Important Points for Selling to a Family Member

Eventually every business owner will have to turn over control of their business to someone else. There are many options for how this can play out. They range from selling the business to a prospective buyer or selling to a competitor, to turning your business over to a family member. It is key that you start thinking about these options years before you end up in a situation where you actually have to sell. 

Working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one way to determine what sales options are optimal for you based on your specific situation. Let’s explore some of the variables you’ll want to consider when you decide to transfer your business to a family member.

Tax Advantages

There are some significant advantages to transferring your business to a family member. No doubt topping the list of advantages of going this route is the fact that the transfer can be considered a gift. One advantage of this approach is that you’ll reduce your real estate taxes. Depending upon how the agreement is written, you also may be able to maintain some control over the business. For many business owners, this factor can be a big advantage. 

Seller Financing

One issue you’ll want to explore when opting to transfer your business to a family member is seller financing. Seller financing is a common practice when it comes to buying and selling businesses in general. This type of financing is even more common where transfers to relatives are concerned. 

Seller financing opens up the versatile option of implementing a private annuity. A private annuity can serve to spread payments out across a long period of time. This could be a win-win situation for both you and your relative. You would receive a long-term stream of income as a result of ongoing payments. In turn, this decision may very well make ownership more financially realistic for your relative. 

Legal Agreements 

Keep in mind that if you sell your business to a relative, this in no way negates the need for a buy-sell agreement. Even when you are dealing with your most trusted family members, legal agreements must be firmly in place. A buy-sell agreement is an invaluable tool that protects everyone involved. 

This contract clearly outlines all aspects of the arrangement. Your buy-sell agreement should include such key information including the value of the business, amount being paid, information on which employees will be retained, the current business owner’s level of future involvement, and much more.

Working with Professionals

Ultimately, there are a range of potentially powerful benefits associated with transferring a business to a relative. While it is true that you can expect the IRS to closely evaluate the sale, this should not dissuade you from considering this option. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at buying and selling businesses, and they understand the specifics of transferring a business to relatives. Working with professionals early in the selling process can help you gain tremendous insight into the best way to proceed. 

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How to Circumvent Three Legal Mistakes Sellers Make

After decades of hard work, selling your business can be an exciting and rewarding time. Yet, many business owners overlook the importance of focusing on the legal matters associated with sales. In this article, we’ll explore three of the most significant mistakes sellers make. 

1. Use an NDA

The first critical mistake that business owners should be guarding against is skipping the use of a non-disclosure agreement. Simply stated, a business owner should always make sure that a non-disclosure agreement is in place before disclosing to any buyers that a business is on the market.

NDA’s stand as an invaluable way to restrict who does and does not know your business is for sale. After all, the last thing any business owner looking to sell his or her business wants is for competitors or employees to learn confidential information. 

2. Hire an Attorney

The second critical mistake that many business owners make is they skip working with an attorney. There is no way around the fact that if you are selling a business, or for that matter anything of significant value, you need to work with a lawyer experienced in the area of sales. 

Business owners become accustomed to doing a great many things themselves and learning on the job. There is no doubt that this is a personality trait that has served them well over the years. However, when it comes time to sell your business, there is zero room for “on the job training” or relying on your own instincts. One of the best ways that you as a business owner can protect your future is to work with a lawyer when selling your business. In fact, a Business Broker or M&A Advisor can be a vital resource for helping you to find a proven lawyer with a background in the buying and selling of businesses. 

3. Get a Letter of Intent

A third significant mistake that business owners frequently make when selling their business is that they fail to get a letter of intent. Much like an NDA, a letter of intent is a key legal document in the process of selling a business. All too often business owners will skip requesting a letter of intent out of fear of slowing down the process and potentially disrupting a deal. 

The letter of intent is designed to both clearly spell out expectations, while simultaneously protecting your interests as a business owner. When a buyer signs a letter of intent, it indicates that he or she is taking the process seriously. This will protect you from wasting your time. 

The process of buying or selling a business is complex in many different ways. Whether it is dealing with human psychology, organizing your books, thinking about what information prospective buyers are likely to want to see, or addressing a wide array of legal issues, it is a complex and time-consuming process. Working closely with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the fastest ways that you can increase your chances of a successful sale.

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Put Your Strengths First When Selling Your Business

You understand the finer points and potential of your business better than anyone; however, that doesn’t mean that prospective buyers will instantly see your business’s various strengths. When you are looking to sell your business, you have two very important jobs. The first is to get your business ready to be sold. A second essential job is to showcase your business’s greatest strengths. At the end of the day, you must be the one to articulate why your business is worth buying. This effort, of course, will be supported by your Business Broker or M&A Advisor. 

