Starting a business and scaling it to be sellable can seem like an impossible feat. But what if I told you that there is a proven way to build a sustainable, scalable, and sellable business?
Well then this episode is for you! I’m so excited to share our guest Michelle Seiler Tucker, who will be sharing with us insight into building a sustainable, scalable, and sellable business utilizing her proven techniques.
Listen to the podcast here
How To Build A Sustainable, Scalable, And Sellable Business
Our guest is Michelle Seiler Tucker. She is the Founder and CEO of Seiler Tucker Incorporated. She holds the M&AMI title, as well as a Certified Mergers and Acquisitions Professional and Certified Senior Business Analyst. Michelle also owns many other businesses in several different industries. As a veteran in the M&A industry, she’s regarded as the leading authority on buying, selling, fixing and growing businesses. She and her firm have sold over 1,000 businesses in almost every vertical and have a remarkable track record of success.
I’m so excited to talk with her. If you’re reading and you own a business, which most of you are, you don’t hear women talking enough about scaling, selling and setting up your business to do those two things. Michelle, you are an expert. It’s amazing how many businesses and acquisitions you’ve done. It’s so awesome and it’s not talked about or shared. You have a book so I want to talk about that in a few minutes. Before we even dive in, can you share with our readers a little bit about your background and journey? How have you gotten to where you are?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur and owned different businesses in different verticals. I did go to work for Corporate America. I went to work for Xerox for a very short period. They recruited me from their competitor. I ended up leaving Xerox and going into franchise sales, franchise development and franchise consulting. I ended up being a partner with a few different franchisors.
I got tired of saying no because I believe in the Law of Attraction. I like saying yes. I kept saying no because buyers wanted to buy an existing business. They didn’t want to buy a franchise. I was only doing franchise sales so I didn’t have any existing businesses. I said to myself one day, “Why do I keep saying no? I should be saying yes. I should open up an M&A firm.” That’s what I did and how it all transpired. I opened up my M&A firm.
At first, I started selling small companies and then very quickly sold large businesses, $10 million and up. I learned very quickly that what Steve Forbes says is true, that 8 out of 10 businesses will not sell. Eighty percent of businesses will never close. I thought to myself, “If I don’t fix them, tweak them, grow them and put them on a build-to-sell plan, then I’m going to starve to death,” so that’s what I did.
I started specializing in buying, selling, fixing and growing. I partnered with business owners, investing my money, time, expertise and resources. I also buy businesses and flip them. Plus, we do mergers and acquisitions and we sell companies. We sold over 1,000 businesses to date. We do lots of business valuations. I have about 98% closing rate and on average, we obtain a 20% to 40% higher selling price for our clients.
Are there specific types of industries that you look for to go in and flip a business and get it ready to sell? Can you pretty much go into any industry and know what the need is?
That answer’s different for different things. As far as selling businesses, we’re industry agnostic so we can sell every industry. I probably sold a business in every single vertical there is. I don’t know if there are any verticals we haven’t sold at least one business in. As far as partnering, there are businesses I won’t do. I won’t do restaurants. I’m not big into retail or things like that. If I’m going to partner, I would rather partner in a business that services a niche, something different that has a unique selling proposition. I’m very selective about not only the industry but also the partners whom I’m going into business with. Are they coachable? Can I train them? Will they listen? I don’t know if you’ve ever watched The Profit with Marcus.
I love Marcus.
They don’t listen to him. I found the same thing. You’ll never grow a business beyond what you can grow the owner. You got to be able to grow that owner. If you don’t have the patience and the ability to grow the owner, you’ll never grow the business. Marcus doesn’t grow the owner. He busts his head up against the wall. They’re not listening because he’s not putting the time, energy and effort into them. He’s putting more into the business.If you don't have the patience and the ability to grow the owner, you'll never grow the business. Click To Tweet
You hear the saying, “It starts from the top and it trickles down.” You’ve got to have the leadership and the mindset in place before it’s going to trickle down. Would you say one of the biggest mistakes that business owners make is to not go into a business with the mindset of scaling and growing it?
