Tuesday, August 25, 2020

How to Build A Powerful Network: 7 Ways to Connect Today and More

Connect with video

Bulk of my job is planning meetings and events for CEOs. I am an extrovert who gets energy from being with a group of people. The current pandemic has temporarily halted our in-person meetings and events. Still, our mission to connect CEOs for learning and growth lives on, and one could argue that your business network and relationships are more important now than ever.

We tackled the topic of connecting and networking in today’s environment during a recent VACEOs Square Table hosted by two of our sponsors: Jay Carpenter, Managing Director, Fahrenheit Advisors and Patrick Morin, Partner, Transact Capital. 

They graciously took time to share their own tips, and I found it interesting to have two different perspectives and two very different personality styles sharing their experiences. Below are my key takeaways. All work whether you are reaching out to a family member, friend, or client. The key is relationship building.

We all look forward to business meetings with great food and drink. But, until then, it’s important to continue connecting and building relationships now. What ways are you finding to connect? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Or, if you are a Virginia Council Member or Sponsor put what you’ve learned to practice. Sign up for our Summer Speed Networking and Music event on August 27!

VACEOs networking event with music

Summer Networking and Music Event. Visit Events >


4 Reasons Why You Should Connect

  1. You have more time. No travel needed!
  2. We are all navigating this new landscape together. Let’s fumble through this together.
  3. Everyone is craving an authentic business connection now. Aren’t you?
  4. You can’t wait for the next in-person meeting. You must find a way now or risk becoming forgotten.

7 Ways to Build a Business Network and Make a Connection in Today’s Environment

  1. Set up a virtual coffee/drink. It can be a short meeting over Zoom.
  2. Schedule a phone call. This allows you both to get up and move.
  3. Send a text message. One of my first non-family member text during the switch to remote work came from a vendor/member just reaching out to me. Not a sales text…he showed he cared.
  4. Go old school and send a note. 
  5. Reach out in LinkedIn or other social media. Again, not a sales message…show you care.
  6. Attend a webinar and connect with other participants. Allows for an opening to connect further.
  7. Set up a walking meeting or a safe socially distanced drink on a porch.


Connie Bruce

About the Author
Connie Bruce joined the Council in 2007. As the Director of Operations & Member Services she flexes her strategic planning, event planning and customer service muscles each day at the Council, planning numerous meetings/events each year, all while managing day-to-day finances and membership questions and concerns.

Connie is a Certified Association Executive (CAE®), which is the highest professional credential in the association industry. Before coming to VACEOs, Connie served as an AVP at Bank of America for eight years, where she managed over ten employees. Prior to that, she discovered her love for hospitality at a national hotel chain.

Posted by Staff at 2:10 pm
Tuesday, August 25, 2020

7 Business Lessons My Daughter Should Know

It’s a fundamental question everyone, in one form or another – no matter their age, ethnicity or gender – eventually asks themselves about their career or their purpose in life: “What’s next?” 

It’s a question that intrigued VACEOs Member Jennifer Boyden and VACEOs Sponsor Karen Elliott enough to initiate a confidential group discussion among their peers. More specifically, they wanted to know how women business owners and executives are approaching the topic.

For me, I wanted to start a list of things that I can share with my daughter, and with my COO, who is 29. – Jennifer Boyden, CEO, Heart Havens

“We wanted to have this conversation with a broader group of women to understand how we think about our legacy,” explains Boyden, who is CEO of Heart Havens. “We wanted to hear about experiences and start to understand the ways that we can show support for each other, and explore the types of things we want those women coming up behind us to know. For me, I wanted to start a list of things that I can share with my daughter, and with my COO, who is 29.”

The result of their effort? Forty-five minutes of experience-sharing – where candid conversations about backgrounds, personal and professional hardships, and surviving in predominantly male-dominated industries (among other topics) were discussed. And everyone who participated agreed there was a need to continue the conversation!

In the spirit of Boyden’s wish to collect a list for her daughter, here are a few takeaways for future CEOs who may wish to follow their entrepreneurial instincts.



