Laurie Barkman is an M&A advisor and the former CEO of a $100 million revenue company that was sold to a Fortune 50 business. She now guides business owners as an M&A intermediary, facilitating both sell-side and buy-side transactions.
Laurie is a dynamic speaker who has consulted, advised, and presented to hundreds of CEOs and business owners. She is the author of The Business Transition Handbook: How To Avoid Succession Pitfalls and Create Valuable Exit Options and is the host of the award-winning podcast, Succession Stories.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- How Laurie Barkman became an M&A advisor
- The benefits of preparing a business to sell
- Laurie shares her succession and exit planning process
- How to avoid regrets after selling a business
- Laurie’s objectives for her book and podcast
- The need for legacy planning
- How intellectual property promotes business transferability
In this episode…
When planning to exit a business, the first step is to create clearly defined goals. You need to assess your current business environment and practices including your finances, record keeping, and your business’ worth.
Taking this into consideration, succession planning should start early to ensure a smooth transition out of a business. Working with experienced M&A experts and advisors can help you prepare for a successful exit. A strategic transition plan aligned with your goals will help you avoid the common succession pitfalls.
In this episode of the Innovations and Breakthroughs Podcast, Rich Goldstein is joined by Laurie Barkman, an M&A advisor, about succession planning best practices. They discuss Laurie’s exit planning process, how to avoid regrets after selling a business, and how intellectual property promotes business transferability.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Goldstein Patent Law
- The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent by Rich Goldstein
- Laurie Barkman’s website
- Laurie Barkman on LinkedIn
- Succession Stories Podcast
- The Business Transition Handbook: How To Avoid Succession Pitfalls and Create Valuable Exit Options by Laurie Barkman
- SMS ‘Transition’ to 762-320-2826
- Business Transition Assessments
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to https://goldsteinpatentlaw.com/. They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process.
You can email their team at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’
Welcome to Innovations and Breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and perspiration, and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, Rich Goldstein.
Rich Goldstein here, hosts of the Innovations and Breakthroughs podcast, where I feature top leaders in the path they took to create change. Past guests include Ryan Deis, Joe Polish, and Jason Flatland. This episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein Patent Law, where we help you to protect your ideas and products. We’ve advised and obtain patents for thousands of companies over the past 29 years. So if you’re a company that has software, a product, or design you want protected, go to goldstein patent law.com where there are amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. And you could schedule a call with my email@example.com to explore if it’s a match to work together. You could also check out the book I wrote for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work. It’s called the ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.
I have it from me here today, Laurie Barkman. Laurie is the former CEO of a hundred million dollars revenue company that sold to a Fortune 50 company. These days, Laurie guides business owners through the orphan overwhelming process of transition planning as an m and a intermediary. She facilitates both sell side and buy-side transactions in the lower middle market. Laurie is the author of the recent book, the Business Transition Handbook, how to Avoid Succession Pitfalls and Create Valuable Exit Options. And she’s also host of the award-winning podcast succession stories. I’m very happy to welcome here today, Laurie Barkman. Welcome, Laurie.
Rich. It’s wonderful to be with you. Thank you.
Absolutely. Um, so like, let’s talk about how it all got started. So clearly you were involved in business leadership, you were running, um, a, um, uh, a company, um, that hit a hundred million in revenue and then you sold it. So initially you, you, you started from, from the standpoint of being a business leader. And so tell me about that experience and kind of how that led to what you’re doing now.
Yeah, absolutely. I was hired in as part of a long-term succession plan in a third generation company. And when we did the interview, the interview was a conversation about the next 20 years, not the next two, which in many startups you take a short-term view. This was a long-term view, and I was excited about that. But as things go, I wasn’t there for 20 years. I was there for three. And in my very short tenure, it was power packed with lots of ups and downs. And of course a major highlight was the acquisition by a global company. This is is a company that’s in the logistics and transportation space. And so myself and the other dozen or so key executives were part of the m and a process, the diligence process, and this amazing playbook from this global company just to see on the inside what that looks like, feels like.