Understand Who Will Buy Your Business 

Most people have never sold a business before and don’t fully understand what is involved in positioning one’s business for sale. The bottom line is that not every business is a good fit for every buyer. Finding the right buyer for your business will greatly expedite the process. This is yet another reason why it is critically important to work with experienced professionals. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors not only know what buyers are looking for, but also what sellers need to do to get their business ready to sell.

How to Navigate Roadblocks 

Selling a business, especially if you attempt to do so without professional help, is a very time-consuming and often draining process. Successfully running a business requires attention to detail and focus. Unfortunately, these can both suffer when owners attempt to put on yet another hat and handle the sale of their business. 

While you are attempting to sell your business, it is critically important that you maintain normal operations. The last thing you want is to weaken the finances of your business while you are waiting to find a buyer. Remember that it takes months, a year, or even longer to find a buyer for the typical business. Don’t let your business suffer damage in the interim. 

Think Like a Buyer

Preparing your business to be sold isn’t as simple as making a few cosmetic changes and calling it day. Instead, you’ll want to think like a buyer. 

What would you want to see if you were buying a business? You would want to know a great deal about that business and how it operates, who its key employees are, how likely those key employees are to stay, who the main customers and suppliers are, and the strength of the business location and competitors. Of course, you would also want a very detailed picture of the business’s financial situation. 

In short, you would want to clearly understand what the business does and what it’s really worth, how financially healthy it has been in the past, what the business’ prospects are moving forward and, in general, how much effort the business will take to operate. These are exactly the kind of key facts that any serious buyer will want to know. It’s only to be expected that a buyer would expect to learn this information before making a decision. 

At the end of the day, working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the easiest ways to streamline the sales process. Thanks to years of experience, they already understand the pitfalls that you may experience as well as what is needed to position your business so that you can find the right buyer quickly and receive the best price possible. 

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The Often-Overlooked Importance of Leases

When buying or selling a business, it is critically important that you evaluate the lease. It is a strange phenomenon that otherwise savvy business people will treat leases as a secondary concern. However, problematic terms in a lease can literally force you to pack up a business and move. This would not only be a jarring experience, but a very costly one as well. 

Finding a good location is of paramount importance to both the profile and profitability of your business. You may feel that there are more important issues when buying or selling a business. But by the end of this article, you’ll see the wisdom in placing a lease near the top of your “to evaluate” list.

There are three different kinds and types of leases: a new lease, an assignment lease and the sublease. All three of these options are most definitely different from one another and can potentially impact your business in different ways.

The New Lease

A new lease, as the name indicates, is the result of a lease that has expired. That means that the buyer must work with the landlord to establish a new lease. Buying a business only to discover that you don’t have a lease and the landlord isn’t interested in keeping your business at its current location is most definitely a shock that no business owners want to encounter. Buyers should be one-hundred percent certain that they have a lease in place before they buy a business.

Assignment of Lease 

The second type of lease is the assignment of lease; this form of lease is quite common. It involves the buyer of a business being granted the use of the location where the business is currently located and operating. Through the assignment of the lease, the seller is able to assign the buyer the rights associated with the lease. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the seller is not acting as the landlord, but instead, simply has the ability to assign the lease. 

The Sublease 

The third option for lease is the sublease. The sublease is basically a lease within a lease, and it comes with some important distinctions that must be understood. A sublease generally requires the permission of the landlord and that permission should not be viewed as a “foregone conclusion” or “automatic.”

The bottom line is that no new business owner wants to discover that their new business doesn’t have a home. There are an array of very important issues to work out when buying a business, and it is critically important that buyers never overlook what kind of lease is involved. A savvy seller will highlight what kind of lease they have, especially if the terms are favorable. But buyers should always be proactive and ask questions about the status of the lease and make certain that lease terms are clearly defined.

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Buying/Selling a Business: The External View

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.

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What Makes Your Company Unique in the Marketplace?

There are unique attributes of a company that make it more attractive to a possible acquirer and/or more valuable. Certainly, the numbers are important, but potential buyers will also look beyond them. Factors that make your company special or unique can often not only make the difference in a possible sale or merger, but also can dramatically increase value. Review the following to see if any of them apply to your company and if they are transferable to new ownership.

Brand name or identity

Do any of your products have a well recognizable name? It doesn’t have to be Kleenex or Coke, but a name that might be well known in a specific geographic region, or a name that is identified with a specific product. A product with a unique appearance, taste, or image is also a big plus. For example, Cape Cod Potato Chips have a unique regional identity, and also a distinctive taste. Both factors are big pluses when it comes time to sell.

Dominant market position

A company doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 firm to have a dominant position in the market place. Being the major player in a niche market is a dominant position. Possible purchasers and acquirers, such as buy-out groups, look to the major players in a particular industry regardless of how small it is.

