5 Lessons from Game of Thrones for Exiting Business Owners

written by Jane Johnson, Business Transition Academy

Were you – like hundreds of thousands of fans – unhappy with the finale of Game of Thrones (GOT)? According to a number of news outlets, more than 50% to 60% of viewers were dissatisfied or even outraged at the outcome. There was even a petition circulating that demanded a “re-do” which, of course, isn’t going to happen.

Running a business may seem like an episode of GOT at times, i.e. forging alliances, marching into battle, conquering your enemies… Cersei Lannister did warn in the first season, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” As you well know, the same may be said about playing the great game of business.

However, unlike GOT fans, when it comes time for your inevitable exit from your business, you have a good deal of power in planning for the outcome whether you plan to sell to a third-party or to family members or employees. “GOT gives us life, leadership and business lessons. Every character is written in such a manner that they teach us to learn from our mistakes, grow wiser, understand the world and never give up,” an Entrepreneur article argues.

So, we’ve pulled together 5 key lessons that exiting owners can learn from Game of Thrones.

1. Plan your strategy wisely

Exiting your business is anything but simple. Business owners are often so focused on the day-to-day challenges of running their businesses that they can’t see the big picture or plan for the long-term. But, this lack of planning can jeopardize the future of your company as well as your financial security. Should you sell externally or pass it along to a family member or an employee?

You will need to consider your financial needs, the needs of your business, employees, and family – it can be difficult to wrap your head around so many moving parts. But you can do it successfully with careful planning and ample time, which is why you need to educate yourself about your business transition options and devote time to the exit planning process well in advance.

2. Be prepared for the worst 

While it might not be the same level of death and destruction as in GOT, businesses face serious risks on a daily basis. Would your business be able to continue on without you should you become ill, incapacitated, or pass away? Other on-going dangers that businesses face include financial, operational, political, business interruption, failure to innovate, damage to reputation, increased competition, natural disasters, compliance (OSHA or EPA), and business obsolescence.

In the face of these risks, there are many facets of risk management that need to be addressed, including contingency planning, insurance, business continuity, health and safety, corporate governance, and finances. Having a plan in place and being able to put it into immediate action can mean the difference between staying open or closing your doors should disaster strike.

3. Take the emotion out of business leadership. 

While many fans were disappointed by the chosen king, Bran, a Vox article contends that it kind of makes sense: “Bran as king makes at least some thematic sense. One of Game of Thrones’ obsessions concerns the impossibility of just leadership, because we are all limited by our human passions, intelligence, and blind spots… Bran—who can see everything that has ever happened—kinda-sorta isn’t human anymore. The implication, then, is that a just and wise ruler is someone who is so disconnected from humanity that his dispassion becomes an asset…”

As business owners, it can be difficult to take the emotional aspects out of your business. Unfortunately, most of us don’t possess Bran Stark’s gift (or curse) of being able to see the past, present, and the future. After spending so much time and energy in your business, it can be especially challenging to re-establish your identity outside the business. But it’s partcularly necessary to remove the emotional aspects as you think about your transition. You will need to remain clear-eyed and focused on your ultimate goal, including choosing your exit strategy, planning for successors, and writing your next chapter.

4. Your successor might not be who you think it is

“Over the course of Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, Bran Stark gradually evolved from being one of the show’s more peripheral characters to being one of its most central and significant. For a long time, many viewers might have had little interest in his long quest to travel north and become the Three-Eyed Raven.” (Vox)

Try to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing who will take your place. It could be someone you haven’t considered. You will have to be objective in assessing their capabilities, skills, and desire to become the new owner. Not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit, talent, or is in the right life situation to run a business. It’s important to pick someone who thinks like an entrepreneur and has the experience, and confidence to run the business. Identifying the right person is a process that requires careful thought and planning.

5. Know who to trust

Like the world of Westeros, the world of exit planning and mergers and acquisitions can be a very dangerous place, especially if you are inexperienced – and you need to be careful in selecting those you trust. Selling your business, whether to an individual, a competitor, a private equity group, or someone internally, can be a potential minefield.

