When I wrote my last book, Tandem Leadership: How Your #2 Can Make You #1, it was with the intention to help entrepreneurs and business owners be more successful in adding that first “#2” or “second-in-command” to their team. Successfully adding that first key person to share the journey can be pivotal, and the impact felt for years to come. At the beginning of your business you may need someone to help you deal with the daily challenges of a start-up, someone who shares the will to succeed and enjoys the thrill of navigating uncharted waters. It is often at this crossroads that we have to confront our weaknesses and understand that it is no longer advantageous to us or our businesses to go it alone. Implemented correctly, an intentional strategy of opening our businesses to the right #2 gives us added momentum that moves us more quickly toward our chosen destination.
While Tandem Leadership focused on the early stages of an entrepreneur’s journey, this experience of coming up against a plateau or a wall and the need to make executive team changes repeats itself throughout the lifecycle of a business. I was surprised by the number of seasoned business owners who found the Tandem Leadership model to be helpful, even though they were well past their own business start-up. For some it was remembering the fits and starts of finding the right pairing, and for others it was the pain of knowing that the person who helped them achieve their current success was no longer suited to continue on the rest of the journey. But one thing stood out with many of these journeyman entrepreneurs: they had an eye on the future and were looking for someone to accompany them to the last phase of business ownership – successfully preparing the business for sale or a transition to the next generation.
Many of the sensational entrepreneurial success stories we read and hear about center on the whiz kid with an idea or technology or app launching a business to a multimillion- (or even multibillion) dollar valuation in seemingly a few short years. Indeed the likes of Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), and Sara Blakely (Spanx), just to name a few, make it seem like this is the norm instead of the exception. It might surprise you to learn that the average age of US business owners is actually 50.7 years old. Indeed, our “average business owner” could easily be the parent of the under-30 founders of tech darlings such as Snapchat and Stripe whose combined net worth is near $10 billion dollars!
But as Bo Burlingham reminds us in his book, Finish Big, “sooner or later, all entrepreneurs leave their businesses, and all businesses are sold, given away, or liquidated.”
In Changing Lanes we meet our fictional hero, Sara Berry. Successful by the most basic business measures –great products, a profitable business, loyal customers and employees – she has owned her business for nearly 20 years. Having faced some recent personal and professional challenges, she realizes that what got her here in her business may not help her to the finish in the way she had once thought. With the return and help of Bill McEntire from Tandem Leadership, Sara is able to clarify the challenges and opportunities before her. Knowing that Sara will need to consider a company future that does not include her at the helm, she and Bill craft a plan to help Sara ensure a meaningful return on investment for her life’s work as well as assure her a life beyond her business.
Ultimately, “entrepreneur” is a code name for “freedom.” Enjoying your business and your life, being able to sell your business when and to whom you’d like for the amount you dream of – all represent the ultimate freedom for most owners as they anticipate exiting their business. Whether you’re at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey or nearing the finish, I hope Sara’s story and Changing Lanes will give you a blueprint for your own “freedom path.”
After all, when you started your business you had big dreams.
Why should the finish be any different?
This is an excerpt from my new book, Changing Lanes: The Owner’s Guide to a Successful Exit. It will be available on Amazon Kindle on April 6th.