Approximately 4 million Baby Boomers own their own business in the U.S., according to local business broker ExitBig. As those owners retire, they will want to sell their company and preserve the legacy of success they built. But selling a business built from the ground up is a stressful, emotionally charged process, and finding the right buyer, at the right price, is incredibly challenging. Jeff Herdzina and his team at ExitBig don’t just help business owners through that process, they truly understand and empathize with owners on the emotional complexities involved.
As a business owner himself, Jeff has been in the difficult position of selling and the stress and emotional roller coaster that goes along with it. But coaching owners through that process, helping them understand what to expect along the way, and making sure they enter into a deal that is a good fit emotionally and financially—for both parties—is what makes ExitBig unique. Combined with its network of experts in accounting, banking, and other B2B professionals, ExitBig’s success rate is nearly 100 percent. And with three to six deals per year, that’s impressive.
That ability to be both a leader and coach comes naturally. The Columbus, NE native played football for UNO and wanted to be a football coach after college. But after working in the direct marketing industry, he quickly took his leadership skills and started his own direct marketing company in 2005, US Data, of which he still owns half today. In 2015, while laid up recovering from a ruptured Achilles injury, he wrote a business plan for a business brokerage company. At his very first listing appointment, the potential client asked him how many businesses had he sold? “I told him zero,” Jeff said. “So we’d be able to spend all of our time on the sale of his business.” They won the listing, which ended up being one of their biggest to date.
The businesses that Exit Big sells have values between $500,000 and $10 million. “Owners of businesses that size are often more emotionally attached than owners of larger companies,” Jeff explained. They don’t list franchises, but they do represent companies in many industries, including manufacturing, distribution, and construction to name a few. The process typically takes 6-9 months to complete, and it starts with a simple meeting for the owner and Jeff to get to know each other. “I love hearing people’s story and finding out why they started the business, what they’re passionate about, and what their goals are,” Jeff said. Developing those relationships is the part of his business that he enjoys most.
Once they agree to the list the company, Jeff and his team, which includes Thomas O’Gorman and Shanna Selph, do a deep dive into the business to learn about the key factors that allow the business to run successfully and market position so they can prepare a script to use for marketing materials that is sent out to potential buyers. Once buyers are qualified, they begin to work on possible deal structures. For each listing, ExitBig tries to find multiple buyers interested to generate competition. “Half the battle is finding the appropriate buyer, and the other half is getting the deal closed,” Jeff said.
No matter how smoothly the process goes, there is always something unexpected, and Jeff establishes that expectation up front. “We are with our clients every step of the way, and I always tell them that everything will be okay,” he said. “The reason we’re so involved is because we want to deliver an exceptional experience through something that is so emotional and often stressful.” In fact, even when a sale is closed, Jeff tries to be there for the sellers afterward. “We want to help uphold a business’s legacy and see that it remains successful in the future. They become like family to us,” he added.
Family is critical to Jeff, whether it’s his client family, team family, or his own family—spouse Becky of 16 years and their 15-year-old daughter Makenna—whose support is paramount. Because his work requires lots of hours, Jeff makes a point periodically schedule afternoons off so he can spend time with them, and they usually have dinner together. “I’ve seen a lot of owners who’ve had successful businesses but their family life suffers,” he said. “It takes a lot of patience to live with an entrepreneur, so I try to make sure I have positive relationships both at work and at home.”
So why should a business owner work with a broker rather than sell it themselves? Jeff said although a few are successful at it, most don’t realize what’s involved or that it becomes a full time job to do it. “Businesses often suffer when the owner tries to go through the whole process alone because it’s more intense than they imagine,” Jeff said. Making sure both the buyer and seller get a fair deal is equally important. “Both parties need to feel good in the end.”
One surprising observation Jeff brought up is that approximately 90 percent of business owners don’t have an exit strategy or have given it much thought. Retirement is the number one reason why owners sell, but sometimes they assume a family member is going to take over the business and are shocked when it doesn’t happen. Unexpected reasons, such as death, divorce, or disability are just as difficult. Entrepreneurs sometimes have short attention spans and want to move on to the next venture. “It’s ok to talk about an exit plan, and the best time to do that is now,” Jeff said. “If you plan for it, you can actually make your business worth more.” In fact, if they can educate owners ahead of time, then it will make transactions go more smoothly and help keep Omaha’s business community thriving for future generations.