By Scott Bushkie | Guest Column

Marketers will sometimes talk about the four P’s (product, placement, price, promotion) of selling. Known as the “marketing mix,” and the emphasis a company puts in each area can have a direct impact on sales and profits.

And while selling a business is not like selling a product, we can use this idea to think about how certain factors impact a company’s value and salability. The right mix will make your company more desirable to buyers and more likely to attract multiple competitive offers.

People: Human resources plays a critical role in your business’ salability. As an owner, you need to be replaceable. Ideally, your business should continue to operate and grow even if you aren’t a part of day-to-day operations.

In the lower middle market, you’ll gain extra value by having a management team or key employee group that can run the business with little to no input from owner’s. Buyers want to know they can maintain your success even after you’re gone.

When talking up your business to would-be buyers, talk up your people. Say, “they did that” or “we did” whenever possible, instead of highlighting your own solo contributions.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the less your company needs you, the more it’s worth. Because if you truly are the only one with all the magic dust, your business is a risky proposition and will be harder to sell.

Performance: Generally, buyers want a business with a stable record of profits and preferably a growth trend. They will typically look at the last three years of financial performance, paying attention to the last 12 months.

A business is generally worth a multiple of its cash flow – specifically EBITDA adjusted for the owner’s salary and benefits. Drive cash to the bottom line, and avoid hiding unnecessary perks inside your financials, particularly in the last few years before a sale.

Look at cash-related issues like working capital, capital expenditures, fair market rent, and fair market payroll. If you’re underpaying yourself in terms of rent, your cash flow might not reflect the new owner’s cash flow. And if you’re working 80-hour weeks (longer than any paid manager could be expected to work), your current salary might not be an accurate reflection of the necessary replacement salary.

Cash flow is one of the most important numbers buyers will use when valuing your business. Make sure yours is accurate and tells a good story.

Potential: Buyers want a growth story and a vision for the future. They want you to sell them on the company’s growth potential.

You may be proud of what you’ve built, but it doesn’t do any good to tell would-be buyers that the business is doing “the best it possibly can.” That means there’s nowhere to go but down. Spend some time thinking about growth opportunities and what you might do if you had more energy, more capital, or were willing to take on new risk.

If you don’t have a vision for growth, talk to an advisor. Different buyers bring different assets and advantages to the table.

Price: Not every company can go to market without an asking price. But for the ones that can, a no-price strategy gives the seller an advantage.

Ask two professional valuation experts to determine your business value, and you’ll probably get similar numbers. But ask two or more buyers to value your business, and their target price may vary significantly.

That’s because your business is worth more or less to different buyers, depending on their motivations, resources and business synergies. How they value your business will depend, in part, on how badly they want to reach their goal. •

Scott Bushkie is principal of Cornerstone Business Services, an M&A Advisory firm with offices in Wisconsin and Iowa.