Inspired to share his story, Sean wrote the Amazon bestselling. Automatic exit, turn your service business into a sellable asset Today, Sean is a business advisor in exit planning and value creation, who’s helped over 200 service business owners know the real value of what they built, and he’s helped them grow, scale, and prepare to sell their businesses.
Do you want a simple 10-step process to get you to the point where you can sell your service-based agency for more than it’s worth? After 12 years helping to grow other people’s ad agencies, Shawn Butler sold his 2nd digital marketing company and was surprised at how much money his “service business” was worth to the right buyer. Inspired to share his story, Shawn wrote the Amazon bestselling book “Automatic Exit: Turn Your Service Business into a Sellable Asset.”
Today, Shawn is a Business Advisor in Exit Planning and Value Creation whose helped over 200 Service Business Owners know the real value of what they built and he’s helping them grow, scale, and prepare to sell their business. Go here to learn more: https://www.relevantbusinessdevelopment.com/?ref=IdeaWins1
Transcript (forgive the grammar, we use AI).
Sean, good to have you, bud. Thank you. Glad to be here, Ryan. Well, let’s, let’s dive into what brought you to this point. Tell us about your company. Talk about yourself a little bit. Um, yeah. Happy to do it. I am, uh, overly educated. I’ll start with a confession. I have two master’s degrees. I have an MBA and an MS in marketing, um, with two degrees under my belt.
Uh, I had three years of work experience and two masters. I finally felt that, um, the right people had said, Sean, you know, enough to go out and. , um, go get a job, go do something. Mm-hmm. . And, um, with all this knowledge and information you gained here in the, uh, ivory Tower of Academia, so I went to work, I spent nine years in ad agency and I love ad agency.
I love ad agency people. Mm-hmm. . Um, I was at four different ad agencies over the course of that time. Um, and I got to see the inner workings of ad agency. And like I said, I love it. I love that industry. I think it’s amazing. Um, , I’m going to talk. I mean, I, I worked with some of the best businesses there are to work with.
I had T-Mobile as a client, Toyota as a client. Um, a couple of automotive dealerships as clients, which I love, you know, call me sick and twisted. But I really loved working with those car dealerships, um, because they were willing to try every one of my. You know, hair brand ideas. Mm-hmm. because they need a new promotion, they need something else to run this month.
How are we gonna sell more cars, you know, in mm-hmm. in, you know, February, are we gonna sell more cars in May? Um, and they need a new idea in place for, for, uh, June and July. So they were really flexible and fun to work with. Um, I also worked with Subway or Doctor Associates. , I worked with the Utah Jazz.
It’s been an amazing ride, but I had this sneaking suspicion throughout that I could do this better. Mm-hmm. . And so in 2013, uh, with a couple of partners who I, I, I don’t wanna neglect mentioning that I had those partners with me. We built our own agency and, um, within a couple of years, we’d grown it to a good size business.
We were billing about 200, 2 50 K a month and the. The, the part you already shared is that we sold that, that was my second do-it-yourself. Built by, you know, that I built digital marketing agency. Uh, the first I sold is the book of business, meaning it just was kind of acquired. Right. Um, I was, I was an aqua hire, if you guys all know that term.
Um, that I just brought that book in with me to my, to the company. Um, this time we wanted to do it differently, um, but we did not do it. , we didn’t do it better, if I can just say it that way. We, um, we’re given a very tight timeline because one of the partners was accepted to business school and told us in nine months, I’m leaving to go get my mba, which I acknowledge and, and support.
Mm-hmm. , I’m a big fan of education, so I couldn’t hypocritically tell him, you know what, you should stay here and do this instead. But, uh, he was the one that really pushed and said, let’s sell this business. And so we hired a broker. We hired some consult. Uh, we went very fast. Breakneck speed really to, to, to tell the truth of this was a painful, fast moving, hard experience.
And we sold that agency in less than nine months. Wow. For, um, an undisclosed mid seven figure, um, amount, uh, to in a private sale. And, um, it was a learning experience to say the least. Oh yeah. . And, um, so we finished that and I turned to my wife. I gave her a big high five. Um, we had just had our fourth child and I said, we did it.
You know, we’re free to, to do what we want, uh, live where we want. I can run the companies I want, what do, what do we want to go do now? Which I think led into me having to write a book. So, yes, that was an incredible background and really an American dream. I mean, you worked your butt off, it paid. And now you can do what you want to do.
And that’s, there’s a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs who are gonna watch this and listen to this and really resonate with you. They’re gonna be in one of those stages. Um, so yeah. Tell us about relevant. Tell us about the book. Um, maybe let’s start with relevant. Sure. Well Relevant is my consulting firm and what we do is we meet people who have been where I’ve been and want to go where I.
