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.
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.
Divestopedia published a rather insightful article, “Letting the Market Bridge the Valuation Gap.” In this October 2018 article, Dave Kauppi dives in and explores how fair market value can be used as a way for business owners to “bridge the gap between the valuation they feel they deserve and that which they’re likely to receive.” This, of course, increases the chances of a deal actually taking place. Let’s turn our attention to some of the key points in Kauppi’s informative article.
Understanding the Reality of Selling a Business
One key point is that only a low percentage of businesses actually sell on their first attempt. The article points out that a mere 10% of businesses that are for sale are actually sold three years later; this is a simply brutal fact. Few facts, if any, help underscore the value of working with a business broker more than this point. Selling a business can be difficult under even the best of circumstances. The process is complex, and most sellers have never actually sold a business before.
Divestopedia believes that it is critical for business owners to have realistic expectations regarding valuation. As the article points out, the market doesn’t care “how much money you need for retirement,” or how much you’ve invested.
Four Points to Consider
According to the article, it is important that business owners understand that a few business characteristics will ultimately drive the sale. There are four key factors to consider: contractually recurring revenue, durable competitive advantage, growth rate and customer concentration.
There is a lot packed into these four points, but here are a couple of big takeaways. In terms of customer growth, if a large percentage of your business is derived from a single customer, then that is going to be seen as a problem. As Divestopedia points out, if your company is dependent and partially dependent on a single customer, then you can expect a lot of pressure for you, as the business owner, to stick around a lot longer to ensure that this key customer isn’t lost. If intellectual property, such as software, is involved, then things can get even more complex. In the end, determining value in technology-based companies can be more challenging.
In the end, working with a seasoned business broker, one that understands valuation and how best to get there, is a must. You want to receive the best possible price for your business. An experienced business broker will help you understand how to navigate the complex process of determining a price. However, and most importantly, a business broker will help you achieve a fair market value, so that your business doesn’t remain unsold for years.
Business appraisals are not one-dimensional. In fact, a good business appraisal is one that factors in a wide range of variables in order to achieve an accurate result. Indisputable records ranging from comparables and projections to EBITDA multiples, discount rates and a good deal more are all factored in.
It is important to remember that while an appraiser may feel that he or she has all the information necessary, it is still possible they have overlooked key information. Business appraisers must understand the purpose of their appraisal before beginning the process. All too often appraisers are unaware of important additional factors and considerations that could enhance or even devalue a business’s worth.
There Can Be Unwritten Value
Value isn’t always “black and white.” Instead, many factors can determine value. Prospective buyers may be looking at variables, such as profitability, depth of management and market share, but there can be more that determines value.
Here are some of the factors to consider when determining value: How much market competition is there? Does the business have potential beyond its current niche? Are there a variety of vendors? Does the company have easy access to its target audience? At the end of the day, what is the company’s competitive advantage? Is pricing in line with the demographic served? These are just some of the key questions that you’ll want to consider when evaluating a company.
There are Ways to Increase Both Valuation and Success
No doubt, successful businesses didn’t get that way by accident. A successful business is one that is customer focused and has company-wide values. Brian Tracy’s excellent book, “The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business,” notes that it is critical for businesses to have a company-wide focus on three key pillars: marketing, sales and, of course, revenue generation. Tracy also points out that trends can be seen as the single most vital factor and bottom-line contributor to any company’s success and, ultimately, valuation. For 2018 and beyond, projected trends include an increase in video marketing, the use of crowdfunding as a means of product validation and more.
No Replacement for Understanding Trends
If a company doesn’t understand trends, then it can’t understand both the market as it stands and as it may be tomorrow. Savvy business owners understand today’s trends and strive to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors while simultaneously learning from their competitors’ successes.
Tracy accurately states that while there are many variables in determining value, finding and retaining the best people is absolutely essential. One of the greatest assets that any company has is, in the end, its people.
In a recent December 2018 article in Divestopedia entitled, “Options for Business Real Estate When Selling a Company,” the topic of business real estate was explored at length.
One of the key points of the article was that understanding one’s business real estate options would ultimately help in achieving “the goals desired in a transaction.” The article is correct to point out that many, or even arguably most, business owners simply don’t know what real estate options are available to them when it comes time to sell the company.
In particular, there are two big options:
- Sell everything including the real estate.
- Hold onto the real estate for the rental income.
In the Divestopedia article, the authors correctly point out that if you, as the business owner, personally own the real estate in a separate entity, then you are good to go. You should have a “clear path to valuation.”
However, if your company owns the real estate, then things get a little more complicated. If this is the situation you’ll want to have a third-party appraisal of the real estate so that its value is clear. The article also points out that if your business is a C-Corp and your business also owns the real estate, then it’s a good idea to talk to your accountant as there will be differences in taxation.
Every situation is different. Many buyers will prefer to acquire the real estate along with the business. On the other hand, many buyers may prefer a lease, as they don’t want everything that comes along with owning real estate. Communicating with the buyer regarding his or her preference is a savvy move.