That’s the biggest mistake that they make because business owners are so close to their businesses. They’re working in their business, not on it. In many cases, business owners have created a glorified job in which you go to work every day versus a business that works for them and they think of it as their baby. We talk about Exit Rich and how to build your business with the infrastructure on the six Ps. They don’t focus on building that infrastructure. They focus on selling and getting the clients through the door and money coming in. Unless you have a solid infrastructure on what I call the six Ps, your business is not going to be sustainable and certainly not going to be scalable.
Eighty percent of businesses don’t sell because business owners never think about, “I need to build this as a sellable asset.” They’re taking money out of it and living out of it. They don’t think about selling until like a catastrophic event has occurred. Internal health issues, partner’s dispute, divorce and death. I had a sweet little old lady call us that wanted to sell because her husband dropped dead of a heart attack unexpectedly and left her with a mountain of debt. When I started asking her all these questions, he owns a construction company. He had all subcontractors. He didn’t have any employees and had no processes or procedures in place. Everything was in his head. When he died, the business died.
Business owners don’t think about selling until that catastrophic event occurs. They don’t think about setting up their family for success. If something was to happen to them, “Is my family taken care of? Do I have a key insurance policy? Do I have an exit strategy?” That’s what they need to start thinking about. That’s the number one reason businesses don’t sell.
Even if you went to school for entrepreneurship. Back when I was in college, it didn’t exist. It’s like they’re not teaching us as entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders how to build a business. Don’t get so connected to it. It’s like we’re thrown out there. I had to learn the hard way but one of the reasons that I’m sure you were inspired to do this book that you have, Exit Rich, is like, “I need to teach people and let people know how they can think differently,” rather than what you’re taught in school. Can they read the book and walk away saying, “Now I have the mindset of setting this up, thinking differently and having that mindset?”
A couple of things I want to say about that. They can. A gentleman wrote us the letter who bought Exit Rich. We’re in the middle of pre-launch. We sent him the PDF. He read the book and sent us a letter saying, “I heard you speak on a business podcast. I read the entire book. I now know what to do. I’ve been in business for twenty years and I had no idea what I was doing. Now I’m getting all my Ps in order.” I talk about the six Ps. “I’ll better my infrastructure. I’m getting my proprietary taken care of. I’m making sure I have the right people in the right place. I want to sell in 2 to 3 years. Thank you. You’ve put me on the right path. I had no idea what to do before.” That is one gentleman.
Steve Forbes says, “Exit Rich is a gold mine for those entrepreneurs that truly want to be successful and not leave so much money on the table.” That’s what happened. Many business owners are exiting poor. When I wrote Sell Your Business for More Than It’s Worth in 2013 and did the research, I learned back then that 85% to 95% of all startups will go out of business. The first 1 to 5 years are the riskiest. When I wrote Exit Rich in 2019 and 2020, I did the same research and realized that the business landscape has flip-flopped. In 2022, only 30% of startups will go to a business.
This is great news for startups. However, with 27.6 million companies, those businesses have been in business for 10 years or longer, 70% of them will go out of business. You see how it flip-flops. It used to be if you’ve been in business for 5, 6 or 10 years, you’re going and be in business forever. Not anymore. It has flip-flopped.
You hear about the big box public companies and the media, like Toys R Us going out of business after being in business for 75 years. Also Kmart, TriMark, JCPenney and Montgomery Ward. GNC is closing down 900 locations. Godiva is closing down 1,500 locations. You’re not hearing about all the private companies that are being enforced to sell for pennies on the dollar, close their business or even worse, file for bankruptcy. That’s what Exit Rich does.
You might not even think about selling now and that’s okay. However, you need to plan your exit. You need to still have a plan. I call this the ST GPS EXIT Model so that you can build your business with that end in mind and then build it on the infrastructure so it is sustainable and scalable. When you’re ready, it is sellable and you won’t become a part of a statistic.
The reason that 70% of businesses are going out of business is that business owners start doing what I call AIM, Always Innovate and Market. Toys R Us didn’t do anything different for 75 years. Blockbuster had an opportunity to buy Netflix and did nothing and then they wonder why they were out of business. Exit Rich walks business owners from A to Z as far as how to plan their exit from the beginning, follow the ST GPS EXIT Model and build for the specific criteria.