Um, which is they want to grow scale or sell their agency. So these are people who own service businesses. Mm-hmm. and I started it, you know, almost accidentally just taking on a couple of clients, but we’ve grown it to where I’ve worked with now 200 more than 200. I just added my 220 something. I’ve lost count, um, client yesterday to our roster and what I know is agency owners, amazing people who have ambition and they have passion, and they have a, a desire inside to help their clients to make a difference in the world.
Mm-hmm. . And those are my people. I get them. Um, but here’s what’s hard. I’ve talked to a lot of agency owners. , uh, guys that I respect and admire and love that are, you know, in their forties, fifties, sixties, uh, pushing 70, and a lot of them are saying the same thing, Ryan, they’re saying, we did it. It was a good run.
I made a lot of money. I supported my family. I put my kids through college, but I’m done now. I’m tired. I, and I’ll tell you what you already know, which is Covid wore a lot of these guys out. Mm. Covid was hard for agencies. Small and inside agencies were the ones who suffered. If you own Peloton, Amazon, or Costco or whoever else did really well.
Um, Netflix did really well during Covid, you know, who didn’t do really well was, you know, guys like my clients. Mm-hmm. and the, the people who were trying to run small businesses. , um, a lot of them shut down their office space. A lot of them, you know, didn’t leave the house for a few years. They certainly went through with some, um, hard times with getting new clients, and I lived that with them.
Yeah. And what, what breaks my heart is to see some of those guys and hear these stories of just shutting up, closing up shop, shutting down the window, what they call taking down their shingle. Mm-hmm. and just saying, I had a good run and not appreciating the value, uh, in the asset They. It’s right, it’s classic dilemma.
Uh, if I can just share this, uh, not seeing the forest for the trees. You’re in the business so you don’t realize the asset you’ve built. Yeah. So over the last five years, I’ve told my selling of the agency story and my motivational, you know, a version of the story I’m telling you now, a thousand plus times I’ve, I, you know, I, I really can’t gauge how many times I’ve shared this story.
And finally, a member of my team, , you should probably just write that down, you know? I said, okay. And in three weeks I wrote a, a, a, a book. I mean, it’s not Harry Potter length or anything, but it’s a book and it tells my story and it tells. Not only what happened to me and what we learned from it, but it tells the 10 step process that we’ve walked our clients through for the last five years to get them to the point where they can sell their service-based agency for more than it’s worth, um, for more than they realized it was worth for more than they ever expected it to be worth.
And you heard in my bio, I carefully wrote down the thank you that I said it, how much your business is worth to the right buyer because there’s a strategic. Who’s going to see your business? Get it, that it’ll be a match for them. It’s the same way a piece of land can sit empty across, you know, the street and to, to one person.
It’s worth, you know, a half million to somebody else’s worth 20 million because they’re gonna develop it into an office complex or a strip mall or whatever the potential they see for. That’s what we really have done for businesses. This is huge. This is, this is huge. I mean, obviously, you know, The, the podcast is all about right, small ideas that lead to big impacts, big wins.
This is huge for somebody who’s, who’s spent their life building a business for many, many years, building a business. This is, this is a game changer to be able to really understand before you go and try to exit, to understand how much it’s actually worth, and to find the right buyer because, uh, you hit, you have one shot at that, right?
You do it. Must only do it once, which, yeah. Which is hard. The brokers play this game. They do a dozen deals a week. Sure. So you, you’re really outmatched as soon as you get into the buyer seller game. Mm-hmm. . Um, I think it’s like trying to buy real estate against realtors and investors. Uh, it’s, it’s the same ma game, but you’ve built something and it’s typically the work of your lifetime.
And unless you’re a serial entrepreneur, a serial business builder and seller, You’re, you’re exactly right. You get one go at it and mm-hmm. . What, what I want to do is be able to teach and share what I learned so that you know what not to do. first and foremost. Right. What you can do differently. What you can do, right.
And I share that. Uh, the book is called Automatic Exit. Turn your service business into a sellable asset. And that title and subtitle for me really changed it to what we do for our clients, which is mm-hmm , you take, you take these 10 steps and you automatically have built a business that’s going to run without you, that’s gonna de-risk against the seller’s con or the buyer concerns.
It’s going to increase the value and the multiplier, which is a key piece of this, because so many people I talk to say, I think I know what my business is. , you know what they tell me? Three x ebida. Right? Right. They think it’s worth about one to two times annual earnings or top line. Mm-hmm. revenue. And they are, in most cases, they’re so wrong that with a few changes to what they’re doing, and I, I’m not trying to be ambivalent or, uh, ambiguous and mysterious here, I’m not being coy.