And then when the transaction was completed, I became an officer of the new company, an executive of the new company, and worked on the integration, which is a topic in and of itself, is how do we make an integration successful? If we can’t do that, then our why are we bothering with m and a? Right? But it was really amazing to go through something like that, and again, highs and lows of it, but, uh, from an education standpoint, but just becoming a deal junkie, I realized that going through the process, there was a lot of nuances to it, and I enjoyed that when I left after I, after I left that role, um, I joined a private equity group, and then I was on the other side of the deal table looking for the right deals that fit this boutique, uh, this boutique, um, portfolio.
And eventually found my way networking with professional services firms like accountants and lawyers and, and wealth advisors. And I learned more about this age wave tsunami of baby boomers who do not have succession plans for their business. And they’re either going to close, quietly liquidate, or potentially with a transaction to a, a buyer, third party buyer. If it’s not family, who is it? It just got me really excited because I had been on this deal side, transaction side and also throughout my career, been working with entrepreneurs to build business and growth and value. And it was intriguing to me this next phase of the entrepreneurial journey, we didn’t build our businesses on our own. Why would we exit on our own? And I spent a lot of time learning more about it, getting certified on some value building platforms such as the value builder system, and also, um, got certified as a mergers and acquisitions advisor. And I decided to go all in. And that kind of brings us up to where we are today.
Yeah, that’s really exciting. And uh, um, and, um, what do you think you learned during that process that really impacts how you practice today working with businesses that are preparing for exit?
The number one thing is we never know when a buyer is going to buy. It’s not up to you when you sell. It’s up to the buyer of when they buy, right? And if we have that mindset, then we can think about our businesses needing to be ready to sell at any time. And if we wanna prepare and have a business that could sell at any time, it puts us on a path to have a really well run business. Why wait when you sell your home to upgrade your bathroom? Right? When my parents were selling their house and they were gonna move to Florida, they said, well, let’s update the kitchen. I said, we lived here for 40 years, how come you never updated the kitchen so that we could enjoy it? It’s the same thing with having a well run business. Don’t wait to do exit planning. When you’re trying to exit. It doesn’t work, right? That’s the primary thing.
Absolutely. So, yeah, I mean, and there’s, um, in addition to not knowing when a buyer is gonna come around, there’s the phrase about the five Ds that can happen anytime, death, disability, divorce, et cetera. And, and so a a lot of times it, it catches business owners off guard. And so, um, some businesses sell on the, the timeline set by the owner, but many, um, get forced into a situation that, um, that it’s kind of ready or not. Here it comes. So, um, you know, so, so there’s that side of it too. And uh, and also the, the thing that you hit on there, it’s kind of like good exit planning or, or, or good exit strategy is just good business strategy. So the things you do to, um, to strengthen your business for exit are things that just strengthen your business, right?
Absolutely. I mean, the five Ds are value derailers, plain and simple. If the owner dies and there’s no estate plan, there’s no buy sell agreement, the owner is now the spouse who knows nothing about the business, it’s gonna potentially put the company in a tailspin. I’ve had a few people talk about this on my show. One in particular, she went through this twice. One with her family business when her aunt died and her aunt had all the post-it notes in the world, but nobody understood what the heck they meant. And she had to run payroll. You had that type of crisis. And then you have the other crisis, which literally happened with me. One of my clients passed away when I was working with him. And his, uh, his spouse reached out to me and said, do you know what his intentions are for the business? Do, do you know if his, if his intention was for his son to take over, she didn’t even know. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, and how’s that gonna go? You’re in mourning, you’re sad, you wanna spend time grieving, and you literally can’t, uh, focus on that, which could be a good thing, I suppose, but you’ve gotta now focus on this business entity that you know nothing about. Right. So the, you’re not in
The right head space
Is really important in all of this.
Yeah, exactly. I was just saying, and you’re not in the right head space to make a, make the make a decision that you would make if, if this, if you weren’t under the duress of such a situation happening. So, um, yeah, just yet another reason why it, it pays to plan. Um, so like what, tell me a bit about what the exit planning or the succession planning process looks like, um, on a, you know, on a, on a day-to-day, um, on an everyday basis in your practice.
