Is Your Company Built to Sell?

Last Updated Aug 11, 2010 1:35 PM EDT

The best way to grow a healthy, sustainable business is to build it so that you can easily sell it, says John Warrillow, author of Built to Sell: Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell. It may seem counterintuitive, but consider that the discipline of creating a sellable company has inherent value - whether or not your immediate plans involve an exit strategy. Here are Warrillow's three steps for making sure your company is built to sell:
Find a product or service that's scalable. "Scalable products and services have three things in common," says Warrillow. "They're teachable, they're valuable, and they're repeatable." He uses The School Photography Company in Banbury, England as an example. "They figured out a system to get kids in an auditorium and back in the classroom in eight minutes," he says. That's clearly valuable to headmasters; it's teachable to even entry-level employees because you don't need to be Annie Leibovitz to take a school photo; and it's repeatable because school photos are taken every year. Warrillow stresses that the most important of these three characteristics is the repeatable nature of the product or service. "Buyers need to understand if the value is dependent on the owner or inherent in company," he says.

Fire yourself as the rainmaker. "Peter Drucker said that CEOs should spend their time on two things -- sales and marketing and product innovation," says Warrillow. "That works if your goal is to maximize profitability, but wrong if you want to sell your company." Instead, he says, owners should pass on to key employees the two functions that are most important to building the company. So fire yourself as the product guru and the chief rainmaker. Invest time and money to train your best and brightest to take on those roles. But be prepared to take a short term hit on profitability as they're getting up to speed.

Take a long vacation. That's right! You need to make absolutely sure that the systems you've created are sustainable in your absence. "If your business runs into a rocky period while you're gone, you'll know where the problems are," says Warrillow. Involve employees in tweaking the trouble spots. When you think you've got it right, hit the road again. "As long as you've got a hub and spoke model, everything is dependent on the owner," says Warrillow. "Having a sellable company is enormously freeing."

Is your company built to sell? If so, tell us how you did it.

For Sale image by Flickr user Ian Muttoo, CC 2.0