Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at email@example.com and she’ll answer them here.
Q: I recently had to leave a company I co-founded and rejoin my old firm. It happened for a variety of reasons, but I wanted to see if you had any advice for a business-owner-turned employee?
A: Depending on how long you were running your own business, this could be quite an adjustment!
You say that you “had to” leave your old company. The fact that you’re framing your situation that way is a red flag and leaves me concerned that this transition could be rough.
Humans, as a general rule, don’t function particularly well when we feel trapped. If you’re focused on feeling like you’re back at the old firm because you had no other choice, it won’t be long before your resentment seeps out and starts affecting your colleagues, clients, family, and friends. Please don’t be that person.
Instead, focus on the choice you had in the matter — and you did. Really. There were a million different ways this could have gone. Ground yourself with reminders that you’re back at the old firm because you want to be. Write down all of the reasons you’re happy about it, including all of the ways you feel relief around not holding partner-level responsibilities. And commit to yourself that if you’ve given it your best for a few months and it’s not working out, that you’ll honor your own needs and find a better situation.
Q: I run a mail firm and am getting ready to sell my business. At this point, I’m just starting to explore that process, do you have any suggestions for how to get the highest price possible?
A: Business valuation is complex. Hire someone to help you (*ahem*).
Seriously, though. This is one of those situations in which trying to figure it out yourself could cost you millions, or tens of millions, of dollars in upside.
With that caveat out of the way, the general idea here is to create something “turnkey” – a business that can plug right into a larger business and provide immediate upside. Otherwise, what incentive do they have to buy your firm instead of just replicating everything you do in-house for themselves?
Here are some of the main things to be thinking about that add value to a service business like yours:
- Proprietary methodologies (or products): what do you do that can’t be easily replicated by every other mail firm in existence (or by your prospective buyers)?
- Leadership & other key staff: often deals of this size are “aquihires” – it’s easier for the bigger business to purchase access to your current talent than it would be for them to recruit that many talented people themselves.
- Brand equity: if you’ve spent years building a name for your firm and it’s widely recognized in the industry, that’s a huge point of value for a prospective buyer who is trying to expand into the political space.
When you’re ready to explore this idea in earnest, you know who to call.
Q: I want to be an entrepreneur, but have had a terrible time managing people. It’s just not for me. If I just have a sole-proprietor LLC, am I really running my own business? It’s a philosophical question at heart, but I’d like to get your perspective.
A: Yes! It’s just a specific kind of business. As a sole proprietor, you’ve created your own job that you’re totally in control of, and that’s rad! You have what we call a “lifestyle business” – a business designed to support you, that you have as long as you want to and will shut down whenever you’re ready to retire or transition into doing something else.
This is completely different from building a business to scale and eventually exit, but it’s still a business.
Q: What mental health/self care tips do you have for firm owners? Asking for a friend.
A: When you’re The Boss, the buck stops with you, and you’ll often find yourself putting in long hours to bat cleanup when your staff needs time off, holding space and doing emotional labor for upset employees, and taking stressful financial risks to keep things running. No wonder you’re exhausted!
This is where good boundaries come in to play. You’re The Boss, yes, but first you’re a human person with a life outside of work. You get to have nights and weekends and lunch breaks. You get to get paid. You get to call it when a meeting has gone on longer than you have the capacity to handle.
Consider the way you’re treating yourself now: the hours you work, the expectations you place on yourself, how often you let yourself eat, what you’re paying yourself. If you were your own employee, would you be happy with this situation? If you treated all of your employees the way you treat yourself, would you have a mutiny on your hands?
As a business owner, it’s easy to let work fires take priority in your life. After all, being able to swoop in and save everything is where you derive your sense of self-worth, am I right?
Stop and realize how screwed up that is. True fact: you’re inherently valuable just because you exist as a human being. Your entire business could burn to the ground tomorrow and it wouldn’t change that.
Value yourself as a human first, and then as a parent, child, sibling, friend, and then as a member of your team, and then as the boss.
Your first priorities are the things that keep your body functioning (food, water, sleep, exercise), and then the things that keep you going spiritually – whatever that means for you. After that, it’s your children if you have them, then your closest family members and friends. Only when all of those plates are spinning do you get to turn your attention to running your business.
It can be an adjustment at first. But when you get this in the right order, you’ll find that you naturally take better care of yourself. And that means that you’re living a happier, healthier life in accordance with your true values.