I, I can, I’m happy to go into what the, some of those changes are, but with a few changes that are really things you should be doing. , to put it bluntly. Yeah. Um, you can turn your business into a sellable asset that is going to have immense value and a nice strong three x four x five x mm-hmm. , uh, we’re working on a deal that’s a seven x multiplier Wow.
Right now that I’d love to have as a case study, hopefully, you know, in a short period of time I turn around post that case study because we closed that deal. But, um, as you know, some of these deals are multi-year. Um Oh yeah. long-term projects that I’m happy to be shoulder to shoulder with some of these awesome business owners in the agency world and watch them turn their, their hard-earned, um, blood, sweat, tears, sacrifices into these assets that are gonna change their lives, not just their lives, but in some of these cases where you’re seeing it turn into 7, 8, 12, 15 million in sales.
That’s that cha, that’s multi generat. That’s legacy wealth. It’s life changing. Um, let’s dive into, since my next question is gonna be what’s your, your best i small idea for big business wins. Let’s just mold that into what is something that a company can do, since you’ve just mentioned, what’s one of the things that they can do, uh, to start that process, to start to change things now to increase the value of their.
I love that. I’m gonna say the o I I’m gonna start with a negative and give you the opposite of what you just asked for, right? Which is, what should the company stop doing? And the answer is, stop being irrelevant. Stop being boring. A forgettable business, doing run of the mill work at a mid-level price point isn’t changing.
The world isn’t doing anything. It’s not exciting to your team, it’s not exciting to your employees, it’s not excited to your partners, and it’s certainly not exciting to your customers. How’s that? It, it makes business hard. It makes marketing nearly impossible, and it’s zero fun for anybody. If I can’t stress that enough, just stop being irrelevant, and then I can go into what, what irrelevant means.
But when I built this consulting firm, I said I really want to set out to do the opposite of what I see. Mm-hmm. and Ryan, what I see is boring, spammy, irrelevant. Shotgun approached marketing. Mm-hmm. , just going out to people and doing it badly and forgettable and badly. Um, , , when I say there are people doing it badly, there are people doing it badly and you’re the guy that, like every radio commercial that comes on, or billboard or TV commercial, you always have something to say.
Do you say stuff to your wife like, oh, like da da, that should be done this. I say it about TV series. Yeah, I say it about podcasts. Yeah. I’m, I’m a lot of fun at parties. Um, I have strong opinions on how this should go and I get the chance to guest lecture. I, I get to teach at a couple of, um, I live down here by UNC Chapel Hill, by Duke.
Um, I’ve, I, I speak at a few different colleges and share these opinions. . It’s really a movement that I feel like I’m, I’m leading. It’s a, um, it’s a crusade that I’m on to just tell these small. So the future of business is the small and mid-size business owner. Mm-hmm. . It’s not more Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk activity.
Those aren’t going to, those aren’t what’s making an impact at the local level. Yeah. Um, the people who are changing the world right now are the small business ideas, which ironically, if I tell you that you have to point out to me, Sean, . Think about it. Jeff Bezos started out as a small business owner.
Amazon was an idea in a garage. Yep. Um, Elon Musk started out, you know, just putting together an email tool. You know that the mm-hmm. , these guys started out that way. So they’re not the enemy. They’re every bit the, the ideal that we should be striving for. Yeah. The example, the example that we should be following.
So, study their lives, study their careers, um, read their stuff. I, I read a book by. , the recently pasted CEO of, um, of, um, the, ah, shoot, I just blanked on his name. . Zappos on Zappos. Thank you. Yeah. I recently read the book from Zappos about putting customers first, and I just was so inspired by the way he looks at his customer as a partner in the business and he trusts them.
And it’s so different from the classic, you know, the customers that King, the customers always write to saying, the customer’s a partner in this business with you. Mm-hmm. . So again, very exciting, very meaningful stuff to me. So when I looked at what I wanted to call my company, I just wanted to say the. Of the spammy, irrelevant stuff.
Mm-hmm. , let’s just do relevant marketing if you’re putting the right message Right. And forgive me, all of you that have taken marketing 1 0 1, at any point in your life, putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time, if they care about what you’re saying, it’s relevant to them.
Yeah. That is good marketing. Yeah. Do something great. Um, the steps are simple. Be meaningful. Um mm-hmm. be the best in the world. It’s something that’s specific mm-hmm. and valuable and it makes your whole business relevant and profitable and above all successful. I love that. Totally. A hundred percent aligned with what you’re saying.
And I’ve, I’ve lived it. If when you, you actually. What you stand for, the, the, the right client that you serve, what’s important to them, and you can then give that in front of them and speak to them. It’s everything. So you have the book People, everybody need, who’s listening to this needs to go this book right now.