(lessons from women CEOs and business executives)

  1. FULLY Participate in Networks and in The Conversations
    “You will be well served.”
  2. Be Aware of Patriarchal Systems
    “Think about the system you’re partaking in and the choices you’re making. Make choices that are appropriate for you.”
  3. Avoid Conversational Power Shifts
    “Don’t start a conversation with, ‘I’m sorry!’”
  4. Deliberately Seek Out a Mentor (Male or Female)
    “There are some natural mentors that have happened along the way, and I’ve been grateful for them.”
  5. Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic
    “We spend so much time cutting ourselves down that when somebody says something that bugs us, it’s because we’ve already told it to ourselves 1,500 times.”
  6. Don’t Stop Learning: Read and Evolve
    “I’m done with that physical part of my value. I’m more concerned with the mental and emotional part of it.” 
  7. We’re All Similar, So Be Kind and Support Each Other
    “We need that space where we are supportive and nice to each other and can connect, because we all have unique, yet similar, experiences.”

For Karen Elliott, Esq., who practices with Eckert Seamans, the question “What’s next?” was answered rather effortlessly by a retired CEO she met on a recent cruise trip. To sum up her perspective: “You learn, you earn, and then you find a way to return back to the community.” 

We hope the takeaways above are a starting place for you as you think about your own answer.




Special thanks to Jennifer Boyden and Karen Elliott for initiating this important conversation. Another note of gratitude goes to Danessa Knaupp, founder of Avenue 8 Advisors (and a VACEOs Sponsor), for facilitating the discussion.

Are you a woman business owner who is searching for a peer group? One you can learn from and grow with? Consider joining the Virginia Council of CEOs. (A no-risk, no-cost membership offer is available for a short time.) Learn more about the VACEOs Community Membership.

Editor’s note: Permission to summarize the information shared in this confidential VACEOs Square Table session was granted by Karen and Jennifer.

Posted by Staff at 1:24 pm
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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Understanding Your Exit Strategy Options


All business owners will eventually exit their business, and I believe it is important for leaders to prepare well to exit well. 

There are a number of tactics that owners can implement that will help them prepare well for an exit and achieve a sale-ready posture. The beauty of adopting a sale-ready approach is that it has two powerful benefits. First, it will make the eventual exit of your business easier, faster, and more lucrative, whenever and however that exit event may come. Business owners in a sale-ready position have invested the time in laying the groundwork that will enable a thoughtful, smooth transition into a sale or other capital-raising process. It will also enable you to respond quickly if you unexpectedly receive an attractive unsolicited offer from a potential buyer. 

Second, the process of preparing your business for sale will make your business better, today. Business owners with a sale-ready mind-set think more strategically, have better insights into their companies, and make better decisions on where to take their business next. They, therefore, create a two-fold benefit: when the time comes to exit, they have a more valuable business and are better prepared to exit. 


“M&A professionals often talk about two types of buyers: strategic and financial, yet there are subcategories of each that are meaningful to understand as you think about what the ideal buyer for your business might look like.” – Jonathan Brabrand


A critically important component of sale-readiness is for business owners to fully understand the various options available to them, both in terms of buyer categories and specific companies within each. Depending on the seller’s desired outcome, their options may include domestic and international strategic (corporate) buyers, private equity and other types of financial buyers, or both. It also may include groups that will take a minority stake in your business, in addition to those groups who look to acquire controlling majority positions in companies. 

It is only with a full understanding of the available options that sellers can make informed decisions about which buyers to contact in the first place, and ultimately, with which buyer they choose to transact. Otherwise, they risk looking back on the sale of their business with regret at stones left unturned.

Sometimes my clients equate exiting their business with “selling out” to their primary competitor, and in most situations, this is not a pleasant thought. This aversion to turning their enterprise over to a despised competitor, including the feelings of the disloyalty to employees it would create, leads many business owners to turn their back on the whole M&A process. If you have certain competitors or other companies that you would never want to acquire your business, no worries—you don’t have to include them in the process at all.

The truth of the matter is different; there are many types of buyers from which to choose, each with its own unique characteristics. Let’s take a quick look at the primary buyer classifications to get a better sense of who they are and what they have to offer. 

