Let’s assume that you own and operate a company that manufactures a product in an industry that is eroding or going downhill. What are your choices or alternatives?
- Run the company as a “cash cow,” resigning yourself to the fact that your industry is slowly declining or is no longer a growth industry. Keep what you are doing profitable even if you
have to increase prices and/or cut costs.
- Increase R&D to develop new products.
- Acquire or merge with a competitor or strategic partner.
- Expand geographically.
- Diversify within the same familiar market.
- Sell the company now before there is further erosion in your industry
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A close review of the financial statements is always in order when considering the acquisition or merger of a company. However, that is only part of what a buyer is acquiring. Other important assets are:
- Repeat customers or clients
- Patented product, government approvals, profitable copyrights
- Broad customer or client base (diverse & growing)
- Long-term contracts
- Recognizable brand or product name
- Experienced management team and trained work force
- Valuable intellectual property
- Proprietary products
- Profitable alliances
- Contracts/non-competes with valuable employee
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According to a Price Waterhouse Coopers survey of more than 300 privately held U.S. businesses that have been sold or transferred, the most common steps companies take to improve their prospects for a sale, prior to taking the company to market, include:
- Improving profitability by cutting costs
- Restructuring debt
- Limiting owners’ compensation
- Fully funding the company pension plan
- Seeking the advice of a consultant or intermediary
- Improving the management team
- Upgrading computer systems/processes
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The 65-year old owner of a multi-location retail operation doing $30 million in annual sales decided to retire. He interviewed a highly recommended intermediary and was impressed. However, he had a nephew who had just received his MBA and who told his uncle that he could handle the sale and save him some money. He would do it for half of what the intermediary said his fee would be – so the uncle decided to use his nephew. Now, his nephew was a nice young man, educated at one of the top business schools, but he had never been involved in a middle market deal. He had read a lot of case studies and was confident that he could “do the deal.”
Inexperience # 1 – The owner and the nephew agreed not to bring the CFO into the picture, nor execute a “stay” agreement. The nephew felt he could handle the financial details. Neither one of them realized that a potential purchaser would expect to meet with the CFO when it came to the finances of the business, and certainly would expect the CFO to be involved in the due diligence process.
Inexperience # 2 – It never occurred to the owner or his nephew that revealing just the name of the company to prospective buyers would send competitors and only mildly interested prospects to the various locations. There was no mention of Confidentiality Agreements. Since the owner was not in a big hurry, there were no time limits set for offers or even term sheets. It would only be a matter of time before the word that the business was on the market would be out.
Inexperience # 3 – The owner wanted to spend some time with each prospective purchaser. Confidentiality didn’t seem to be an issue. There was no screening process, no interview by the nephew.
Inexperience # 4 – The nephew prepared what was supposed to be an Offering Memorandum. He threw some financials together that had not been audited, which included a missing $500,000 that the owner took and forgot to inform his nephew about. This obviously impacted the numbers. There were no projections, no ratios, etc. This lack of information would most likely result in lower offers or bids or just plain lack of buyer interest. In addition, the mention of a pending lawsuit that could influence the sale was hidden in the Memorandum.
Inexperience # 5 – The owner and nephew both decided that their company attorney could handle the details of a sale if it ever got that far. Unfortunately, although competent, the attorney had never been involved in a business sale transaction, especially one in the $15 million range.
Results — The seller was placing almost his entire net worth in the hands of his nephew and an attorney who had no experience in putting transactions together. The owner decided to call most of the shots without any advice from an experienced deal-maker. Any one of these “inexperiences” could not only “blow” a sale, but also create the possibility of a leak. The discovery that the company was for sale could be catastrophic, whether discovered by the competition, an employee, a major customer or a supplier .
The facts in the above story are true!
The moral of the story – Nephews are wonderful, but inexperience is fraught with danger. When considering the sale of a major asset, it is foolhardy not to employ experienced, knowledgeable professionals. A professional intermediary is a necessity, as is an experienced transaction attorney.
If you’ve never bought or sold a business before, then the factors that drive and influence business valuations likely seem a bit murky. In a recent Divestopedia article from Kevin Ramsier entitled, “A Closer Look at What Drives and Influences Business Valuations,” Ramsier takes a closer look at this important topic.
Business brokers and M&A advisors play a key role in helping business owners understand why their business receives the valuation that it does. No doubt, the final assessed value is based on a wide array of variables. But with some effort, clarity is possible.
