Buying or selling a business is one of the most important decisions that most people ever make. Before jumping in, there are several points that should be taken into consideration. Let’s take a moment to examine some of the key points involved in buying or selling a business.
Factor #1 – What are You Selling?
Whether buying or selling a business it is important to ask a few simple questions. What is for sale? What is not included with the buyer’s investment? Does the sale price include any real estate? Are vital assets, such as machinery, included in the sale price?
Factor # 2 – What are the Range of Assets?
It is very important to understand the range of assets that are included with a business. What is proprietary? Are there formulations, patents and software involved? These types of assets are often the core of the business and will be essential for its long-term success.
Factor # 3 – Evaluating Assets for Profitability
Not all assets are created equally. If assets are not earning money or are too expensive to maintain, then they should probably be sold. Determining which assets are a “drag” on a business’s bottom line takes due diligence and a degree of focus, but it is an important step and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Factor # 4 – Determining Competitive Advantage
What gives a business a competitive advantage? And for those looking to sell a business, if your business doesn’t have a competitive advantage, what can you do to give it an advantage? Buyers should understand where a business’s competitive advantage lies and how they can best exploit that advantage moving forward.
Factor # 5 – How Can the Business Be Grown?
Both buyers and sellers alike should strive to determine how a business can be grown. Sellers don’t necessarily need to have implemented business growth strategies upon placing a business up for sale, but they should be prepared to provide prospective buyers with ideas and potential strategies. If a business can’t be grown this is, of course, a factor that should be weighed very carefully.
Factor # 6 – Working Capital
Some businesses are far more capital intensive than others. Understand how much working capital you’ll need to run any prospective business.
Factor # 7 – Management Depth
Businesses are only as good as their people. It is important to ask just how deep your management team is, how experienced that team is and what you can expect from that team. How dependent is the business on the owner or manager? If the business may fall apart upon the leaving of the owner or a manager, then this is a fact you need to know.
Buying or selling a business is often more complex than people initially believe. There are many variables that must be taken into consideration, including a range of other factors not discussed in this article ranging from how financial reporting is undertaken to barriers of entry, labor relationships and more. Due diligence, asking the right questions and patience are all key in making your business a more attractive asset to buyers or for finding the right business for you.Read More
Personal goodwill can have a profound impact on both small and medium-sized businesses. In fact, it can even impact the sales of larger companies. Ultimately, understanding how personal goodwill is cultivated is of great value for any company.
During the process of building a business, a founder builds one or more of the following: a positive personal reputation, a personal relationship with key players such as large customers and suppliers and the founder’s reputation associated with the creation of products, inventions, designs and more.
What Creates Personal Goodwill?
Personal goodwill can be established in many ways, for example, professionals such as doctors, dentists and lawyers can all build personal goodwill with their clients, especially over extended periods of time. One of the most interesting aspects of building personal goodwill is that it is essentially non-transferable, as it is invariably attached to and associated with, a particular key figure, such as the founder of a company. Simply stated, personal goodwill can be a powerful force, but it does have one substantial drawback. This is as the saying goes, “the goodwill goes home at night.”
How Does It Impact Buying or Selling a Business?
Buying a business where personal goodwill has been a cornerstone of a business’s success and growth presents some obvious risks. Likewise, it can be difficult to sell a business where personal goodwill plays a key role in the business, as a buyer must take this important factor into consideration. Certain businesses such as medical, accounting or legal practices, for example, depend heavily on existing clients. If those clients don’t like the new owner, they simply may go elsewhere.
Now, with all of this stated, it is, of course, possible to sell a business built partially or mostly around personal goodwill. Oftentimes, buyers will want some protection in the event that the business faces serious problems if the seller departs.
Solutions that Work for Both Parties
One approach is to require the seller to stay with the business and remain a key public face for a period of time. An effective transition period can be pivotal for businesses built around personal goodwill. A second approach is to have some form of “earn-out.” In this model, at the end of the year lost business is factored in, and a percentage is then subtracted from monies owed to the seller. Another option is that the funds from the down payment are placed in escrow and adjustments are made to those funds. It is important to note that the courts have decided that a business does not own the goodwill, the owner of the business does.
