Where your money is concerned, myths can do damage. A recent Divestopedia article from Tammie Miller entitled, Crazy M&A Myths You Need to Stop Believing Now, Miller explores 5 big M&A myths that can get you in trouble. Miller points out that many of these myths are believed by CEOs, but that they have zero basis in reality.
The first major myth Miller explores is the idea that the “negotiating is over once you sign the LOI.” The letter of intention is, of course, important. However, this is by no means the end of the negotiations and it is potentially dangerous to think otherwise. The negotiations are not concluded until there is a purchasing agreement in place. As Miller points out, there is a great deal that can go wrong during the due diligence process. For this reason, it is important to not see the LOI as the “end of the road.”
Another myth that Miller wants you to be aware of is that you don’t have to take a company’s debt as part of the purchase price. Many business brokers, such as Miller, recommend that buyers don’t take seller paper.
A third myth that Miller explorers is a particularly dangerous one. The idea that everyone who makes an offer has the money to follow through is, unfortunately, simply not true. Oftentimes, people will make offers without securing the money to actually buy the business. No doubt, this wastes everyone’s time. As the business owner, it can derail your progress. If you are not careful, it could actually prevent you from finding a qualified buyer.
Another myth is built around the notion that sellers don’t need a deal team in order to sell their business. Again, this is another myth that has no real foundation in reality. While it may be possible to sell your business without the assistance of an experienced M&A attorney or business broker, the odds are excellent that doing so will come at a price. According to Miller, those working with an investment banker or business broker can expect, on average, 20% more transaction value!
Additionally, there are other dangers in not having a deal team in place. A business broker can handle many of the time-consuming aspects of selling a business, so that you can keep running your business. It is not uncommon for business owners to get stretched too thin while trying to both run and sell a business and this can ultimately harm its value.
Miller’s final myth to consider is that you must sell your entire business. It is true that most buyers will want to buy 100% of a business, but a minority ownership position is still an option. There are many reasons to consider selling a minority stake, so don’t assume that selling your business is an “all or nothing” affair.
Ultimately, Miller lays out an exceptional case for the importance of working with business brokers when selling or buying a business. Business brokers can help you avoid myths. In the end, they know the lay of the land.
Before buying any business, a seller must ask questions, lots of questions. If there is ever a time where one should not be shy, it is when buying a business. In a recent article from Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “10 Questions You Must Ask Before Buying a Business”, author Jan Porter explores 10 of the single most important questions prospective buyers should be asking before signing on the dotted line. She points out to remember that “there are no stupid questions.”
The first question highlighted in this article is “What are your biggest challenges right now?” The fact is this is one of the single most prudent questions one could ask. If you want to reduce potential surprises, then ask this question.
“What would you have done differently?” is another question that can lead to great insights. Every business owner should be an expert regarding his or her own business. It only makes sense to tap into that expertise when one has the opportunity. The answers to this question may also illuminate areas of potential growth.
How a seller arrives at his or her asking price can reveal a great deal. Having to defend and outline why a business is worth a given price is a great way to determine whether or not the asking price is fair. In other words, a seller should be able to clearly defend the financials.
Porter’s fourth question is, “If you can’t sell, what will you do instead?” The answer to this question can give you insight into just how much bargaining power you may have.
A business’ financials couldn’t be any more important and will play a key role during due diligence. The question, “How will you document the financials of the business?” is key and should be asked and answered very early in the process. A clear paper trail is essential.
Buying a business isn’t all about the business or its owner. At first glance, this may sound like a strange statement, but the simple fact is that a business has to be a good fit for its buyer. That is why, Porter’s recommended question, “What skills or qualities do I need to run this business effectively?” couldn’t be any more important. A prospective buyer must be a good fit for a business or otherwise failure could result.
Now, here is a big question: “Do you have any past, pending or potential lawsuits?” Knowing whether or not you could be buying future headaches is clearly of enormous importance.
Porter believes that other key questions include: “How well documented are the procedures of the business?” and “How much does your business depend on a key customer or vendor?” as well as “What will employees do after the sale?”
