Every year countless great deals, deals that would have otherwise gone through, are undone due to a failure to properly utilize and follow confidentiality agreements. A failure to adhere to this essential contract can lead to a myriad of problems. These issues range from employees discovering that a business is going to be sold and quitting to key customers learning of the potential sale and taking their business elsewhere. Needless to say, issues such as these can stand in the way of a sale successfully going through. Maintaining confidentiality throughout the sales process is of paramount importance.
Utilizing a confidentiality agreement, often referred to as a non-disclosure agreement, is a common practice and one that you should fully embrace. There are many and diverse benefits to working with a business broker; one of those benefits is that business brokers know how to properly use confidentiality agreements and what should be contained within them.
By using a confidentiality agreement, the seller gains protection from a prospective buyer disclosing confidential information during the sales process. Originally, confidentiality agreements were utilized to prevent prospective buyers from letting the world at large know that a business was for sale.
Today, these contracts have evolved and now cover an array of potential seller concerns. A good confidentiality agreement will help to ensure that a prospective buyer doesn’t disclose proprietary information, trade secrets or key information learned about the business during the sales process.
Creating a solid confidentiality agreement is serious business and should not be rushed into. They should include, first and foremost, what areas are to be covered by the agreement, or in other words what is, and is not confidential. Additional areas of concern, such as how confidential information will be shared and marked, the remedy for breaches of confidentiality and the terms of the agreement, for example, how long the agreement is to remain enforced, should also be addressed.
A key area that should not be overlooked when creating a confidentiality agreement is that the prospective buyer will not hire any key people away from the selling company. Every business and every situation is different. As a result, confidentiality agreements must be tailored to each business and each situation.
When it comes to selling a business, few factors are as critical as establishing and maintaining confidentiality. The last thing any business wants is for its confidential information to land in the hands of a key competitor. Business brokers understand the value of maintaining confidentiality and know what steps to take to ensure that it is maintained throughout the sales process.
Succession planning is something that many business owners fail to think about; however, it turns out there are benefits to succession planning that might not be immediately obvious upon first glance. In this article, we’ll explore a recent Accountancy Daily article, “Succession Planning for Business Owners,” which details the wisdom and benefits of succession planning.
Accountancy Daily polled 500 SME owners and uncovered a variety of interesting facts. At the top of the list is that one-third of owners felt more confident about the future of their businesses when they had a coherent succession strategy.
In what can only be deemed a surprising finding, the poll discovered that 17% of respondents noted that succession planning actually brought them closer to their families. In short, the Accountancy Daily poll found that succession planning came with a variety of unexpected benefits. In other words, it is about more than preparing to hand one’s business over to a new party.
Author Glen Foster makes the point that business owners frequently underestimate the level of effort and time needed to sell a business. The fact is that selling a business is usually a layered process that can even take years to complete. Importantly, business owners must understand that in the time it takes to sell, the market may have changed or their own financial or personal situations may have changed as well. Additionally, selling can be an emotional and stressful process which further complicates the entire matter.
For most business owners, selling a business represents the single greatest financial move of their lives. As such, it is often accompanied with significant stress and anxiety. It is essential not to underestimate the emotional and psychological side of the sales equation. Properly planning years in advance for the sale of a business will help business owners prepare for the emotional and psychological stress that can result from both the sales process and the eventual sale itself.
A key part of the stress of selling a business is that business owners are often left wondering “what comes next?” after selling. Developing a succession strategy is a way to think through such issues well in advance.
Another key aspect of succession planning is to take the steps necessary to make sure that your business is ready to be sold. As Foster points out, you wouldn’t put a home on the market with significant problems, and the same holds true for your business. If you want to receive the optimal price for your business, then your business should be in tip-top shape. This means diving into your books and records and getting everything in order. Working with an accountant or an experienced business broker can be invaluable in this process.
