In the eyes of millions, both inside and outside the United States, the American dream involves having the opportunity to better yourself based on hard work, dedication, and a hunger for success.
More than any other activity, entrepreneurship has become integrally linked to this ideal.
Often, when we think of entrepreneurship, we’re picturing starting a business from scratch and growing it into a successful enterprise.
But most entrepreneurs actually achieve their American dream by purchasing existing businesses and making them their own.
Whether you’ve personally started a business from scratch or purchased an existing business in the past, perhaps you’ve considered the possibility of selling your business in order to pursue other opportunities or to focus more time on family or personal pursuit. Maybe you’re selling due to other circumstances beyond your control.
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Rather than viewing the sale of your business as the end of your American dream, look at it as the beginning of someone else’s future. Maintaining a positive attitude and approaching the sale of your business with the same passion and skill you used to make it successful in the first place will attract a like-minded entrepreneur who’s worthy of taking it over, leaving you with a deep level of satisfaction when the process is over.
Here are seven key tips that will help you to sell the American dream effectively without sacrificing what it means to you:
1. Prepare Ahead
important to understand that selling a business can be a lengthy process. The average sale takes between 12 to 18 months, with some taking quite a bit longer than that. While it’s certainly possible to sell a business quickly, even in emergency situations, such a sale rarely yields the best price or circumstances for the seller, so you’ll want to avoid that option if at all possible.
Instead, make a point to focus time and effort on goal setting and strategic planning both in your personal and professional life so you can determine when you’d like the business to be sold. Then wind the timeline back at least 24 months to mark a starting point for all you’ll need to do in preparation for the sale.
2. Run It Right, Right to the End
In making those plans and strategic decisions, understand that there’s no room for coasting when you’re running a successful business. And a business that’s not growing is not going to be attractive to a prospective buyer. The human tendency is to slow down and start to relax when we see the end of a project ahead of us.
But that’s exactly what you’ll want to avoid. Instead, view it like a marathoner who finally sees the finish line after a long race, and instead of slowing down, keeps the pace straight through to the end. In business, this means you’re going to continue to show up for work every day and keep pushing yourself to run and even grow the business until the day you sign the final sales contract and turn it over to the new owner.
3. Keep Accurate Records
For many entrepreneurs - especially if they’ve built their businesses from scratch, perhaps starting out working alone at home it’s common to view recordkeeping and paperwork as a secondary task that gets done as quickly and painlessly as possible on evenings and weekends so they can get back to “the real work.
While this attitude is understandable, it’s also dangerous. Certainly, while running and growing a business, keeping a close eye on financial and legal records is important. But even more so, when you begin the process of selling your business, an archive of clear, accurate records becomes absolutely vital.
Consider the situation from a prospective buyer’s standpoint: when looking into purchasing a business with which you have no personal experience, what would you be most interested in seeing? Isn’t it a black-and-white record of how the business has grown, where it stands right now, and where it seems to be headed financially? Without access to clear, clean, accurate records financial, legal, employment, etc. it’s impossible for a prospective buyer to truly determine the health of the business, which means they’re unlikely to even consider the purchase, much less paying top dollar.
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4. Keep Clean, Well-Maintained Premises
If your business has physical premises like a storefront, warehouse, offices, or manufacturing plant keeping the area clean and well-maintained can mean the difference between a successful sale and a series of almosts. Consider how important first impressions are. For example, when real estate agents are trying to sell a house, they’ll often advise the homeowners to invest a significant amount of time, effort, and even money into improving the “curbside appeal” of the home.
This may involve making cosmetic improvements to the home’s exterior, keeping the lawn trimmed, and cleaning routinely, so that when a prospective buyer drives up, their immediate impression is a positive one. Selling your business for a good price can hinge on the same first impressions. So make sure your place of business is clean, well-maintained, and visually inviting whether it’s open to the public or not.
5. Monitor Online Reviews
These days, your online reputation is at least as important as your actual record of work success and customer satisfaction. Since so many business decisions today start with an Internet search, the potential impact of online customer reviews can’t be overstated. When your business is up for sale, your prospective buyers will also be doing their due diligence by looking your company up online, so you can bet that the reviews they find - and how your company has responded to them will factor into their decisions.
Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid negative reviews. And any attempt to falsely pad online results with positive reviews will generally be transparent and yield a negative reaction. You can make a point, though, to encourage your satisfied customers to post their reviews on your behalf. Also be sure to work as hard as you possibly can to resolve customer complaints quickly and positively. These types of responses can do wonders in maintaining a positive online reputation that a new owner would be proud to take over.
6. List and Market Your Business Effectively
Beyond all of the preparatory work described above, actually listing and effectively marketing your business for sale will also have a huge impact on how quickly you’re able to sell, and how much of the company’s true value you can expect to earn.
As with any marketing effort, there’s a fine balance that needs to be met between letting as many people as possible know that your company is for sale and targeting those notifications to individuals who may actually be interested in purchasing it. Obviously, you could try selling your business using nationwide TV, radio, and other media ads, but you’re going to spend a fortune and the chances of catching the interest of that perfect buyer among the millions who hear your message are very slim.
On the other hand, there are several listing opportunities, both online and offline, where targeted businesses-for-sale listings can be economically placed to attract the right buyers with minimal effort on your part as the owner. Hiring an experienced business broker to assist in your marketing and listing efforts can supplement your own due diligence, and can help speed up the transaction once one or more buyers shows interest.
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7. Offer to Help With the Transition
Finally, when a prospective buyer comes in with an offer you’re willing to accept, it could be beneficial for you to offer to stay on for a limited time (perhaps 30 to 90 days) in an advisory position to assist the new owner in transitioning into their position.
This depends on the buyer, of course. In some cases, you’ll end up selling to a competitor or someone with more than enough industry knowledge, or someone whose personality simply won’t allow that level of collaboration. But in many cases, new owners will truly appreciate having the voice of experience and someone to bounce ideas off of as they get used to running their new business.
And, as an added benefit, it provides you with a structured opportunity to ease out of running the business that you’ve poured your heart and soul into for years.
Following these seven tips, you’ll be in a position to effectively sell your American dream to someone new without losing any of the joy and satisfaction that came from realizing that dream yourself.