It’s Been A Great Job But A Lousy Career

I got to talking with a guy about his job, he works for a major tech company, putting together  financing packages for multi-million-dollar purchases (this means he sells financing). His company was acquired about 10 years ago and that’s what led to his statement that’s the title of this memo.

He likes what he does but doesn’t love it. He’s at an age where changing jobs would be tough, and he’s not treated with respect. He told me he hasn’t had a week off in eight years and on a four-day weekend trip to New Orleans he spent most of Thursday and Friday (vacation days) putting out (work) fires.

It’s people like this, usually 10-20 years younger than this person, that allow me to have my business. They get fed up the corporate world and look to escape. When the escape pod is buying a business, that’s where I can help.

It’s also when a business owner says he or she wants to move from X to Y. Y may be a new product, new service, or new geographic area. The options are start a new division or buy a business with said product line or new territory, which is where my book Growth By Acquisition Makes Dollars and Sense comes into play.

Life is too short to have a lousy career. It’s why entrepreneurship is popular.

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime double so.” Douglas Adams

Tax Law Confusion

As I write this I have just sent my CPA a note asking if they’re sending out a summary of the new tax law and how it affects small businesses. I’m not sure what I’ll get back. Not because of my CPA firm but because of the way the tax law was sloppily slapped together (probably with a lot of lobbyist input).

On my table are four articles from the Wall Street Journal with the following titles:

  • Apple set to pay big tax bill, touts U.S. spending
  • The one tax change that really bites businesses
  • Tax law to drive savings, buybacks
  • Some small business to miss tax break

While a tax layman I think I’m sharp enough to draw some conclusions from all I’ve read about this. One is if it’s a large corporation the odds are it will get a tax break. If you’re a small business, an LBO specialist, or emerging company (especially with a lot of debt) you don’t know what’s in store for you.

A Florida accountant who works with entrepreneurs said (in the last WSJ article listed), “My head is spinning. I have been doing this for decades and even I don’t feel comfortable.” Marshall Goldsmith, noted coach and author (What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and many more books) was quoted about taking the new pass-through entity deduction saying, “My accountant is not sure how this impacts me. I guess my answer is, ‘I don’t know.’”

Bottom line, don’t run your business like the government does tax laws. Take your time, pay attention, and do things right the first time.

“Every new year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a longline of proven criminals.” Ogden Nash

Employee Lesson From Sports

In early January the Seattle Times broke a story saying the Green Bay Packers asked the Seattle Seahawks permission to interview Seahawks general manager John Schneider for the GM job in Green Bay.

The Seahawks refused permission and Schneider supposedly wanted to interview for (and wanted) the job. The Times reported NFL rules say permission can be denied if it’s a lateral move but can’t be denied if it’s a promotion. It became a moot point Sunday when the Packers filled the position.

I doubt this will have any effect on any of the parties moving forward but things like this can be sticky situations. Many years ago a client had an employee leave, they went to enforce a non-solicitation agreement, the customer said, “we don’t want to be in the middle so figure it out (without us).” What do you do? Run up legal bills, lose any chance with the customer, or let it go?

I remember another client who did everything right when hiring someone but the industry’s 800-pound gorilla put their legal department on it and the cost of winning wasn’t worth it.

What’s interesting about sports is it’s in the culture to groom people (primarily assistant coaches) for advancement, knowing the advancement will probably be with another team. There’s pride in seeing protégés move ahead, as it should be.

“Never take anyone’s advice.” John Banville

Integrity and Relationships

I was reading an interview with a noted Seattle real estate developer and when asked about what he learned from his first mentor he stated it was the value of relationships, and the value of integrity.
Pretty good lessons I’d say. It’s tough to do business without great relationships and integrity. Sure, people can make a lot of money with questionable ethics but, in my opinion, at some point it catches up with them.
As many people know, I preach the power of relationships to my clients in the buy-sell world. In small to mid-sized deals nobody buys from or sells to somebody they don’t like (or trust). When one client disagreed with me I pointed out how the seller gets along with the customers and employees and if the buyer and seller don’t get along how will the buyer keep the customers and employees, which are what is really being bought.

Make Yourself Dependent

We recently went out for dinner with some good friends and in our discussions the husband touched on how his customers tell him if he was to leave they don’t know what they’d do (he’s in sales of technical production equipment). In other words, he’s indispensable, at least in the short-term.

I often mention how business owners need to reduce and eliminate dependencies but there’s a flip side to it. Often we need to make ourselves a dependency. This can take many forms.

As described above, an employee with special skills, especially in small to lower middle market businesses, has job security. Not only is it expensive to replace someone, in today’s market it’s darn hard to find great people. Our friend has good job security.

When your company provides crucial services to your customers you’ve become a dependency to them. Without abusing it, it’s revenue security. It’s why repeat business and any “value-add” service is the top choice of business owners (and buyers).

On the other hand, if you are the reason one of your suppliers has customer concentration issues you have some leverage (as long as there are other suppliers). This one is easy to abuse. I remember in grad school learning about how Sears would become the highly-dominant customer of mid-sized businesses and use that to buy the company, and not at what the price would be if they weren’t so dominant.

While I “preach” about the evils of dependencies, if you’re the dependency it can be a good thing.

Walk Like a New Yorker

While in New York City earlier this year we had dinner with one of our former exchange students. Alex recently moved to the New York area from Ecuador and we talked about his adapting to the city, which he’s been to before but not to live.

We talked about the crowds and the pace and I said, “You have to learn to walk like a New Yorker.”

This is a metaphor for adapting to any circumstance in life or business. In my business, relationships are key to success for my clients and me. I like to say, “While cash is king, the queen is relationships and like in chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board.”

