Build your business from the ground up like you're planning to sell it and you'll make better longterm decisions, develop better processes, and be more likely to not try to do everything yourself (nobody wants to buy a job). Chances are, these same things that make your business more sellable will also help you be better positioned to work with who you want, doing what you want, at the prices you deserve, so you'll get more out of the business while you own it – not just financially, but personally as well.
Think of all the things homeowners do when they want to put their house on the market: all the repairs they've put off over the years, new paint, new carpet, upgraded landscaping. Many homeowners jokingly remark that they like their house so much after fixing it up to sell, maybe they'll keep it. Don't let your business to be like those homes! Get the most out of it while you own it.
Here are 10 tips to help you build your business like you're planning to sell it:
- Niche down – don't be a “jack of all trades.” Specialists are much more valuable than generalists, so you'll be able to charge higher prices and most likely enjoy your work more. Your knowledge and experience are like nobody else's in the world; figure out a way to offer value based on your own unique experience, offering only the things you really like to do and that you can make enough money from. Niching down combined with the rest of the tips in this list makes your business more attractive to a potential buyer who admires the life you're able to lead and can see themselves in your place.
- Productize your offerings and don't waver from the prices or be afraid to raise them. Productized services are easier to sell because they're specific, and over time you'll also have a higher profit margin because you'll get more efficient at delivering. And if you raise your prices regularly in response to demand, you'll see exponential returns. The minute you give in when someone wants you to change the price or what's included in the offering for them, though, you're giving them control over your business. Negotiating prices also undermines the validity of what you're charging because it makes it seem like you just pulled a number out of the air.
- Develop a gateway product that isn't a large investment of a prospect's money, one that helps qualify or disqualify them. For example, make Discovery it's own product rather than part of the overall project. If you're like most consultants, you not only don't charge for Discovery, but you also give away free advice all the time in the hopes that you'll convince someone to hire you. They probably won't, because they won't value the advice since they didn't pay for it. Turn it into a product and always charge for it. Productizing Discovery helps pre-qualify clients, and helps both you and the client test the waters working together without a large investment. The client can always use the Discovery results to work with someone else if it becomes apparent you're not a good match.
- Don't do RFP's. In the hours you waste writing proposals, and weeks or months you waste waiting to hear a decision, you can be marketing to clients who don't drag things out for bureaucratic reasons. With productized services, there's no reason for anyone to need a proposal unless the bureaucracy just requires one. It's understandable that some organizations have to issue RFP's but that doesn't mean you have to play the game.
- Develop processes. Even if you're a solopreneur, it'll standardize your projects, save time, and make it more likely that someone else could do at least part of it at some time. That makes it easier to delegate, and also easier to transfer the business to a new owner. Proven processes are exactly why franchises are so popular. They remove some of the risk and help new owners ramp up more quickly.
- Get your messaging down and stick with it. Develop 1-2 sentences that communicate exactly who your perfect client is and the benefit they'll get from working with you. Don't talk about “what” you do, talk about the value to the client. When you have highly targeted messaging, potential clients will immediately recognize themselves and others will more easily recognize someone they should refer to you.
- Use the web strategically; don't just put up a glorified brochure. When I started developing sites in 1995, it wasn't something you could do without special software and coding skills. With the ease of updating modern websites now, though, there's no excuse for not having a site that's updated regularly with content that's valuable to your prospects and clients. At the very least you should offer lead magnets and have a way to collect leads, but developing your site around the way you want your business to run is invaluable. Tasks like appointment setting and client onboarding can be set up once and repeated automatically by your system when needed. Think of the time saved!
- Find ways that you can use the web to create recurring or passive income. Consulting services, especially, lend themselves to this because educational products and the like can be created from your knowledge and experience. You're like a walking library - what you've learned over the years is valuable to other people. Figure out a way to package that experience as a product and sell it.
- Don't build your business the way everyone else does. Build it to support the lifestyle you want to live. Don't like to have to go to meetings? Require that all be done through Skype. Don't like repetitive tasks? Don't offer any of those types of services. Want to be able to leave your business? Develop a business model where you have projects of a specific length so you have total control of when you're available to work and when you're not. A unique business will catch potential buyers' eyes.
- Be yourself. You only want to work with clients you're a good fit for, so if being yourself turns off someone that's a good thing. They've disqualified themselves. Being yourself becomes part of the business's overall brand, and keeps it from being just another generic small business. That will help attract the types of clients you want to work with, which makes the business more valuable.
Right now, whether your business is new or existing, make a commitment to start focusing on building and running it as though you plan to sell it. You'll stay more focused, waste less time, work with better-matched clients, make more money, and reduce stress. And maybe one day sell for lots of money!