When it comes to buying a business, nothing is more important than the factor of due diligence. For most people, this investment is the single largest financial decision that they will ever make. And with this important fact in mind, you’ll want to leave absolutely no stone unturned.
Let’s examine the three most commonly overlooked areas when it comes to buying a business: retirement plans, 1099’s and W-2’s, and legal documents.
1. Examine All Legal Documents
While it may sound like a “pain” to investigate all the legal documents relating to a business that you are vetting for purchase, that is exactly what you have to do. The very last thing you want is to buy a business only to have the corporate veil pierced. Everything from trademarks and copyrights to other areas of intellectual property should be carefully examined. You should be quite sure that you receive copies of everything from consulting agreements to documentation on intellectual property.
2. Retirement Plans
Don’t forget about retirement plans when you’re buying a business, as this mistake can quietly translate into disaster. Before signing on the dotted line and taking ownership, be sure that both the business’s qualified and non-qualified retirement plans are 100% up to date with the Department of Labor and ready to go.
3. W-2’s and 1099’s
If 1099 forms were given out instead of W-2’s, you’ll want to know about that and be certain that it was done within the bounds of IRS rules. Imagine for a moment that you fail to do your due diligence, buy a business and then discover that you have problems with the IRS. No one wants IRS problems, but a failure to perform due diligence can quickly result in just that. So do your homework!
Never forget what is at stake when you are buying a business. If there has ever been a time to have laser-like focus, this is that time. There can be many skeletons hiding in a business, and you want to be sure that you protect yourself from any unwanted surprises. Not performing your due diligence can lead to a shockingly large array of problems. One exceptional way to protect yourself is to work with a business broker. A business broker knows what to look for when buying a business and what kinds of documents should be examined. There is no replacement for the expertise and experience that a business broker brings to the table.Read More
Who best understands my business?
When interviewing intermediaries to represent the sale of your firm, it is important that you discuss your decision process for selecting one. Without this discussion, an intermediary can’t respond to a prospective seller’s concerns.
Are there any potential buyers?
When dealing with intermediaries, it always helps to reveal any possible buyer, an individual or a company, that has shown an interest in the business for sale. Regardless of how far in the past the interest was expressed, all possible buyers should be contacted now that your company is available for acquisition. People who have inquired about your company are certainly top prospects.
Lack of communication?
It is critical that communication between the seller, or his or her designee, and the intermediary involved in the sale, be handled promptly. Calls should be taken by both sides. If either side is busy or out of the office, the call should be returned as quickly as possible.
Does the offering memorandum have cooperation from both sides?
This document must be as complete as possible, and some of the important sections require careful input from the seller. For example: an analysis of the competition; the company’s competitive advantages – and shortcomings; how the company can be grown and such issues as pending lawsuits and environmental, if any.
Where are the financials?
It may be easy for a seller to provide last year’s financials, but that’s just a beginning. Five years, plus current interim statements and at least one year’s projections are necessary. In addition, the current statement should be audited; although this usually presents a problem for smaller firms — better to do it now than later.
Are the attorneys deal-makers?
In most cases, transaction attorneys from reputable firms do an excellent job. However, occasionally, an attorney for one side or the other becomes a deal-breaker instead of a deal-maker. A sign of this is when an attorney attempts to take over the transaction at an early stage. Sellers, and buyers, have to take note of this and inform their attorney that they want the deal to work – or change to a counsel who is a “team player.”
Intermediaries are responsible for handling what is usually the biggest asset the owner has – and they are proud of what they do. Intermediaries realize that the sale of a business can create the financial security so important to a business owner. Even when a company is in trouble, the intermediary is committed to selling it, since by doing so, jobs will be saved – and the business salvaged.
Selling a business is a process that depends upon professionalism and confidentiality. Selecting a business broker who understands the critical role that confidentiality plays is simply a must. Unfortunately, countless sellers have in fact dealt with a situation where a breach in confidentiality has caused a deal to fall apart.
A failure to maintain confidentiality can lead to a slew of negative reactions from a range of parties. Everyone from supplies and vendors to creditors could react in a way that could harm your business, for example, vendors could change their terms and this could in turn negatively impact your cash flow.
A breach of confidentiality could also lead to negative reactions amongst both employees and customers. The reason is that employees may begin to worry about the security of their jobs and may also become nervous about the change in management. These fears could prompt employees to find a new job and leave you with a position that needs to be filled. Potentially more significant is the fact that the loss of key personnel could cause your buyer to have cold feet.
As if all of these factors were not enough of a concern there is also the issue of the competition. If your competition gets wind that you may be looking to sell they may take advantage of the situation and start attempting to steal your customers.
Finally, a breach in confidentiality could send potential buyers running. The headaches that are often associated with a breach in confidentiality are such that potential buyers may simply drop the deal.
The best way to protect your confidentiality is to opt for a great business broker. A business broker is an expert in prompting a business without notifying the competition, your employees, vendors or anyone else. The process is both an art and a science.
When attempting to sell on your own there are many and diverse pitfalls. Sellers are much more likely to accidentally reveal who you are; after all, a seller has to provide phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses and other critical and identifying information. Even your home phone number could be traced back to your identity and ultimately your business.
A seasoned business broker can help you bypass these potentially damaging issues, by not just shielding your business’s identify but also by ensuring that all interested parties sign confidentiality agreements and are pre-qualified. In this way you only reveal what is absolutely necessary. In short, it is best to work with a business broker and maintain your confidentiality at all costs.Read More