It's really easy to start a business, but it's hard to successfully finish one. Sounds pretty smart doesn't it? I wish I came up with it myself, but it really hit home for me when I read it.
I was reading an article by Jon Westenberg titled "How To Publish 6 Blog Posts Every Week." The article is good so you should read it, but it isn't what this post is about. Under number one on his list, Jon says the following:
"I had a few coffees with my mentor yesterday, and he told me that with all the focus on starting up, he thinks many founders today lack the ability to finish. Great quote, straight into my notes for next month."
I had the exact same reaction as Jon: Great quote, excellent point, and it went right onto my list of things to write about.
Here are my thoughts on how to finish a business that you started.
Start with the end in mind; it is a simple statement, but so powerful. You will hear this again and again from mentors and consultants, but nobody ever plans their exit. When you don't plan to exit, you are setting yourself up to never get out of the business.
Exit planning is important to think through right from the very beginning. It should be written down so that you can review it on a regular basis. I recommend reviewing your exit plan quarterly or semi-annually and making updates to it as needed.
An exit plan sets a clear goal and also gives you a definitive trigger to execute an exit from your business.
The next thing you will need to do is develop a vision for your business and clearly communicate it throughout your organization. When many founders start a business, the first thing they want to do is sell. Believe me, I totally get that perspective because you have to eat and if you don't sell you are not going to be in business very long. However, selling without a vision for where you are going is a great way to grow yourself out of business.
Create a vision statement, communicate it throughout your organization, and hire people who believe in your vision and want to help you execute on it.
With an exit plan and vision in place, you should have a pretty clear picture of where you want to go. Now all you have to do is develop a plan on how to best get there. In the business world, this is called strategic planning.
I could write an entire blog post series on developing a strategic plan, but I will try and give you a brief summary. A strategic plan should include:
1. Vision, mission, and core values - What the company believes, how it operates, and what it is trying to accomplish.
2. Opportunity statement - Define in 3-4 clear sentences what your opportunity is, what you are trying to accomplish, and by when. Be specific with your time line, dollar amounts, and other measurable metrics.
3. SWOT analysis - An analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
4. Analysis of an organization - What resources do you have, what do you need, and by when?
5. Marketing and sales strategy - A specific strategy on how you will attract and nurture prospects and then convert them into customers.
6. Financial reports and projections - Past and current financial reports, projected financial reports (5+ years into the future), and key business metrics you need to monitor.
7. Overview of overall strategy - Wrapping the entire strategic plan up with a few paragraphs that summarize your overall strategy.
This is a really brief overview of a strategic plan. Your actual strategic plan will have many more detailed components, but I wanted to give you the 10,000 foot view.
Creating A Repeatable Process
Regardless of whether you are selling a product or a service, having a repeatable process in place is the key to scaling. If you think you are going to hire people to do a job and that they will do it exactly the way you would if given no direction or training, you are in for a huge reality check.
Consider the following example of two different businesses you are looking at possibly purchasing:
Company A has no documented processes in place.
Company B has a detailed manual or playbook of how the business works. This manual contains every single piece of information about the business. It explains how they find and train employees. It describes how the operations of the business work and what tools they use. It explains the marketing and sales strategy and process in great detail.
Which business would you be willing to pay more for? I rest my case.
Scaling a business is all about creating a repeatable process that can be taught to anyone. A documented process makes your company more valuable to a potential buyer.
Business Can't Rely On Specific People
If your business needs you in order to grow or even to exist, then you are screwed. If your business can't run without you, it is essentially worthless, or at least worth much less to a potential buyer.
I always tell small business owners to build their businesses so that the business can run without them. If you walk outside and get hit by a bus, it should have no effect on your business.
Setting up your business to run without you is what makes your eventual exit possible.
This article is all about finishing a business, which we can also refer to as execution. The majority of people suck at executing. Anybody can generate an idea for a business, but few will actually pursue the idea. The same goes for finishing a business; anyone can plan to finish (or exit) the business, but few can execute.
Up until this point, we have talked about planning to finish your business. Your plan is nothing unless you execute on it. The early stage exit planning and constant iteration of that plan makes it clear that, when the time is right to finish your business, all that is left to do is execute on that plan.
Planning is a waste of time if you don't execute.
Have you ever successfully finished or exited a business? What advice do you have?
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