Back in February I got an unexpected Email in my in-box:
We’d love for you to speak on selling a business at the Be Sage Conference this August 4-5 in Chicago. Our conference is an in-depth business strategy conference for small business owners in the wedding industry. This is a topic our audience is very interested in learning about.
A few days later I had a chat with Michelle Loretta, one of the conference organizers. As soon as she confirmed that there was indeed going to be a room filled with business owners who wanted to hear about selling a business, I enthusiastically accepted her invitation.
Over the next few months I honed my two-hour presentation, focusing largely on the how’s and why’s of building value in your business, as well as making sure your business is sellable regardless of whether or not you decide to sell. My goal was to share, inform and perhaps inspire a room full of strangers to think differently about their business.
I immediately felt at home in the Be Sage crowd — all successful women business owners — and it didn’t take long for me to figure out why. In addition to being a talented and inspirational group, it turns out wedding planners have a lot in common with M&A brokers:
1. Our industry is misunderstood
Picture a stereotypical “Hollywood” wedding planner and what comes to mind? Chances are it’s a bossy, controlling, obsessively organized person who promises to make dreams come true — as long as your checkbook remains wide open. In reality, successful wedding planners are smart, practical, down to earth people with strong communication and budget management skills. If you search on a list of characteristics to look for in a good wedding planner, you may be surprised to learn that patience is at or near the top.
Picture a stereotypical M&A broker and what comes to mind? Chances are it’s someone who is motivated by money, adept at manipulating negotiations, and puts their own interests above their client’s despite claims to the contrary. In reality, the best M&A people have the ability to solve complex problems using knowledge of finance, accounting and law. The great ones care enough about their clients to be brutally honest — not because they are heartless, but because they know the stakes are incredibly high for the client, their family and the business. If you ask us to name the number one characteristic you should look for in an M&A broker, you may be surprised to learn that it is often creativity.
2. Family dynamics are part of the job
Planning a wedding may start out as a straightforward task involving the wishes of two people. But as the date draws near and details come forth, family members come out of the woodwork to exert their own influence. When my best friend’s brother got married, everything was going great, until they started planning the menu. He came from a traditional Japanese family, while the bride’s parents were ex-hippie vegetarians. Suddenly everyone had an opinion about what food to serve, and they all seemed to offend someone.
Likewise, everyone appears to be on the same page about the owner selling the business until offers are submitted. This happens frequently with kids and the family business. At the outset the owner’s children may say they are fine with mom and dad selling the family business. Deep down, however, the only reason they’re saying this is because they don’t believe it will actually happen. When it becomes clear that the business will indeed sell, one or all of the children often change their tune.
3. Our clients can have unrealistic expectations
Most of us would agree that the biggest milestones in life would include graduating from college, getting married, having your first child and retirement. The wedding day — and the sale of a business — typically represent a transition from one phase of life to another. As such, these big life events are often accompanied by super-size expectations.
Couples obsess over the wedding day itself, striving to make it an adequate reflection of the magnitude of their love and the start of their new life together. No wonder something frequently goes “wrong.” A wedding may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But it is still just one day — an amazing and special day — but 24 hours nonetheless.
Likewise, sellers can get obsessed with the purchase price of their business, believing it must represent a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. No wonder buyers are frequently viewed as trying to “steal” the business with “lowball” offers. Like a wedding, the sale of a business is typically a once-in-a-lifetime event. But it is also the sale of an asset, where the market — not the owner — determines the price.
It’s been said that M&A brokers wear many hats, including head chef, counselor and cat herder. After spending a delightful two days at the Be Sage “Meeting of the Minds” Conference in August, I would definitely add wedding planner to the list.
Many thanks to everyone at the Be Sage Conference — Michelle, Kelly, all of the amazing participants, sponsors and speakers. I am grateful for the invitation, and so glad I said “yes.” [Photo by Jennifer Kathryn Photography]
Author: Barbara Taylor
Barbara is co-founder of Allan Taylor & Co. and a former New York Times blogger. She has been a small-business owner since 2003. Barbara lives with her husband, Chris, and their two sons in Northwest Arkansas.