What exactly does the term “goodwill” mean when it comes to buying or selling a business? Usually, the term “goodwill” is a reference to all the effort that a seller puts into a business over the years that he or she operates that business. In a sense, goodwill is the difference between an array of intangible, but important, assets and the total purchase price of the business. It is important not to underestimate the value of goodwill as it relates to both the long-term and short-term success of any given business.
According to the M&A Dictionary, an intangible asset can be thought of as asset that is carried on the balance sheet, and it may include a company’s reputation or a recognized name in the market. If a company is purchased for more than its book value, then the odds are excellent that goodwill has played a role.
Goodwill most definitely contrasts and should not be confused with “going concern value.” Going concern value is usually defined as the fact that a business will continue to operate in a fashion that is consistent with its original intended purpose instead of failing and closing down.
Examples of goodwill can be quite varied. Listed below are some of the more common and interesting examples:
- A strong reputation
- Name recognition
- A good location
- Proprietary designs
- Trade secrets
- Specialized know-how
- Existing contracts
- Skilled employees
- Customized advertising materials
- Technologically advanced equipment
- Custom-built factory
- Specialized tooling
- A loyal customer base
- Mailing list
- Supplier list
- Royalty agreements
In short, goodwill in the business realm isn’t exactly easy to define. The simple fact, is that goodwill can, and usually does, encompass a wide and diverse array of factors. There are, however, many other important elements to consider when evaluating and considering goodwill. For example, standards require that companies which have intangible assets, including goodwill, be valued by an outside expert on an annual basis. Essentially, a business owner simply can’t claim anything under the sun as an intangible asset.
Whether you are buying or selling a business, you should leverage the know how of seasoned experts. An experienced business broker will be able to help guide you through the buying and selling process. Understanding what is a real and valuable intangible asset or example of goodwill can be a key factor in the buying and selling process. A business broker can act as your guide in both understanding and presenting goodwill variables.
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.
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.
Unlike that poetic title of an old-time standard song, Red Sails in the Sunset, red flags are not a pretty sight. They can cause a deal to crater. Sellers have to learn to recognize situations indicating there might be a problem in their attempt to sell their business. Very, very seldom does a white knight in shining armor riding a white horse gallop up, write a large check and take over the business – no questions asked. And, if he did, it probably should raise the red flag – because that only happens in fairy tales. Now, if the check clears – then fairy tales can come true.
Sellers need to step back and examine every element of the transaction to make sure something isn’t happening that might sink the deal. For example, if a company appears interested in your business, and you can’t get through to the CEO, President, or, even the CFO, there most likely is a problem. Perhaps the interest level is not what you have been led to believe. A seller does not want to waste time on buyers that really aren’t buyers. In the example cited, the red flag should certainly be raised.
A red flag should be raised if an individual buyer shows a great deal of interest in the company, but has no experience in acquisitions and has no prior experience in the same industry. Even if this buyer appears very interested, the chances are that as the deal progresses, he or she will be tentative, cautious and will probably have a problem overcoming any of the business’s shortcomings. Retaining an intermediary generally eliminates this problem, since every buyer is screened and only those that are really qualified are even introduced to the business.
Both of the above examples are early-stage red flags. Sellers have to be focused so they don’t waste their time on buyers that are undesirable. If a buyer appears to be weak, does not have a good reason to need the deal, or is otherwise unqualified, the red flag should be raised because the chances of a successful transaction are diminished. The seller might seriously consider moving on to other prospects.
Red flags do not necessarily mean the end of the deal or that it should be aborted immediately. It simply means that the seller should pay close attention to what is happening. Sellers should keep their antenna up during the entire transaction. Problems can develop right up to closing. Here is an example of a middle-stage red flag: The seller has received a term sheet from a prospective buyer and is then denied access to the buyer’s financial statements in order to verify their ability to make the acquisition. As a reminder, a term sheet is a written range of value for the purchase price plus an indication of how the transaction would be structured. It is normally prepared by the would-be purchaser and presented to the seller and is non-binding. A buyer who is not willing to divulge financial information about his or her company, or, himself, in the case of an individual, may have something to hide. Due diligence on the buyer is equally as important as due diligence on the business.
If a proposed deal has entered the final stages, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any red flags, or any additional ones, if there have been some along the way. If there have been several red flags, perhaps the transaction shouldn’t have gone on any further. It is these latter stages where the red flags become more serious. However, at this point, it makes sense to try to work through them since problems or issues early-on apparently have been resolved.
One red flag at this juncture might be an apparent loss of momentum. This might mean a problem at the buyer’s end. Don’t let it linger. As mentioned earlier, at this juncture all stops should be pulled out to try to overcome any problems. If a seller, or a buyer, for that matter, suspects a problem, there might very well be one. Ignoring it will not rectify the situation. When a red flag is recognized, it is best that it be confronted head-on. It is only by acting proactively that red flags in the deal can become red sails in the sunset – a harbinger of smooth sailing ahead.