There are five different types of buyers. Identify what type of buyer is best for your business and then also what type of business you own. It also takes you through the seller’s mindset. When should you sell? What is your seller’s sanity check? What do you want to walk away with? It takes them through to six Ps, how to evaluate, negotiate, create a bidding war and get a higher price for their business and then close. Not only that. It’s not what I sell your business for. It’s what you walk away with. How to park your money? We are not paying huge capital gains.
I would love for you to dive more into the six Ps and what people need to be thinking about. Readers, you need to get the book first off and read the book.
At the end of the show, I’ll tell your readers the extra goodies or golden nuggets that they’ll get if they buy in pre-sale.
Can you take us deeper and tell us a little bit more about what are those six Ps and how did you come up with that?
It’s my years of experience being in business and not just selling businesses but owning my businesses. First and foremost, it’s being in the trenches but the first P is People. The number one reason businesses don’t sell is that business owners don’t plan their exit. The number two reason that businesses don’t sell is that a business is 1,000% dependent upon the owner. If I take that owner out of the business, there is no business. We have a dentist that came to us that wants to sell. 1 dentist with 3 dental hygienists has been in business for 45 years. I said, “I can sell your business but you’re going to have to stay on for 2 to 3 years.” He’s like, “I’m not staying on. I’m exhausted.”
I said, “I’m not going to be able to sell your business because when you leave, the patients leave.” The first P is People. You don’t build a business. You build people and people build the business. You got to make sure you have the right people in the right seats and you got to ask the who question. Who opens the door? Who handles customer service? Who handles marketing, legal, accounting, logistics and manufacturing? All of these different things have to be done in your corporation. The clue here is that you should never be next to the who.
Also, you need to have a layer of management. Business owners are the visionaries. They’re not an entrepreneur. They should be working on the business. You should have that layer of management and then everybody else working in the business. The second P is Product. Product is your industry. You have to ask yourself, is your product your industry on a way up or on the way out? Is it thriving or dying? Do you have an Amazon or a Blockbuster?
This is where most businesses fail. When 70% of businesses go out of business, it’s because their industry and product are dying. They are either growing or dying. This is where innovation is key. I always get my clients to ask these three questions. Amazon did this back in the ‘90s. They asked themselves, “What business are we in?” They said, “We sell books.” They were a book-selling business.
They’re like, “What do we do well better than anybody else?” They said, “We do fulfillment better than anybody else.” The third question, the obvious question is, “What business should we be in?” I said, “We should be in the fulfillment business.” Those three questions, as simple as they sound, transformed Amazon from the small bookseller to the multi-billion dollar worldwide conglomerate that they are now.
Every business owner should look at their business and ask themself this question. A lot of business owners get stuck doing things the way they’ve always done them. Consumer buying habits change. Consumers don’t buy things the way they used to, especially with the pandemic. Amazon changed the way that we purchased products way before the pandemic. The pandemic has changed the way we buy groceries.
Business owners have to adapt and pivot. They have to ask their clients, “What do you need? What do you want? How can I better service serve you? How can it make it easier for you to do business with us?” Here’s the bottom line. Anyone that makes it easiest for the consumer to purchase products and services is the company that’s winning. Amazon is winning because they make it so easy to purchase anything and have it delivered in two days.
The third P is Processes. Processes are like an exit strategy. Business owners don’t think about it until something bad happens and then they’re like, “We need a process for that.” We were once selling a manufacturing company and there was an injury on the manufacturing floor. One of the employees got hurt. It was a catastrophic event. Lawsuits were coming down. They were going to go out of business and file bankruptcy. They were not sellable anymore. The owner looked at me and says, “We need a health and safety process for the manufacturing floor.” I’m like, “You think? You needed that before. It’s a little late for that.”
Processes should be designed from the beginning and with the customer experience in mind. The McDonald’s brothers who started McDonald’s back in the ‘40s said, “We want to design a fast food restaurant around the customer experience. We want the customers to experience great-tasting food that’s hot and fast.” Even though that was back in the ‘40s, no matter which McDonald’s you eat at all over the world, you’re going to get pretty good-tasting food that’s hot and fast.
