Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to sell yourself on it. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one-of-a-kind. Just look around you: how many clothing retailers, hardware stores, air conditioning installers and electricians are truly unique?
The key to effective selling in this situation is what advertising and marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogenous competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.
Pinpointing your USP requires some hard soul-searching and creativity. One way to start is to analyse how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ ads and marketing messages. If you analyse what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.
For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, always used to say he sold hope, not make-up. Some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. @Home sells luxury, while Mr Price sells bargains.
Each of these is an example of a company that has found a USP “peg” on which to hang its marketing strategy. A business can peg its USP on product characteristics, price structure, placement strategy (location and distribution) or promotional strategy. These are what marketers call the “four Ps” of marketing. They are manipulated to give a business a market position that sets it apart from the competition.
Sometimes a company focuses on one particular “peg”, which also drives the strategy in other areas. A classic example is hosiery. Back in an era when hosiery was sold primarily in department stores, one US company opened a new distribution channel for hosiery sales. The idea: since hosiery was a consumer staple, why not sell it where other staples were sold – in grocery stores?
That placement strategy then drove the company’s selection of product packaging (a plastic egg) so the pantyhose did not seem incongruent in the supermarket. And because the product didn’t have to be pressed and wrapped in tissue and boxes, it could be priced lower than other brands.
Here’s how to uncover your USP and use it to power up your sales:
1. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
Too often, entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or service and forget that it is the customer’s needs, not their own, that they must satisfy. Step back from your daily operations and carefully scrutinise what your customers really want. Suppose you own a pizza parlour. Sure, customers come into your pizza place for food. But is food all they want? What could make them come back again and again and ignore your competition? The answer might be quality, convenience, reliability, friendliness, cleanliness, courtesy or customer service.
Remember, price is never the only reason people buy. If your competition is beating you on pricing because they are larger, you have to find another sales feature that addresses the customer’s needs and then build your sales and promotional efforts around that feature.
2. Know what motivates your customers’ behaviour and buying decisions.
Effective marketing requires you to be an amateur psychologist. You need to know what drives and motivates customers. Go beyond the traditional customer demographics, such as age, gender, race, income and geographic location, that most businesses collect to analyse their sales trends. For our pizza shop example, it is not enough to know that 75 percent of your customers are in the 18 to 25 age range. You need to look at their motives for buying pizza – taste, peer pressure, convenience and so on.
Cosmetics and liquor companies are great examples of industries that know the value of psychologically oriented promotion. People buy these products based on their desires (for pretty women, luxury, glamour and so on), not on their needs.
3. Uncover the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s.
As your business grows, you’ll be able to ask your best source of information: your customers. For example, the pizza entrepreneur could ask them why they like his pizza over others, plus ask them to rate the importance of the features he offers, such as taste, size, ingredients, atmosphere and service. You will be surprised how honest people are when you ask how you can improve your service.
If your business is just starting out, you won’t have a lot of customers to ask yet, so “shop” your competition instead. Many retailers routinely drop into their competitors’ stores to see what and how they are selling. If you’re really brave, try asking a few of the customers after they leave the premises what they like and dislike about the competitors’ products and services.
Once you have gone through this three-step market intelligence process, you need to take the next, and hardest, step: clearing your mind of any preconceived ideas about your product or service and being brutally honest. What features of your business jump out at you as something that sets you apart? What can you promote that will make customers want to patronise your business? How can you position your business to highlight your USP?
Don’t get discouraged. Successful business ownership is not about having a unique product or service; it’s about making your product stand out – even in a market filled with similar items.
When Do You Know It’s Time To Sell Your Business
Five telling signs.
Even though running your own business gives you many freedoms, everyone still has those days or even weeks of wondering, “Shall I stay or shall I go?” Sometimes this thought becomes persistent instead of a passing phase – and for your own financial future and that of your business, you need to be able to recognise signals that mean the right moment has come to consider selling your business.
This is never an easy decision, especially as the amount of stress and constant pressure that a business owner contends with will play havoc with the decision-making process.
