[IMGCAP(1)]Seven in 10 business owners in the United States expect to exit their company in the next 10 years, according to research from SellabilityScore.com. When we asked business owners who they would turn to for advice on selling, 64 percent said they would seek the advice of their accountant, thus ranking the CPA as the most trusted professional among all of the advisor categories we measured.

To better understand the size of the succession-planning opportunity for accountants, consider an analogy. Imagine a homeowner who has a leaky faucet in the spare bathroom. It doesn’t leak a lot; and since it is out of the way, the homeowner has ignored it for years. Then when he decides to sell the house, he suddenly calls in the plumber to fix the faucet.

Like homeowners, business owners will resist investing in professional advice if they view it as a cost with little benefit. But in the context of selling their business, where they’re hoping to get a great return on their investment, they become willing to invest handsomely in good advice.

To profit from the coming wave of exiting business owners, CPAs may want to consider offering the following service lines:

1. Product and Service Streamlining
Help your clients see what products and services they make money from and isolate their offerings that suck up cash. Stack-rank their product and service lines by gross margin and cull the lowest-margin offerings. Then stack-rank offerings by degree of marketing differentiation and suggest culling the most commoditized offerings in favor of investing in higher-margin, more differentiated products and services. The most sellable businesses are the ones that offer a few things better than anyone else.

2. Cashflow Consulting
When acquirers buy a business, they have to write two checks: one to the owner and the other to fund the working capital of the business. The more cash the business needs in order to run, the smaller the check that the buyer will cut to the owner. The inverse is also true: the less cash the business needs, the more money the buyer has to purchase the company. CPAs can show owners how to reduce their working capital needs by creating a positive cash flow cycle.

3. Business Model Reengineering
Show your customers that by reengineering their business into a recurring model through service/maintenance contracts or subscription offerings, they can dramatically increase the value of their firm. For example, consider the typical home security company that trades at 0.75 times installation revenue and two times their service contract (i.e., “monitoring”) revenue. It’s the ongoing service and maintenance contract that acquirers are willing to pay a premium for—not the one-off installation work.

4. Annual Valuation
Most business owners use their Profit & Loss statement as their annual report card, but encouraging them to consider adding an annual valuation statement to their reporting package can help them understand that their value depends on a wider set of factors than just their profit at the end of the year. This also creates a recurring revenue stream for your accounting firm.

5. Tax Planning
Many owners focus simply on the multiple they get paid for their business, but what’s ultimately most important is the after-tax proceeds of a sale. For your business clients, offer to develop a tax plan that allows them to maximize their after-tax proceeds from selling their business.

6. Wealth Management
When one door closes, another opens. Instead of thinking of the sale of a client’s business as a loss for your firm, offer wealth management services so you can continue to serve your client by managing the personal wealth created through the sale of their business.

Seven in ten of your clients are planning to sell in the next decade. How are you planning to profit?

John Warrillow is the founder of The Sellability Score, a tool used by accountants to start the succession planning conversation with their clients. He is also the author of "Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You."

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