Automatic Exit. Turn your Service Business into a Best Selling Asset into a sellable asset. Such a good name. It tells you everything you need in book. and I actually own automatic exit book.com. So you can go there and, uh, see, see where it’s distributed, get your copy from, from all the places. Um, I’d love more people reading that.
Mm-hmm. and pass it to your friends who own a business. Um, service businesses are just neglected. Everybody knows they can sell their construction business because you have. , all these tangible assets you’ve got PP and e. Mm-hmm. . It, it has value on the books, you know, it’s depreciated value, but it has book value.
Uh, what people forget is your service business has value too. The relationships, the processes, the SOPs, the, um, the people you’ve, you’ve trained inside of your organization. Mm-hmm. , um, um, beyond just your book of business, that all have incredible value to the right buyers. Amazing. Now, I know a lot of people are gonna wanna work with you.
Personally, so where do they go to do that? Sure. I’m easy to find. I own relevant for agencies either f o r or the number four. Relevant for agencies. Dot com is my main website. I have a few other businesses that I’ve partnered in, um, or that I’ve invested in that work. Um, You know, relevant business development.com is my done with you, uh, service to help grow and scale that business.
Um, it’s, it’s the best in the business at what it does, but you can find me on all socials at relevant for you. So on Twitter, Instagram relevant for you and relevant for you, um, is just my, my catchall. Yeah. Cause. I, I look, and there’s been a lot of businesses we’ve been able to help. We’re working with politicians, with lobbyists, with realtors.
Um, I did a, I have a whole relevant for nonprofits. Mm-hmm. , um, is one of the things we started during Covid, just to help a lot of, with a lot of fundraising and partnership, uh, generation for non-profits who are not naturally good at marketing stuff, right. The stuff that, that good marketers do, uh, naturally without too much efforts.
is, is a, a, a far reach, um, that I saw as a strong need in the not-for-profit industry, um, or vertical. Mm-hmm. . So yeah, I, I’ve built some of those, those are the places you can find me. Um, you can email me at Shawn relevant for agencies.com. I answer all my own email. I am so excited because obviously this is what we’re all about at idea wins is what small things can you do?
and it’s not necessarily always small, but it’s, it’s a, it’s a simple idea, but that will make the biggest impact and that’s what you’re all about. So I, I can’t wait for people to read your vote. I can’t wait for people to work with you. Um, so that you can do that for them. You can help them to make those simple changes that will make a huge impact on their, their value.
And that’s essentially what we’re trying to do here. Anyone who’s building a. You’re trying to build value, but provide value. And as you provide value to your ideal customer, you are building value. Um, and I’m excited for people to learn about the specific strategies that you, uh, talk about in your book and that you, that you do for your clients.
Yeah. No, I agree. And I love how many times we’ve said value on this call because it’s the most important thing. A hundred percent. Well, I think we’re about out of time. I appreciate you. and, uh, anything else you wanna leave with us? Actually, well, I have one more question, just for fun. Sure. So, if you had to pick any business superpower, what would it be?
Uh, it’s a business superpower. It would also be great for fighting crime. It would be great for everything else. The superpower that I’m most fascinated with would be the ability to stop time. You know, like how Ferris Bueller, like could just kind of like pause the moment, or they did this gimmick a lot in like the original series of, um, saved by the.
And suddenly, like everybody was frozen and Zach would like turn to the camera. Like I look at that and just think that would be the most perfect superpower cuz you’d win every fight you’d get. You’d be, you’d wrap up like better than the flash with super speed. Oh yeah. Better than super strength. Um, you know, you’d just wrap up the criminal or put handcuffs on him while he’s frozen in time.
Then you go back and you get to get all your work. You get to get ahead of the books you’re trying to read. You can catch up on your Netflix series and then you can still spend time with your wife and kids like it. It, it’s, it’s a good one, man. I think Forget about working. Take the kick with that one . Um, yeah.
I’m surprised they have not written that, but I feel like it’s gotta be like Superman’s power. If, uh, somebody really had the ability to stop time, you’d need a powerful kryptonite. Bring him down and keep him, keep him humble. Well, if you figure out how to do that, you gotta come back on the podcast, share it with us,
You’ll be the first person I tell Ryan, happy to. Awesome. All right, brother, nice to meet you. Thanks for being on our podcast today. And, uh, uh, just again, for everybody, we’ll put, uh, those links, uh, to Sean’s website, to the book, and to social media in the, in the podcast notes. Oh, I love what you’re doing.
Keep up the great work. Thanks, brother. All right, everybody. Have a good day.