Selling Your Business is a Marathon, Not a Sprint


On this marathon training journey, after my finishing the Oklahoma City Marathon on April 28th 2019, I got to reflecting on the last 12-months, in business and life. Particularly the lessons I’ve learned during our many training runs that parallel success in preparing your company for sale, maximizing business value and selling your company for what it’s worth.

Here are 11 tips about selling your business that is similar to training for a marathon:

Prepare for every scenario when getting ready to sell your business

how to sell your business

I was walking back from a trip to the grocery store to pick up a prescription, and it just hit me. This was an epiphany, much like the wisdom in “you don’t have to like it – you just have to do it.” Marathon training is a multi-month endeavor, sometimes mired by injury and setbacks, and progress is measured slowly and continuously. But a miserable 18 miles can be prevented when you’re 100% committed and driven to the process. Skipping workouts because you “don’t feel like it” has a compounding effect that will hit you head-on in the latter stages of the race. Hitting the wall with 10 miles to go is not my idea of fun, so choosing to run because you have no choice is a winner every time. I’m not saying don’t listen to your body. There are always days when resting or cross-training makes sense. But not running because it’s too cold outside, or it’s too early, or you’re tired, is something we choose to ignore. We like to say that, “You train for every scenario that you may run across during the marathon so that you’ve experienced it and can overcome it.”

The same is true when preparing your business for sale. It’s different from what got you there because buyers look for different key value drivers that represent value and the ability of a business to scale and grow. To get you ready to sell your business, you have to implement new behaviors and ways of doing things that maximize your attractiveness to buyers and the value of your company. It requires consistency over time, day in and day out, month to month, to capitalize on your blood, sweat, and tears. It’s the difference between a mediocre sale that leaves you frustrated that you left money on the table and achieving the American Dream and inspiring that next generation of entrepreneurs. Leaving a legacy you can be proud of.

Create a routine to fight Seller Fatigueso you stay on track toward your goal

The power of routines, right? Look, I’m. Or saying that I have it all together. My wife will tell you that for years, decades even, I told everyone that I hated getting up in the morning. I used to power lift at 5:00 in the morning “back in the day,” and I absolutely dreaded it. In my mind, who likes performing a heavy leg routine at the crack of dawn? Not me, I told myself, and I’d go home after the workout and sleep, exhausted. The mental anguish and left brain chatter won the day, and I believed it for over fifteen years.

Nothing could convince me otherwise until I ran into my son’s girlfriend’s dad at a restaurant during the Christmas break in December 2017. He’d finally recovered from plantar fasciitis and was going to train for the Chicago Marathon in October 2018. I’m very goal-oriented and competitive, and I figured this was my opportunity to train with a veteran – he’d run 11 before – and achieve an item off my bucket list.

The catch: We run at the crack of dawn to simulate the marathon day.

Maybe I’d gotten myself into something that wasn’t going to work. But I was committed, and my training partner was depending on me, right?

A funny thing happened. I realized that no matter how tired I was, or sore, or sluggish, I followed my morning routine. The power of routine. And when I went downstairs to get my morning coffee, I was awake. Mind you, not ready to do backflips down the hall, but alert and alive, ready to take on whatever we had in store for that day. And we did, every time. After a year of training, we’ve missed a couple of workouts by design.

This really applies to selling your business. There is a lot involved, and your broker and prospective buyers will demand a lot from you. The process is tiring and relentless to sell your business for the best price possible and you have to stay focused and committed. Knocking out requests and action items in a timely and accurate manner sets the tone for what it’s like to own your business. The culture you’ve created and the professionalism on display is vital to the process. Achieving your business goals and objectives while going through the selling process, when you’re tired and mired in seller fatigue is a requirement, especially when up just plain don’t feel like it. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and an “early to bed, early to rise” cadence may be just the thing that take you over the top.

It feels weird when you change your business for the better

I’m not going to lie. There are some runs that are a pain the arse. Your calves feel tired and crampy, your stomach pounds up and down, your feet hurt, your heart rate climbs into zone 5 and beyond, you’re breathing gets super fast and rough, your allergies kill you. The list goes on. And your left brain starts screaming, sometimes very early in the run. “You’re getting tired and need to slow down.” “You’re breathing too hard and need to stop.” “This run is going to be horrible with your legs hurting.” You even get the dreaded thoughts on what’s going to happen and why there’s going to be nothing fun about it: “You hate those hills coming up, and you need to take it slow or you’ll die.”

Geesh, it’s a wonder we humans survive at all, right? When did we become so used to comfort that any sign of impending “doom” signals the brain to put the breaks on what you’re doing?

I’ve learned a lot about my body over this process and what happens when you run. Your body shifts into endurance mode, preparing for the work ahead. A few miles in, your legs settle into the workload, preparing for the miles ahead. Your breathing starts to level off and stabilize, and your stride relaxes as you Goode forward. A calmness settles in to, almost like you’re drifting across an ice-covered lake, effortlessly strides forward step by step

The Lesson? It doesn’t matter how you feel. Power through, commit to it, and you’ll be fine. It’s all good!