Ideally, someone is working with me when they are five years out, let’s say five to seven, I think is a sweet spot for what I would recommend, but certainly people might have a 36 month timeline or a 24 month, or a one year. So let’s take the, the three to five year folks here as the example. They’re not in a hurry, which is good. ’cause what I like to say is, when time is on your side, you have more time to make a difference, make an impact. Where we start is we start with goal setting. It’s really important to articulate what’s important to you, your stakeholders, which can be your family, your employees, other, other shareholders in the business. Maybe you’re 50 50 with a, with a partner or a spouse. And we need to know what what’s on their mind also. And as we think about this in broad strokes, we’re really talking about an overall timeline that we can work backwards from.
It’s quite helpful if you say, yeah, ideally it’s these things. And a lot of times I start with this, uh, straw man timeline, but then as we meet on a monthly basis over let’s say a seven, eight month period, most often that timeline changes because of these other goals that we’re gonna talk about. Yeah. So the second goal that we talk about is financial. We’re gonna do some baselining by the way, on, on these three goals. The third being business. So we have personal, financial and business, and I have some, um, assessments that I use with my clients, some of which are available on my website, uh, that people can take at their leisure. But anyway, um, it’s really important to baseline where are we today? And when it comes to the financial side, if someone’s not yet given thought to what they need to satisfy their lifestyle, once they don’t have the income stream that they have today, what will they rely on?
What nest egg do they have? Or do they have any other passive income investments like real estate? We take a look at that big picture. If they’re working with a financial advisor, that’s awesome. And I love to collaborate with the other advisors in, in their network. And part of the other side of this is, well, what’s your business worth today? And we need to baseline the business valuation in one of my assessments. We can do that out of the box, but I also do business valuations as part of service offering. So that is a good amount of work, and it’s a good amount of thinking and trying to understand where are we today, what are our strengths and what are the things that could be risk requires for us? And then from there, come out with a plan. So typically in this, uh, what I call strategic transition planning, it’s seven, eight months of working together a couple times a month.
Uh, in my sessions with, with folks, it’s, it’s it advisory and coaching. I’m asking questions. I’m getting them to think I give homework where they might have to do stuff on their own. And typically people are dedicating time to this. This is literally working on your business, not in your business. And you have to dedicate the time to it, just like anything else. And at the end of the process, and there’s other steps along the way. I mean, I’m, I’m kind of summarizing things that we’ll work on, but what in general we’re trying to do is identify some risk trip wires in your business and plans to mitigate those risks. So a big part of this is contingency planning, emergency planning, if you will, as well as growth planning and thinking about, well, how am I gonna hit this value number if today I know I need to achieve, uh, an enterprise value of 10 million to satisfy the lifestyle objectives that I have in the future, but my baseline is 5 million, I need to double my enterprise value and I’ve got five years to do it.
How am I gonna do that? That’s growth planning. We gotta talk about that. We gotta roll up our sleeves and understand what can we get from organic initiatives, sales, marketing, et cetera. And what can we do maybe to buy businesses and grow through acquisition and all of that good math and, uh, ideas for strategy goes into a plan. You know, it’s, if we don’t have a plan written down, is it really a plan? If it’s in our head, you’re gonna just continue to swirl on it. That’s why people work with me in the first place. We gotta get it out of your head and on paper we can still change it, and that’s okay. We have to start somewhere. So a strategic transition plan is putting it all in paper, putting it all so that we can organize our thoughts around these three core goals, business, personal, and financial.
And it should intersect at some point with the business’ multi-year strategy plan. Hopefully they have one, especially if they’re anticipating doubling value over a five-year period. It’s gonna be important to integrate your key management people, but not with the stuff you don’t wanna reveal. But for sure, business growth aspect, you’re gonna need to make sure that that intersects with that planning process operationally. So I think it’s a really important recognition that we have to have a plan to make it happen. We have to be committed to it. We can change and be flexible, but that’s the whole, really the tremendous value of the whole process is finding clarity and understanding what it is we might do to make an impact on the business.
