Get Out of Your Bubble: How to Leverage Your Peers for Unparalleled Success
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Tom Stimson
September 2, 2022
A hand adds a wooden block with a red person icon to other blocks, representing getting help from a peer group.

A lot of business owners don’t think they need to worry about exit strategy right now because they’re under 45. They’re too young to be thinking like an old person.

Maybe they’re not ready to sell their businesses tomorrow, but they do need to be making productive and healthy moves in their business that will make an exit strategy a lot easier when they get to that point.

On the other hand, a lot of older owners think they should be in the exit strategy window right now, but they aren’t. According to their plan, they should have already divested their business or created some sort of next step strategy, but the pandemic got in the way. It continues to get in the way. Whatever original idea these owners had about an exit strategy, it’s probably no longer viable.

So what now? How do you sell a business that has one good post-pandemic year under its belt? First, ask a different question: “I have one good year under my belt. How do I get three or four more?”

Yes, buyers look at past performance when making a valuation decision, and sellers look at future performance as what they have to sell. The fact is, they’re both right. So how do you make both look as good as possible? What are your next steps?

Yes, You Could Sell Now

I get these types of questions quite a bit. “Is there any merger and acquisition activity going on?” “Are people looking at our industry?” “Are there any roll-ups?”

The answer is yes, there’s always activity going on, even in the worst of times.

There’s always an M&A industry out looking for bargains. If you’re feeling like a bargain, there’s a conversation there for you to have.

Most people, though, don’t want to feel like a bargain. So the hesitation most people are feeling is that they don’t have much of a track record right now. Maybe they had an okay 2021 with subsidies, and they’re having a great 2022. But it’s hard to leverage all of that value in a sale at this moment.

It’s easy to make yourself look like a good deal as a bargain, but it’s difficult to get your potential future worth.

Unless you’re feeling like a bargain, you could wait three to four more years to maximize the value of your business. But “waiting” alone won’t get you that value. It’s what you do during that time that will create value in your business.

The Need for a Management Team

If you’re asking these kinds of questions now, then you probably don’t want to wait three or four years to make your move. So the question becomes, “How can I get the benefit of waiting three or four more years but start reaping some of the benefits of retirement now?”

What you need to be doing during this waiting period is creating a business that runs better without you.

That does two things. First, it makes the business more attractive as a standalone acquisition. Second, it gives you some of your time back. And that’s probably what you’re really looking for.

But there’s still something missing from this formula.

Most owners are still stuck working in their business instead of enjoying the benefits of being a business owner from their private island because they were never willing to make the investment and commitment to get a management team that could replace them.

A lot of owners tell me, “My business takes up too much of my time. I’d rather have a smaller business. I’d probably make more money.”

And they’re right. That’s generally true for many of my clients. They could have a simpler life, less stress, and an easier-to-manage business if they would just let the business be smaller.

But if you hope to one day sell your business, the better option is to let it grow and invest more into long-term management growth. This option gives you time back while creating additional value for your company.

Infographic: ISL - 9/5

Why Finding Your Management Team Is a Struggle

The main reason people struggle with finding a management team is they can’t find somebody who thinks exactly like they do.

Because of this, they instead promote people that already work for them. At least they know these people, and everyone’s already familiar with company culture. Better to go with a known than an unknown.

But this tends to be an investment in the Peter Principle. Owners promote people to the point where they are no longer effective, undermining the chances of creating a business that can run independently of the owner.

However, the most difficult issue owners struggle with is investing in the right people. The right people are expensive. Finding someone who can come in, take over your business, and make you unnecessary is a tall order. Many owners are unwilling to spend the kind of money required to get people skilled enough to fill this role.

It’s easy to see why people might get hung up on this one. It’s a big investment and a big risk.

Getting Out of Your Bubble

So, how do you run a business more independently? How do you reap some of the retirement benefits without having to make the huge investments that you may not be ready to make?

Invest in coaching. There are plenty of different types of coaching. Good coaches can help you run a business that grows, makes more money, and scales. They can also help you become the business — and the owner — you need to be at this time.

But even this can be a huge investment. So here’s some free advice for a more cost-effective way…

Get out of your bubble. Every one of my clients has heard me say, “Get out of your bubble.” Just go talk to some other people. Talk to another owner. Visit the guy down the street. Take your competitor to lunch.

Oddly enough, many people find this difficult to do. Some people do it innately because that’s just how they’re wired. The rest of us struggle with it.

The benefits of talking to other people and hearing how other owners think and work are invaluable. It helps you overcome your fear of taking chances. It helps you see paths other people took that won’t work for you, so you don’t have to test the path yourself.

The great news is, there’s a tool for this: peer-group coaching.

Peer-Group Coaching

In peer-group coaching, you get an organized, out-of-your-bubble experience where you can interact with business owners like you. They’re very often in the same position as you, but they’ll also have other experiences in slightly different business models.

Creating this network will connect you with alternative advisors, strategic partners, and — dare I say — business friends.

I started doing peer groups at the beginning of the pandemic. It was expedient, and it was a way to get a lot of people the help they needed inexpensively and quickly.

These peer groups were composed of owners with shared experiences and loyal team members who stayed with them throughout the pandemic. They were figuring things out, and they helped one another figure things out.

It was a perfect example of a group being smarter than the sum of its parts.

These peer groups also addressed the isolation and loneliness of being an owner in a crisis. They provided a forum for owners to share ideas and seek out camaraderie. Members came looking for validation, or that next idea, or to share a victory, or to process a challenge.

And even after the crisis period passed, the need for interaction and feedback remains.

Conclusion

Why did I bring all that up?

I brought it up for those of you who are in that in-between place where you have three to four more years to improve your business, make it more sellable, and make it further meet your needs, but you’re not ready to invest in building the management team that will make that possible.

Until you are, you’ll want to make sure you’re making the right decisions and doing things the right way. Peer-group coaching is the most cost-effective way to get out of your bubble, get expert advice, and move your business forward in the right direction.

When you need more focused attention or want to retool your business or position it for a sale, I’m still here to help you with that. But right now, peer groups are the solution many of you need to get you making better, longer-range decisions and finally taking care of yourself.

Take a look at the peer groups I’m putting together for owners like you right now.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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