Every day I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I'm not there, I go to work.

- Robert Orben

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Convert your site to a business

You may have the greatest site in the world but will anyone want to buy it? Maybe not.

One day you may look to sell your site, blog, domain or other web property. And you're going to get less for it than you think. If your great resource doesn't have a specific exit plan you will not maximise your selling price (or may not even be able to sell it at all!)

You need to plan now.

I don't have a magic wand, but I've sold millions of dollars worth of sites. More importantly, I've bought hundreds of properties, and I know how buyers think. I've made a lot of mistakes selling sites and have learnt a few things along the way. You don't need to make those same mistakes.

Who does this apply to? I'd like to think it applies to all fellow webmasters who have sites, blogs, domains, hubpages, Squidoo lenses or other web property, whether you are looking to sell now or not. Why? For one, several of these tips will help you improve your existing business and make you more money. But also, if you do decide to sell some day you may find that it's too late to implement some of the ideas here; you need to implement them now.

1. Accept that you don't have a profitable business - If you deduct from your profit a fair wage for your efforts, would there still be any profit left in the business? If the answer is no then you don't have a business, you have a job (more). Blunt, but it's true. Smart buyers don't want to buy jobs.

Solution: Work towards making it a self-running business that's generating a profit. Find people on places like elance/guru.com and strike a deal for them to run your site for you. Freeing you to concentrate on building revenue streams means you make more profit despite having to pay a salary.

The goal you want to aim for is being able to hand over a fully functional, self-running business to the buyer that makes a profit after paying all expenses, including salaries to run the site.

This is easier said than done. The biggest problem of any small business is "duplicating the proprietor". But, until you've attacked and solved this, you don't have that attractive a business proposition

2. Any site can be the Next Big Thing. Except Yours - While it's great to have potential to become the next Google, every seller claims potential. Sellers turn a blind eye to some basic logic. If a site has so much potential and is a gold mine just waiting for someone to come along with a big wheelbarrow, the question presents itself to buyers: Why isn't the seller himself buying a wheelbarrow?

Other commitments? Health? Nope, buyers don't buy any of that, even if it's true. As far as they are concerned the seller has taken the site as far as he can and has reached the limits of what he can do with it. He's bailing out!

Don't dwell on what the site can be, how much it can earn, how easy it can be to make it profitable. Buyers strip all that out of their consideration, they really do. Concentrate on what the site has. Concentrate on the profits; that's what the buyer is doing. And if you don't have them, or they aren't substantial enough, go get 'em. That's what you really, really should be working on before listing your site for sale.

Every seller claims potential. Be different.

3. More solid, less gas - Good Google rankings, good Yahoo rankings, six Digg frontpages in the last month etc. work to your disadvantage!

Sellers often feel justifiably proud of reaching the front page of anything, and well done to you! But SERPS rankings are transitionary, ephemeral, fleeting, temporary. Buyers give much, much less value to this than sellers would like them to. There is no guarantee you'll stay at #1 in Google, even if you've been there for years. Digg could ban your site. 

In fact, having a great deal of traffic from these volatile sources works against you because the buyer may see your existing traffic as only temporarily high and therefore likely to fall in the near future. The higher the percentage of your traffic from a single referrer, the riskier the deal is to the buyer.

Collect the solids: good URL, quality content, fantastic incoming links from a wide range of sources, killer functionality, a loyal community etc. These are things that cannot be easily taken away from you. They are certainly worth more to the buyer.

4. Time is your friend - Longer is generally better than shorter. Been earning high profits but been in business for only two months? That's not as attractive as the competition earning half as much but with a 10 year earnings' history.

It's easy to fake earnings in the short term. Webmasters secretly buy traffic, spend a lot of time promoting their site overtly and covertly, buy ads in ezines to drive visitors to their site and indulge in all kinds of tricks. It wouldn't be economical for them to do it year after year after year. Buyers therefore have a tendency to lay more store on long term profits.

"Long = Good" applies not just to profits but to a whole range of other metrics.