You will be well served to enlist the assistance of the right, trustworthy advisory team who can help guide you through the process, based on your unique circumstances. They can help you build company value, prepare you to compete in the marketplace, perform pre-deal diligence, and address potential deal killers in advance. There are myriad aspects to consider and lots of decisions will need to be made. Not having the right team in place could cost you. Working with trusted advisors who are uniquely trained in this discipline will enable you to create a comprehensive plan that will achieve your desired outcome.

Be the Master of Your Own Destiny

While you might not have been happy with the outcome of Game of Thrones, if you’re an owner who is thinking about exiting your business in the next few years, you have control over the ending of this chapter of your life. Just like in GOT, you won’t have the option of a re-do. Without a solid exit plan, you might not be happy with the outcome.

When it comes to planning for the future of your business, your family, and your retirement, there are no shortcuts to success. And just like in Game of Thrones, there are lots of dangers and pitfalls along the way. Most owners will only go through the sale of one business in their lifetime and it is usually the largest financial transaction of their life. Don’t leave the outcome to chance. Be the master of your own destiny; start planning your exit today.


Could YOU Cash Out Of Your Business?

All owners will leave their business one day. Will yours be planned or unplanned?

Download your copy of ‘Cashing Out of Your Business – Your Last Great Deal’ here.


If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.


The Variables that Drive and Influence Business Valuations

If you’ve never bought or sold a business before, then the factors that drive and influence business valuations likely seem a bit murky.  In a recent Divestopedia article from Kevin Ramsier entitled, “A Closer Look at What Drives and Influences Business Valuations,” Ramsier takes a closer look at this important topic. 

Business brokers and M&A advisors play a key role in helping business owners understand why their business receives the valuation that it does.  No doubt, the final assessed value is based on a wide array of variables.  But with some effort, clarity is possible.

In his article, Ramsier points out that “value means different things to different buyers” and that the “perceived value depends on the circumstances, interpretation and the role that is played in a transition.”  It is important to remember that no two businesses are alike.  For that reason, what goes into a given valuation will vary, often greatly. 

Looking to EBITDA

Ramier points to several metrics including return on assets, return on equity and return on investment.  Another important valuable for companies with positive cash flow is a multiple of EBITDA, which stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.”  EBITDA is widely used in determining value.  On the flip side of the coin, if the company in question has a negative cash flow, then the liquidation value of the business will play a large role in determining its value.

Primary Drivers to Consider

Ramsier provides a guideline of Primary Drivers of Valuation, Secondary Drivers of Valuation and Other Potential Drivers of Valuation.  In total there are 25 different variables listed, which underscores the overall potential complexity of accurately determining valuation. 

In the Primary Drivers of Valuation list, Ramsier includes everything from the size of revenue and revenue stability to historical and projected EBITDA as well as potential growth and margin percentages.  Other variables, ones that could easily be overlooked, such as the local talent pool and people training are also listed as variables that should be considered.

Support for the Business Owner

The bottom line is that determining valuation is not a one-dimensional affair, but is instead a dynamic and complex process.  One of the single best moves any business owner can make is to reach out to an experienced business broker. Since business brokers are experts in determining valuation, owners working with brokers will know what to expect when the time comes to sell.


Whether you are looking to exit your privately held business, represent an acquisition-minded corporation, value your business, or are personally interested in owning or building value in your own company or franchise, Colonial Business Brokerage offers the professional services that successfully bring buyers and sellers together.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.


How One Bad Boy Clause Landed an 8-Figure Deal

Can you actually thrive in an industry you don’t know much about?

According to Erik Van Horn, former franchise owner of Sola Salon Studios, you sure can.

Achieving his success as a franchise owner always looking for the next deal, Van Horn stumbled across the salon industry in 2014. Though a new-found territory, Van Horn and his business partners invested in Sola Salon Studios and grew to own 12 locations in Orange County, California by 2018.

All the while, Van Horn remained a ‘non-expert’ in the industry and only dedicated a couple of hours each week to the business he was able to evolve into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

So, how did he reach an eight-figure exit?

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The ‘Bad Boy Clause’ and why Van Horn recommends it for partnerships
  • How to calculate your ‘Dream Number’
  • How to protect yourself from landlord and lease delays
  • “TI” dollars and what they could mean for your business.
  • The idiosyncrasies and nuances of selling a franchise

Listen Now


If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.

