First, there are buyers for any business that is well-run and profitable. Second, if it is well-run, the business will be easier for you to continue to operate it, requiring less of your time (or worry) to keep it going.
Fix 'Er UpBefore considering any course of action, you must look closely at the business and ask yourself some important questions. From my experience, almost no business is completely ready to sell without some "fix up." This is no different than selling a car or truck - you would want to, at least, clean it thoroughly before trying to sell it. And if you wanted to maximize what you received for it you would probably have it professionally detailed so it looks as good as it can. Those extra steps you would take to clean and fix a vehicle are also available for your business. Even if you operate a successful, profitable business there are ways to increase its value.
As long as we are talking about vehicles, let me address your trucks first. Many businesses neglect their trucks - possibly thinking that keeping them in good repair and cosmetically attractive won't pay off, or that it is a waste of money. Not true.
Remember, your customers' first impression of your business is often influenced by the appearance of your trucks. If they are in good condition and kept clean and have the look of a well-maintained truck, most likely, customers will think your business is one that will provide quality professional services. Their trust of your technicians will be higher than if your people arrived in a dirty or dented truck - regardless of the quality of work the technician may be capable of performing.
Customers are usually not able to technically evaluate the work performed or the technician's ability to do a good job. Instead, they look at whatever data they can gather to determine how the business is run or way the business keeps its equipment in a good state of repair. It just happens that the appearance of your trucks (and your technicians) is an easy tool to measure those criteria.
In a similar fashion, any potential buyer of the business would do the same thing. They want to know how well you maintain your equipment. In addition, they know that the value of the goodwill of the business - one of the significant assets you have to sell - will be affected by the customer's first impression. They have to rely on that customer's willingness and likelihood of calling your business in the future for a return on their investment. So keep your trucks looking sharp.
Another area that catches potential buyers' attention is the effective use of your money in the business. For example, if you have a substantial amount of money tied up in inventory that is not required to efficiently run the business, you are wasting resources that could be used for other purposes.
Get rid of out-of-date inventory and equipment. You know you won't use it, so sell it or take it back to the supply house if you can get something back for it. (Pay the restocking charge; you'll still be further ahead in the long run to get your money out of it.) Dead inventory only costs you money, so clear it out. If nothing else, you'll free up some space for other equipment and materials.
A potential purchaser will view useless inventory as something with no value, so they won't want to pay anything for it. Worse yet, they will look at the decision to keep that inventory as a weak management decision for keeping it around. You lose on both counts.
TrainingTraining employees is an expense item on your company's profit and loss statement, just like an equipment purchase would be. Unfortunately, some service business owners can see the value of the equipment much more readily than the value of the cost of training employees how to do their job the right way. It seems like an easy expense to skip. However, training is one of those investments that doesn't always show its value immediately - or even in a tangible way.
For example, how can you calculate the value of a trained technician diagnosing and pricing jobs properly, so the customers agree to the repair work, compared to a technician who gets some jobs but loses others? You would have to conduct a comprehensive survey or study to prove the training actually paid off. Even then it may be difficult to document each incident in terms of return on investment. However, most of us would agree that training does pay off in the long run.
A knowledgeable buyer would be able to identify the level of training your employees had. They would also allocate a portion of the value of the business to that skill level, knowing that better trained employees will, most likely, produce better work.
For technicians it's not just technical training that is needed. Of course, you need technically competent employees performing service work in your customers' homes, but there are other areas on which to focus training. Trying to compete with service businesses that offer the best in customer service is difficult or impossible without technicians who are trained in the latest customer service techniques. Are they able to show the customer a firm, flat rate price before any work is begun? Do they know how to search for legitimate add-on work while they are in the customer's home? Can they sell service agreements? If they can't, they need more training.
Training should not be limited to your technicians. Before your technicians see customers, your customer service people and call-takers speak to them. What they say and how they handle the calls can make a significant difference in the percentage of service appointments scheduled. In fact, call-taking is, typically, one of the weakest areas in the businesses we have seen and worked with. Have someone call your business sometime and get some feedback on what your call-takers say. You might be surprised.
Using scripts for call-taking alone will improve your call-takers' results - allowing them to process more calls and increase the number of customers who agree to the work when the technician arrives. The ability of call takers to redirect price inquiries is another indication of their level of training and skill. Buyers know to look for practices that show you have a trained workforce. Plus, the results of the training will show up on the bottom line of the financial statements in the form of profits. That will benefit you whether or not you sell.
Your training program need not be limited to your employees. Managers can use training too. Keeping up with the latest management techniques will pay off. I have discovered that too many service business owners work in the business, instead of on the business, meaning they are doing the day-to-day work required, but not looking ahead and planning or setting up systems for the business to run more efficiently.
For example, what services will be offered? What markets and customer bases will your business go after? What can be done to boost margins? Without systems in place, any potential buyer of your business would be discouraged from offering an attractive purchase price because they would either need you to remain in the business to keep it running - or be forced to set up systems in the business themselves.
One advantage of training managers goes beyond increasing the efficiency of the management of the business. What I am talking about is the service business owner's ability to train someone to replace them. Whether a buyer of the business takes it over or your train a person to run the business, you may be able to accomplish your goal - leave before you get burned out - whether you sell the business or not.
Actually, training a manager might be a very effective way to meet your objective of making sure you get your money out of the business. A buyer is going to have to have someone run it anyway. Why not have a manager in place before you sell?
Now is a good time to start detailing your business. You can think of many more fix-up ideas yourself, so don't delay. The sales season is always here.