Not the best customer service, not necessarily organic or healthy but they designed their processes around the customer experience. Many business owners design their processes around their agenda, creating a negative customer experience. 1) You want the processes to be designed with the customer experience and mind. 2) It’s got to be productive, efficient and well-documented. You have to have those policy and procedure manuals, those SOP checklists, employee handbooks and non-compete contracts.
A lot of people that I know do what you exactly said. It’s like, “Something happened so we need to create something around it.”
Stop that crap moment. Do it from the beginning. The fourth P is the highest value driver. Businesses that are under $1 million in EBITDA, Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, will typically trade for four under multiple. Anywhere between 1 to 4. Businesses over $1 million in EBITDA will typically trade for $5 million and above. If you want to get a higher multiple, 6, 7, 8 or 10, you got to build these proprietary assets.
This P is Proprietary. There are six pillars to proprietary. This P takes me the longest. Number one is branding. The more well-branded your company is, the more I can sell it for as long as your brand is relevant in the mind of the consumers. Is anybody paying any money for Blockbuster? No. The most valuable brand in the world now, do you know who that is?
Is it Amazon or Apple? Disney?
Apple. Amazon and Disney are in the top ten. Apple is at the top. They’re worth $249 billion. That’s just the brand. That’s not assets, inventory, real estate or anything else. Build your brand. Trademarks are very valuable but you got to make sure you get federal trademarks. Business owners will go start their business and they’ll get their state trademark but they never checked the federal database to make sure that a federal trademark is available.
They’ll be in business for 5, 10 and 15 years and all of a sudden, I’ve seen this happen where they receive a cease and desist letter and they have to stop using that name. They’ll go to GoDaddy and say, “I got that domain. I can use that name,” but they never checked the federal database so they can’t use it. They have to start all over. The hardest thing in business is branding. Go get that federal trademark. It’s only $1,500 to $2,000.
The second very important thing is patents. If you got something that’s unique, get it patented. Every single investor on Shark Tank always asks the same questions. “Do you have a patent on that? Do you have a patent pending?” When they make an offer, they make a contingent upon the patent. Patents are huge. Contracts are also big. Manufacturing contracts, distribution, vendor contracts and exclusive and franchisor contracts are extremely valuable. The most valuable of all contracts are client contracts because buyers want to make sure that they’re buying a business that has revenue flowing in.
Those contracts that have reoccurring revenue or subscription model are valuable and we’ll get a much higher multiple. Databases are big. You can be losing money and still sell your company and make money. Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp. WhatsApp wasn’t not just making money. They were hemorrhaging. They paid $19 billion because Facebook had a synergy that Facebook wanted to buy and that was 1 billion users.
What are your synergies? Identify your synergies. That’s what we do when we evaluate businesses. We help business owners identify what those synergies are. Celebrity endorsements. We have a client whose products are endorsed by Oprah. That’s huge. Synergistic, competitive buyers will want to pay more money for that company because they want to get their products in front of Oprah. Celebrity endorsements and radio personalities are huge because they can only endorse one vertical at a time.That's what we do when we evaluate businesses. We help business owners identify what those synergies are. Click To Tweet
Jennifer Aniston is the spokesperson for Aveeno. You don’t see her doing any other skincare because she loses credibility. It’s the same thing with radio personalities. They do 1 diet, 1 skincare and 1 children’s education plan. That’s what we call prime real estate because those positions are hard to get. Celebrity endorsements are very hard to get. For my eCommerce businesses, anytime you can get in the top three positions on Amazon, Wayfair and Etsy, those are huge value drivers. This is proprietary. Build your proprietary assets and you will build your value.
The fifth P is Patrons. Patrons are your customer base. Many business owners follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of their business comes from 20% of their clients. If you lose a few clients, you can be in big trouble. We once had a media company we were selling and they have five clients. They were selling in the $10 million range.
The reason for that is that they dealt with 5 biggest casinos but they lost 2 during the sales process. Their revenues and sales dropped in half. They even dropped in half. They were not sellable anymore. I ended up merging them with another company. You want to make sure you have customer diversification rather than customer concentration.
