuing to grow, is to be brutally disciplined in only serving customers in your bull’s eye for much longer than it feels natural. When you want to grow, the temptation is take whatever revenue you can, but the kind of growth that comes from serving customers outside your bull’s eye can be a dead end.

The One Number Owners Need to Stop Focusing On

The value of your business comes down to a single equation: what multiple of your profit is an acquirer willing to pay for your company?

profit × multiple = value

Most owners believe the best way to improve the value of their company is to make more profit – so, they find ways to sell more and more. As experts in their industry, it’s natural that customers want to personally engage with them, which means spending more time on the phones, on the road and face-to-face to increase sales.

With this model, a company can slightly grow, but the owner’s life becomes much more difficult: customers demand more time and service, employees begin to burn out, and soon it feels like there are not enough hours in the day. Revenue flat lines, health can suffer and relationships get strained – all from working too much. Does this feel familiar?

If you’re spending too much time and effort on increasing your profit, you could find yourself diminishing the overall value of your business. The solution? Focus on driving your multiple (the other number in the equation above). Driving your multiple will ultimately help you grow your company value, improve your profit and redeem your freedom.

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What Drives Your Multiple

Differentiated Market Position

Acquirers only buy what they could not easily create, so expect to be paid more if you have close to a monopoly on what you sell and/or are one of the few companies who have been licensed to provide the specific product or service in your market.

Lots of Runway

Most founders think market share is something to strive for, but in the eyes of an acquirer, it can decrease the value of your business because you’ve already sopped up most of the opportunity.

Recurring Revenue

An acquirer is going to want to know how your business will do once you leave – recurring revenue assures them that there will still be a business once the founder hits eject.

Financials

The size and profitability of your company will matter to investors. So will the quality of your bookkeeping.

The You Factor

The most valuable businesses can thrive without their owners. The inverse is also true because the most valuable businesses are masters of independence.