Yeah, absolutely. And, and so that clarity, I think has a bunch of different, um, um, benefits. I mean, one of which is, is helping the business to grow to meet those business and, um, business and financial goals and, and personal goals. Um, and but behind all of that, it’s kind of like, um, a lot when a lot of people think towards exit, they think like, well, I sell for as much as I can. That’s what we do when we exit. Uh, and then I, I think a lot of, of those people would very be very surprised to hear that, uh, a very high percentage, something like 70 or 80% of business owners are not satisfied with the exit. They have regrets. Um, and it’s not necessarily about financial as you’d expect. Well, I could’ve gotten more money. There are other things where by not personally planning for the, um, exit and what you’re going to do next, even, um, the, the business owner is often left with regret. So would you like to speak to that a little bit about the, the regrets and what we do to try to avoid that?
It’s a really important topic. It’s a really important recognition, Rich. I think it’s a great question. Regrets come in two flavors. It’s the things we do that we wish we did differently, and it’s the things that we did not do that we wish we took action on. And for some folks who go through a sale process, it’s the only time they’re going to sell this. Their company, they only have one company, they’ve run it for 40 years and they got one shot at this. There are people who do not enlist the help of others, like, like key advisors, whether it’s a, an intermediary who’s myself or they don’t get a good attorney. They get somebody who’s been the buddy for a lot of years who doesn’t have deal experience, they don’t get tax advice. There’s all kinds of things you can do wrong. There’s a lot of pitfalls in the sale process, especially if you haven’t gone through it before.
So that’s the most common category for, I wish I did things differently. Sure, we might have been able to get a higher price, but the number one thing I hear from folks who sell their company is that especially if they run a process and they have multiple offers, that the highest price bidder wasn’t necessarily the winning buyer. So it isn’t always about price. To your point, and I’ve had some folks talk on, on my show about this too, where the regret regrets are because they weren’t in the business longer than a year or two, and they didn’t recognize that their role was going to shift so much. They had trouble letting go, even though they sold the company. Maybe they had a board position, they were still tied, but not day-to-day. And so the identity shift was a big reason for the regret. They just weren’t ready to let go.
There were two people in particular who read stories about this. One was with a private equity group, and it was more of a shock to the system that they, she, that they were hiring an outside CEO, she just wasn’t ready for that to be replaced. And then the other person, uh, had kind of a grieving period where she, she sold the business a bit prematurely due to some legal issues, and she was just devastated by that. It just crushed her. And again, there’s lots of things that people can regret, but as Wayne Gretzky says, you know, we, we miss a hundred percent of the shots we don’t take. So I think for for many people, if they’re listening and they have a business that maybe one day they wanna sell, um, my coaching would be to find people that have experience, uh, either, you know, you can have a friend who’s an attorney, but if they don’t have m and a transactional experience, I would recommend finding a different attorney and getting the, the legal advice you need, getting the, uh, the intermediary and brokerage support you need. And certainly the tax advisement that you need, those three roles in particular, can help, can help advise you and make sure that you avoid some, some pitfalls.
I I kind of thought the advice you were gonna give is to skate to where the puck is going to be
<laugh>. That’s on the growth side. The
Other way, Gretzky,
Yeah, it’s a great quote too,
But that, that’s kind of like what exit planning is, right? Skating to where the puck is going to be. It’s like, it’s like you’re looking, our
Puck might change directions without us really controlling it. There’s certain things in our exit that we can control. The five Ds we don’t control, right? We don’t know if we’re gonna get ill, we don’t know if we’re going to have a downturn in the economy because of Covid. We don’t control those things. And exit planning, just to kind of, I guess put a bow around it. I used the word transition planning. Exit is a finite word. I’ve exited, I did this, I left right? I, I I, I opened that door and I closed it. I like to talk about transition, especially for business owners that are in this three to five year, they don’t really know. We create options. We’re saying option one might look like this, option two, option three. Uh, another example, I have a client who’s his option one in five to seven years.
He, he was envisioning selling the company to his number one manager. Well, the number one manager moved to Europe and is probably not coming back to the States. So we have to go to option two and then probably option three. And it’s good to think that way, even with family, maybe your family doesn’t want the business, which is very common, or they don’t have the skills for the business, they’re just not interested. It’s not a fit. Same with your management team. And that leaves us with other options that we can explore. But I think exit is a point in time transition enables us to think about this in a continuum of time.