The last P is the most important P to all of us. It’s Profits. We’re all in business to make money, not lose money but lack of profits is never ever the problem. It’s always the symptom of not operating on one of the other five Ps. I have clients that come to me and say, “Michelle, I have a profits problem.” I’m like, “No, you have a people problem or a process problem.” That’s the six Ps. If you are operating on all five Ps, I can promise you, you will be very profitable.
It’s funny because from a productivity perspective, the foundation, we call the four Ps. Your six Ps are very different on a very different level. There are some similarities but to me, they mean different things. The thing that I know at the heart of all of this is our first P. Yours is People. If you don’t know how to communicate based on psychology and understand how people perceive you as a leader, I’ve had to learn how to communicate to people the way they need to hear it. I’m always like, “The first P is People but it’s the psychology of the makeup of the people so that you’re hiring people for their strengths. I don’t care about your weaknesses. I want to know what drives you.” That is so important.
Our second P is Processes but it’s all about paperless processes and technology and making sure that your processes are in the cloud. You were saying, “A lot of people don’t even know what SOPs are.” I’m like, “If you are going to have a notebook, that’s great or if it’s in your head, get it out of your head. Put it in a notebook but then also put it in the cloud. Even a Google Doc is fine or in Dropbox but make sure things are paperless.” Productivity is our third P. When I talk about productivity, I’m talking about software and 100% automation, which is only speaking to businesses that can automate some of their processes.
You still need people to automate the processes but people get so overwhelmed because there are so many different platforms out there. They don’t know what’s right for them. Number four is Profit. If you’re not making a profit, why are you doing it? We work with so many people and a lot of them are women. They’re passionate and it’s almost like they feel bad for charging because they’re making money doing something they love. They never take the time to sit down and figure out, “What do you mean overhead? What do you mean I need to make sure that I can pay myself before I pay other people?” There’s this huge misconception. Our Ps are the very stepping stone of the foundation of beginning a business and then building.
You can go to Exit Rich and follow those Ps because they mean something very different. When you’re starting a business, it’s all about the mindset and setting it up. If someone’s starting something and they read Exit Rich, they can at least have the mindset and know we’ve got to have the people in the processes. Some of the words you were saying years ago, I didn’t know what that meant because no one taught me until I joined an entrepreneur organization. I would be like, “I know you are going to make fun of me and call me dumb blonde but what does that mean?” I’m over here googling it. I didn’t even understand the difference between net and profit. I had to have an accountant sit down and educate me on all this.
It’s okay to not know but ask. You want to learn. There are people like you who are out there teaching people what they need to know to be successful. I’m not learning this in school by any means. This isn’t the easy part. If you have the mindset from the very foundation of starting a business, I feel like people would be able to sell their business for so much more. It’s like they don’t understand the bottom line of, “I need all these things to make sure that my business is sellable.”
Is there one more piece of advice or guidance? If someone’s thinking about selling their business and exiting, would you tell them to contact someone like yourself? I don’t know if it’s called an agent or someone to represent you to go sell your business. It’s like real estate. If you’re going to sell your house, hire a real estate agent or put it on the market yourself. I’m like, “Hire an agent. I’m not going to do any of that myself. I don’t know what I’m doing.” There are pros and cons. People think that but why would someone not want to sell it themselves?
I could sell my house myself. Selling a house is not that difficult. Selling a business, it’s like if you need heart surgery. You’re going to cut your chest up, pull out your heart and operate on your own heart. No. Your business is your most valuable asset. You would never want to risk that. Most business owners know how to run their business or are experts at their business but they have no idea how to sell it. They have no idea how to do evaluations or identify those synergies. They didn’t even know there are five different types of buyers. They have no idea to identify what buyers are willing to pay more and how to create a bidding war.
You have to hire a mergers and acquisitions master intermediary if you’re trying to sell a business for $5 million and up. If you’re trying to sell a small business, you can maybe go to a business broker. I would always encourage everybody to call Seiler Tucker because we’ve been doing this for many years. We have the most experience in the industry. We do have the largest buyer database in the industry and read Exit Rich.