When it comes to buying a business, questions are your friend. The more questions you ask, the more information you’ll have. The author quotes an experienced business owner who noted, “The more questions you ask, the less risk there will be.”
Business brokers are experts at knowing what kinds of questions to ask and when to ask them. This will help you obtain the right information so that you can ultimately make the best possible decision.
How should the purchase of a business be structured? This is a point that you’ll want to address early in the sale process. For most people, buying or selling a business is one of the most, if not the most, important business decision that they will ever make. For this reason, it is vital not to wait until the last minute to structure your deal. Let’s turn our attention to the most significant questions that you need to answer when entering the sales process.
1. What is My Lowest Price?
The first question you should ask yourself is, “What is the lowest price I’m willing to take?” If an offer is made, the last thing you want is to be sitting around trying to decide if you can take a given offer at a given price. You need to be ready to jump if the right offer is made.
2. What are the Tax Implications?
Secondly, you’ll want to seriously consider the tax consequences of any sale. Taxes are always a fact of life and you need to work with a professional, such as an accountant or business broker, to understand the tax implication of any decision you make.
3. What are the Interest Rates?
The third factor you want to consider is interest rates. If you get a buyer, what is an acceptable interest rate for a seller financed sale?
4. Are there Additional Costs Involved?
A fourth key question to ask yourself is do you have any unsecured creditors that have not been paid off? Additionally, you’ll also want to determine whether or not the seller plans on paying for a part of the closing costs.
5. Will the Buyer Need to Assume Debt?
Finally, will the buyer need to assume any long-term or secured debt? The issue of long term and/or secured debt is no small issue. Be sure to clarify this important point well in advance. Also keep in mind that favorable terms typically translate to a higher sales price.
Business brokers are experts at buying and selling all kinds of businesses. When it comes time to structure a deal that benefits both the buyer and the seller, business brokers can prove to be invaluable. At the end of the day, working with a business broker is one of the single biggest steps you can take to ensure that your business is sold and sold as quickly as possible.
Business appraisals are not one-dimensional. In fact, a good business appraisal is one that factors in a wide range of variables in order to achieve an accurate result. Indisputable records ranging from comparables and projections to EBITDA multiples, discount rates and a good deal more are all factored in.
It is important to remember that while an appraiser may feel that he or she has all the information necessary, it is still possible they have overlooked key information. Business appraisers must understand the purpose of their appraisal before beginning the process. All too often appraisers are unaware of important additional factors and considerations that could enhance or even devalue a business’s worth.
There Can Be Unwritten Value
Value isn’t always “black and white.” Instead, many factors can determine value. Prospective buyers may be looking at variables, such as profitability, depth of management and market share, but there can be more that determines value.
Here are some of the factors to consider when determining value: How much market competition is there? Does the business have potential beyond its current niche? Are there a variety of vendors? Does the company have easy access to its target audience? At the end of the day, what is the company’s competitive advantage? Is pricing in line with the demographic served? These are just some of the key questions that you’ll want to consider when evaluating a company.
There are Ways to Increase Both Valuation and Success
No doubt, successful businesses didn’t get that way by accident. A successful business is one that is customer focused and has company-wide values. Brian Tracy’s excellent book, “The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business,” notes that it is critical for businesses to have a company-wide focus on three key pillars: marketing, sales and, of course, revenue generation. Tracy also points out that trends can be seen as the single most vital factor and bottom-line contributor to any company’s success and, ultimately, valuation. For 2018 and beyond, projected trends include an increase in video marketing, the use of crowdfunding as a means of product validation and more.
No Replacement for Understanding Trends
If a company doesn’t understand trends, then it can’t understand both the market as it stands and as it may be tomorrow. Savvy business owners understand today’s trends and strive to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors while simultaneously learning from their competitors’ successes.
Tracy accurately states that while there are many variables in determining value, finding and retaining the best people is absolutely essential. One of the greatest assets that any company has is, in the end, its people.
Placing a price on a privately-held company is usually more complex than placing a value, or a price, on a publicly-held company. There are many reasons for this fact, but one of the top reasons is that privately-held companies don’t have audited financial statements.