And, and, and it’s interesting that you would, um, talk about the options. I mean, it’s embedded in the title of your book, right? The Business Transition Handbook, how to avoid Succession Pitfalls and Create valuable Exit Options, right? And so that is, that is central to, to what you are, um, what you’re looking to help people to do. But, so let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the book and really what you saw to, um, uh, what, what info you really sought to get out and impress upon people with the book. And, uh, and really, um, kind of who’s it for?
It’s for business owners, founders, next Generation Leaders. I was trying to put myself in their shoes and thinking about what do they worry about? What do they want to avoid? Well, we wanna avoid succession pitfalls. Well, what are they? Each chapter as I wrote it became a pitfall to avoid. So that’s how I set it up very purposefully. And I start with the personal planning, because if we don’t get our own headset, right, doing everything else will be challenging. We gotta start with ourselves. Are we supportive of the process? If we’re not, we’re not gonna work on it. It’s not going anywhere. And also, I had a really big body of work to sort of start with out of the gates, and I was, from a creative standpoint, really intrigued to see what I could do with it. And that body of work is from my podcast at that time, starting to write it.
I had probably, uh, recorded 120 episodes and every episode has a transcript. And there was amazing golden nuggets, value bombs throughout all these episodes. But how to find just that one nugget I needed and put it in that it became, uh, uh, kind of this contextual puzzle that I was having. Fun writing it. So the, the main thing is, as you read the book, of course I’m gonna give you and share some knowledge from my experience and from others that I’ve worked with and people on the show, but I’ve integrated in stories. So what people have said is, it feels like I’m talking with you in the book, and I’m sharing lots of real examples. And I’m also, I’ve called it, uh, the Business Transition Handbook for a reason. I want you to write in it, I want you to dog ear it. I want you to, you know, put in your post-it notes.
I’ve even created a digital companion piece with all of the exercises that are in the book in a separate, in a separate PDF in case you get the Kindle version and you feel like you don’t get your, you know, you’re not able to write, to write in it. So I want people to take the time and use it and work through it. My clients say that it’s a wonderful companion to my advisory with them because I’ll say, okay, read chapter five, and then we’re gonna talk about it. And it’s action ideas. It’s, it’s case studies, real examples and real knowledge. It gets into a level of depth. People have said feedback-wise that many other business books of this nature don’t get into.
Yeah, that sounds great. Um, and, um, yeah, so then the podcast, it sounds like, uh, is a lot of the same themes as what you discussed in the book. And in fact, like you, you’ve used pieces of the podcast to create the book now, but ongoingly people have, uh, stories to convey about their own, um, about their own process with, uh, with exiting and with, um, transitioning. So, um, so kind of what do you enjoy and what type of topics do you enjoy talking about on the podcast?
There’s three core pillars on my show. Innovation, growth, and transition. And inevitably when someone’s telling their story, we cover at least two outta the three. It just tends to be the three topics that come up the most. I’ve introduced a fourth, which is about legacy. I’ve started to talk to more business owners about what is going to happen and not necessarily what has happened. Most of the folks who come on my show have sold their business, or they’ve bought businesses and others in the industry or profession who support them, like attorneys, wealth managers and accounting firm. And they share stories of wins and challenges along the way from client perspective and, and other subject matter experts have come on too, for, for just adding a lot of, um, interesting topics in color for around ai, for example, and other innovations. But mostly I think this legacy topic and working with owners to think about, okay, how do they see their personal legacy?
What’s important to them as they think about their business? And I’m not putting them on the spot to say, well, when are you gonna leave? You know, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not the intent. It’s more of a, uh, again, a personal recognition that their transition will come at some point in the future and leaving a lasting legacy in a way that’s meaningful and for them will help them create an intention. And I’m having a lot of fun with those conversations. I, I have a couple of interviews coming out. One is with a current client, I should say he was a past client, but hopefully he’ll be a current client soon. Again. Um, we did strategic planning with his business and it made a dramatic impact. And so when he came on my show, we talked about that. And then we also sort of segued into what’s next for him is strategic transition planning and the importance of that, and that what intention he has with that. So that was really cool. Um, but yeah, legacy I think is a really good topic for people to think about.
