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Preparing a Board Presentation, Even If You Don’t Have a Board?

That might be the most insightful thing I’ve heard during this awful pandemic.”

Mason (not his real name) and I were recently discussing his interest in making an acquisition. He is not a client; he isn’t looking to sell his Nashville business any time soon. We met four years ago during a men’s Bible conference at the church we both attend. We meet every so often at the church coffee shop to talk about life and family.

About a year ago, Mason was telling me about some stresses in his business. I suggested he join a peer networking group or put together an advisory board. I told him my belief that every business owner needs third-party support and feedback. Running a business by oneself is lonely. I know this from personal experience, and from what I’ve seen working with business owners for more than 20 years.

Anyway, fast forward to Mason’s call last week. He wanted feedback on an opportunity to acquire a competitor. As we were wrapping up that conversation, he said, “I better get going. I have work to do on my board presentation.” I replied, “That’s great, you decided to get a board, when did you do that?” He then said, “No, I don’t actually have a board, but I’m working on a PowerPoint as though I was presenting to a board. This process helps me think about where things are now, my future risks and opportunities.”

I told Mason that was the most insightful comment I had heard from any business owner in a long time. Any CEO will tell you that one of their most difficult, yet rewarding challenges, is the process of preparing for a third-party review, be it a formal board, an advisory board, or for analysts who cover the company.

I asked Mason what his board presentation included, he said, “I start with a five-year financial review, then I have a slide that lists the things I did well, followed by a list of things I wish I could do over.” He went on to say, “I then list the ways this pandemic has affected my business, and the things I have done, or need to do, to address those impacts. I close with a couple of slides where I compare my before-pandemic objectives with my current objectives.”

I was taking notes as fast as I could. Mason was giving me insight I had never heard. One thing most attractive about entrepreneurship is being your own boss, not being “accountable” to anyone. However, I have observed that this lack of accountability can lead a business owner to get confused, bored, or caught in the mud. Truth is, there are times we all need a kick in the rear, and Mason’s advice seemed like a really cool approach.

As a solo practitioner, I have no external, third-party accountability for how I run my business brokerage in Nashville. I am totally on my own, and I love it. But spending a few hours thinking about my business, the way Mason suggested, has helped me sort through some decisions that will be valuable for the rest of this year and into 2021-2022.

If you are a business owner with no board or any kind of independent third-party oversight, I would suggest you prepare a PowerPoint for your “non-existent board.” Start with a list of your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and then write down your company’s external threats and opportunities. Look back five years at the things you’ve done well, and those things you wish you could do over. Then conclude your “board presentation” with a list of things you have learned the past five years and how those learnings inform where you’ll go over the next five years.

I am not saying this process will provide an exact roadmap for your future. But good things usually come from taking the time to think proactively, then write down where you’ve come from and where you’re going, but I can promise this will make your journey more interesting, and likely more successful.

JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Jim is the author of Home Run, A Pro’s Guide to Selling a Business. . He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The principles above are true, but the story, names and fact patterns are changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."