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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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.
A recent article on Businessbroker.net entitled, First Time Buyer Processes by business broker Pat Jones explores the process of buying a business in a precise step-by-step fashion. Jones notes that there are many reasons that people buy businesses including the desire to be one’s own boss. However, he is also quick to point out that buyers should refrain from buying a business that they simply don’t like. In the quest for profits, many prospective owners may opt to do this, but it could ultimately lead to failure.
Step One – Information Gathering
For Jones, there are seven steps in the business buying process. At the top of the list is to gather information on businesses so that one has an idea of what kind of businesses are appealing.
Step Two – Your Broker
The second key step is to begin working with a business broker. This point makes tremendous sense; after all, those new to the business buying process will benefit greatly from working with a guide with so much experience. Business brokers can gain access to information that prospective business owners simply cannot.
Step Three – Confidentiality and Questions
The third step in the process is to sign a confidentiality agreement so that you can learn more about a business that you find interesting. Once you have the businesses marketing package, you’ll want to have your broker schedule an appointment with the seller. It is vitally important that you prepare a list of questions on a range of topics. There is much more to buying a business than the final price tag. By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to learn more about the business and its long-term potential.
Step Four – Evaluation
In the fourth step of the business buying process, you’ll want to evaluate all the information that you have received from the seller. Once again, a business broker can be simply invaluable, thanks to years of hands-on experience, he or she will know how to evaluate a seller’s information.
Step Five – The Decision
In the fifth step, you’ll need to decide whether or not you are making an offer. If you are making an offer, you will, of course, want it to be written and include contingencies.
If your offer is accepted, then the process of due diligence begins. During due diligence, you and your business broker will look at everything from financial statements to tax returns. You will evaluate the company’s assets. Again business brokers are experts at the due diligence process.
Buying a business is an enormous commitment. Making certain that you’ve selected the right business for you is one of the most critical decisions of your life. Having as much competent and experienced help as possible is of paramount importance.
In a recent Divestopedia article entitled, “Kids Take Over the Business? 8 Things to Consider,” author Josh Patrick examines what every business owner should know about having their children take over their business. He points out that there are no modern and accurate numbers on what percentage of businesses will be taken over by the children of their owners. But clearly the number is substantial.
Patrick emphasizes as point number one that allowing a child to take over a business right after finishing his or her education could be a huge mistake. After all, how can a parent be sure that a child can handle operating the business without some proven experience under his or her belt?
Point number two is that businesses frequently create jobs for the children of owners. The flaw in this logic is pretty easy to see. This job, regardless of its responsibilities, isn’t in fact a real job. Senior decision-making roles should be earned and not handed out as a birthright. The end result of this approach could create a range of diverse problems.
The third point Patrick addresses is that pay should be competitive and fair when having children take over a business. Quite often, the pay is either far too high or far too low. This factor in and of itself is likely to lead to yet more problems.
Business growth must always be kept in mind. When having your children take over a business, it is essential that they have the ability to not just maintain the business but grow it as well. If they can’t handle the job then, as Patrick highlights, you are not doing them any favors. Perhaps it is time to sell.
Another issue Patrick covers is whether or not children should own stock. If there are several children involved, then he feels it is important that all children own stock. Otherwise, some children will feel invested in the business and others will not. In turn, this issue can become a significant problem once you, as the business owner, either retire or pass away.
In his sixth point, Patrick recommends that a business should only be sold to children and not given outright. If a child is simply given a business, then that business may not have any perceived value. Additionally, if a child or children buy the business, then estate planning becomes much more straightforward.
In point seven, Patrick astutely recommends that once a parent has sold their business to their child, the parent must “let go.” At some point, you will have to retire. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll ultimately have to step back and let your children take charge.
Finally, it is important to remember that your children will change how things are done. This fact is simply unavoidable and should be embraced.
Working with an experienced business broker is a great way to ensure that selling a business to your child or children is a successful venture. The experience that a business broker can bring to this kind of business transfer is quite invaluable.
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.
The economy is red hot, and that fact is translating over to lots of activity in businesses being sold. However, it is possible that this record-breaking number of sales could cool down in the near future. In a recent article in Inc. entitled, “The Hot Market for Businesses is Likely to Cool, According to This New Survey,” the idea that the market for selling business is cooling down is explored in depth. Rather dramatically, the article’s sub header states, “Entrepreneurs who are considering selling their companies say they’re worried about the future of the economy.”
The recent study conducted by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business as well as the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source surveyed 319 business brokers as well as mergers and acquisitions advisers. And the results were less than rosy.
A whopping 83% of survey participants believed that the strong M&A market will come to end in just two years. Perhaps more jarring is the fact that almost one-third of participants believe that the market would cool down before the end of 2019.