No doubt, businesses in which personal goodwill plays a major role, present their own unique challenge. Working with an experienced professional, such as a business broker, is an exceptional way to proceed in buying or selling this type of business.Read More
A recent article posted on PR Newswire entitled “Business owners’ love of work may hinder succession planning” explains the parallels between the number of business owners with no plans to retire and the lack of succession planning. In a recent poll, over 70% of business owners said they are not planning to retire, don’t know when they will retire, or do not plan to retire for at least 11 years. The survey also reported that 2 out of 3 business owners do not have a succession plan or a clear understanding of the importance of one.
Even if there are no immediate plans for retiring, business owners should have a succession plan in place to protect the business, partners, employees and customers. If something were to suddenly happen to the business owner such as serious illness or an untimely death, a succession plan would help make sure everything goes smooth with the transition of the business.
To get started with creating an exit plan, business owners can take 5 simple steps:
- Set goals & objectives
- Determine the value of your business
- Consider options for the business in the case of disability, retirement or death
- Develop a plan and documentation with an advisor, attorney and accountant
- Fund the plan
You never know when something unexpected could occur, so it’s never too early to start creating a succession plan.
A recent article posted by Forbes entitled “Baby boomers are selling their businesses to millennial entrepreneurs, and it’s a brilliant idea” highlights the fact that many baby boomers will soon be looking to sell their businesses and this creates excellent business opportunities for millennials. Many of these baby boomer businesses are well established having no debt, loyal customers and proven business models which make them a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs to take over instead of letting the businesses close down.
Here are 7 places to start looking for these baby boomer businesses:
- Local chamber of commerce
- Local CPAs
- Local real estate brokers
- Local community bankers
- Business brokers
- Go directly to the business owner
- Craigslist or eBay
Overall, staying connected with local professionals in your area as well as being proactive in searching out businesses for sale will help you to find a great business opportunity. Once you find a legitimate business, find out if it’s making a profit. If so, ask why the owner wants to sell and if not, find out why.
A recent article from Forbes entitled “Selling your business in 3 to 5 years? Buy another company now” explains how acquiring another company can significantly increase the value of your business before you decide to sell. The first thing to understand is that the multiple of earnings paid for a company increases at an accelerating rate with size. Larger EBITDA means larger multiples, and larger companies are generally less risky so a buyer is willing to pay more.
Acquiring another business may also amount to cost savings and operational improvements when the companies are integrated. Combine these savings with organic revenue growth and a larger multiplier when the companies are combined, and this can add up to a huge increase in your company’s value. So if you’re thinking of selling within 3-5 years, this could be a good strategy to consider.
A recent article from the Denver Post entitled “Selling your business? Focus on the key business drivers so buyers pay top dollar” explains how focusing on certain key factors of your business can help you get the highest possible price when selling your business. Although many key business drivers vary among industries, there are four drivers that apply across the board:
- History of increasing revenues and profits over the past 3-5 years
- Strategic business plan that shows strong growth, competitive advantage, and products or services that can be sold across multiple industries
- Future cash flow including expected EBITDA performance, expected working capital investment requirements, and expected fixed-asset investment requirements
- Strong management team and strong operating systems in place
Business owners should get a detailed business audit and analysis from a business consultant so they can see where their business’s strengths and weaknesses are. This will show the owner what business drivers to focus on improving in order to get the highest price for their business.
A recent article posted on Divestopedia entitled “What Is Your Company Actually Worth?” explores how buyers and sellers often perceive a company’s worth differently and how business owners misjudge their company’s value. Private company valuation is a complex process and most owners have difficulty staying objective when it comes to a business in which they have put their life’s work into. On the other hand, to a buyer, the company is an asset to be acquired at the lowest possible price, which often leads to a large difference in perception between a buyer and seller.
An experience advisor can help negate these problems and make the sale process better for the owner for the following reasons:
- The business owner can focus on factors of the business which will increase the valuation such as EBITDA, sales, gross profit margins, customer growth and employee skills.
- The owner will get an extensive look at the financial health of their business from an advisor along with recommendations for improvement.
- An advisor will also be an experienced negotiator, helping the owner get the best sale price for the business.