Why are Audited Financial Statements Lacking in Privately-Held Companies?
Preparing an audited financial statement is expensive and, as a result, many companies that have not gone public simply forego the expense. On the other hand, publicly held companies reveal much more information regarding their finances as well as a range of other kinds of information.
Compared to a privately-held company, a publicly held company can often seem like an “open book.” Buyers are left with the proposition of having to dig out a lot more information from a privately-held company in order to assess whether or not a valuation or price is accurate.
What Can You Do to Overcome this Factor?
You, as the seller, can help streamline this process. By having as much information available as possible and having your accountant make sure that your numbers are presented in a manner that is easy to understand and follow, you will increase your chances of selling your business.
Experts agree that there are several steps a seller of a privately-held company can make when he or she is establishing a price or a value. First, use an outside appraiser or expert to determine a value. Next, establish what your “go-to-market” price is. Third, know your “wish price.” A seller’s “wish price” is the price that he or she would ideally like to see. Finally, it is critical that sellers establish the lowest price that they are willing to take. You should know in advance how much you are willing to sell for as this can help a negotiation move along.
The Marketplace Will Ultimately Decide
It is common that the final sale price for the company be somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price established in advance by the seller. Yet, it is important to note, that on occasion a selling price may, in fact, be lower than any of the four we’ve outlined above. At the end of the day, the undeniable fact, is that the marketplace will establish the final sales price.
Here are a few of the areas that you can expect a buyer to review when establishing the price that he or she is willing to pay: stability of the market and stability of earnings, the potential of the market, product diversity, the size of the customer base, the number and seriousness of competitive threats, how broad the customer base is, the relationship with suppliers, the distribution network in place, needs for capital expenditures and other factors. The more favorable each of these points are, the more likely it is you’ll receive a higher price.Read More
Having a letter of intent signed by both the buyer and the seller can be a very good feeling. Everything can seem as though it is moving along just fine, but the due diligence process must still be completed. It is during due diligence that a seller decides whether he or she is going to finalize the deal. Much depends on what is discovered during this important process, so remember the deal isn’t done until it is truly finalized.
In his book, The Art of M&A, Stanley Forster Reed noted that the purpose of due diligence is to “Assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”
Summed up another way, due diligence is quite comprehensive. It probably comes as no surprise that this is when deals often fall apart. Before diving in, it is critically important that you meet with such key people as appraisers, accountants, lawyers, a marketing team and other key people.
Let’s take a look at some of the main items that both buyers and sellers should have on their respective checklists.
You should determine the percentage of sales by product line. Additionally, take the time to review pricing policies, product warranties and check against industry guidelines.
Review your key people and determine what kind of employee turnover is likely.
If your business is involved in manufacturing then every aspect of the manufacturing process must be evaluated. Is the facility efficient? How old is the equipment? What is the equipment worth? Who are the key suppliers? How reliable will those suppliers be in the future?
Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights
Trademarks, patents and copyrights are intangible assets and it is important to know if those assets will be transferred. Intangible assets can be the key assets of a business.
Operations is key, so you’ll want to review all current financial statements and compare those statements to the budget. You’ll also want to check all incoming sales and at the same time analyze both the backlog and the prospects for future sales.
Environmental issues are often overlooked, but they can be very problematic. Issues such as lead paint and asbestos as well as ground and water contamination can all lead to time-consuming and costly fixes.
Have a list of major customers ready. You’ll want to have a sales breakdown by region and country as well. If possible, you’ll want to compare your company’s market share with that of the competition.
The Balance Sheet
Accounts receivable will want to check for who is paying and who isn’t. If there is bad debt, it is vital to find that debt. Inventory should also be checked for work-in-progress as well as finished goods. Non-usable inventory, the policy for returns and the policy for write-offs should all be documented.