Here’s the deal. You might think you’re ready to sell but then when we do an evaluation, this is what typically happens. A business owner says, “I want $10 million from my company.” Their business is worth maybe $2 million and we’re nowhere close to that. You might want to sell but you’re nowhere close to where you need to be to retire. You need to start that process and the ST GPS EXIT model now.You might wanna sell, but you're nowhere close to where you need to be in order to retire. You really need to start that process now Click To Tweet
Number one, you got to determine your endgame and destination. When you drive somewhere, the first thing you do is pull out Google Maps and plug in your destination. Otherwise, you’re going to drive around in circles. It’s the same thing with business owners. If they don’t plug in their destination, then they’re going to drive around in circles, drive up and down the financial hills to end up nowhere or end up broke. Exiting poor, not exiting rich.
On a GPS EXIT model, you need to know where you’re starting from. What is your current location? What’s your current evaluation? What is your business worth now? Most business owners make the huge mistake of never having a business evaluation. You should get a business evaluation every single year because there are events that increase evaluation and events like COVID that decrease business evaluation. You need to know where your business stands every year.
Follow the GPS EXIT model and say, “My destination is $10 million. I want to sell for $10 million.” Great, you got a number. Number two, “What am I worth now? I’m worth $2 million. What’s my timeframe? I want to sell in ten years.” The next thing you need to know is, “Whom are my buyers going to be?” You never want to have one buyer. I have sellers call me all the time and say, “Michelle, I have a buyer. I need to represent me.” I’m like, “No. We need to put it on the market. I can promise you, this buyer’s probably going to fall through and you have no backup buyers. Plus, how can you maximize the price of your business if there’s no competition?”
Once you determine that, “I want to sell for $10 million, I’m worth $2 million, I want to do this in 10 years,” know whom your buyers are going to be. There are five types of buyers. It’s not going to be a first-time buyer because they buy small businesses. It’s not going to be a turnaround specialist because they buy distressed assets. It’s going to be either a private equity group, a strategic or a competitor.
They typically pay the highest multiple because they’re buying those synergies or a serial entrepreneurial that are industry agnostic and they buy EBITDA and cashflow. The last step in that GPS EXIT Model is to know your why. If it was easy to sell a business for $10 million, everybody would be doing it. Your why has got to be powerful enough to keep you motivated and keep you in the game.
There are so many things to think about. As you’re sitting here saying, “Every year,” I’m like, “I should probably go back and do that.” Time gets away from you so quickly.
Time does get away because business owners get stuck doing the day-to-day. Business owners have to learn to focus on their strengths and hire their weaknesses. If you don’t do that, you’re always going to be stuck in a job that you’ve created yourself versus a business that works for you. Let me tell you a couple of things about Exit Rich. My co-author is Sharon Lechter, who wrote Rich Dad Poor Dad with Robert Kiyosaki.
She’s a New York Times Bestselling Author five times, a CPA, financial literacy expert and an advisor to many different presidents. Steve Forbes has also endorsed Exit Rich and called it a goldmine for entrepreneurs as so many entrepreneurs lead too much money on the table. Kevin Harrington, our very own original Shark Tank, wrote the foreword for Exit Rich. You can go get Exit Rich at ExitRichBook.com for $24.79.
We will email you to digital download so you can start reading it now like the other gentleman I told you about at the beginning of the show. He said it’s already changed his business. We’ll ship the hardcover to anyone in the United States for no additional fee. Plus, we will give you a lifetime membership to the Exit Rich Book Club where there’s video content and me doing deep dive training.
There are documents to operate your business and sell your business. Sample employee handbook, sample non-compete, sample org charts, letter of intent, purchase agreements, closing docs, due diligence and checklists. All these documents will cost over $30,000 if you try to recreate them with an attorney. They are there for your review and download. Plus, we will also give you a 30-day free membership into Club CEOs, which is an entrepreneur mastermind that we started in which to help business owners build those sustainable, scalable and sellable businesses.
This was all super helpful. You guys go and get Exit Rich. Get your mindset right so that you don’t sell poorly. You want to sell rich. Michelle, thank you so much for being here. This is awesome.
Thank you. Also, I wanted to tell your readers that they could text Michelle at (888) 528-5750. All of my social media pops up, plus my websites and they can follow me on social media and connect with me on LinkedIn. Plus, our main website is SeilerTucker.com if they need some assistance. Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for your time. Everybody that’s reading, thank you so much for reading. Be sure to tune in to another episode.
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