Having engaged with hundreds of business owners over the years, we see the five most solid signals that prompt them to sell are:
This is the single most common factor influencing the decision to sell a business. Whatever age you have chosen as your retirement goal, if you are approaching this then give yourself an opportunity to assess both the benefits and challenges of having your own business.
Have you considered an exit strategy, such as hiring someone else to run the business instead of you? Or, as in many cases, does your business represents your most valuable asset? In this case, it would need to be cashed out at some stage as this would represent your pension. Selling your business successfully and fetching maximum value could well be critical to ensure that your retirement is well supported by financial surplus.
2. Lifestyle Change
Growing a business can be an infinite journey. Have you reached your goals with this business and do you have the appetite for the ‘next chapter’? Or do you want to move off into a completely new business direction? Perhaps you would prefer to follow a passion of yours or spend extra time with your family, investing more time in yourself and them to counter the massive investment of time and energy that you have made over the years.
3. You are ‘gatvol’
We often underestimate what it takes to live life as an entrepreneur and the amount of compounded pressure we ‘on-board’ over the years. Whether it is customers, suppliers, staff or the banks, you know this stress has reached a decisive, even destructive level if you can’t shrug it off and instead you find yourself repeatedly saying, ‘Enough is enough!’
4. Building a business versus running a business
Go back to the beginning of when you started your business. Do you remember the passion, fire and motivation that drove you to achieving your first sale? How about that sense of achievement as you hit the subsequent milestones? All that represented the very DNA that you have as an entrepreneur – but as your business grew, so did everyone and everything you need manage on a daily basis. Do you find yourself being more of a human resources manager than that entrepreneur with that fire in your belly? Is running a business enough to motivate you and drive your core DNA?
Perhaps this is the signal for you to sell the larger business that you have developed to someone with the skills and interest in the administration it requires. Selling your business would free you up to apply your entrepreneurial skills in a new context.
5. You can’t do it on your own
In many cases you may still have time and energy to keep growing your business – but you may recognise that you are not willing and able to do this yourself. Sometimes you would appreciate a ‘big brother’ who can share the load. This could equate to a partner injecting money into your business, taking on some of your risk or opening up new opportunities for you and your business. This has become more and more prevalent in South Africa with the BEE codes and pressure on certain industries. Bringing on the right strategic partner to help you navigate uncharted waters is a critical step to take in your eventual exit strategy.
Decoding the signals that suggest it might be time to sell all or part of your business means that you will make the right decisions to stay or go based on sound reasoning. Remember that this is one of the few times in your life that you truly get ‘one shot’ to get it right.
Selling Your Business? How To Exit In Style
Gary Palmer, CEO of Paragon Lending Solutions runs through some practical requirements to realise the best value possible when selling all, or part of your business.
Preparing to sell a business you have put years of work into, or even built from scratch, can a be a daunting prospect. Aligning the disconnect between what you think it’s worth versus what a buyer is prepared to pay is just one of the challenges.
Act like you’re on the market – all the time
Like the Scout’s motto says: Be Prepared. A business owner needs to make sure their business is sale-ready at all times. Not only will this save a heap of administration when you do want to sell, but also means that, should an excellent offer land on your desk, your business financials and compliance issues are well in hand.
A business must be able to show a clean set of audited financials as well as up-to-date management accounts. Your accountant will be able to help get these in order if they aren’t already.
Make sure you aren’t running personal expenses through your business. This can be a challenge for some small businesses. Despite the allure of minimising taxes by running private expenses through the company books, it poses significant risk when preparing clean financials.
Prepare a due diligence pack. This can be provided by your auditor or financier and will include a list of your current contracts, VAT and SARS clearance certificates and defendable cashflow projections. Having all the documents required for a due diligence in one place that is easily accessible will go a long way to cutting down on the time it will take your prospective buyer to assess the company’s value and future potential.
It’s also important to remember that assembling all the necessary documentation takes time. It’s better to begin the process well ahead of when it will be needed. It’s also quite possible that a potential buyer may put a premium on the buying price if they know they are walking into a business which is clean, up to date and has no unexpected auditing or compliance skeletons in the closet.
Consider all the angles
Business owners opt to sell their business, or part of their business, for any number of reasons. This could be in order to retire and live off the proceeds, or because they want to raise money for another business opportunity. It’s important for owners to remember that there are associated expenses and even delays that they should plan for.