Finally, when buying or selling a business, it is vital that you understand what is for sale, what is not for sale and what is included whether it is machinery or intangible assets such as intellectual property. Understanding the barriers to entry, the company’s competitive advantage and what key agreements with employees and suppliers are already in place, will help ensure a smooth and stable transition. There are many important questions that must be answered during the due diligence process. Working closely with a business broker helps to ensure that none of these vital questions are overlooked.Read More
When it comes to selling a business, sellers simply must pay attention to red flags. Problems can always pop up, and that’s why they need to keep their eyes open.
Rarely does a “white knight” ride in and rescue a business with no questions asked. And if this were to happen, you should be asking, “Why?” Until a deal is officially inked, sellers need to evaluate every aspect of a transaction to make sure something isn’t happening that could wreck the deal.
Common Red Flags to Watch For
One example would be having a company express interest in your business but you are never able to directly contact key players, such as the President or CEO. The reason that this is a red flag is that it indicates that the interest level may not be as great as you initially hoped.
A second red flag example would be an individual buyer, with no experience in acquisitions or experience in your industry, looking to buy your business. The reason that this second example could prove problematic, is that even if the inexperienced buyer is enthusiastic as the deal progresses, he or she may become nervous upon learning what a deal would actually entail. In other words, the specifics and the reality of owning a business, or owning a business in your industry, could come as a shock to an inexperienced buyer.
Both of these examples above are examples of early-stage red flags. But what about issues that pop up at later stages? The simple fact is that red flags can come at any stage of the selling process.
A good example of a middle-stage red flag is when a seller is denied access to the buyer’s financial statements, which is of course essential to verify that the seller is able to actually make the acquisition. A final-stage red flag example is an apparent loss of momentum, as the buying and selling process can be a long one.
Business Sellers Need to Protect Their Assets
Sellers are usually very busy and don’t have time to waste; this is doubly true for owner/operators of businesses, as the time they invest with a prospective buyer is time that could be spent doing something else.
All too often, businesses begin to run into trouble when they place their business on the market. If this trouble negatively impacts the bottom line, then the business can become more difficult to sell and the final sale price will likely be lower.
That’s why it is so essential that sellers protect themselves from buyers that are not truly interested or are simply not a good fit. Working with a business broker is an easy and highly effective way for sellers to protect themselves from buyers that are simply not the right fit. A broker helps to “weed out” unfit candidates.
While red flags are never good, that doesn’t mean that a red flag means a deal is a definitely at an end. Especially with the guidance of an experienced business broker, many of these issues can be overcome.
In the end, if you, either as a buyer or seller, suspect that there is a problem, then you should take action. The problem will not simply go away. The single best way to deal with a red flag is to tackle it head on as soon as you recognize it.Read More
Burnout is a strange phenomenon in that often a business owner doesn’t know that he or she is experiencing it until it is too late. Owners who feel beleaguered and over stressed frequently want to sell their business and move on. However, buyers are not so eager to accept burnout as a believable reason for why an owner wants to sell.
It is the responsibility of every business owner to be on guard against potential burnout. After all, it is better to “cash in” than to burnout. In this article, we will examine a few of the key warning signs that you may be on the verge of burning out.
Sign 1: There is No Joy in Owning Your Business
Once upon a time, you were likely excited about your business. But if those days are long gone, then it might be time to move on. Owning a business is hard work and eventually it can take a toll. If you find each day to be boring, then it is probably time to sell, move on and start a new chapter in your life.
Sign 2: You Feel Exhausted
Just as feeling no joy is a potential sign of burnout, the same holds true for feeling exhausted. If you feel exhausted all the time, then it is unlikely that you can run your business effectively over the long haul. In short, it may be time to consider selling.
Keep in mind that if your business is doing well, growing and expanding, then there will be more demands on your time, not less. If you feel exhausted a large percentage of the time and your business is expanding and seems poised to expand even more rapidly in the future, then cashing in may be your best bet.
Sign 3: You Feel Overwhelmed Almost on a Daily Basis
Business owners who frequently feel overwhelmed are likely teetering on the edge of burnout; this can be particularly true for business owners who are operating a “one-man show.” Operating a small business, especially one where you are doing most of the work, can be both mentally and physically exhausting.
