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.
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.
The first step towards successfully selling a business is finding a qualified business broker to work with. Sellers should also ask themselves an array of important questions. A recent article, “7 Questions to Answer Before Selling Your Business,” published by Good Men Project, has a great overview of questions sellers should answer before moving forward.
Author Troy Lambert believes that at the top of the list is one very simple and powerful question, “Are you ready?” For example, your financial reports should be ready to show.
The second question is, “What’s it worth?” Determining what a business is worth means you’ll need a professional business valuation. A great deal can go into evaluating your business and you need an expert to help you determine that value.
Third, Lambert believes that prospective sellers should ask themselves, “How’s the health of my industry?” He emphasizes that honesty is key here for a variety of reasons. If your industry is in a transition period, for example, then it might be better to wait until a better time to sell.
The fourth question on Lambert’s list is, “How long will it take?” In short, you need to remember that selling a business can take a long time. Successfully selling your business may even mean that you have to stay on and work with the new owner during a transition period.
The fifth key question is, “Who is my buyer?” You don’t want to waste a lot of time with potential buyers who are simply not a good fit. Finding the right buyer for your business helps to ensure that a deal will be finalized.
Sixth, Lambert wants sellers to think about how they will get paid. Are you willing to finance part of the deal? What about balloon payments over time? Understanding, before you put your business on the market how you want to be paid and how flexible you can be in terms of payment is essential.
For most sellers, selling a business will stand as the largest financial decision of their lives. With this realization comes more than a little pressure.
Considering the enormity of the decision, having good advice is simply a must. A seasoned and experienced business broker understands what it takes to buy and sell a business. Working with a business broker is an easy and efficient way to begin the process of selling your business. Brokers know what it takes to successfully sell a business and can help you answer these questions and many more.
The number of small business transitions continues to be strong for the first quarter of 2019. In fact, despite a small decline, small business transitions remain at historically high levels.
Looking at the Statistics
According to a recent BizBuySell article entitled, “Number of Small Businesses Changing Hands Dips Slightly, But Market Remains Ripe for Buyers and Sellers,” now is still very much the time for both buying and selling a business. It is true that the number of businesses sold in the first three months of 2019 dropped by 6.5% when compared to 2018. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the number of completed transactions remains very strong. Likewise, inventory is increasing, with a 6.1% increase in listings in Q1 of 2019 when compared to the same period in 2018.
While the market is indeed strong, the BizBuySell article did note that some experts feel that there are signs that the market could become more challenging moving forward. In part, this is due to the prospect that interest rates and financing could become increasingly challenging and more expensive. These factors indicate that now is a smart time to both buy and sell a business.
Likewise, the financials of sold businesses in Q1 remains strong. In fact, the median revenue of sold businesses jumped 6.5% when compared to Q1 2018. Now, the median revenue stands at $540,000. However, cash flow continues to hover around the $100,000 for five years in a row.
What are the Top Regions?
Currently, the top markets by closed small business transition are Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. The top markets by median sale price are Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Denver-Aurora and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington.
A Consistently Strong Market
Overall, the experts at BizBuySell believe that the market remains very strong and active. They believe that the wave of retiring baby boomers looking to exit their businesses, historically low interest rates and the rise of the next generation of entrepreneurs are helping to fuel a great deal of activity.
According to Matt Coletta, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, M&A Business Advisors, “We are seeing more quality businesses coming on the market with good, clean books than I have seen in my 25+ years in the business.”
If you are considering buying or selling a business, then now is an excellent time to jump in. Working with a business broker is a great way to ensure that you find the right business for you at the right price.
The IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey Report for the fourth quarter of 2018 has a range of interesting insights. The survey’s purpose is to provide an “accurate understanding of market conditions for businesses being sold in Main Street (values $0-$2MM) and the Lower Middle Market (values $2MM-$50MM). This national survey was designed as a tool for business owners and their advisors and has the support of both the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Projects and the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.
One of the most striking facts to leap out of the report is the fact that a full one-third of advisors fully expect the strong market to end this year. Overall, advisors are not optimistic that the current climate will continue through 2020. In fact, advisors are encouraging sellers to consider placing their businesses on the market now, while the market is still strong. This is according to Craig Everett, PhD and Assistant Professor of Finance and Director of the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project.
One fact from the report that could be overlooked is that only a mere 8% of advisors expect the current climate to last for 48 months or more. Additionally, only 9% believe that the current climate will last between 24 to 48 months. Perhaps most striking of all is the fact that 60% of advisors feel that the current climate will end within the next two years.
Business owners who are considering selling should be advised that almost two-thirds of advisors now feel that there will be a significant shift in the next two years. Considering that it can take a year or more to sell a business, business owners would be wise to consider this important fact.