A recent and insightful Forbes article, “Study Shows Why Many Business Owners Can’t Sell When They Want To” penned by Mary Ellen Biery, generates some thought-provoking ideas. The article discusses an Exit Planning Institute (EPI) study that outlined the reality that many business owners can’t control when they are able to sell. Many business owners expect to be able to sell whenever they like. However, the reality, as outlined by the EPI study, revealed that the truth is that for business owners, selling is often easier said than done.
In the article, Christopher Snider, President and CEO of EPI, noted that a large percentage of business owners have no exit planning in place. This fact is made all the more striking by the revelation that most owners have up to 90% of their assets tied up in their businesses. Snider’s view is that most business owners will have to sell within the next 10 to 15 years, and yet, are unprepared to do so. According to the EPI only 20% to 30% of businesses that go on the market will actually sell. Snider believes that at the heart of the problem is there are not enough good businesses available for sell. In short, the problem is one of quality.
As of 2016, Baby Boomer business owners, who were expected to begin selling in record numbers, are waiting to sell. As Snider stated in Biery’s Fortune article, “Baby Boomers don’t really want to leave their businesses, and they’re not going to move the business until they have to, which is probably when they are in their early 70s.”
The EPI survey of 200+ San Diego business owners found that 53% had given little or no attention to their transition plan, 88% had no written transition to transition to the next owner, and a whopping 80% had never even sought professional advice regarding their transition. Further, a mere 58% currently had handled any form of estate planning.
Adding to the concern was the fact that most surveyed business owners don’t know the value of their business. Summed up another way, a large percentage of the business owners who will be selling their businesses are Baby Boomers who plan on holding onto their businesses until they are older. They have not charted out an exit strategy or transition plan and have no tangible idea as to the true worth of their respective businesses.
In Snider’s view, the survey indicates that many business owners are not “maximizing the transferable value of their business,” and additionally that they are not “in a position to transfer successfully so that they can harvest the wealth locked in their business.”
All business owners should be thinking about the day when they will have to sell their business. Now is the time to begin working with a broker to formulate your strategy so as to maximize your business’s value.
No one keeps a business forever. At some point, you’ll either want to sell your business or have to retire. When the time comes to sell, it is important to streamline the process, experience as little stress as possible and also receive top dollar. In Alejandro Cremades’s recent Forbes magazine article, “How to Find a Buyer for Your Business,” Cremades explores the most important steps business owners should take when looking to sell.
Like so many things in life, finding a buyer for your business is about preparation. As Cremades notes, you should think about selling your business on the day you found your company. Creating a business but having no exit strategy is simply not a good idea, and it’s certainly not a safe strategy either. Instead you should “build and plan to be acquired.”
For Cremades, it is vital to decide in the beginning if your preferred exit strategy is to be acquired. If you know from the beginning that you wish to be acquired, then you should build your business accordingly from day one. That means it’s essential to understand your market and know what prospective buyers would be looking for.
According to the Leadership Development Program, Kauffman Fellows, acquirers buy businesses for a range of reasons including:
- Driving their own growth
- Expanding their market
- Accelerating time to market
- Consolidating the market
Some of the more potentially interesting reasons that acquirers buy a business include to reinvent their own business and even to respond to a disruption. At the end of the day, there is no one monolithic reason why a given party decides to buy a business. But there are indeed some general factors that acquirers are known to commonly seek out.
Additionally, Cremades believes that for those serious about finding a buyer, it is critical to make connections. Or as Cremades states, “strategic acquisitions are about who you know, and who knows you. Start making those connections early.” He also points out that buyers are not always who one expects in the beginning of the process. Keeping this fact in mind, it is important to stay open and always look to build solid relationships and keep those relationships up to date regarding your status. Getting your company acquired won’t happen overnight. Instead, it is a process that can take years. Therefore, networking years in advance is a must.
Like many seasoned business professionals, Cremades realizes how important it is to work with a business broker. If you have failed to network properly over the years, then a broker is an amazingly valuable ally. They are about more than offering sage advice, as business brokers can also make potentially invaluable introductions and help you navigate every stage of the acquisition process.