There is certainly something to be said for being proactive and tackling burn out before it tackles you. In this way, you’ll be able to sell your business on your own terms. The last thing you want is to try and sell your business after you no longer have the energy to keep sales going in the right direction.
Working with an experienced business broker is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get your business ready to sell. Don’t let burnout put the fate of your business in a vulnerable position.Read More
It is no great secret that sellers often aim high. The logic sellers use is simple, “I can always reduce my price.” While that is true, sellers do need to remember that if the asking price is initially too high, buyers won’t even take a serious look. In short, your selling price must be bound by reality and what the market will bear.
Pricing Does Matter
When an asking price is too high buyers will simply move on. But in the meantime, you may have lost a qualified buyer that would have been very interested at a lower price. Pricing isn’t a factor that should be played with, instead it should always be treated in as professional of a manner as possible.
Instant Millionaire? Maybe and Maybe Not
Some sellers want to become instant millionaires and sell their business for top dollar. Sometimes this is warranted and sometimes the numbers don’t support lofty valuations. Every situation and every business is different. It pays to be realistic.
Studies have shown that there is usually about a 15% difference between what sellers want and what the market will bear. For example, when a business is over $1 million, sellers usually sell for 90% of their asking price. Smaller businesses, valued under a million, usually sell for about 85% of their initial asking price. (Now, that stated, it is important to keep in mind that only data on sold businesses factors into this statistic.)
Business Brokers Help Determine an Accurate Valuation
A business broker has considerably expertise when it comes time to calculate a reasonable asking price for a business. They know that it is essential that they come up with a price that is fair. As a result, business brokers take many diverse issues into consideration. A few of the factors that business brokers consider are location, competition and annual sales variations.
Prospective Buyers Can’t Read Your Mind
An experienced business broker can help you determine the right value for your business and determining the right value is key. The last thing you want is to have an evaluation that is far too high as you will immediately eliminate many prospective buyers. While you may know that you are willing to negotiate and perhaps even reduce your asking price substantially, prospective buyers do not know this fact. A realistic and appropriate asking price is of paramount importance and a business broker can help guide you towards the best decision.
Market Forces Have the Ultimate Say
In the end, it is the market, not the seller, that determines the correct selling price. If no one is willing to pay a certain price than a given business is overpriced. That may be a brutal fact, but it is also quite true.Read More
A common question in the realm of buying and selling businesses is, “Is it possible to sell to a business competitor?” The short answer is yes, it is quite possible and rather common. That stated, selling to a business competitor is different than selling to a buyer who is completely new to the industry. The two types of buyers should not be treated the same way, as there are various differing variables.
A Competitor Can Be a Great Buyer
One reason is that a competitor may indeed be the right party to buy your business, is that they usually have an excellent understanding of how your business and your industry works. They may also enter the negotiation process already understanding the value of your business, and this can serve to speed up the process.
Always Proceed with Caution
Competitors, however, must be approached carefully. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where competitors acted as though they wanted to buy in order to acquire access to inside information. That’s why sensitive information like client lists and other “secrets” shouldn’t be shared until the sale is complete and the money is literally in the bank.
Working with a business broker is always a prudent move when it comes to buying and selling businesses; however, when working with a competitor is involved a business broker is even more important than normal. A business broker can act as something of a shield in the process, helping to ensure that you don’t reveal too much prized information until the sale is 100% complete.
Negotiate from a Place of Knowledge
Further, a business broker understands how much your business is worth and can back up that valuation. Having this information before discussing a potential sale with a competitor is of great importance.
Be Prepared to Accept Certain Legal Conditions
Finally, don’t be surprised if your competitor asks you to sign a non-compete or for you to stay on as a consult after he or she has acquired your business. This is a prudent step and one that makes tremendous sense. If you were buying a business from a competitor wouldn’t you want to make certain that the competitor didn’t simply “set up shop” somewhere else a few months or even a couple of years later? Likewise, tapping your expertise is another prudent move for your former competitor.
Summed up, selling your business to a competitor is a potentially great move, but it is also an opportunity that absolutely must be explored with extreme caution. Never divulge critical information to your competitor until the deal is finalized.Read More