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.
Does your business have real, long-lasting longevity or is your business a temporary entity that will vanish the second you stop working on it? In his insightful article in The Business Journals entitled, “Are You Living for Today as a Business Owner or Building Value?” author Kent Bernhard asks a very important question of readers, “Are you a lifestyle business owner or a value accelerator?”
Many business owners have never stopped to ask this very important, yet basic, question regarding their businesses. So, let’s turn our attention to this key question that all business owners must stop and ask at some point.
As Bernhard points out the core issue here is how a given business owner defines the idea of success for him or herself. As Chuck Richards, the CEO of CoreValue Software notes, “At the end of the day, a lifestyle business is just a job.”
Richards goes on to note that this is fine for many people. But if this is the case, it is a choice that one is making. Therefore, lifestyle business owners should be aware that they are, in fact, clearly making a choice.
Business owners who are lawyers, consultants and accountants often fall into the category of those with a “business as a job.” They fail to accumulate enough assets for their business to really be more than a job. Summed up in another fashion, the business generates enough revenue to provide a comfortable lifestyle. However, it does not have the infrastructure or equity to remain profitable, or even in existence, once they walk away. As the owner and operator of the business, they are vital to its very existence. This means that the business only has value so long as the owner is working in the business on a regular basis. As a result, the owner may never really be able to exit the business.
As Bernhard points out, “To build a business as an asset, you have to become a value accelerator who looks beyond whether the business’ profits are sufficient to maintain your lifestyle. It means looking at the business as an entity outside yourself.” Those who fall into the value accelerator category, focus on figuring out creating value for the business as a financial asset that can operate independently.
Making sure that your business can continue on without you means that you have to build it, and that involves having a coherent and focused plan. Plan in advance and know how you will exit your business. To ultimately create value for the business entity itself, a plan must be in place that allows for your successful exit.
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.
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.