Small business transactions have been enjoying record numbers. But as of the second quarter of 2019, the numbers have begun to take a small dip. Experts feel that the trade war with China is playing a role, according to a recent article, “Q2 Small Business Transactions Down as Trade War Questions Remain.”
The numbers don’t lie, as the number of transactions stood at 2,444 for Q2, which is a drop of 9.6%. But the simple fact remains that businesses are still selling at record levels. As BizBuySell points out, there were 4,948 transactions reported in just the first half of 2019. That means that 2019 could be the second most active business-for-sale market since BizBuySell began tracking data back in 2007. In other words, the Q2 9.6% drop certainly doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.
Deals per broker are declining, and many are looking to the current trade war between the U.S. and China for answers. Increased tariffs and associated worries are, according to many experts, behind the Q2 dip.
A recent BizBuySell poll of business owners noted that 43% are experiencing rising costs as a result of tariffs on Chinese goods. Summed up another way, the trade war with China is impacting small businesses across the board.
Ultimately, consumers will also feel the pinch as well with a whopping 64% of businesses noting that they will raise prices in order to address rising supplier costs. Another attention-grabbing statistic is that 65% of small business owners are considering switching to suppliers not based in China, and 54% are looking for U.S. based supplies. If this trend continues it could mark a dramatic shift.
There is, however, ample good news. According to BizBuySell, buyers looking for a business will discover that the supply of quality listings on the market is increasing. In short, now is a good time to buy a business, as the number of businesses listed as “for sale” grew by a healthy 5.2% in Q2 when compared to the same time last year.
The “business for sale” inventory is growing. According to Bob House, President of BizBuySell, “Businesses are performing better than ever.”
Some of the top performing markets by sales included Baltimore, Portland, Seattle, Austin and Dallas. Those interested in buying a business will find that now is truly a historically good time to do so. Working with a seasoned business broker can help you find a business that is right for you. While the trade war has injected some uncertainty into the overall climate, there is no doubt that now is a historically unique time to buy a business.
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 simple but undeniable fact is buying a business is one of the single greatest financial decisions a person can make. Buying a business can lead to great financial success or great financial failure. This fact helps to underscore why it is so important to work with an experienced broker who can help guide you through the often labyrinthian process of buying a business.
In a July 2019 article from Smallbusiness.co.uk, author Kyle Carins explores three key factors that everyone should consider before they buy a business. The first factor covered in Carins’ article, “3 Things to Consider When Buying a Business,” is appeal vs. viability.
Appeal Vs. Viability
Not surprising, the most important variable for most prospective owners is that the business is indeed viable. Not being able to differentiate between an appealing business and one that is viable can lead to financial disaster.
As Carins points out, “Do you want to make money or do you want to fulfill a dream?” Sometimes those two variables can intersect, but not always and not often. In the end, it is vital to know whether a given business is, in fact, potentially lucrative.
However, as Carins points out, it is also important that you choose a business that you will enjoy. Nothing can be more spirit crushing than running a business that you truly hate, even if it is lucrative. Selecting the right business for you is something of a balancing act that must take in a variety of often competing variables.
Considering Hidden Costs
The second factor that Carins looks at is the issue of “hidden costs.” One of the key reasons that it is so important to work with a business broker is that a business broker understands these kinds of factors that you might otherwise overlook. Due diligence is amazingly important. For those who have never bought a business before, working with a business broker offers substantial protection against making a potentially serious mistake.
The third factor examined in Carins article is “Getting a second opinion.” For Carins, getting a second opinion is actually linked to due diligence. He feels that additional opinions regarding a given business should go beyond working with professionals and should also include talking to friends and family who know you well. Additional opinions can help one see angles that might otherwise be missed.
Again, buying a business is complicated and will take up a good deal of one’s time and mental energy. Your friends and relatives, understand your personality and your wants and desires. Their input can be particularly beneficial.
Finding an experienced business broker can help you do more than simply establish whether or not a given business is a “good deal.” Brokers with years of proven experience can also help you determine whether or not a specific business is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.
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.