The participants believe that the economy will begin to slow down, and this change will negatively impact businesses. As the economy slows down, businesses, in turn, will see a drop in their profits. This, of course, will serve to make them more challenging to sell.
The Inc. article quotes Laura Ward, a managing partner at M&A advisory firm Kingsbridge Capital Partners, “People are thinking about getting out before the next recession,” says Ward. The Pepperdine survey noted that a full 80% of companies priced in the $1 million to $2 million range are now heading into retirement. In sharp contrast, 42% of companies priced in the $500,000 to $1 million range are heading into retirement. Clearly, retirement remains a major reason why businesses are being sold.
Is now the time to sell your business? For many, the answer is a clear “yes.” If the economy as a whole begins to slow down, then it is only logical to conclude that selling a business could become tougher as well.
The experts seem to agree that whether it is in one year or perhaps two, there will be a shift in the number of businesses being sold. Now may very well be the right time for you to jump into the market and sell. The best way of making this conclusion is to work with a proven and experienced business broker. Your broker will help you to analyze the various factors involved and make the best decision.
Every business has to be concerned about maintaining confidentiality. In fact, it is common for business owners to become somewhat obsessed with confidentiality when they are getting ready to sell their business.
It goes without saying that owners don’t want the word that they are selling to spread to the public, employees or most certainly their competitors. Yet, there is something of a tug of war between the natural desire for confidentiality and the desire to sell a business for the highest amount possible. At the end of the day, any business owner looking to sell his or her business will have to let prospective buyers “peek behind the curtain.” Let’s explore some key points that any good confidentiality agreement should cover.
At the top of your confidentiality list should be the type of negotiations. This aspect of the confidentiality agreement is, in fact, quite important as it stipulates whether the negotiations are secret or open. Importantly, this part of the confidentiality agreement will outline what information can be revealed and what cannot be revealed.
Also consider the duration of the agreement. Your agreement must be 100% clear as to how long the agreement is in effect. If possible, your confidentiality agreement should be permanently binding.
You will undoubtedly want to outline what steps will be taken in the event that a breach does occur. Having a confidentiality agreement that spells out what steps you can, and may, take if a breach does occur will help to enhance the effectiveness of your contract. You want your prospective buyers to take the document very seriously, and this step will help make that a reality.
When it comes to “special considerations” category, this should be elements that apply to the business in question. Patents are a good example. A buyer could learn about inventions while “kicking the tires,” and you’ll want to be quite certain that any prospective buyer realizes that he or she must maintain confidentiality regarding any patent related information.
Of course, do not forget to include any applicable state laws. If the prospective buyer is located outside of your state, then that is an issue that must be adequately addressed.
A confidentiality agreement is a legally binding agreement. And it is important that all parties involved understand this critical fact. Investing the money and time to create a professional confidentiality agreement is time and money very well spent. An experienced business broker can prove invaluable in helping you navigate not just the confidentiality process, but also the process of buying and selling in general.
In Divestopedia’s article, “The Myth of Fair Business Valuation: What Professional Valuations Don’t Tell You,” author Chak Reddy is quick to point out that the “type of buyer and method of sale are two important (yet often overlooked) value determinants when finding a starting price for your business.”
Reddy brings up some excellent points. One notion in particular that every business owner should be aware of is that there is “NO fair value for illiquid assets.” He points to the fact that between January 2007 and March 2008, the historic Bear Stearns went from a value of $20 billion dollars to just $238 million. In a mere 14 months, Bear Stearns lost most of its value.
Additionally, the article points to the fact that business owners often suffer enormously from “dramatic valuation compression.” In Reddy’s view, this compression is the direct result of poor planning and a failure on the part of business owners to select the right advisory teams.
Reddy believes that professional valuations can be quite lacking. He feels that they are “contingent on multiple assumptions,” and that the valuations are only as good as the assumptions upon which they are based. In other words, professional valuations can be limited and flawed. In particular, he points to the fact that two of the most important factors in valuations, future growth rate and operational synergies are “highly subjective and no two views on these topics are likely to be identical.” Summed up another way, valuations are inherently a matter of opinion and perspective. Reddy feels that a seller will be “lucky” if the real sales price comes within 10% to 20% of the professional valuation.
In the end, as always, it is the market that determines value. It is the acquirer who will determine the value more than any other factor. The perception of the buyer will play a key role in the process and, further to the point, no two buyers will perceive the business exactly the same way. In other words, valuations can be tricky and certainly do involve a personal element of the individual who is appraising the business’ value. Adding to this point, Reddy states, “From our experience, the type of buyer and the type of sale skew the valuation to such an extent that it is unwise for a business owner to not be familiar with these variables and their impact before the beginning of the sales process.”
Ultimately, finding the right buyer is essential and this is where a business broker can prove simply invaluable. And finding that right buyer may take time.