When business leaders go into a monetization process, the more prepared they are, the better their outcome, says Charlie McIlvaine, CEO of Coen Markets.

“If you are going through an organized process and you're looking to actually talk to several different groups at one given time, I think the elements of preparedness are pretty critical,” McIlvaine says. “And how you package them, how you address them and how you communicate them really have an impact on others’ reception of that and how they react to that themselves, which is part of the goal here — if we're going to market ourselves, we got to put our best foot forward.”

Engaging in a sale transaction requires a completely different skill set compared with day-to-day operational activities. Getting ready for a process, then means starting well ahead of a desired exit date.

Dick Hollington, managing director and CEO of CapitalWorks LLC, says the duration of a transaction is generally four to six months. So, if a company needs at a minimum four to six months to get organized for it, the best of sellers might start organizing five years in advance of a sale.

“If they start that early, they can actually change the trajectory of some of those key value drivers,” Hollington says. “But at a minimum, you're probably looking at six months to 12 months in advance if you really want to be organized for your sale process.”

McIlvaine says sometimes, however, circumstances might force an entrepreneur into a sale when they’re not ready. He says it’s the “Three Ds” that can trigger such an event: death, divorce and debt.

But outside of any extraordinary circumstance, there are key areas business leaders should look to address ahead of a process. One of them is finance.

“Folks have to know what and how you think about your business and what kind of reports show that,” McIlvaine says. “There's a budgeting process and a projection process that's relevant.”

Within finance, too, is how the company is organized. Estate planning matters because a business leader’s ultimate remuneration from a sale will depend upon how they’re organized and how they're planning for estate, which could take two to three years if not more to get situated.

Operations should be another area of focus, which is how an owner involves company leaders in the business, the KPIs that are used to talk about the business and demonstrate its performance.

The other consideration is legal, which can include contracts and even data room information.

“This is a very complex process with a lot of moving parts,” McIlvaine says. “Whether it's six months or two years or three years, people need to look and consider this process as being one that is not easy and by that definition the prepared folks are the ones who are rewarded.

McIlvaine and Hollington, along with Babst Calland Chairman and Shareholder Chris Farmakis, and BDO Managing Director of the BDO Consulting Group Patrick Fodale, spoke at the recent Pittsburgh Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, offering a deep dive into how to make sure you’re checking the right boxes before you go to market — during the deal and post-close.