M&A professionals often talk about two types of buyers: strategic and financial, yet there are subcategories of each that are meaningful to understand as you think about what the ideal buyer for your business might look like.

Strategic Buyers

Corporate acquirers, whether they operate in competitive or complementary lines of business, are termed strategic buyers, because their acquisitions are focused on targets that provide a strategic fit with their overall growth strategy. Strategic buyers always have a “Make versus Buy” decision. Would it be quicker and/or more cost-effective to acquire a given business or to invest in creating the same capabilities from scratch in-house?

Strategic buyers can offer many attractive advantages to a seller. Chief among them is the ability for the selling owner to retire from the business after a short transition period, typically three to six months. In addition, for business owners that desire a full exit through a sale of 100 percent of their ownership, strategic buyers are likely the best alternative.

The benefits to your business of selling to a strategic buyer can also be attractive. Access to the buyer’s larger base of customers, more robust sales team, broader distribution capabilities, or a better sourcing network can all have a significant positive impact on your business’s future. The primary downsides to strategic buyers are the potential loss of the business’s independent identity and the possibility of cost-cutting, such as elimination of back-office functions that can be handled by the buyer’s current staff.

Strategic buyers can be further categorized by the location of their corporate headquarters. International strategic buyers often operate their US divisions independently with a hands-off approach, particularly if they don’t already have substantial operating businesses in the US. Domestic strategic buyers, on the other hand, are more likely to have higher levels of integration with their acquisition targets, yielding more efficient operations and cost savings that drive higher earnings to the bottom line. 

Financial Buyers

Financial buyers are professional investors that acquire private companies with the goal of improving them before selling them several years later to realize a return on their investment. Hundreds of financial buyers are looking for small to medium-sized private businesses to acquire in the US, generally falling into one of three categories: 

  1. Private Equity Groups
  2. Fundless Sponsors
  3. Family Offices

Private Equity Groups

Private equity groups are by far the largest cadre of financial buyers, both in terms of quantity and purchasing power. According to PitchBook, 563 new middle-market PE funds (funds of less than a billion dollars) were raised in the 2016–2018 timeframe, representing an aggregate of $148 billion of capital to invest in private companies.

The private equity model is simple and straightforward. A PE firm (the general partner, or GP) raises a pool of capital from investors (limited partners, or LPs) to then make equity investments in private companies. Private equity LPs often comprise insurance companies, pension funds, and college endowments that allocate a portion of their capital to private equity and other alternative investments, which offer higher returns with higher levels of risk. 

Once a private equity fund raises the targeted amount of capital, the fund is closed to new LPs and the clock begins. PE funds typically have to invest all the committed capital in acquired businesses, called portfolio companies, within the first three to five years and then exit all the investments and fully return the capital to their investors within ten years. GPs earn an annual management fee, often 2 percent, of the total fund amount and then take a meaningful portion, often 20 percent, of the gains the fund generates. To increase the potential return on invested capital, PE firms will acquire businesses using a combination of their fund’s capital and bank debt that will be repaid by the portfolio company over time.

Because PE firms are professional investors and not business operators, they will control the Board of Directors, but rely completely on the existing management teams to run their portfolio companies. As a result, PE firms will motivate their management teams to increase the value of the business through options and the ability to own a minority portion of equity. The quality of management and their desire to remain in leadership positions are so important to most PE firms that they will not pursue acquisitions where management is not strong or wants to retire post-closing.

Fundless Sponsors

Fundless Sponsors are groups that pursue the same investment strategy as PE firms, but have not raised a fund of committed capital. Instead, they maintain a network of potential backers and raise the capital needed to make an acquisition on a deal-by-deal basis. For this reason, fundless sponsors are viewed as having more risk of a deal falling apart before closing than PE firms that control a fund of committed capital. That said, I have worked with a number of very successful fundless sponsors who were great partners to their portfolio companies.

Family Offices

Family offices make investments in private businesses like a private equity group, but their capital comes from one or more high-net-worth individuals or families. As such, they are considered more patient capital since they don’t have time pressure to sell their investments and return capital to LPs. In fact, many family offices take a long-term approach to their portfolio companies or may even plan to hold their businesses indefinitely. Family offices also typically use less bank debt in their acquisitions, which many business owners find more comforting.