Before any negotiation begins, a business owner will need to find the right buyer. There are a number of brokers and financial service companies who can help source qualified potential buyers and, unless you have an offer on the table, it is a good idea to work with a third party to get line up a few credible potential buyers.
Once the deal has been negotiated and you have settled on the price, you must factor in Capital Gains tax. It is sensible to have a good idea of this before negotiations begin and to work out your asking price accordingly. Other expenses may also impact what you walk away with, including professional fees for your lawyer, auditor and other consultants with whom you have worked during the sale. You should also plan for delays due to valuation debates and requests for supporting documentation which may take time.
Finally, it is always a good idea to consider whether you want to walk away immediately after the sale. Many business owners choose to stay on in operations, and by doing so can negotiate a more favourable price with earn-outs attached to the sale price. After all, you are the person who knows the business best and has a relationship with your clients – and this insight comes with a value attached.
Most importantly, if you are planning to sell your business, it’s a good idea to have advisors and partners who have been through the process many times and are able to help you navigate what may be unchartered waters for the first-time seller.
When Is The Right Time To Sell Your Business?
Of the 6 most common questions I get asked on a regular basis, when is the right time to sell is by far the most common. The mergers and acquisitions game is part art, part science and a whole lot of elbow grease.
Your personal context
- How old are you?
- How much energy do you have left in your tank?
- Have you extracted value out of the business already?
- Have you managed to de-risk yourself by investing in equivalent assets outside of your business?
Only you can answer these questions, but they will go a long way in providing clarity for you and your ability to take the first step to selling your business?
Is your business ready to sell?
If I had R100 for every time someone had said to me that they want to wait another twelve months before they sell, I would have accumulated a substantial amount of money. Despite what the majority of advisors say, there is very often no real need to ‘dress up’ your business for sale.
Don’t get me wrong. You need a going concern that delivers solid returns to catch the eye of the right acquirer. However, who are you dressing your business up for?
If you do this properly, you will have more than one buyer at the table. Chances are, what is attractive to one buyer won’t necessarily be attractive to someone else. It is impossible to be all things to all acquirers.
You say you are just 12 months away….
12 Months is a magical number. Business owners always seem to be 12 months away from being ready to sell their business. Maybe it’s that big contract you are hoping to land. Perhaps you want to put in a new IT system. There will always be something.
Speaking from experience, I had a client that was going to wait, but instead committed to the process. Had they waited 12 months they would have been hit with ‘Nene-gate’, Brexit and Trump all in a 12-month period! There is no way that anyone could have anticipated a trifecta like that. I had another client that put in a new SAP system in those 12 months and the acquirer used Oracle!
You will reach the 12 month point anyway…
With the time that it takes to complete a successful transaction there is a good chance that you will cross that threshold of that big contract that you were hoping to land, putting that succession plan in or whatever the reason was that you wanted to delay the process for.
Something else that generally ruffles a few feathers, is that selling the (proven) potential generally fetches a far greater value than the past. This in itself is a whole other topic, but in the context of when is the right time to go to market, always keep this factor front of mind.
What is happening in the economy and your industry?
We are fortunate to have seen an increased sentiment in, and around, the South African economy in 2018. There is an uptick in international interest, but you know what the reality is, it never really took a major dive. The reason being that irrespective of the economy or your industry, good businesses sell. Some of my best deals happened in 2016 when the economy was under severe pressure.
Remember that when times are tough, acquirers need to buy good businesses to grow, as their own profit and be under pressure. When the economy and your industry is doing well, acquires will buy as they have excess cash to invest and will have a more bullish outlook on taking risk in their investments.
Truth is….there is no perfect time
The one thing that I have learnt over the past few years is that one can theorise for months trying to think of endless ways to increase the value of your business. Without climbing into the market and actually determining what your reality is, you will keep delaying your decision to take your business to market.
There is only one real hurdle that needs to be overcome, and that is you. If it is any consolation you will never be 100% ready. What have you got to lose? If you go to market and, worst case scenario, you don’t sell, you still have a great business to run and grow.
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