Wisdom From Wall Street: How To Buy, Then Sell

Matt Slaine is an investor who grew up on Wall Street. In pursuit of his next move (and an intent to own), he decided to purchase a company, instead of starting one.

What followed was a journey of identifying his perfect candidate (Progressive Business Media, a B2B media and communications company in the home furnishings and gift space,), buying it in 2012 – and, (true to style) investing in the business to ensure it could one day thrive without him.

Find out how Slaine used his wisdom from Wall Street to turn Progressive Business Media into a 100-employee company that would successfully sell through an unsolicited acquisition offer.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The best way to find a business to buy
  • How to build up the value of your business over time
  • Slaine’s best advice for making your business less dependent on you
  • How you can thrive in a “dying” industry

If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.

The Hidden Downside Of This Common Management Idea

Cross selling new products and services to your existing customers may be a great marketing strategy, but if your goal is to increase the value of your business, the added revenue may do nothing for your company’s value – and may even lower it.

In order to be acquired for a premium, consider committing to a product, service, or a bundle that does one thing well. Your aim should be to make that offering so irresistible, that an acquirer will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. This focus will help you build a team around your product or service and ultimately make your company a whole lot more attractive when it comes time to sell.

However, most companies do the opposite. They take their initial success and water it down by cross-selling additional products, leveraging their relationship with their customers to sell them merely good offerings on the back of their great product or service. The problem with wandering too far a field is that while add on products may increase your revenue, they decrease your attractiveness to a strategic acquirer. Like being asked to buy a cable package of hundreds of channels when all you want is a few, acquirers don’t like buying things they will not use and therefore often walk away from a deal where a great product has been watered down with dozens of less attractive products or service lines.

How Stelligent Lost Its Focus (and found it again)

For example, take a look at Stelligent, a company in the business of helping website owners configure their software for the servers that host it. There was a time when big companies used to install their software deep, deep into operations – but the emergence of ‘The Cloud’ changed that. Led by companies like, workers now get access to the software they use anywhere they have access to a web browser.

Just as you might rent an apartment in a building, software developers pick one of the big cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Amazon Web Service (AWS) to rent space to host their code.  Since Azure, Google, and AWS all take a different approach to hosting, an entire industry has been created to help developers configure their software for the cloud service provider they pick.

Paul Duvall, co-founder of Stelligent, is one of the pioneers of this industry called Dev Ops – or, Development Operations. Duvall started Stelligent in 2008 with his then silent partner Rob Daly. The goal was to help developers accelerate how quickly they could bring their software to market.

Stelligent was a typical consulting company, selling the time of the engineers Duvall hired on contract as his business required them. If customers were going to host their software with Azure, he would employ engineers familiar with Azure. Likewise, if customers planned to host with AWS, he’d bring in a group familiar with AWS.

By 2013, Stelligent had a half dozen contract workers and hovered around one million in annual revenue, as project demand ebbed and flowed. Duvall felt he was running on a treadmill. Each new project Duvall won required him to build a whole new team.

Around that time Rob Daly, fresh from exiting his last company, joined Duvall and took over as CEO of Stelligent. Daly had enjoyed success starting and growing other companies and encouraged Duvall to complete The Scalability Finder, par of module two within The Value Builder System™. The exercise revealed it would be impossible for Stelligent to scale into a valuable business if they were to continue to have to train a new team for each project. Instead, Daly reasoned that they should specialize in configuring software for only one of the cloud providers and build a team of full-time employees who were experts.

Duvall initially hesitated, worried they would be walking away from a lot of business. He eventually capitulated, and for the first few months he feared he might have been better to trust his gut. They lost projects as customers came to Stelligent asking for help to configure their software for one of the other cloud service providers.

However, as time went by, Stelligent began earning a name for itself as the AWS specialists. As Amazon’s website hosting service grew in popularity, so did demand for Stelligent’s services. Over the next three years, Stelligent blossomed into a multi-million-dollar business with 30 full-time employees.

By early 2017, Denver-based HOSTING Inc. saw how quickly AWS was growing and concluded that by acquiring Stelligent, they could leapfrog their competition and become a market leader in AWS almost overnight. Later that year, HOSTING acquired Stelligent for around two times revenue — about double what a typical consulting company would hope to command for a similar-sized business.

