Episode 40: The Boutique: What No One Tells You About Failed Attempts to Exit

Episode 40: The Boutique: What No One Tells You About Failed Attempts to Exit

A top reason owners fail to exit is a decline in performance during the process of selling the firm. On this episode, we discuss how to avoid making this mistake.


Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case a top reason that owners failed to exit is a decline in performance during the process of selling their firm. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s founder and chief investment officer. Greg has helped many owners avoid this mistake and has some practical advice on the subject. Greg, good to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:09] Thanks, pal. Good to be here. It looks like today we’re going to take one of the WTF moments on this space. Should be a lot of fun.

Sean Magennis [00:01:18] Yes. This is a WTF moment for sure. Greg, for the benefits of our new listeners and for our regulars. Can you explain the issue we are discussing today in more precise terms?

Greg Alexander [00:01:29] Sure. So after selecting an investment banker, the official process to sell a firm kicks off. The workload placed on the management team to successfully exit is large. For instance, there is a never ending stream of information request. This creates a huge distraction and the net result of this distraction is a decline in revenue and profit performance during the nine or so months it takes to exit. This decline causes the potential buyers to doubt the dependability of the projections. And unfortunately, with their confidence shaken, investors pull out of the deal. This happens far too often. The good news is, is this is avoidable.

Sean Magennis [00:02:16] So let’s explore this good news. How can one avoid this mistake, Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:02:20] So there are some best practices to follow. Let me share a few of them here. First time the process to sell the firm when there is a robust backlog, backlog is defined as work that is signed and under contract. It has not been delivered yet. The future revenue is highly dependable. It reduces the risk of a decline in performance during the process. A good rule of thumb is to have nine to 12 months of backlog heading into the process. So, for example, let us say a firm communicates to a buyer a 12 month revenue projection of 50 million dollars. An owner should have at least thirty seven and a half million or the equivalent of nine months under contract. In backlog before kicking off the process to sell. This will keep the cash flow flowing at a crucial time.

Sean Magennis [00:03:12] That is an excellent example. It’s extraordinarily practical. So what are some other ways to avoid failing to exit due to a decline of performance during the process to sell?

Greg Alexander [00:03:25] Next after backlog, I recommend turning your attention to the sales pipeline. I suggest a sales pipeline of five to one. For instance, let us say that you’re a 12 month projections for new businesses, 10 million. This suggests having visibility on 50 million in new work before the process to sell your firm begins. A five to one project pipeline provides enough coverage to hit the target.

Sean Magennis [00:03:54] Boy, that’s a good one. And it seems reasonable as a five to one pipeline ratio suggests a 20 percent close rate, which is conservative. How about some other advice for our listeners, Greg, on this issue?

Greg Alexander [00:04:07] Here’s an idea I have seen work brilliantly, but for some reason it is not often implemented. The idea is to split the business development team in two. Team one is committed to bringing in new business. Team two is committed to selling the firm. This addresses a common, overlooked mistake, which is underestimating the work required to sell the firm. For instance, owners of a firm are typically rainmaker’s. They bring in a lot of new business when their time is consumed with selling the firm. They’re not bringing in new clients. The revenue takes a hit and the exit falls apart by dividing up the workload. This can be prevented. And before I get off my soapbox, let me share a few other tactical ideas. Bullet proof the forecast. Investors are buying the firm based on the future growth it will generate. They are very skeptical. And we’ll put your forecast under the bright lights. Lastly, it’s a good idea. Think about transaction preparedness. Firm leaders will be asked to perform work. They have never done before. For example, you’ll be asked to prepare materials such as an information memorandum and many others. Get your hands on a few examples. Well, ahead of trying to exit and give yourself enough time to practice before trying to exit. This will shorten the time it takes to go to market and will result in a shorter sales process.

Sean Magennis [00:05:42] Fantastic, Greg. So split the BD team in two, bullet proof the forecast, and practice transaction preparedness. These are items our listeners can get to work on immediately. Thank you, Greg.

Sean Magennis [00:06:01] And now a word from our sponsor. Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members join to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Frank Digioia [00:06:26] My name is Frank Digioia and I am the CEO and owner of the Fort Group. At the Fort Group, we offer a wide range of marketing services and solutions across many industries to help solve marketing challenges for clients navigating a marketplace that’s in transition. By that, I mean marketing in the middle of a monumental digital transformation. These clients look to us for various marketing services, including strategy, channel and sales, promotion, digital, as well as the creative needs. We solve these challenges by partnering with our clients and working hard to find the right solutions with the right resources. If you need help with these marketing services, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

Sean Magennis [00:07:05] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit the Collective54.com.

Sean Magennis [00:07:23] Okay, this takes us to the end of this episode. And as is customary, we end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm, our preferred tool as a checklist. And our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions in this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, you can sustain performance during the process to sell your firm. If you answer no too many times, you’re likely to blow your opportunity to exit. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:02] Number one, do you have enough backlog prior to launching the process to exit? Number two, do you have enough pipeline prior to launching the process to exit? Number three, can the new business team stay focused on bringing in clients during the exit process? Number four, can the owners work be delegated to others during the exit process? Number five, is the forecast reliable? Number six, will the forecasts remain reliable during a time of great distraction? Number seven, have you provided enough deal support to the finance team? Number eight, can the finance team handle the constant requests for reports and information? Number nine, have you reviewed examples of the common documents used during transaction preparedness? And number ten, have you attempted a practice run in putting together these documents?

Sean Magennis [00:09:22] In summary, many exit attempts fail because the distraction of trying to exit causes a dip in revenue and profit performance. This should and must not happen to you, selling your firm is a big project lasting almost a full year. Get yourself ready ahead of time and be sure to time your attempt to exit correctly.

Sean Magennis [00:09:48] If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.