Good Job. You Just Got Acquired. Now What?
There's a weekly newsletter that comes out every Sunday. I've gotten attached to it. It's by Paul Jarvis. I got hooked when he gave me permission to hate big, loud, superficial networking events. Actually I got hooked because this is the url to the blog post about ditching big, loud, superficial networking events: https://pjrvs.com/a/shit.
This Sunday Paul wrote this:
"I imagine someone else doing what I think I can't do, seeing what happens when they do it and thinking about how much it benefitted them. Then, I think through the same scenario, but with me in it." — Paul Jarvis
As I read the above I was reminded about one of my favorite mental exercises. I like to call it, Pretend Like You Were Acquired. In this exercise you imagine your exit strategy. You imagine how annoyed and sick of running your business you are. Clients aren't paying or they don't exist. Team mates are eating each other. Code is breaking and you have to fix it for free. You know what I mean. So you are ready to sell your business. Someone buys it. You make a chunk of change and you get to go away. Then two years later you read online that some company with your old company's name is making 20 times the revenue it did when you ran it. Now you look like a bonehead because when you find out what the new owners did to turn your company around, you realize you could have done all the same stuff AND kept the company.
You're not likely to get acquired. But you can still get a lot out of imaging what it would be like. An acquiring company buys another one for two reasons useful to this exercise. First, they acquire established and clearly evident value. You have built up a reputation for excellence in some specific thing or set of things. You are known. You have a client list. The value is clear, present and durable. What is it? That's the point of the exercise. What is it about you that was so valuable and obvious that it had to be acquired rather than gradually built? Answering this question answers many of your first order marketing questions. The killer marketing message is embedded in this question. What is your most obvious and fundamental value?
Second, an acquiring company does not buy you only for your current value, they buy you for what you can become. This is the juicy one. It's my favorite because it almost instantly pulls me out of burnout. I like to imagine the day after the papers were signed; what kind of a person takes charge during the transition conference call? What kinds of orders does she or he start barking? In fact, what is that person's management style? Maybe it's really smooth and graceful, totally different from you, totally grown up. What sorts of obvious things does this person see as obvious priorities?
You were acquired because you could be turned into more. But why couldn't you turn you into more? Go learn that marketing stuff you've been avoiding all these years. You think you're above it. But the company that just acquired you appears to be shameless in their willingness to promote the company you built with your bare hands but were too shy to talk about. Why couldn't you turn a sales team loose on the world? Your acquirer is. They have like seven people flying around the country signing deals for your team. What stopped you from doing that?
The big, American, 'giant is better' mentality is not necessarily the direction the acquisition went either. You can imagine someone buying your business because they see how much it could be streamlined and turned into a nice, steady cash machine. It doesn't have to grow excessively year over year. It can be perfectly admirable if it brings in plenty of nice lifestyle money. Maybe the new owner streamlined things so well that she only shows up to work three hours a week. She trains for the Ironman the rest of the time; or maybe plays with her kids all day.
You feel stuck in your own skin and you are ready to sell out. Fine. Sell out. Sell out to yourself. Buy your company from yourself and turn it around.