The key to avoiding mistakes in selling a business starts off by getting an accurate valuation of the business and making sure everything is analyzed effectively to prepare for a profitable sale.Read More
If you are an independent business owner, you are most likely also an independent business seller–if not now, you will be somewhere down the road. The Small Business Administration reports that three to five years is a long enough stretch for many business owners and that one in every three plans to sell, many of them right from the outset. With fewer cases of a business being passed on to future generations, selling has become a fact of independent business life. No matter at what stage your own business life may be, prepare now to stay ahead in the selling game.
Perhaps one of the most important rules of the selling game is learning how not to “sell.” An apt anecdote from Cary Reich’s The Life of Nelson Rockefeller shows a pro at work doing (or not doing) just that:
When the indomitable J.P. Morgan was seeking the Rockefeller’s Mesabi iron ore properties to complete his assemblage of what was to become U.S. Steel, it was Junior [John D. Rockefeller, Jr.] who went head-to-head with the financier. “Well, what’s your price?” Morgan demanded, to which Junior coolly replied, “I think there must be some mistake. I did not come here to sell. I understand you wished to buy.” Morgan ended up with the properties, but at a steep cost.
As this anecdote shows, the best approach to succeeding at the selling game is to be less of a “seller” and more of a “player.” Take a look at these tips for keeping the score in your favor:
Let Others Do the Heavy Pitching
Selling a business is an intense emotional drain; at best, a distraction. Let professional advisors do the yeoman’s duty when selling a business. A business intermediary represents the seller and is experienced in completing the transaction in a timely manner and at a price and terms acceptable to the seller. Your business broker will also present and assess offers, and help in structuring the transaction itself. If you plan to use an attorney, engage one who is seasoned in the business selling process. A former Harvard Business Review associate editor once said, “Inexperienced lawyers are often reluctant to advise their clients to take any risks, whereas lawyers who have been through such negotiations a few times know what’s reasonable.”
Stay in the Game
With the right advisors on your side, you can do the all-important work of tending to the daily life of the business. There is a tendency for sellers to let things slip once the business is officially for sale. Keeping normal operating hours, maintaining inventory at constant levels, and attention to the appearance and general good repair of the premises are ways to make the right impression on prospective buyers. Most important of all, tending to the daily running of the business will help ward off deterioration of sales and earnings.
Keep Pricing and Evaluation in the Ballpark
Like all sellers, you will want the best possible price for your business. You have probably spent years building it and have dreamed about its worth, based on your “sweat equity.” You’ll need to keep in mind that the marketplace will determine the value of the business. Ignoring that standard by asking too high a price will drive prospective buyers away, or will at the least slow the process, and perhaps to a standstill.
Play Fair with Confidentiality
Your business broker will constantly stress confidentiality to the prospects to whom he or she shows your business. They will use nonspecific descriptions of the business, require signatures on strict confidentiality agreements, screen all prospects, and sometimes phase the release of information to match the growing evidence of buyer sincerity. As the seller you must also maintain confidentiality in your day-to-day business activities, never forgetting that a breach of confidentiality can wreck the deal.
Sell Before Striking Out
Don’t wait until you are forced to sell for any reason, whether financial or personal. Instead of selling impulsively, you should plan ahead carefully by cleaning up the balance sheet, settling any litigation, providing a list of loans against the business with amounts and payment schedule, tackling any environmental problems, and by gathering in one place all pertinent paperwork, such as franchise agreement (if applicable), the lease and any lease-related documents, and an approximation of inventory on-hand. In addition, you could increase the value of your business by up to 20 percent by providing audited financial statements for one or two years in advance of selling.
Think Twice Before Retiring Your “Number”
The trend is for sellers to assume they will retire after selling the business. But consider this: agreeing to stay on in some capacity can actually help you get a better price for your business. Many buyers will pay more to have the seller stay aboard, thus helping to reduce their risk.
Keep the Ball Rolling
You need to keep the negotiation ball rolling once an offer has been presented. Even if you don’t get your asking price, the offer may have other points that will offset that disappointment, such as higher payments or interest, a consulting agreement, more cash than you anticipated, or a buyer who seems “just right.” The right buyer may be better than a higher price, especially if there is seller financing involved, and there usually is. In many cases, the structure of the deal is more important than the price. And when the ball is rolling, allow it to pick up speed. Deals that drag are too often deals that fail to close.
By following these tips, and by working closely with your business broker, you can have confidence in being a seller who, like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., doesn’t “come here to sell.” You will play the selling game–and be a winner.