‘Built to Sell: Creating A Business…’ part one

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Built to Sell:
Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You
By John Warrillow
Published by Portfolio
ISBN: 9781591843979
Copyright © 2011 by John Warrillow

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According to John Warrillow, the number one mistake entrepreneurs make is to build a business that relies too heavily on them. Thus, when the time comes to sell, buyers aren’t confident that the company–even if it’s profitable–can stand on its own.

To illustrate this, Warrillow introduces us to a fictional small business owner named Alex who is struggling to sell his advertising agency. Alex turns to Ted, an entrepreneur and old family friend, who encourages Alex to pursue three criteria to make his business sellable:

* Teachable: focus on products and services that you can teach employees to deliver.

* Valuable: avoid price wars by specializing in doing one thing better than anyone else.

* Repeatable: generate recurring revenue by engineering products that customers have to repurchase often.


John Warrillow has started and exited four companies and is a sought-after speaker and angel investor. He is a regular contributor, writing about small business, for Inc.com and WSJ.com.



This book is about how to create a business that can thrive without you. Once your business can run without you, you’ll have a valuable sellable asset. I could have written this book as a step-by-step guide, filled with checklists and charts, but instead I chose to tell a story.

This is the story of an imaginary business owner named Alex Stapleton who wants to sell his business (in this case an advertising agency). The business is successful, and Alex has gained a loyal following of customers, but he has a problem. Since he has the most experience in his field, he does most of the selling for his company, and, not surprisingly, Alex’s customers all want him to personally oversee their projects.

Stretched thin and running from one fire to the next, Alex reaches a plateau and finds it impossible to get to the next level with his business. When he decides to sell, he meets with his old friend and successful entrepreneur Ted Gordon. The story unfolds as Ted teaches Alex how to turn his business into a sellable company.

While the story is fictional, Alex’s experiences are very real for many business owners. There are approximately twenty-three million businesses in the United States, and yet only a few hundred thousand are able to be sold each year. That means for every small business owner who creates a business that someone will buy, there are about a hundred businesses that do not sell. This book provides a framework and action plan for ensuring that you are among that desired 1 percent.

This story is not an autobiography. Alex and Ted are an amalgam of the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had over the fifteen years I have spent covering the small business market. My first exposure to the life of a business owner was as a floundering recent college grad when my parents took me to an awards show celebrating a group of successful entrepreneurs. I listened to their amazing life stories and decided to create a radio program to tell those stories. The radio feature was called “Today’s Entrepreneur,” and I interviewed a different entrepreneur every weekday for three years. I started an events business and a marketing shop, then spent twelve years building a research company designed to help enterprise companies target small businesses. We interviewed and surveyed more than ten thousand business owners each year in an effort to delve deep inside their heads. I was lucky enough to have had a handful of mentors who collectively make up the sage wisdom embodied in the character of Ted Gordon.

One of the most important things I learned from these mentors was that even though it’s sometimes hard to imagine that you’ll ever want to leave the company you worked so hard to build, there are many reasons for wanting to build a sellable business:

* Your company may be your best shot at a comfortable retirement.

* You may want to start another business.

* You may need cash to deal with a personal financial matter. You may want more time for yourself.

* You may want to sleep better at night knowing that you “could” sell your business if you wanted to or needed to.

Of course, this is just a sampling, but no matter what is motivating you to create a business that could be sold, I hope you find the story of Alex and Ted inspiring and helpful.

Please stay in touch by joining the community of business owners who are creating businesses that can thrive without them at www.BuiltToSell.com.

John Warrillow
Twitter: @JohnWarrillow
Weekly blog updates: BuiltToSell.com/blog


A Company in Chaos

Alex Stapleton wheeled the Range Rover into the parking lot of MNY Bank. He grabbed his portfolio from the backseat and sprinted to the doors. A quick check of his watch made it official: 9:06 a.m. He was late—again.

As a regular visitor, Alex’s name was on the list at reception, and the security guard waved him in. He found an open elevator and hit the button for the eighteenth floor. He took his first full breath of air since leaving his office.

As soon as the doors opened, Alex sprinted down the hallway and straight into the boardroom where he always conducted meetings at MNY Bank. His client, John Stevens, was waiting for him, looking testy. “Sorry I’m late, John. Traffic was crazy for a Friday and—”

“Did you bring the mock-ups?” John asked impatiently.

John had worked at the bank for seven years. He’d landed a job as an account manager straight out of business school and spent a few years lending money to small businesses before getting a job in marketing at the bank’s head office. Pudgy and prematurely bald, he seemed angry at life, and even though he had no formal training in marketing, he insisted on directing every detail of Alex’s work.”

part two of ‘Built to Sell’ will appear here tomorrow

About Dawn Montgomery

Dawn Montgomery doesn't believe in boxes. In 2009 she gained access to the hidden job market by connecting with commuters on the GO train, receiving coverage from The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Hamilton Spectator, plus interviews with Canada AM, CHML 900 and That Channel; however, this was not the first example of her "box?...what box?" thinking. On arrival as an immigrant to Canada the anticipated job and accommodation were no longer available, so she sourced another opportunity and, seven days later, with suitcase of heels and coordinating bags, drove 1804k to the logging and mining community of Ear Falls (pop. 1500) Ontario; it was January, the journey took five days, she stayed two years...the path less travelled is a familiar one!
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