- Like traffic. Download your traffic logs regularly and before your host deletes it from their server. One day you'll meet a buyer whose decision revolves on the extent you can prove history of referrers.

- Like domain name. Allowed the domain to expire and managed to re-register it before a drop catcher picked it up? You've lost valuable investment in that name because it's now treated as a new domain.

- Like earning stats.

- Like partnership deals, licences for software your site relies on, agreements with people who work for you, copyright release from people who write for you etc.

- Like screenshots of #1 rankings year after year (as per #7 below, you may not want to always show it to prospective buyers, but it's nice to have to hand if you ever have to prove a point).

5. Potential is like quantum physics - Potential is what the buyer sees in your site. If he didn't see potential he wouldn't buy it. But the really crazy thing is that you can make that entire potential completely disappear simply by pointing out its existence! It's crucial that the buyer detects the potential for himself. Even better if he thinks you haven't recognised where that potential is. Point out an avenue of potential to him and he suddenly sees that as part of a Sales Pitch and he's more likely to discount it.

The most brilliant sales people have ways of pushing ideas into prospective buyers while letting them think they thought those ideas up themselves.

But even better than potential is proven profit. Especially if that profit is consistent and long-standing. Sorry to keep repeating the "P" word but it's the #1 criteria in most buyers' minds.

6. Make a business plan -  Looking professional goes a long way towards selling a site and maximising your sale price. A business plan is, anyway, a crucial part of any business. No matter how small your site or how trivial your expectations of it, go do a business plan. I promise you, it will pay big dividends. It doesn't need to be very formal, it could even be hand-written, but do it and use it. How to write a business plan.

As any sales person will tell you, it takes a lot of effort to be different, to stand out from the crowd but, they'll add, it's worth it. Very, very few website sellers have a business plan from the start, and it's so simple to create that you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't stand out from that crowd.

You may find that your Business Plan is something you really get into, that it's helping you organise your thoughts and actions, that it's giving you direction, that it's serving to increase the profits of the business. Great! Keep it safely, keep updating it, and it'll serve you well when you come to sell. It'll show the buyer he's buying a proper business. It increases your credibility and immediately gets him favourably disposed towards buying your site.

7. Get out! If you're a pop star and the site is about you then obviously, it's about you. However, it's easier to sell a site when it isn't intricately linked to your Myspace page, your friends in Facebook and your Youtube account (unless you're selling all of them with the site). Keeping it as a distinct business involves no linking to and from it using accounts in UGC sites like Helium and Hubpages.

Move your main email address to a different domain. Remove any pages/folders of personal docs/photos/emails, especially those pages have somehow gotten into an SE's index. It may be worth also removing ego pages: pages about how great you are: how many Page One rankings you got in Yahoo, how many people signed up to your RSS feed, how many friends you have in Bebo and where you rank in Technorati/Topsites/Stumbleupon/elsewhere.

Too many boasts and the buyer feels threatened. His thoughts: does he have to keep up that level of activity and achievement to continue getting the traffic/sales/signups you were getting? Is the business going to collapse without you.

The more integral you are to the business the more difficult it is to sell it.

8. People matter -  Make contacts with likely buyers way before you want to sell. Give them free links (they'll know from their logs how much traffic you've sent them over the years - they'll be pre-sold). Get them to join your community, sign up to your newsletter / feed, or otherwise take a "stake" in your venture; let them belong.

Build relationships with people already there. You'd be surprised how often a forum's moderators end up buying the forum...or an ecommerce customer is in the same vertical and looking to make an acquisition.

Rather than trying to do everything yourself, call in specialists where they will be of use. A business broker could be an invaluable ally in the selling of a site. No matter how experienced you are in business a good business broker has that much of experience in selling businesses, a whole different skill. Further, may are willing to sit with you on a free initial consultation.

Talk to other business advisors. Countries like the US and UK have quasi-government bodies that you can tap for free assistance. They also provide contacts (potential buyers!), CGT planning advice (hopefully you're making a huge capital gain), and tips. Tip: Age of memberships sometimes determines what services you can avail of. As membership is usually free there's no harm in signing up today!