• If It Feels Good, Don’t Do It

    It is human nature to seek comfort and complacency; we tend to do that which makes us feel good. As most understand, this is not a recipe for success. In the arena of small to medium sized businesses, the owners of these businesses are often the founders of the businesses and the most productive elements of the businesses. Where the business has succeeded and consistently earned a profit, for the owner performing the role of producer and manager can be an ego boosting experience. Continuing to do this feel-good activity, however, assures that the owner will not realize the maximum value from the business when there is the inevitable separation of the owner from the business.

    Chances are if you founded the business, you are the best producer for the business. In fact, it is also likely that you enjoy exercising your skill and ability. Those talents are a part of your self esteem and provide satisfaction to you.

    As a business owner, the success of the business is likely attributable to your ability as a manager. You have built a team and established a successful business system with your management skills. This also is a part of your self esteem and provides satisfaction to you.

    If you are the owner of a business interest in a profitable small to medium sized business, your primary concern should be to realize the maximum value from that interest. To be precise, “realize maximum value” means receiving the most net cash for that interest thereby converting the value in the business interest from a high risk business ownership to a personal asset held at a relatively low investment risk. This is when the sale of a business interest is a wealth-building event. If your concern is to receive maximum value from your business, you must forgo these feelings of self esteem and satisfaction. Much as your role as a skilled producer or a brilliant owner-manager means to you, it will cost you money. The less you stroke your ego, the more money you will receive from the sale of your business.

    Put yourself in the role of a sophisticated buyer of a business. What is it you want from a business? Fundamentally you want an established system of profitable operation. If the most important part of that business, be it a producer, a manager, or both, is the selling owner who is going away right after you buy the business, that is a negative factor causing you to devalue the business or not purchase it at all.

    When an owner who is an integral part of the business is selling the business, the critical question is what does that owner want to do after the sale? Will that owner continue to be an integral part of the business? Will the motivation of the owner remain the same? Does some part of the payment have to be withheld to insure the selling owner’s cooperation with the buyer? Will the owner who is an integral part of the business continue as an employee? A consultant? The more the selling owner is paid of the purchase price, the less motivated the selling owner is and the less leverage the buyer will have to compel cooperation. An owner seeks to sell a business to be less involved with the business or not be involved at all. Where the business forecast depends on the selling owner’s efforts, this is an item of tension for both seller and buyer.

    Compare this to a business where the owner is not an integral part of the business, and the business structure will not change after the purchase. Which business would you want to purchase? For which business would you pay a higher amount?

    Most owners do not withdraw from production and management roles because they enjoy the ego boost of doing that at which they excel. Many owners, even though they know they could fail to realize maximum value from their business interest, continue to be producers and owner-managers instead of owners.

    If you want increased value and wealth for you and your family, adopt a strategy that will stop your productivity and management activity. That strategy should be the basis of a business plan that will cause that change to be made. That strategy is called Prior Diligence. I have outlined the prior diligence strategy in a series of posts on my Substack called Owning a Business (rickriebesell.substack.com).

    Here is the way to begin:

    First, gather the resources and information you need. Read about and understand Prior Diligence. Assemble information by listening to business stakeholders and those operating the business. Seek out those who have succeeded in leaving the production and management roles of businesses they own. Determine how the change was accomplished. Do not be reluctant to ask for help and advice.

    Second, write out your Prior Diligence strategy and create a written plan with the other owners and the stakeholders of the business. State the goals clearly and establish mileposts for performance.

    Third, understand that change cannot occur where discipline and focus are weak. If you are not disciplined against the seduction of the irrational notion that you are the only one who can do the production or management work in the business and if you do not continually focus on finding and training one or more people to do the tasks you are now doing in the business, the change will not occur.

    Fourth, Take the change in steps over a time period that allows for the complete process to come into place and be effective. The right person with the right set of skills may be hard to find, or it may be necessary to refine job descriptions so that more than one person does those duties. Do not think that you can do it all at once, that it will be easy, or that it will be immediately successful. Citing early difficulties as failures to stop the change process is a failure of discipline – a way to go back to the fallacy that you are indispensable to the business success.

    Fifth, be accountable. Make a written plan with the other owners. Let the other stakeholders in the business know what are the goals and how they are to be accomplished. Allow the other stakeholders in the business to help, but understand that if the process fails, it is you who are accountable for the failure. Owners often procrastinate or derail management change based on fear that they will no longer be able to control the business. This is less likely to happen where stakeholders are aware of the process.

    The change from producer and owner-manager to owner creates wealth for the owner and the owner’s family. It is not easy, but neither is founding and maintaining a successful business. Generally, owners who have created a successful business are quite capable of following Prior Diligence and executing a plan to create increased value for the business interest.