It’s the same when you’ve committed to changing your business in preparation for sale.

At first, there are all sorts of new behaviors and practices you implement that is overwhelming. Even good change is difficult for most. When you begin, you feel anxious and a little afraid, even, not sure if you can trust the process. Our company has worked with thousands of business owners, and I can assure you the process works. After a few weeks have gone by, you settle in to the schedule and exit plans, completing action items and accomplishing your goals and objectives. Your financial records improve, your financial performance too, and other key areas of your business that drive value become optimized to attract buyers. Your worries change as positive thinking takes center stage. You’re gliding ahead toward a profitable business exit, and you’re glad you never gave up.

Learn from mistakes and avoid them completely by speaking with an exit planning advisor or business broker 

Boy did I learn my lesson the hard way on this one. One lovely morning, I forgot to put on Glide, which looks like a deodorant bottle except you put the slippery substance on sensitive areas to reduce friction during the many miles of running. About 2 miles into a 9-mile run, my legs started bugging me, pulling my sliders down, just not fun. After 5 miles and in the middle of our hill sprints, I checked, and sure enough, there were 2 holes in my sliders. By the time I ran home, my legs were bubbled with blisters and blood red. All because of two significant things I forgot to do: 1) check my sliders for any holes, and 2) always, always put on Glide.

There’s a deeper lesson here, wrapped-into my “never-again” note to self. The devil’s in the details, and over time, those small little mistakes and “inconsequential” activities you choose to ignore have a compounding effect. It’s helpful to seek wise counsel from another business owner, an exit planning advisor or a business broker who’s been there before. They can guide you on what you need to do to prepare your business for sale, and more importantly, help you understand why seemingly small areas are important in the overall process. Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you, and unconsciously sabotaging a profitable exit can be avoided with a strong, complete exit plan.

Entrepreneurs need to stay sharp when planning their exit

Greg, my running partner, and I know to never assume they’ve seen us. We’ve almost gotten run over a few times, and the culprit is familiarity.

Drivers are on autopilot in the morning, taking the same way to work they can drive in their sleep. I’m convinced many do. Racing to a rolling stop and glancing left, they’re thinking, “All’s clear, now…GO!” Maybe they’re not thinking, right? Maybe they’re making assumptions that are wrong, unbeknownst to them, and disaster is literally one turn away?

The same goes for the entrepreneur who assumes selling your business is a simple task. I mean, who wouldn’t want their business. They go about things like business as usual, and what got you here will be you there. You see, they only look left. They don’t look right to see the areas of their business that need to be worked on to maximize their value. Because in their minds, they firmly believe their business is worth much more than what the market will actually bear.

It’s the difference between making ends meet in retirement and living a beautiful life to do whatever you want. So look right every time, think out-of-the-box, seek wise counsel, and win the selling game.

Don’t get distracted when preparing your business for sale

We run on past them, and they have no idea. Literally. The lesson learned is when they look up, they go forward, so we have to be careful.

Everyone gets distracted, even losing sight of what’s important.  In our very busy worlds, we can miss potential roadblocks – like a runner – because we’re charging forward with our blinders on.

This is the same when you’re preparing your business for sale, growing your company to enhance its value, or dotting your eyes and crossing your tees through the sales process.  It goes without saying that if you fail to plan, you’ll plan to fail.

Build out your 12-month forecasts and quarterly priorities (“rocks”), staying laser-focused on the right priorities.  I’m not saying that you’ll be perfect.  I’m saying that you need to recognize when you’re veering off course, check your navigation and right the ship.

This extends to business decisions that can actually have a detrimental effect on your value, like bringing in that whale of a client or single-sourcing your products from one or two key suppliers.  When in doubt, seek advice from others who have gone before you.  Talk to your exit planning consultant, your business broker, your CPA or wealth planner.  It’s better to admit mistakes now and fix them, chalking it up to experience, then to see how these fan affect the value of your company and the price buyers are willing to pay you.

Focus on your exit strategy and goal

Runners in the early morning hours are serious, usually training for something. The walkers are fun, usually couples or singles walking their dogs. Everyone is friendly, and they know, you’re out here in the cold, or the rain, or the heat, and loving it.

The dedication and commitment, not to mention the months of consistency, that marathon runners must display is the difference between a great marathon and a brutal final 10 miles and days of soreness, weeks even.  Not to mention the very real potential for serious injury.

That same dedication can be seen in the daily walkers we run across.  They’re friendly and persistent, sometimes lost in their thoughts, and other teams happily cheering us as we run on by.

Each of us stays in our lane, quietly building confidence, endurance, and resolve in our own way.  Setbacks are just reasons to dig deep and rely on your inner self-talk to get you through.  Even bad days are reasons to celebrate, because you got up, got through it, and stayed the course.