You don’t get the job you want if you can’t relate to the boss or hiring manager. I can’t get a client if we don’t relate and my clients can’t buy or sell a business if they can’t relate to people on the other side.

I recently heard from two owners who told me how important it was to sell their business to the right person. One specifically mentioned his loyal employees and how he wanted them to keep their jobs.

Everybody reading this relies on relationships to be successful so I’m preaching to the choir. So just in case you forgot….

“Sincerity is the key to success. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Groucho Marx

What Drives Business Sellers

I was recently asked if money was the top issue for business sellers (once they’re motivated to sell). My answer was it’s one of the top three, which are (in alphabetical order):

  • Employees
  • Legacy (including taking care of customers)
  • Money

Every owner/seller has different priorities, like we all do when it comes to business and life. There are reasons we stay at our job, leave our job (usually it’s the boss not the company), start, keep, buy, or sell a company.

It’s a rare business owner who doesn’t mention how important the employees keeping their jobs is to the deal. It’s why in all my books (including the upcoming, Company Growth by Acquisition Makes Dollars & Sense) have a diagram of the three-legged stool demonstrating how the buyer, seller, and the employees all want job retention but fear one of the other parties will kick a stool leg out.

Customers are almost as key. I’ve had owners tell me how they don’t want their competitors serving “my customers.” This is legacy. The business grows, the customers are happy, and the employees are happy.

Money is obviously important and at the same time I’ve worked on numerous deals where the seller sells for less (than they could have or less than other offers) because it’s the right buyer. The flip side also happens, buyers pay a little more because they know what they can do with the business and don’t want to lose the deal over money. As a private equity person told me years ago, “If we pay four times EBITDA and it doesn’t grow it’s a bad deal. If we pay seven times and it grows like we want it to, it’s a great deal.”

If you have any other important priorities for sellers let me know.

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


It’s All About Perspective

A friend told me how he visited Bozeman, MT and his brother-in-law complained about how (fast growing) Bozeman is becoming “too crowded.” One of my sons went to school in Bozeman, we’ve been there each of the last 8-10 summers, and, believe me, Bozeman is not at all that “crowded.”

It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? If you’re used to it taking five minutes to go across town and now it takes seven or eight you’re frustrated.

I find myself wondering about how some things that seem to change faster than we’re used to as we live in a time where change happens with more velocity than ever before. Social media is one area where it’s snuck up on traditional businesses.

Two years ago, I did a little here and a little there. Now, on the advice of PR and marketing friends, I have something going out daily (not all via the same mediums). People tell me about things they saw on LinkedIn, and posting good, solid content there is extremely important (which is why I ignore any posts with a picture of a motivated saying or similar; come on, show your expertise via content not your copy and paste abilities).

It’s unusual for me to meet someone who hasn’t seen my blog, videos, LinkedIn articles, Twitter feeds as well as the usual and customary, my website. I see a lot of other non-tech (traditional) small businesses emphasizing this also, because that’s where the customers and referral sources are.

On the flip side, my recent Getting the Deal Done Breakfast Conference had record attendance of about 180 people (high touch). Of course, all the marketing was electronic (high tech).

What Scares You?

On Halloween I asked: What’s scary to you? Only you can answer it but we’re not talking about eating too much candy tonight, ISIS, North Korea, Trump, Hillary, or anything similar.

What’s scary to a lot a people?

Business buyers: It’s the leap of faith they need to take to be in business. It’s understandable because business ownership is not for everybody. As I say in my book, Buying A Business That Makes You Rich, some people are like my mother, who taught college math and couldn’t imagine anything riskier than a school paycheck every month. Others groom themselves to take the plunge, and they love it.

Business sellers: Selling their baby is super-frightening. These owner’s put in so much time, effort, and love into it they can’t imagine someone else taking it over. Of course, these are the people who often are forced into selling (the three D’s, divorce, death, and disability corner them at some point) because they didn’t plan for and make an orderly exit.

Salespeople, advisors, and similar: Making phone calls. When teaching my class at the SBA on growing a consulting business I tell the story of one of our Partner On-Call franchisees who told me he’d stare at the phone for 10 minutes, finally pick it up, have a great call, and stare at it again for 10 minutes. His version of the move Ground Hog Day.

Salespeople, etc.: Asking for the order, because you just might hear no.

All of us: Doing the things we know we need to do. In other words, having the discipline to do things that aren’t much fun. Often because as in the prior two items, there’s risk.

So, put on a costume and scare the heck out of whichever things listed above frighten you. You’ll be glad you did.

“Living in the past is for cowards.” Mike Ditka


Preconceived Notions Are Dangerous

Regarding my upcoming book, Company Growth by Acquisition Makes Dollars & Sense, a good friend asked me why I bothered having a print edition, implying most book sales are now electronic. I answered it was because most of the sales for my two existing books are the print versions.

And, according to the Association of American Publishers, as recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, last year printed book sales grew by 4.5% while e-book sales declined by 17%. Maybe there’s a reason why Amazon is now opening brick and mortar stores. Could it be for all those printed books people are buying?

Preconceived notions can be dangerous. No, they’re usually dangerous.

  • I’ve heard people question why they should do a marketing action because, “It didn’t work for someone I know,” ignoring the fact it’s worked for most other people.
  • Business buyers constantly make judgments about target companies with only high-level information. I tell them to ask (about everything).
  • Salespeople wonder if they should call prospects, so they don’t.

This isn’t like fake news, it’s rushing to judgment, and because of it we make mistakes or miss out on opportunities.

“The other day I was thinking, ‘I just over-think things.’ And then I thought, ‘Do I though?’ ’’ Demetri Martin