Selling Your Business? Expect the Unexpected!

According to the experts, a business owner should lay the groundwork for selling at about the same time as he or she first opens the door for business. Great advice, but it rarely happens. Most sales of businesses are event-driven; i.e., an event or circumstance such as partnership problems, divorce, health, or just plain burn-out pushes the business owner into selling. The business owner now becomes a seller without considering the unexpected issues that almost always occur. Here are some questions that need answering before selling: How much is your time worth? Business owners have a business to run, and they are generally the mainstay of the operation. If they are too busy trying to meet with prospective buyers, answering their questions and getting necessary data to them, the business may play second fiddle. Buyers can be very demanding and ignoring them may not only kill a possible sale, but will also reduce the purchase price. Using the services of a business broker is a … [Read more...]

Do You Know Your Customers?

It's always nice, when eating at a nice restaurant, for the owner to come up and ask how everything was. That personal contact goes a long way in keeping customers happy – and returning. It seems that customer service is now handled by making a potential customer or client wait on a telephone for what seems like forever, often forcing them to repeatedly listen to a recording saying that the call will be handled in 10 minutes. Small businesses are usually built around personal customer service. If you are a business owner, when is the last time you “worked the floor” or handled the phone, or had lunch with a good customer? Customers and clients like to do business with the owner. Even a friendly “hello” or “nice to see you again” goes a long way in customer relations and service. The importance of knowing your customers and/or clients could actually be extended to suppliers, vendors, and others connected with your business. When is the last time you visited with your banker, … [Read more...]

A Listing Agreement is More than Just a Piece of Paper

In order to sell one’s business using the services of a business broker, a listing agreement is almost always required. For the owner of the business, signing the agreement legally authorizes the sale of the business. This simple act of signing represents the end of ownership. For some business owners, it means heading into uncharted territory after the business is sold. For many it also signifies the end of a dream. The business owner may have started the business from scratch and/or taken it to the next level. A little of the business owner may always be in that business. The business, in many cases, has been like a part of the family. For buyers, the signed listing agreement is the beginning of a dream, an opportunity for independence and the start of business ownership. The buyer looks at the business as the next phase in his or her life. Pride of ownership builds. So, that simple piece of paper – the listing agreement – is the bridge for both the seller and the buyer. The … [Read more...]

What a Buyer May Really Be Looking At

Buyers, as part of their due diligence, usually employ accountants to check the numbers and attorneys to both look at legal issues and draft or review documents. Buyers may also bring in other professionals to look at the business’ operations. The prudent buyer is also looking behind the scenes to make sure there are not any “skeletons in the closet.” It makes sense for a seller to be just as prudent. Knowing what the prudent buyer may be checking can be a big help. A business intermediary professional is a good person to help a seller look at these issues. They are very familiar with what buyers are looking for when considering a company to purchase. Here are some examples of things that a prudent buyer will be checking: Finance Is the business taking all of the trade discounts available or is it late in paying its bills? This could indicate poor cash management policies. Checking the gross margins for the past several years might indicate a lack of control, price erosion … [Read more...]

A “Pig in a Poke"

Once a buyer has negotiated a deal and secured the necessary financing, he or she is ready for the due diligence phase of the sale. The serious buyer will have retained an accounting firm to verify inventory, accounts receivable and payables; and retained a law firm to deal with the legalities of the sale. What’s left for the buyer to do is to make sure that there are no “skeletons in the closet,” so he or she is not buying the proverbial “pig in a poke.” The four main areas of concern are: business' finances, management, buyer's finances, and marketing. Buyers are usually at a disadvantage as they may not know the real reason the business is for sale. This is especially true for buyers purchasing a business in an industry they are not familiar with. The seller, because of his or her experience in a specific industry, has probably developed a “sixth sense” of when the business has peaked or is “heading south.” The buyer has to perform the due diligence necessary to smoke out the … [Read more...]