This is true in life and in business.  Business owners who sell a small number of niche products and services that are teachable, repeatable, and profitable to a large number of customers are valuable.  Whenever they get the opportunity to increase the number of services and products or veer into another market segment, they resist and stay the course.  They refine, systematize, hire and grow.  And they’re very well off for it.

Like the marathoner and the runner, each person understands what they’re trying to accomplish.  Each has worthy goals.  But what would happen if the marathoner decided to just walk and still try to run a marathon?  The results would be disastrous.  Now one could argue the walker may have better results learning to run, even marathon train, but if that was not in their heart, it would leave to heartache!

Being consistent and having a routine can help build business value

Sometimes, getting up at 4:30 before a 5:30 run can be tough.  What sane person gets up that early, right?  It defies logic, let alone a good night’s sleep.  The reason is simple – it’s the power of the routine, day-in and day-out, combined with the simple notion that after 10-minutes, you’re wide awake.

Being consistent and following a morning routine, making sure that I set myself up for success when the real work begins, is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  No matter how tired I am, how little sleep I got, how bad the weather is, I follow the routine.  It’s the powerful repetitiveness that improves my chances of success in the long-run.  It also guarantees that I’ve completed a few required tasks right when I start my day.

This is powerful for all business owners out there.  If you’ve decided to sell your business, you’ve probably learned by now that there’s more to selling than telling the world, “I’m for sale.”  There are things you have to do successfully to maximize your value.  Things that may be out of your comfort zone, or behaviors that must be repeated consistently and often that all but guarantee success.

Leverage new technologies and products to help sell your business

You don’t have to hold it in your hand, and when you’re running, you just put it to your mouth and squeeze in one fluid motion.  I don’t know about you, but the thought of having to actually hold a water bottle is enough to drive you to drink, let alone run 26.2 miles with the added weight.

In this day and age, the power of the cloud has raised the bar and leveled the playing field for small business owners.  The small business community can harness business systems, cloud applications, digital marketing and more to rise up to the level of much larger competition.

Configuring these systems and building processes to maximize their productivity is a key step in attracting a strategic buyer.  You’ve got the tools and technology to expand the company, scaling and growing into more markets and locations.  It’s a competitive advantage that allows you to adapt quickly and with the power of automation, capture opportunities quicker than your competition.

It’s a must and if you’re lucky, it just might be the thing that helps you sell your company for what it’s worth, maximizing your value.

Find a way to give yourself a competitive edge

Adding electrolyte tablets to your water like NuuN is a must.

It tastes really metallic and salty, even though there are different flavors, so try them out. They replace electrolytes that you sweat out during your run. Oh yeah, you get used to the taste.

I like to compare this to your secret sauce – your superpower.  Oftentimes, it’s that competitive differentiation that sets you apart and creates raving fans. Sometimes, it’s staring right at you, but you’ve got blinders on and simply don’t see it.  Other times, you’re stuck in that “we always do it this way” syndrome or believe what you do is a commodity that sells on price with very little value.

The truly great companies, the ones that go from good to great in every industry, found a way. They researched their competition, they reached out to their customers, they talked to friends and colleagues, and one day – voila!  They found the elusive secret that separated them, launching them forward.  Sometimes to the stratosphere.

So go ahead – find your superpower.  You’ll be glad you did.  I found mine in electrolyte tablets.  What’s yours?

Avoid getting burned out by having a support system while planning your exit

During your long runs, you need to do two things – wear the dreaded fanny pack so you can hold your cellphone and GU Packs.

Those are the energy paste that you eat every 45 minutes during your runs for energy. There are many brands and tons of flavors. I like Mocha Chocolate and Salted Caramel, and I rotate between the two. Try many different flavors, because your body will reject some of them. I tried a strawberry/raspberry flavor and promptly threw it up.

This is an interesting lesson because one thing supports the other.  For example, you wear the fanny pack to carry the GU.  You can wear a fanny pack, but it’s just an accessory if you forget your source of energy.  You will literally run out of juice, slowly fading and hitting the wall until you literally cannot put one foot in front of the other.

In business, like life, to fly, you need to have support structures in place that provide the strength and resiliency to execute.  You may have the hottest product on the market, but if you don’t have a sophisticated supply chain that reacts to changing demand, profitably procures the right products, and delivers on time, every time, you’ll fail.  It’s the same thing on the customer side.  You may do all the things I just said, but if your delivery and customer service is less than exemplary, you’ll eventually lose to your competition, or at worst, fail.

Remember, implementing the right things into your business takes time, trial, and error.  Sometimes, you get lucky right out of the starting blocks, but that’s a rarity.  Hard work, tenacity, curiosity, and the willingness to innovate and try new things will get you there.

That’s it for now. If you ever want to run a marathon, just remember. It’s a journey, a lifetime pursuit, and the joy is the journey. The race is the culmination of all the combines efforts, thousands of miles on the road and consistent, measured effort. So get out there and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did, even if you’re just running a mile.