Now, as Divestopedia points out, if you do plan to retain the building, then you’ll want to be certain that a strong lease is in place. Ask any business broker about the importance of having a strong lease, and you’ll get some pretty clear-cut feedback. Namely, you always want to have a strong lease.
Issues such as who repairs what and why should all be spelled out in the lease. It should leave nothing to chance. One of the best points made in the Divestopedia article is that you will want a strong lease for another key reason. When the time comes to sell the property, you want to show you have a lease that is generating good income.
Real estate and the sale of your business are not one-dimensional topics. There are many variables that go into selling when real estate is involved. It is important to consider all of the variables and work with a business broker who can help guide you through this potentially complex topic.
The process of selling a business can be very complex. Whether you’ve sold a business in the past or are selling a business for the very first time, it is imperative that you work with an expert. A seasoned business broker can help you navigate through what can be some pretty rough waters. Let’s take a closer look at four issues any seller needs to keep in mind why selling a business.
Number One – Overreaching
If you are both simultaneously the founder, owner and operator of a business, then there is a good chance that you are involved in every single decision. And that can be a significant mistake. Business owners typically want to be involved in every aspect of selling their business, but handling the sale of your business while operating can lead to problems or even disaster.
The bottom line is that you can’t handle it all. You’ll need to delegate the day-to-day operation of your business to a sales manager. Additionally, you’ll want to consider bringing on an experienced business broker to assist with the sale of your business. Simultaneously, running a business and trying to sell has gone awry for even the most seasoned multitaskers.
Number Two – Money Related Issues
It is quite common that once a seller has decided on a price, he or she has trouble settling for anything less. The emotional ties that business owners have to their businesses are understandable, but they can also be irrational and serve as an impediment to a sale. A business broker is an essential intermediary that can keep deals on track and emotions at a minimum.
Number Three – Time
When you are selling a business, the last thing you want is to waste time. Working with a business broker ensures that you avoid “window shoppers” and instead only deal with real, vetted prospects who are serious about buying. Your time is precious, and most sellers are unaware of just how much time selling a business can entail.
Number Four – Don’t Forget the Stockholders
Stockholders simply must be included in the process whatever their shares may be. A business owner needs to obtain the approval of stock holders. Two of the best ways to achieve this is to get an attractive sales price and secondly, to achieve the best terms possible. Once again, a business broker serves as an invaluable ally in both regards.
Selling a business isn’t just complicated; it can also be stressful, confusing and overwhelming. This is especially true if you have never sold a business before. Business brokers “know the ropes” and they know what it takes to both get a deal on the table and then push that deal to the finish line.
Leases should never be overlooked when it comes to buying or selling a business. After all, where your business is located and how long you can stay at that location plays a key role in the overall health of your business. It is easy to get lost with “larger” issues when buying or selling a business. But in terms of stability, few factors rank as high as that of a lease. Let’s explore some of the key facts you’ll want to keep in mind where leases are concerned.
The Different Kinds of Leases
In general, there are three different kinds of leases: sub-lease, new lease and the assignment of the lease. These leases clearly differ from one another, and each will impact a business in different ways.
A sub-lease is a lease within a lease. If you have a sub-lease then another party holds the original lease. It is very important to remember that in this situation the seller is the landlord. In general, sub-leasing will require that permission is granted by the original landlord. With a new lease, a lease has expired and the buyer must obtain a new lease from the landlord. Buyers will want to be certain that they have a lease in place before buying a new business otherwise they may have to relocate the business if the landlord refuses to offer a new lease.
The third lease option is the assignment of lease. Assignment of lease is the most common type of lease when it comes to selling a business. Under the assignment of lease, the buyer is granted the use of the location where the business is currently operating. In short, the seller assigns to the buyer the rights of the lease. It is important to note that the seller does not act as the landlord in this situation.
Understand All Lease Issues to Avoid Surprises
Early on in the buying process, buyers should work to understand all aspects of a business’s lease. No one wants an unwelcomed surprise when buying a business, for example, discovering that a business must be relocated due to lease issues.
Summed up, don’t ignore the critical importance of a business’s leasing situation. Whether you are buying or selling a business, it is in your best interest to clearly understand your lease situation. Buyers want stable leases with clearly defined rules and so do sellers, as sellers can use a stable leasing agreement as a strong sales tool.
Pepperjam CTO, Greg Shepard recently published “Planning Your Exit Should Begin When You Launch” in Entrepreneur magazine. In this article, Shepard puts forward a variety of thought-provoking ideas including that entrepreneurs should be thinking about partnering early on with those they believe will ultimately want to buy their business.
Much of Shepard’s thinking centers around the fact that a large percentage of startups end in acquisitions. In particular, he notes that in 2017, “mergers and acquisitions accounted for 93 percent of the 809 ventures capital-backed exits, yielding a total of $45.6 billion in disclosed exit value.” Not too surprising, he also points out that according to a recent Silicon Valley Bank survey, over 50% of all startups are “hoping for an acquisition.”
For this reason, Shepard points out that entrepreneurs should be thinking about who may potentially acquire them from day one. In particular, startups will want to build their companies in such a way that they will be attractive for acquisition at a later date.