PE-Backed Strategic Buyers

Once a private equity firm has made an investment in a stand-alone business, or platform company, they often seek to grow that platform by making smaller, add-on acquisitions. This PE-backed platform company thus becomes a hybrid category of buyer, blending the characteristics of both a strategic and financial buyer. It is common for platform companies to be particularly aggressive in pursuing add-on acquisitions in the first twelve to twenty-four months of PE ownership, when sufficient time exists to reap the rewards of the add-on growth strategy before the PE firm needs to sell the overall platform.

When you have a full understanding of the range of strategic and financial buyers that exist and what each can bring to the table in a potential transaction, you can make the best choice of partner for you and your business. For some sellers, a strategic buyer offers the ideal option for a successful exit. For others with a longer-term horizon and appetite to continue leading their company forward, private equity is the perfect partner.

About the Author

Jonathan Brabrand is a Managing Director at Transact Capital Partners, a boutique M&A advisory firm and long-time corporate sponsor and supporter of the Virginia Council of CEOs. 

Editor’s Note: This article was adopted from Jonathan Brabrand’s new book, The $100 Million Exit: Your Roadmap to the Ultimate Payday. If you would like to connect with Jonathan, you can reach him via email at jonathan@transactcapital.com or connect with him on LinkedIn. 

Posted by Staff at 9:57 am
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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

COVID-19 Update: Treatments, Vaccines, Herd Immunity, Testing +

Covid medical update

We all have questions about COVID and how to keep ourselves, our family, and our colleagues healthy and safe. Today, we find that we are providing custom advice on everything from testing and temperature checks, to what to do if you spike a fever in the middle of the night, to what are the most important things personally right now to be as healthy as possible. We’ve even gone on virtual tours of offices, providing feedback on how to improve the safety of the environment.

It’s a new frontier for healthcare providers, no doubt!

Are you in search some reliable, up-to-date medical information about the COVID-19 virus? Each week, Dr. Steven Bishop, Director of Wellness at PartnerMD, provides a COVID-19 update on Facebook Live, explaining in easy-to-understand terms the latest information related to the virus.

For example, on July 22 Dr. Bishop:

  • discussed promising vaccines from Phizer, one from Moderna, and one from AstraZeneca
  • shared his thoughts on why there is a focus on metabolic health
  • discussed testing in Virginia
  • answered the question, “Does the increase in positives indicate immunity sharing?” and more.

Listen in on that video session here:


Dr. Bishop regularly advises clients and their leadership teams on COVID and how to maximize their resilience against the virus – both as a company and as an individual when it comes to your personal health. He’ll be giving a virtual presentation to the VACEOs community on August 6 at 2:00 PM. Don’t miss this opportunity to ask him direct questions. Here’s a link to register. (VACEOs Members and Sponsors only.)

Janet Kiss is a Membership and Corporate Sales Associate at PartnerMD and is available for one-on-one and/or roundtable conversations for VA Council of CEO Members.

Editors Note: PartnerMD is a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs.

Posted by Staff at 9:53 am
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

How to Navigate and Protect Your Business for a Smooth Transition

As Virginia starts a phased reopening by easing “stay at home restrictions,” businesses need a well-thought-out transition plan. Your plan should take into consideration not only your employees’ and customers’ health and safety, but also fiscal stability, strategic direction, and technology. This multi-layered plan must address regulations, the environment, and internal communications as well as the emotional well-being of your employees. Flexibility is critical, and your business will need to be positioned to respond to a changing landscape as the situation evolves.

When devising your plan, consider these pieces of advice.


Prepare for the Physical Workplace

  • Give your office a post-pandemic makeover! Normalize the “6 feet rule” in the office and consider providing the baseline of PPE such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
  • Regularly clean the worksite and follow the CDC guidelines. Consider hiring an industrial cleaning company or ask your existing professional cleaner about their standards.
  • When planning the return to the office, consider:
    1. Flexible schedules to include part-time in the office and teleworking
    2. Create odd/even workdays in the office
    3. Stagger start and end times
    4. Designate days for specific work to be completed

It is important to note that doing everything possible to make the workplace clean demonstrates your commitment to maintaining a safe environment. This will build confidence and reduce the tension employees may have about returning to the workplace while COVID-19 concerns continue.