The Pre-Sale Business Tune-Up

Owners are often asked, "do you think you will ever sell your business?" The answer varies from, "when I can get my price" to "never" to "I don't really know" to everything in between. Most sellers may think to themselves when asked this question, "I'll sell when the time is right." Obviously, misfortune can force the decision to sell. Despite the questions, most business owners just go merrily along their way conducting business as usual. They seem to believe in the old expression that basically states, "it is a good idea to sell your horse before it dies." Four Ways to Leave Your Business There are really only four ways to leave your business. (1) Transfer ownership to your children or other family members. Unfortunately, many children do not want to become involved in the family business, or may not have the capability to operate it successfully. (2) Sell the business to an employee or key manager. Usually, they don't have enough cash, or interest, to purchase the business. … [Read more...]

Considering Selling? Some Things to Consider

Know what your business is worth. Don’t even think about selling until you know what your business should sell for. Are you prepared to lower your price if necessary? Prepare now. There is an often-quoted statement in the business world: “The time to prepare your business to sell is the day you buy it or start it.” Easy to say, but very seldom adhered to. Now really is the time to think about the day you will sell and to prepare for that day. Sell when business is good. The old quote: “The time to sell your business is when it is doing well” should also be adhered to. It very seldom is – most sellers wait until things are not going well. Know the tax implications. Ask your accountant about the tax impact of selling your business. Do this on an annual basis just in case. However, the tax impact is only one area to consider and a sale should not be predicated on this issue alone. Keep up the business. Continuing to manage the business is a full-time job. Retaining the best … [Read more...]

Can You Really Afford to Sell?

In many cases, the sale of a small company is “event” driven. That is, the reason for sale is often an event such as a health decline or illness, divorce, partnership issues, or even a decline in business. A much more difficult reason for selling is one in which the owners simply want to retire and live happily ever after. Here is the problem: Suppose the owners have a very prosperous distribution business. They each draw about $200,000 annually from the business plus cars and other benefits. If the company sold for $2 million, let’s say after debt, taxes and closing expenses, the net proceeds would be $1.5 million. Sounds good, until you realize that the net proceeds only represent about 3 1/2 years of income for each (and that doesn’t include the cars, health insurance, etc.). Then what? The above scenario is not atypical, especially in small companies. These are solid companies that provide a very comfortable living for two owners. In the above example, the owners obviously … [Read more...]

Surprises CEOs Face When Selling Their Companies

Surprise #1: Substantial Time Commitment In the real estate business, once the owner engages the broker there is very little for the owner to do until the broker presents the various offers from the potential buyers.  In the M&A business, there is a substantial time commitment required of the CEO/Owner in order to complete the sale properly, professionally and thoroughly. The following examples are worth noting: Offering Memorandum: This 30 + page document is the cornerstone of the selling process because most business intermediaries expect the potential acquirers to submit their initial price range based on the information presented in this memorandum.  The intermediary will heavily depend on the CEO/Owner to supply him or her with all the necessary facts. Suggestions of Potential Acquirers: Chances are that the sales manager is the only person who knows the best companies to contact and those not to contact (competitors).  Arguably, this information should be … [Read more...]

Why Deals Don’t Close

Sellers Don’t have a valid reason for selling. Are testing the waters to check the market and the price. (They are similar to the buyer who is “just shopping.”) Are completely unrealistic about the price and the market for their business. Are not honest about their business or their situation. The reason they want to sell is that the business is not viable, it has environmental problems or some other serious issues that the seller has not revealed, or new competition is entering the market. Don’t disclose that there is more than one owner and they are not all in agreement. Have not checked with their outside advisors about possible financial, tax or legal implications of selling their business. Are unprepared to accept seller financing or now unwilling to accept it. Buyers Don’t have a valid reason to buy a business, or the reason is not strong enough to overcome the fear. Have unrealistic expectations regarding price, the business buying process, and/or small … [Read more...]