The report sites Neal Isaacs, Owner of VR Business Brokers of the Triangle who states, “Deals are taking longer in due diligence as buyers work hard to validate their investment and make sure that what they’re buying is worth the premium price today’s sellers are commanding.”
So, is now the time to sell? Many experts feel that it is possible to lose a sizable amount of value if one waits too long to sell. Even just a few months can make a huge difference in terms of perceived value and the ultimate sales price. Working with a proven business broker is a key way to ensure that you are selling at the right time and secure the best possible price.
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.
The economy is red hot, and that fact is translating over to lots of activity in businesses being sold. However, it is possible that this record-breaking number of sales could cool down in the near future. In a recent article in Inc. entitled, “The Hot Market for Businesses is Likely to Cool, According to This New Survey,” the idea that the market for selling business is cooling down is explored in depth. Rather dramatically, the article’s sub header states, “Entrepreneurs who are considering selling their companies say they’re worried about the future of the economy.”
The recent study conducted by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business as well as the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source surveyed 319 business brokers as well as mergers and acquisitions advisers. And the results were less than rosy.
A whopping 83% of survey participants believed that the strong M&A market will come to end in just two years. Perhaps more jarring is the fact that almost one-third of participants believe that the market would cool down before the end of 2019.
The participants believe that the economy will begin to slow down, and this change will negatively impact businesses. As the economy slows down, businesses, in turn, will see a drop in their profits. This, of course, will serve to make them more challenging to sell.
The Inc. article quotes Laura Ward, a managing partner at M&A advisory firm Kingsbridge Capital Partners, “People are thinking about getting out before the next recession,” says Ward. The Pepperdine survey noted that a full 80% of companies priced in the $1 million to $2 million range are now heading into retirement. In sharp contrast, 42% of companies priced in the $500,000 to $1 million range are heading into retirement. Clearly, retirement remains a major reason why businesses are being sold.
Is now the time to sell your business? For many, the answer is a clear “yes.” If the economy as a whole begins to slow down, then it is only logical to conclude that selling a business could become tougher as well.
The experts seem to agree that whether it is in one year or perhaps two, there will be a shift in the number of businesses being sold. Now may very well be the right time for you to jump into the market and sell. The best way of making this conclusion is to work with a proven and experienced business broker. Your broker will help you to analyze the various factors involved and make the best decision.
Selling a business can be an exciting and rather lucrative time. But going through the sales process means embracing the notion that you’ll have to be very prepared for whatever might be thrown your way. A key aspect of preparing to sell your business is to know what types of buyers you’re likely to encounter.
It is only logical to anticipate the types of buyers you may be dealing with in advance. That will allow you to plan how you might potentially work with them. Remember that each buyer comes with his or her own unique desires and objectives.
The Business Competitor
Competitors buy each other all the time. Frequently, when a business is looking to sell, the owner or owners quickly turn to their competitors. Turning to one’s competitors when it comes time to sell makes a good deal of sense; after all, they are in the same business, understand the industry and are more likely to understand the value of what you are offering. With these prospective buyers, a great confidentiality agreement is, of course, a must.
Selling to Family Members
It is not at all uncommon for businesses to be sold to family members. These buyers are often very familiar with the business, the industry as a whole and understand what is involved in owning and operating the business in question.
Often, family members are prepared and groomed years in advance to take over the operation of a business. These are all pluses. But there are some potential pitfalls as well, such as family members not having enough cash to buy or not being fully prepared to run the business.
Quite often, foreign buyers have the funds needed to buy an existing business. However, foreign buyers may face a range of difficulties including overcoming a language barrier and licensing issues.
Dealing with an individual buyer has many benefits. These buyers tend to be a little older, ranging in age from 40 to 60. For these buyers, owning a business is often a dream come true, and they frequently bring with them real-world corporate experience. Dealing with a single buyer can also help expedite the process as you will have fewer individuals to negotiate with.
Financial buyers are often the most complicated buyers to deal with, as they can come with a long list of demands. That stated, you should not dismiss financial buyers. But just remember that they want to buy your business strictly for financial reasons. That means they are not looking for a job or fulfilling a lifelong dream. For financial buyers, the key point is that your business is generating adequate revenue.
A synergistic buyer can be an excellent candidate. The reason that synergistic buyers can be such a good fit is that their business in some way complements yours. In other words, there is a synergy between the businesses. The main idea here is that by combining the two businesses they will reap a range of benefits, such as access to a new and very much aligned customer base.
Different types of buyers bring different types of issues to the table. The good news is that business brokers know what different types of buyers are likely to expect out of a deal.