Yeah, and, and I, I, I think it’s probably especially important for people that strongly identify with their businesses. Like they’ve been, uh, they, they have been their business for many years, do you think?
Oh yeah, for sure. Can be family businesses where your name is literally on the door, you know, your family name’s on the door, you’re so proud of that you’re associated with that. It could be that you’re the founder and it’s quote unquote your baby, and it is an extension of you. It is part of your DNA, it’s part of your brand. It’s very difficult to separate from that. If you, if you don’t recognize that it can be a detractor of happiness, it can be a detractor of value because a business that can’t thrive without its owner is going to have less value. And then what does that mean for you with, we talked about exit regrets. If you regret selling your baby, right? <laugh>, that’s just a very <laugh>, you know, profound thing. I sold my baby versus I built a business and I, and it’s, it has a new owner and I’m really proud about that, you know, really different.
Uh, now, um, next question is really, uh, kind of how, what you do with regard to, um, to m and a ties into what I do. And so I’m curious, what role have you seen IP play, uh, in, um, in business transitions and in the transferability of, of businesses, like businesses that have an IP portfolio, let’s say?
I think it’s a really interesting topic. I talked about it in the book too. For owners to take an inventory of what are their assets, and I want them to think broadly about that word. For companies that have inventory and fixtures and equipment, they can see it for companies that have an intangible nature to their assets and a lot of goodwill, a brand identity, a trademark, a patent contracts, customer database, a special know-how or process, what are all those things that make up the goodness of your business and helps give you that competitive advantage? If you can identify what they are, then you’re more likely to be able to convey of that value to a buyer. But it’s not what you think about it, it’s what the buyers think about it and what pain points you solve for buyers. That’s the value. It’s not, uh, in a private market, there’s an infinite number of prices that can be put on your business.
There’s, you can’t go to Yahoo Finance and just look it up. So we have to be able to articulate what our assets are and then understand for each asset, how transferable is it. For some contracts that have stipulations about transferability, then it’s not that we can’t, um, design around it. The transaction might just be an equity sale versus an asset sale. It’s not a problem. We just need to know, likewise, with a lease, is your lease transferable? So of all these things that you have, your trademarks, you know, all the, all these IP things that we have, how transferable are they? And so as we create the assets of our business, it’s important to recognize like you’re asking, you know, what, what creates value.
Yeah, I love that. Um, and uh, I absolutely, well, if people wanna learn more about you or get in touch with you, how do they go about doing? So
A great place to start and learn more about my book is the business transition handbook.com. They can download a free PDF if by going to the site and putting in their information, and if they wanna get the book and buy it, of course, I would appreciate that. And it’s available on Amazon. Thank you. Thank you for, for that. Also, just a kind of a short a shortcut here, and we can maybe put this number in the show notes. I have an SMS, you can text transition to 7 6 2 3 2 0 2 8 2 6, and you’ll automatically be signed up to get a copy of the, of the PDF that I just mentioned. Um, also on my website, there’s other free resources, like the business assessment that I mentioned, the personal assessment that I mentioned, and all the podcasts from all the podcasts, from succession stories. All the episodes are, uh, on the site that people can enjoy, and they can also find the show on YouTube or wherever they listen to their favorite show.
Awesome. And the website is, um, small, do big.com.
Um, the website is for, the book is the business transition handbook.com. Okay. And yeah, my company is small big llc, if they type that in, they’ll get redirected. But, um, the business transition handbook.com is the book website.
Got it. The website. Yep. The book web. The book page.
Okay. Awesome. Um, and, uh, yeah, so I, I want to thank you for taking the time to, to share this valuable information with, with all of us, and, uh, really thank you for being on the show.
Oh, thanks for having me, Rich. It was a lot of fun.
Thanks for listening to Innovations and Breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein. Be sure to click subscribe. Check us out on the web at innovationsandbreakthroughs.com and we’ll see you next time.