The story of Stelligent is a reminder why you should focus your limited resources on becoming so good in your niche that an acquirer reasons it would take too long – or cost too much – to compete.

Most small businesses with limited cash, can only afford to get that good at solving one problem for their customers. That kind of focus is the opposite of what most sales and marketing pundits preach but it may be the one thing that will make your company irresistible to an acquirer.


If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.


Is Your Business Really Worth Handing Over to the Next Generation?

Before you begin your business, you should be thinking about how you will hand that business over to someone else.  No one runs a business forever.  Whether you sell your business or let a relative inherit it, at some point you will need to step away. 

When you finally do separate from your business, it is critical that you are certain that it is worth handing over.  In his January 2019 article in Forbes magazine entitled “Make Sure Your Business is Worth Handing Over,” author Francois Botha dives in and explores this very topic.

In this article, Botha emphasizes that family businesses should not “fall into the trap of prioritizing job creation for their children.”  Instead, that the priority should be to perpetuate the business.  Botha cites the co-founder and chairman of The Leadership Pipeline Institute, Stephen Drotter, who feels that the main goal of any business needs to be its suitability.

Drotter established five principles designed to assist family businesses as they seek to prepare for succession.  The first principle is to “Identify and Fix Your Problems.”  Current ownership should deal promptly with any business problems before passing a business on to a new generation.

The second principle Drotter covers is to “Adjust Your Management to the Strategic Evolution of Your Business.”  Businesses evolve from the creation of a product to sell to focusing on sales, marketing and distribution to finally addressing a plateau in sales which facilitates the need for multi-functional management.

The third principle cited by Drotter is “Talk to Your People About Them.”  In this principle, communication with employees is key.  Getting to know and understand employees is vital.

“Be on the Lookout for Talent Everywhere,” is the fourth principle.  There is no replacement for skilled and motivated employees, and you never know where you may find them.

Finally, the fifth principle, “Provide Development” emphasizes that “almost everything is learned, and somebody often taught that which is learned.”  Employee skill must be seen as a key priority.

Making sure that a business is ready for transition to the next generation involves careful preparation and a good deal of advanced planning.  The sooner that you begin asking the right kind of thoughtful questions about the current state of your business and what will benefit it moving forward, the better off everyone will be.


Whether you are looking to exit your privately held business, represent an acquisition-minded corporation, value your business, or are personally interested in owning or building value in your own company or franchise, Colonial Business Brokerage offers the professional services that successfully bring buyers and sellers together.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.


When It Makes Sense To Accept Equity Instead Of Cash

Darby founded customer software consultancy Matched Pattern in 2017 but had become exhausted by the hamster wheel of constantly chasing new business to keep his consultants busy.

As a project-based consultancy, Darby’s exit options were limited so he decided to swap his equity in Matched Pattern for shares in Matched Pattern, a company with a desperate need for software engineers.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • When it makes sense to accept equity instead of cash
  • The hardest part of running a service business
  • The best tip Darby received before even starting his business

Listen Now


If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.


Erase the Stress of Selling Your Business by Finding the Right Buyer

There is no denying the fact that life is much, much easier when one can find the right buyer for his or her business.  Buying or selling a business can be a stressful affair, but much of that stress can be eliminated by getting the right support.

The Concept of the “Right Buyer” 

In the recent Inc. article entitled, “How to Find the Right Buyer for Your Business and Avoid Negative Consequences,” Bob House builds his article around a relatively simple and straightforward, but powerful, concept.  House’s notion is, “the right buyer is worth more than a big check.”

House correctly points out that far too many sellers become fixated on exiting their business and grabbing a big pay day.  In their focused interest in the sum they will receive, these sellers ignore a range of other important details.  In part, sellers often miss the single greatest variable in the entire process: finding the most qualified buyer.  The simple fact is that if sellers want to reduce their long-term stress, then there is no replacement for finding the most qualified buyer, as the wrong buyer can be “headache city!”

Plan in Advance

As House points out, it is only prudent to determine what you want out of a buyer well before you put your business up for sale.  For example, if you don’t want to offer financing, then that is a decision you need to make well before you begin the process. 

Additionally, House wisely places considerable interest on pre-screening potential buyers.  Pre-screening is a great reason to work with an experienced and proven business broker who can assist with the process.  As a business owner your time is precious.  The last thing you want are a lot of window shoppers wasting your time. 

