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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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.
Before buying any business, a seller must ask questions, lots of questions. If there is ever a time where one should not be shy, it is when buying a business. In a recent article from Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “10 Questions You Must Ask Before Buying a Business”, author Jan Porter explores 10 of the single most important questions prospective buyers should be asking before signing on the dotted line. She points out to remember that “there are no stupid questions.”
The first question highlighted in this article is “What are your biggest challenges right now?” The fact is this is one of the single most prudent questions one could ask. If you want to reduce potential surprises, then ask this question.
“What would you have done differently?” is another question that can lead to great insights. Every business owner should be an expert regarding his or her own business. It only makes sense to tap into that expertise when one has the opportunity. The answers to this question may also illuminate areas of potential growth.
How a seller arrives at his or her asking price can reveal a great deal. Having to defend and outline why a business is worth a given price is a great way to determine whether or not the asking price is fair. In other words, a seller should be able to clearly defend the financials.
Porter’s fourth question is, “If you can’t sell, what will you do instead?” The answer to this question can give you insight into just how much bargaining power you may have.
A business’ financials couldn’t be any more important and will play a key role during due diligence. The question, “How will you document the financials of the business?” is key and should be asked and answered very early in the process. A clear paper trail is essential.
Buying a business isn’t all about the business or its owner. At first glance, this may sound like a strange statement, but the simple fact is that a business has to be a good fit for its buyer. That is why, Porter’s recommended question, “What skills or qualities do I need to run this business effectively?” couldn’t be any more important. A prospective buyer must be a good fit for a business or otherwise failure could result.
Now, here is a big question: “Do you have any past, pending or potential lawsuits?” Knowing whether or not you could be buying future headaches is clearly of enormous importance.
Porter believes that other key questions include: “How well documented are the procedures of the business?” and “How much does your business depend on a key customer or vendor?” as well as “What will employees do after the sale?”
When it comes to buying a business, questions are your friend. The more questions you ask, the more information you’ll have. The author quotes an experienced business owner who noted, “The more questions you ask, the less risk there will be.”
Business brokers are experts at knowing what kinds of questions to ask and when to ask them. This will help you obtain the right information so that you can ultimately make the best possible decision.
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.
If you haven’t been thinking about succession planning, the bottom line is that you should be. In the February 20, 2019 Divestopia article, “All Companies Need to Look at Succession Planning,” author Brad Cherniak examines the importance of succession planning. Owning and/or operating a business can be a great deal of work, but it is imperative to take the time to develop a succession plan.
Succession Planning is for Businesses of All Sizes
Author Cherniak wants every business owner to realize that succession planning isn’t just for big businesses. Yet, Cherniak points out that the majority of small-to-medium sized businesses, as well as their senior managers, simply don’t focus much on succession planning at all.
Many business owners see succession planning as essentially being the same as exiting a business. Cherniak is quick to point out that while the two can be linked and may, in fact, overlap, they are by no means the same thing. They should not be treated as such.
Following an Arc Pattern
Importantly, Cherniak notes, “Succession planning should also be linked to your strategic planning.” He feels that both entrepreneurs and businesses managers follow an arc pattern where their “creativity, energy and effectiveness” are all concerned. As circumstances change, entrepreneurs and business managers can become exhausted and even a liability.
The arc can also change due to a company’s changing circumstances. All of these factors point to “coordinating the arcs of business,” which includes “startup, ramp-up, growth, consolidation, renewed growth and maturity,” with whomever is running the business at the time. In this way, succession planning is not one-dimensional. Instead it should be viewed as quite a dynamic process.
Evaluating Each Company Individually
Cherniak highlights the importance of making sure that the team matches the needs of a company as well as its stages of development. Who is running a company and setting its direction? Answering these questions is important. It also is of paramount importance to make sure that the right person is in charge at the optimal time.
Companies and their circumstances can change. This change can often occur without much notice. As Cherniak points out, few small-to-medium sized businesses focus on succession planning, and this is potentially to their detriment.
Most people fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. But where buying and selling a business is concerned, failing to keep those resolutions could mean an abundance of lost opportunity.
Todd Ganos at Forbes recently penned a thought-provoking article entitled The 8 New Year’s Resolutions for the Sale of Your Business. In this article, he compares selling a business to getting in shape in the months preceding your visit to the beach. It is necessary to do a great deal of planning and hard work if you want to be in good shape for the big “beach body reveal.”
When it comes to selling a company, Ganos believes that there are eight factors that must be taken into consideration. Listed below are those factors he feels are a must for business owners looking to get their business ready for “the beach.” These are the eight factors that Ganos believes are most essential and should be on your New Years’ Resolution list for your business:
In order to get your business ready, it is necessary to take a good long and honest look at each of these eight important categories.
Planning is at the heart of everything. He points out that owners who truly want to get their business ready for the market will want to adopt a focused month-by-month plan.
This plan means having discipline, developing a business plan and involving your team in the development of that plan. Once the plan has been developed, it should be reviewed with your leadership team each month.
New Years’ Resolutions fail because they don’t get properly integrated into peoples’ lives. And the same holds true for making changes in one’s businesses. Ganos correctly asserts that in order to get your business ready to sell, you have to make it an “all-of-the-time thing” in which you are constantly focused on success.
New Years’ Resolutions have to be about doing things differently, having a plan and then sticking to these changes permanently.
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.
Many sellers worry that employees might “hit the panic button” when they learn that a business is up for sale. Yet, in a recent article from mergers and acquisitions specialist Barbara Taylor entitled, “Selling Your Business? 3 Reasons Why Your Employees Will Be Thrilled,” Taylor brings up some thought-provoking points on why employees might actually be glad to hear this news. Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons that Taylor believes employees might actually be pretty excited by the prospect of a sale.
Taylor is 100% correct in her assertion that employees may indeed get nervous when they hear that a business is up for sale. She recounts her own experience selling a business in which she was concerned that her employees might “pack up their bags and leave once we (the owners) had permanently left the building.” As it turns out, this wasn’t the case, as the employees did in fact stay on after the sale.
Interestingly, Taylor points to something of a paradox. While employees may sometimes worry that a new owner will “come in and fire everyone” the opposite is usually the case. Usually, the new owner is worried that everyone will quit and tries to ensure the opposite outcome.
Here Taylor brings up an excellent point for business owners to relay to their employees. A new owner will likely mean enhanced job security, as the new owner is truly dependent on the expertise, know-how and experience that the current employees bring to the table.
A second reason that employees may be excited with the prospect of a new owner is their potential career advancement. The size of your business will, to an extent, dictate the opportunities for advancement. However, if a larger entity buys your business then it is suddenly possible for your employees to have a range of new career advancement opportunities. As Taylor points out, if your business goes from a “mom and pop operation” to a mid-sized company overnight, then your employees will suddenly have new opportunities before them.
Finally, selling a business could mean “new growth, energy and ideas.” Taylor discusses how she had worked with a 72-year-old business owner that was exhausted and simply didn’t have the energy to run the business. This business owner felt that a new owner would bring new ideas and new energy and, as a result, the option for new growth.
There is no way around it, Taylor’s article definitely provides ample food for thought. It underscores the fact that how information is presented is critical. It is not prudent to assume that your employees may panic if you sell your business. The simple fact is that if you provide them with the right information, your employees may see a wealth of opportunity in the sale of your business.
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.