In his article, Ramsier points out that “value means different things to different buyers” and that the “perceived value depends on the circumstances, interpretation and the role that is played in a transition.” It is important to remember that no two businesses are alike. For that reason, what goes into a given valuation will vary, often greatly.
Looking to EBITDA
Ramier points to several metrics including return on assets, return on equity and return on investment. Another important valuable for companies with positive cash flow is a multiple of EBITDA, which stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.” EBITDA is widely used in determining value. On the flip side of the coin, if the company in question has a negative cash flow, then the liquidation value of the business will play a large role in determining its value.
Primary Drivers to Consider
Ramsier provides a guideline of Primary Drivers of Valuation, Secondary Drivers of Valuation and Other Potential Drivers of Valuation. In total there are 25 different variables listed, which underscores the overall potential complexity of accurately determining valuation.
In the Primary Drivers of Valuation list, Ramsier includes everything from the size of revenue and revenue stability to historical and projected EBITDA as well as potential growth and margin percentages. Other variables, ones that could easily be overlooked, such as the local talent pool and people training are also listed as variables that should be considered.
Support for the Business Owner
The bottom line is that determining valuation is not a one-dimensional affair, but is instead a dynamic and complex process. One of the single best moves any business owner can make is to reach out to an experienced business broker. Since business brokers are experts in determining valuation, owners working with brokers will know what to expect when the time comes to sell.
Before you begin your business, you should be thinking about how you will hand that business over to someone else. No one runs a business forever. Whether you sell your business or let a relative inherit it, at some point you will need to step away.
When you finally do separate from your business, it is critical that you are certain that it is worth handing over. In his January 2019 article in Forbes magazine entitled “Make Sure Your Business is Worth Handing Over,” author Francois Botha dives in and explores this very topic.
In this article, Botha emphasizes that family businesses should not “fall into the trap of prioritizing job creation for their children.” Instead, that the priority should be to perpetuate the business. Botha cites the co-founder and chairman of The Leadership Pipeline Institute, Stephen Drotter, who feels that the main goal of any business needs to be its suitability.
Drotter established five principles designed to assist family businesses as they seek to prepare for succession. The first principle is to “Identify and Fix Your Problems.” Current ownership should deal promptly with any business problems before passing a business on to a new generation.
The second principle Drotter covers is to “Adjust Your Management to the Strategic Evolution of Your Business.” Businesses evolve from the creation of a product to sell to focusing on sales, marketing and distribution to finally addressing a plateau in sales which facilitates the need for multi-functional management.
The third principle cited by Drotter is “Talk to Your People About Them.” In this principle, communication with employees is key. Getting to know and understand employees is vital.
“Be on the Lookout for Talent Everywhere,” is the fourth principle. There is no replacement for skilled and motivated employees, and you never know where you may find them.
Finally, the fifth principle, “Provide Development” emphasizes that “almost everything is learned, and somebody often taught that which is learned.” Employee skill must be seen as a key priority.
Making sure that a business is ready for transition to the next generation involves careful preparation and a good deal of advanced planning. The sooner that you begin asking the right kind of thoughtful questions about the current state of your business and what will benefit it moving forward, the better off everyone will be.
The first step towards successfully selling a business is finding a qualified business broker to work with. Sellers should also ask themselves an array of important questions. A recent article, “7 Questions to Answer Before Selling Your Business,” published by Good Men Project, has a great overview of questions sellers should answer before moving forward.
Author Troy Lambert believes that at the top of the list is one very simple and powerful question, “Are you ready?” For example, your financial reports should be ready to show.
The second question is, “What’s it worth?” Determining what a business is worth means you’ll need a professional business valuation. A great deal can go into evaluating your business and you need an expert to help you determine that value.
Third, Lambert believes that prospective sellers should ask themselves, “How’s the health of my industry?” He emphasizes that honesty is key here for a variety of reasons. If your industry is in a transition period, for example, then it might be better to wait until a better time to sell.
The fourth question on Lambert’s list is, “How long will it take?” In short, you need to remember that selling a business can take a long time. Successfully selling your business may even mean that you have to stay on and work with the new owner during a transition period.
The fifth key question is, “Who is my buyer?” You don’t want to waste a lot of time with potential buyers who are simply not a good fit. Finding the right buyer for your business helps to ensure that a deal will be finalized.
Sixth, Lambert wants sellers to think about how they will get paid. Are you willing to finance part of the deal? What about balloon payments over time? Understanding, before you put your business on the market how you want to be paid and how flexible you can be in terms of payment is essential.