Keep Your Focus on Your Business 

Remember, while your business is up for sale, you still have to run your business.  Quite often, business owners have difficulty running their business and navigating the complex sales process simultaneously.  The end result can be disastrous, as revenue can drop and business problems can arise.

Working with a business broker means that you are dramatically reducing your potential stressors throughout the sales process.  A business broker will ensure that potential buyers are pre-screened and that only serious buyers are brought to you for consideration. 

Currently, the market conditions are great for sellers.  If you are considering selling, now is the time to find a business broker and jump into the market!


Whether you are looking to exit your privately held business, represent an acquisition-minded corporation, value your business, or are personally interested in owning or building value in your own company or franchise, Colonial Business Brokerage offers the professional services that successfully bring buyers and sellers together.

Warren Buffet’s Advice On Creating A Valuable Business

Warren Buffett invests in companies with a “competitive moat” which he defines as a durable competitive advantage. Most founders start with a unique idea for their business which becomes diluted as the owner chases revenue at the expense of their original vision.

Take Mitch Durfee for example. Durfee started Grunts Moves Junk, a junk removal and moving company, to help his local community and provide his fellow veterans with a job upon returning from deployment.

But while the business was generating $1.4 million in annual revenue after just two years, Durfee was also losing sight of his initial vision. Durfee was trying to please his customers by offering services completely outside of his original business idea. A 7-figure revenue looked nice on paper, but Durfee was racking up $100,000 in debt, stretching his 20-employee team too thin and struggling to keep up with payroll.

To an acquirer, the business was worthless.

After hitting rock bottom, Durfee made one critical decision that completely rebuilt his company and enabled him to sell Grunts Move Junk successfully last year.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • One key decision with the power to transform your company
  • Why a fast-growing business can still be worthless
  • How you might need to scale back your business in order to boost its value

Listen Now


If you’re interested in improving the value of your business, take our questionnaire or contact Colonial Business Brokerage today at 443-982-7332.

Do You Know What Kind of Business Owner You Really Are?

Does your business have real, long-lasting longevity or is your business a temporary entity that will vanish the second you stop working on it?  In his insightful article in The Business Journals entitled, “Are You Living for Today as a Business Owner or Building Value?” author Kent Bernhard asks a very important question of readers, “Are you a lifestyle business owner or a value accelerator?” 

Many business owners have never stopped to ask this very important, yet basic, question regarding their businesses.  So, let’s turn our attention to this key question that all business owners must stop and ask at some point.

As Bernhard points out the core issue here is how a given business owner defines the idea of success for him or herself.  As Chuck Richards, the CEO of CoreValue Software notes, “At the end of the day, a lifestyle business is just a job.” 

Richards goes on to note that this is fine for many people.  But if this is the case, it is a choice that one is making.  Therefore, lifestyle business owners should be aware that they are, in fact, clearly making a choice.

Business owners who are lawyers, consultants and accountants often fall into the category of those with a “business as a job.”  They fail to accumulate enough assets for their business to really be more than a job.  Summed up in another fashion, the business generates enough revenue to provide a comfortable lifestyle.  However, it does not have the infrastructure or equity to remain profitable, or even in existence, once they walk away.  As the owner and operator of the business, they are vital to its very existence.  This means that the business only has value so long as the owner is working in the business on a regular basis.  As a result, the owner may never really be able to exit the business.

As Bernhard points out, “To build a business as an asset, you have to become a value accelerator who looks beyond whether the business’ profits are sufficient to maintain your lifestyle.  It means looking at the business as an entity outside yourself.”  Those who fall into the value accelerator category, focus on figuring out creating value for the business as a financial asset that can operate independently. 

Making sure that your business can continue on without you means that you have to build it, and that involves having a coherent and focused plan.  Plan in advance and know how you will exit your business.  To ultimately create value for the business entity itself, a plan must be in place that allows for your successful exit.


Whether you are looking to exit your privately held business, represent an acquisition-minded corporation, value your business, or are personally interested in owning or building value in your own company or franchise, Colonial Business Brokerage offers the professional services that successfully bring buyers and sellers together.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Natee Meeplan/