Focus on Internal Communications

  • Communicate your organization’s policy explaining the protocol. Transparency is key; include the thought process of how and why you devised the policy.
  • Make sure the policy is easily and readily accessible both online and in the workplace.
  • Survey your employees regularly to understand their main concerns and that their voice is valued (i.e. survey monkey, calls, focus groups).
  • Build a desire for workers to return to work and explain why especially if employees are successful at teleworking.
  • Keep employees engaged and mentally healthy. An example could be collaborating with a local gym for virtual yoga classes.

Over communicate the safety protocols as the workforce re-enters the physical workplace. Employees will feel secure knowing management has considered federal guidance and is establishing procedures to develop a culture of safety.

Refer to the state guidelines (PDF). External guidelines can help bridge the gap between varying employee opinions.


Manage Internal Controls

  • Make sure internal controls continue to be practiced especially in the remote working environment.
  • Investigate new ways to accomplish signature and approval responsibilities.
  • Evaluate how receipts have been handled in light of “working-at-home.” Who is proofing cash receipts? How are deposits made and who makes them?
  • Continue to communicate the controls and review of policy requirements.
  • Review by-laws for borrowing/banking transactions requiring board involvement.
  • Ensure all bank reconciliations have been prepared and company credit card receipts have been documented.
  • Make sure all mail has been reviewed and time-sensitive items have been handled.
  • Determine a rotating schedule on personnel to ensure there is at least one person in the accounting department who can be physically present the majority of the week.
  • Take your ledger to the cloud (i.e. QuickBooks Online or remote access).

Establish Fiscal Stability

  • Continue to forecast cash flow and report out with your team weekly.
  • Run various forecasting scenarios to reflect potential best and worst-case scenarios.
  • Rebuild your operating cash reserve. If you recently took shortcuts, document where you mitigated risk. It is easier to remember now than when you are being audited.
  • Monitor PPP forgiveness and everchanging rules for new SBA loans.
  • Develop a strategy to: improve liquidity, build working capital reserves, and access credit facilities. There is no guarantee there will be an additional aggressive stimulus package.


Document Lessons Learned

  • Do your post mortems. What did you learn that would have been helpful had you put it in place beforehand? Can you do it now and be more prepared if/when we are forced back into lockdown?
  • Record your organization’s strengths and build action steps around weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

Position for Success

  • Evaluate business partnership and merger opportunities to ensure the relevancy and strength of your organization.
  • Consider potential alternative revenue streams. Work with your team and board to identify innovative and creative strategies that are mission-aligned to retain your organization’s relevancy and success.
  • Bring new thought leaders to the table to help reposition your organization in innovative ways.
  • Consider a mini-board retreat to reevalute and modifiy your strategic plan.



Understanding Your Technology

  • Survey management and staff to identify issues with technology and processes; record these issues (small or large – either may cause bigger problems).
  • Evaluate your relationships with your vendor partners. Ask yourself:
    • Can they support technology changes?
    • How will we be impacted if they go out of business?
    • Will my business have the rights to continue using software provided by the vendor?
    • Regularly review your information security and technical risks. With malicious activity on the rise, risks need to be addressed by a combination of policies, technology, manual controls, training, and knowledgeable support staff.


Plan for Change

  • Be prepared to address new customer and partner expectations.
  • Re-consider new technology that has been put off that may help stabilize operations. Evalute the short and long-term benefits of the technology changes. If choosing to upgrade, be patient when training employees and remember this is a huge change for all involved.
  • Think outside the box when resolving issues or ways to increase efficiencies. Even if you are not ready to make changes now, do the research so you are prepared to react when needed.


About the Author: Warren Whitney
Warren Whitney is a results-oriented management consulting firm based in Richmond, Virginia who is dedicated to serving privately held and nonprofit organizations in four areas: Strategy, Finance/Accounting, HR, and IT.

Editors note: Image and content provided by Warren Whitney. This post article was originally posted here. Warren Whitney is a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs.

Posted by Staff at 9:42 am