For most sellers, selling a business will stand as the largest financial decision of their lives. With this realization comes more than a little pressure.
Considering the enormity of the decision, having good advice is simply a must. A seasoned and experienced business broker understands what it takes to buy and sell a business. Working with a business broker is an easy and efficient way to begin the process of selling your business. Brokers know what it takes to successfully sell a business and can help you answer these questions and many more.
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.
Forbes author Keith Gregg’s, February 8, 2019 article, “Using Tech to Enhance and Sell a Business,” has a range of interesting ideas that business owners should explore and embrace. Gregg looks at three big ways that business owners can use technology to help them get the most out of the sale of the business. He explains how important it is to address these three areas before placing your business on the market.
The first tip Gregg explores is to upgrade systems. Upgrading systems can be particularly important for attracting younger buyers. It is common for businesses to be successful without proprietary technology or procedures, but that doesn’t mean that technology should be ignored.
Important information should be digitized, as this data will be vital for the new owner to grow the business over the long haul. Incorporating software that can track and analyze data across the business is likewise valuable. Using software, such as customer relationship management and financial management software, will showcase that your business has been modernized.
Determining the value of your business can be tricky and laborious. Gregg recommends opting for a business valuation, as he feels, “business valuation calculations can remove much of the guesswork from the process.”
You should expect a business valuation calculator to include everything from verified data on comparable business deals, including gross income and cash flow figures and more. There are even industry-specific calculations that can be used as well. The main point that Gregg wants to convey is that business owners should use tangible and proven data to sell their businesses. Like upgrading systems appeals to younger buyers, the same holds true for using verified data to sell.
Take Advantage of the Digital Marketplace
Gregg’s view is that perhaps the single greatest technology for business owners to leverage is that of the digital marketplace. Sites that link businesses with prospective buyers can help to streamline and expedite the sales process. Through such sites, it is possible to go deeper than a specific industry and even explore sub-sectors, thus enhancing the chances of finding the right buyer.
Technology can be used to help sell businesses in a variety of ways. An experienced and proven business broker will leverage a whole range of tools to assist business owners when selling their businesses. When you opt for a proven business broker, you can expect to receive offers from serious and vetted buyers and, in the process, save a great deal of time while maintaining confidentiality.
Selling a business can be an exciting and rather lucrative time. But going through the sales process means embracing the notion that you’ll have to be very prepared for whatever might be thrown your way. A key aspect of preparing to sell your business is to know what types of buyers you’re likely to encounter.
It is only logical to anticipate the types of buyers you may be dealing with in advance. That will allow you to plan how you might potentially work with them. Remember that each buyer comes with his or her own unique desires and objectives.
The Business Competitor
Competitors buy each other all the time. Frequently, when a business is looking to sell, the owner or owners quickly turn to their competitors. Turning to one’s competitors when it comes time to sell makes a good deal of sense; after all, they are in the same business, understand the industry and are more likely to understand the value of what you are offering. With these prospective buyers, a great confidentiality agreement is, of course, a must.
Selling to Family Members
It is not at all uncommon for businesses to be sold to family members. These buyers are often very familiar with the business, the industry as a whole and understand what is involved in owning and operating the business in question.
Often, family members are prepared and groomed years in advance to take over the operation of a business. These are all pluses. But there are some potential pitfalls as well, such as family members not having enough cash to buy or not being fully prepared to run the business.
Quite often, foreign buyers have the funds needed to buy an existing business. However, foreign buyers may face a range of difficulties including overcoming a language barrier and licensing issues.
Dealing with an individual buyer has many benefits. These buyers tend to be a little older, ranging in age from 40 to 60. For these buyers, owning a business is often a dream come true, and they frequently bring with them real-world corporate experience. Dealing with a single buyer can also help expedite the process as you will have fewer individuals to negotiate with.
Financial buyers are often the most complicated buyers to deal with, as they can come with a long list of demands. That stated, you should not dismiss financial buyers. But just remember that they want to buy your business strictly for financial reasons. That means they are not looking for a job or fulfilling a lifelong dream. For financial buyers, the key point is that your business is generating adequate revenue.
A synergistic buyer can be an excellent candidate. The reason that synergistic buyers can be such a good fit is that their business in some way complements yours. In other words, there is a synergy between the businesses. The main idea here is that by combining the two businesses they will reap a range of benefits, such as access to a new and very much aligned customer base.
Different types of buyers bring different types of issues to the table. The good news is that business brokers know what different types of buyers are likely to expect out of a deal.