Preparing a business for a sale is a marathon, not a sprint. There is much preparation involved, and much you can do to improve value as you move closer to a sale. Here are a few things you can do to maximize value as you get closer to a sale.

Ditch Your Ego
Owners always believe their companies and products are superior. Then there’s a but: But we need to be better at marketing/finance/operations. That but is what erodes value for buyers. Buyers are risk-averse. They don’t care how you feel about your company. They care about the value it can offer them. So you need to be realistic about how your business looks to an outside buyer. That means checking your ego at the door.

Make Yourself Irrelevant
Companies that are highly dependent on the owner are inherently riskier undertakings for buyers. You need to hand over key tasks to your management team, especially if you plan to fully exit the company post-sale. It might seem counterproductive, but making yourself irrelevant remains one of the best ways to drive value.

Build Strong Systems
A strong internal infrastructure ensures your company runs smoothly and efficiently. It proves to buyers that you take your business seriously and are committed to generating value. Most buyers want a business to grow, and many hope to fold your company into their existing operations. In either scenario, strong systems drive value.

Clean Up Your Financials
Financial management is messy and stressful, so many owners avoid it altogether. You need to be GAAP compliant, and to avoid running on an all or exclusively cash accounting system. Well-run companies do not have messy financials. Clean up your financials and watch your value rise.

Prioritize Growth
Profitability matters, but growth is the substrate from which profits grow. If you consistently grow and your forecasts project that this will continue, you become an irresistible target for smart buyers.

Build Recurring Revenue Streams
The software as a service (SaaS) model has urged may firms to focus on recurring revenue. Buyers are seeking strong revenue streams—especially guaranteed, predictable revenue. Find a way to build recurring subscriptions, and to make them a significant portion of your overall revenue.

Focus on Stability
Stability matters everywhere–clients, employees, vendors, partners, and more. Buyers want to see consistency in the form of low turnover, consistent clients, long-term vendors, and lasting relationships. Lack of stability presents a serious risk, since a purchase is inherently unstable. Add that instability to an already unstable company, and the whole thing may topple.

Build Your Team
What value does your team bring to the table? Have you hired the right people for the right role? Can you market your team as a valuable part of the sale package? Get rid of those who under-perform, recruit excellent leaders, and view your team as an important vehicle for growth.

Set Reasonable Value Expectations
In most cases, it’s not reasonable to look to industry multiples drawn from billion dollar cash and stock transactions as a comparison tool for smaller companies. You must have reasonable value expectations. The right M&A advisor or broker can help you determine what’s reasonable and what’s not.

Consider Sale Structure
Each deal boasts its own unique deal structure. The minutiae of each contract can affect how much money you walk away with, and whether you bear any liability for the new company. It’s important to work with a skilled team to ensure the sale structure is as favorable as possible, since the wrong structure can erode value even when the final sale price is very generous.