Making one’s startup attractive for acquisition means thinking about such details as the Ideal Customer Profile, Ideal Employee Profile, and Ideal Buyer Profile. This will help startups build the most attractive acquisition friendly company possible. According to Crunchbase, exit opportunities frequently present themselves well before a company’s Series B funding.
Building Successful Strategies
Startups simply must understand who their customer is and why their particular product is attractive to that customer. Likewise, having the right kind of employees with the right kind of training and know how is key. Hiring the best talent is definitely a way for a startup to make itself more attractive for a potential future acquisition.
Shepard believes that once you understand your customer and have the right team to support your vision, you’ll want to focus in on companies that are most likely to be interested and construct an “optimal buyer pool.” Finding this optimal buyer pool means finding businesses that serve similar markets and then making sure that your product, as well as your business model, both address an overlooked need within the existing customer base. Combine all of these variables together, and your company will be more attractive for an acquisition.
Let Innovation Drive You
Another key point in Shepard’s article is that startups will want to provide products or services that potential buyers are currently not providing to their customers. Additionally, he states that “Disruptors should seek out companies that are truly driven by innovation-perhaps those that have already established or partnered with innovative labs or accelerators.”
Ultimately, it is critical for startups to understand where they could fit within a larger organization. Understanding this will help entrepreneurs make their company more acquisition friendly.
There are a myriad of reasons why the sale of a business doesn’t close successfully; these multiple causes can, however, be broken down into four categories: those caused by the seller, those caused by the buyer, those that just happen (“acts of fate”), and those caused by third parties. The following examines the part each of these components can play in contributing to the wrecked deal:
1. In some instances, the seller doesn’t have a valid reason for entering into the sale process. Without a strong reason for selling, he or she has neither the willingness to negotiate nor the flexibility to see the sale to a conclusion. Without such a commitment, the desire to sell is not powerful enough to overcome the many complexities necessary to finalize the sales process.
2. Some sellers are merely testing the waters. As detailed above, they are not at that “hungry” stage that provides the push toward a successful transaction. These sellers merely want to see if anyone wants to buy their business at the price they would like to receive.
3. Many sellers are unrealistic about the price they want for their business. They may be sincere about wanting to sell, but they are unable to be realistic about how the marketplace will value the business. The demand for their business may not be there.
4. Some sellers fail to be honest about their business or its situation. They may be hiding the fact that new competition is entering the market, that the business has serious problems or some other reason the business is not salable under existing circumstances. Even worse, some sellers do not disclose that there is more than one owner and that they are not all in agreement about selling the business.
5. A seller may decide to wait until a buyer is found and then check with their outside advisors about the tax and/or legal consequences. At this point, the terms of the deal have to be altered, and the buyer won’t agree. Sellers should deal with these complications ahead of time. Nobody likes changes–especially buyers!
1. The buyer may not have an urgent need or a strong desire to go into business. In many cases the buyer may begin with positive intentions, but then doesn’t have the courage to make “the leap of faith” necessary to go through with the sale.
2 Some buyers, like sellers, have very unrealistic expectations regarding the price of businesses. They are also uneducated about the nature of small business in general.
3. Many buyers are not willing to put in the hours or do the type of work necessary to operate a business successfully.
4. Buyers can be influenced by others who are opposed to the purchase of a business. Many people don’t or can’t understand the need to be “your own boss.”
Acts of Fate
These are the situations that “just happen,” causing deals to fall through. Even considering the strong hand of fate, many of these situations could have been prevented.
1. A buyer’s investigation reveals some unmentioned or unknown problem, such as an environmental situation. Or, perhaps there are financial deficiencies discovered by the buyer. Unfortunately, these should have been on the table from the beginning of the selling process.
2. The seller may not be able to substantiate, at least to the buyer’s satisfaction, the earnings of the business.
3. Problems may arise, unknown to both the seller and the buyer, with federal, state, or local governmental agencies.
1. Landlords may become difficult about transferring the lease or granting a new one.
2. Buyers and/or sellers may receive overly-aggressive advice from outside advisors, usually attorneys. Attorneys, in their zeal to represent their clients, forget that the goal is to put the deal together. In some cases, they erect so many roadblocks that the deal can only fall apart.
Most of the problems outlined here could have been resolved before the selling process was too far advanced. There are also some problems that could not have been avoided–people do sometimes enter situations with the best of intentions only to find out that this is not the right answer for them after all. These are the exceptions, however. Most business sales can have happy endings if potential difficulties are handled at the appropriate time.
Business brokers are aware of the various ways a deal may fall through. They are experienced in resolving issues before the business goes onto the market or before a buyer is introduced to the business. To buy or sell a business successfully, sellers should resolve any potential deal-wreckers, following the advice of a professional business broker.
Although business brokers cannot provide legal advice, they are familiar with the intricacies of the business sale. They are also familiar with local attorneys who specialize in the details of these transactions. These attorneys will usually be more efficient, and therefore more cost-effective, than the attorney who handles a general practice.