Personal goodwill can have a profound impact on both small and medium-sized businesses. In fact, it can even impact the sales of larger companies. Ultimately, understanding how personal goodwill is cultivated is of great value for any company.
During the process of building a business, a founder builds one or more of the following: a positive personal reputation, a personal relationship with key players such as large customers and suppliers and the founder’s reputation associated with the creation of products, inventions, designs and more.
What Creates Personal Goodwill?
Personal goodwill can be established in many ways, for example, professionals such as doctors, dentists and lawyers can all build personal goodwill with their clients, especially over extended periods of time. One of the most interesting aspects of building personal goodwill is that it is essentially non-transferable, as it is invariably attached to and associated with, a particular key figure, such as the founder of a company. Simply stated, personal goodwill can be a powerful force, but it does have one substantial drawback. This is as the saying goes, “the goodwill goes home at night.”
How Does It Impact Buying or Selling a Business?
Buying a business where personal goodwill has been a cornerstone of a business’s success and growth presents some obvious risks. Likewise, it can be difficult to sell a business where personal goodwill plays a key role in the business, as a buyer must take this important factor into consideration. Certain businesses such as medical, accounting or legal practices, for example, depend heavily on existing clients. If those clients don’t like the new owner, they simply may go elsewhere.
Now, with all of this stated, it is, of course, possible to sell a business built partially or mostly around personal goodwill. Oftentimes, buyers will want some protection in the event that the business faces serious problems if the seller departs.
Solutions that Work for Both Parties
One approach is to require the seller to stay with the business and remain a key public face for a period of time. An effective transition period can be pivotal for businesses built around personal goodwill. A second approach is to have some form of “earn-out.” In this model, at the end of the year lost business is factored in, and a percentage is then subtracted from monies owed to the seller. Another option is that the funds from the down payment are placed in escrow and adjustments are made to those funds. It is important to note that the courts have decided that a business does not own the goodwill, the owner of the business does.
No doubt, businesses in which personal goodwill plays a major role, present their own unique challenge. Working with an experienced professional, such as a business broker, is an exceptional way to proceed in buying or selling this type of business.Read More
Personal Goodwill has always been a fascinating subject, impacting the sale of many small to medium-sized businesses – and possibly even larger companies. How is personal goodwill developed? An individual starts a business and, during the process, builds one or more of the following:
• A positive personal reputation
• A personal relationship with many of the largest customers and/or suppliers
• Company products, publications, etc., as the sole author, designer, or inventor
The creation of personal goodwill occurs far beyond just customers and suppliers. Over the years, personal goodwill has been established through relationships with tax advisors, doctors, dentists, attorneys, and other personal service providers. While these relationships are wonderful benefits, they are, unfortunately, non-transferable. There is an old saying: In businesses built around personal goodwill, the goodwill goes home at night.
It can be difficult to sell a business, regardless of size, where personal goodwill plays an integral role in the business’ success. The larger the business, the less likely that one person holds the key to its profitability. In small to medium-sized businesses, personal goodwill can be a crucial ingredient. A buyer certainly has to consider it when considering whether to buy such a business.
In the case of the sale of a medical, accounting, or legal practice, existing clients/patients may visit a new owner of the same practice; they are used to coming to that location, they have an immediate problem, or they have some other practical reason for staying with the same practice. However, if existing clients or patients don’t like the new owner, or they don’t feel that their needs were handled the way the old owner cared for them, they may look for a new provider. The new owner might be as competent as, or more competent than, his predecessor, but chemistry, or the lack of it, can supersede competency in the eyes of a customer.
Businesses centered on the goodwill of the owner can certainly be sold, but usually the buyer will want some protection in case business is lost with the departure of the seller. One simple method requires the seller to stay for a sufficient period after the sale to allow him or her to work with the new owner and slowly transfer the goodwill. No doubt, some goodwill will be lost, but that expectation should be built into the price.
Another approach uses some form of “earnout.” At the end of the year, the lost business that can be attributed to the goodwill of the seller is tallied. A percentage is then subtracted from monies owed to the seller, or funds from the down payment are placed in escrow, and adjustments are made from that source.
In some cases, the sale of goodwill may offer some favorable tax benefits for the seller. If the seller of the business is also the owner of the personal goodwill, the sale can essentially be two taxable events. The tax courts have ruled that the business doesn’t own the goodwill, the owner of the business does. The seller thus sells the business and then also sells his or her personal goodwill. The seller’s tax professional will be able to give further advice on this matter.