Like most people, I snoop on a business when deciding whether to do business with them. In the digital age, it’s what we all do. And if you’re like me, as supported by the Google Analytics of my own website, the first place you go after the home page is the “About Us” page. You want to know who’s behind the brand.
The interesting thing about selling businesses is that what you want to see on the “About Us” section of a business’ website is different than what you want to see when you’re a prospective client of the business.
Yes, the customer wants to know who is running this place. He/she wants to see the faces of the decision makers, and feel a connection with the owner. It’s innate to want to connect with the person behind the business, to feel that the owner is engaged and putting him or herself out there; taking ownership of the product.
But the business broker is looking for something else.
Business brokers know that strong and transferable businesses can deliver a product or service without the owner’s direct involvement, and that the more the owner is involved, the less transferable the business is.
To use an extreme example, if you were to walk into a Starbucks and Howard Schultz was behind the counter ready to take your order, you would hope that it’s a publicity stunt; because any other reality would be extremely bad for Starbucks if the owner is needed to make the java.
When an owner approaches me to sell a business, I go to their website and check out the “About Us” section, and I’m relieved when I can’t find them. Even if it’s just smoke and mirrors, a firm that looks bigger, feels like a big corporate outfit, or appears independent of its ownership will be better received by prospective buyers because they won’t have to worry if they don’t look like the current owner, don’t have the relationships the current owner has, or don’t have the family/background/history… that the current face of the company has. These are all factors that contribute to what financial analysts consider a “Discount for Lack of Marketability.”
So if you are a small business owner and you happen to be updating your website, remember that it’s not all “About Us.” It’s great to have a big team, and you want to showcase them. But when it comes to yourself, be OK with putting your face at the bottom of the list, maybe even after the company dog. If your goal for your firm are to have options for exit, you shouldn’t be front and center.