Selling a business is more than a big decision, as it is also quite complex. Finding the right buyer for a business is at the heart of the matter. In the recent Forbes article, “Ready to Sell Your Business? Follow These 3 Tips to Find the Best Buyer,” author Serenity Gibbons outlines that selling a business is a multifaceted process with a lot of moving parts.
A central variable for those looking to sell a business is to have a coherent and well thought out exit strategy in place. She points out that at the top of your to-do list should be selling your business the right way, and that means having a great exit strategy in place. In fact, many experts feel that you should have an exit strategy in place even when you first open your business.
Another key variable to keep in mind is that, according to Gibbons, only an estimated 20% to 30% of businesses on the market actually find buyers. This important fact means that business owners, who usually have a large percentage of their wealth tied up in their businesses, are vulnerable if they can’t sell. It is vital for business owners to make their businesses as attractive as possible to buyers for when the time comes to sell.
This article points to author Michael Lefkowitz’s book “Where’s the Exit.” This book outlines what business owners need to do to get their business ready for their exit. Updating your books, ensuring that a good team is in place and ready to go and taking steps to “polish the appeal of your brand” are some of the important topics covered.
Gibbons notes that “not every buyer with cash in hand is the right buyer for your company.” Mentioned are three key variables that must be addressed when looking to find the right buyer: consider your successor, explore your broker options and find a pre-qualified buyer.
In the end, working with a business broker is the fastest and easiest way to check off all three boxes. An experienced professional knows the importance of working exclusively with serious, pre-qualified buyers. Since a good business broker only works with serious buyers, that means business brokers can greatly expedite the process of selling your business.
In her article, Gibbons supports the fact that working with a business broker is a smart move. Those looking to get their business sold and reduce an array of potential headaches along the way, will find that there is no replacement for a good business broker.
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.
There is no denying the fact that life is much, much easier when one can find the right buyer for his or her business. Buying or selling a business can be a stressful affair, but much of that stress can be eliminated by getting the right support.
The Concept of the “Right Buyer”
In the recent Inc. article entitled, “How to Find the Right Buyer for Your Business and Avoid Negative Consequences,” Bob House builds his article around a relatively simple and straightforward, but powerful, concept. House’s notion is, “the right buyer is worth more than a big check.”
House correctly points out that far too many sellers become fixated on exiting their business and grabbing a big pay day. In their focused interest in the sum they will receive, these sellers ignore a range of other important details. In part, sellers often miss the single greatest variable in the entire process: finding the most qualified buyer. The simple fact is that if sellers want to reduce their long-term stress, then there is no replacement for finding the most qualified buyer, as the wrong buyer can be “headache city!”
Plan in Advance
As House points out, it is only prudent to determine what you want out of a buyer well before you put your business up for sale. For example, if you don’t want to offer financing, then that is a decision you need to make well before you begin the process.
Additionally, House wisely places considerable interest on pre-screening potential buyers. Pre-screening is a great reason to work with an experienced and proven business broker who can assist with the process. As a business owner your time is precious. The last thing you want are a lot of window shoppers wasting your time.
Keep Your Focus on Your Business
Remember, while your business is up for sale, you still have to run your business. Quite often, business owners have difficulty running their business and navigating the complex sales process simultaneously. The end result can be disastrous, as revenue can drop and business problems can arise.
Working with a business broker means that you are dramatically reducing your potential stressors throughout the sales process. A business broker will ensure that potential buyers are pre-screened and that only serious buyers are brought to you for consideration.
Currently, the market conditions are great for sellers. If you are considering selling, now is the time to find a business broker and jump into the market!
Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business. Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late. Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you. Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them. In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.
Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business.
As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.” This statement does not only apply to buyers. Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.
There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees. It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering. If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.
In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees. Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor. Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit. Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed. Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.
It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business. The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely. But sellers should understand what employees are key and why. Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so. Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.