Customer lists

Newsletters and other publications have, over the years, built mailing lists and subscriber lists that create a unique loyalty base. Just as many personal services have created this base, a number of other factors have contributed to the building of it. The resulting loyalty may allow the company to charge a higher price for its product or service.

Intangible assets

A long and favorable lease (assuming it can be transferred to a new owner) can be a big plus for a retail business. A recognizable franchise name can also be a big plus. Other examples of intangible assets that can create value are: customer lists, proprietary software, an effective advertising program, etc.

Price Advantage

The ability to charge less for similar products is a unique factor. For example, Wal-Mart has built an empire on the ability to provide products at a very low price. Some companies do this by building alliances with designers or manufacturers. In some cases, these alliances develop into partnerships so that a lower price can be offered. Most companies are not in Wal-Mart’s category, but the same relationships can be built to create low costs and subsequent price advantages.

Difficulty of replication

A company that produces a product or service that cannot be easily replicated has an advantage over other firms. We all know that CPA and law firms have unique licensing attributes that prevent just anyone off of the street from creating competition. Some firms have government licensing or agreements that are granted on a very limited basis. Others provide tie-ins that limit others from competing. For example, a coffee company that provides free coffee makers with the use of their coffee.

Proprietary technology

Technology, trade secrets, specialized applications, confidentiality agreements protecting proprietary information – all of these can add value to a company. These factors may not be copyrighted or patented, but if a chain of confidentiality is built – then these items can be unique to the company.

There are certainly other unique factors that give a company a special appeal to a prospective purchaser and, at the same time, increase value. Many business owners have to go beyond the numbers and take an objective look at the factors that make their company unique.

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The Advantage of Buying an Existing Business

Most people think of starting a business from scratch, developing an idea, building a company from the ground up. Starting from scratch, however, has its disadvantages including – developing a customer base, marketing the business, hiring employees and creating cash flow … without any history or reputation to rely on.

To avoid these challenges, buying an existing business may prove to be the better solution.  Buying an existing business has its advantages – including, but not limited to:

The Business Is Established.

An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location with furniture, fixtures, and equipment in place. The term “turnkey operation” may be overused, but an existing business is just that, and more. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business opportunity, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch with all the disadvantages stated above.

The Business Has Existing Relationships.

In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are valuable assets to the company. A buyer may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not – the existing business/owner does, and they can readily be transferred to the buyer as part of the acquisition.

The Business Isn’t “A Pig in a Poke”.

Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money you invest, there’s still a big risk in starting a business from scratch. An existing business has a financial track record along with established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of a business – when sales are high and low, what the true expenses of the business are, and how much money an owner can make, and more. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay on to teach and work with a new owner – sometimes free of charge.

An Existing Business Comes with A Price and Terms.

As stated above, an existing business has everything in place. The business is in operation and typically has an established selling price. Opening a new business from scratch comes with a great degree of uncertainty and can become a proverbial “money pit”. When purchasing an established business, a buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for their money. In many cases, a seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.

The “Unwritten” Guarantee.

By financing the purchase price, a seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.

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12 Ways to Increase the Value of Your Company

1. Build a solid management team. A business with sales of $5 million and up needs a full complement of officers and directors. Such a team might include: a COO, a CFO, a sales manager and, depending on the of type business, an IT director. It is also beneficial to create a Board of Directors with at least two outside members. This professionalization of management can remove the stigma of “the one man band.” Not only will this build a stronger company, it will increase the value to a possible acquirer. Smaller firms should also build a strong management team, and creating an outside advisor group is also a good idea.

2. Loyal employees.  Happy and loyal employees make for a strong company. Top management should have non-compete and/or confidentiality agreements.  Solid benefits plans for all employees should be in place. A company’s greatest asset is its employees and perhaps its biggest value-increaser.

3. Growth. Some smaller companies are kept small to maximize the owner’s benefits – the proverbial “cash cows.” However, if building value is the goal, then developing new products or services, building market share, expanding markets or opening new ones, is critical. This generally requires a financial investment, but building a strong growth rate also builds value.

4. Understanding your market. The value of a company may be contingent on its industry, its place in the industry and the direction of the industry itself. How big is the industry, is it headed up or down, who is the competition and how big is the company’s market share? Is it time to change direction or diversify?

5. Size counts. Companies with less than $5 million in sales and an EBITDA of less than $1 million can be perceived as small. Therefore, they may be dependent on continuing outside financing and lack the critical mass for both buying and selling power. These companies can be perceived as too small for acquisition or are penalized when it comes to value. However, over the past few years corporate buyers, as well as private equity firms, have seen the advantages of purchasing smaller firms. Obviously, companies with $10 million or more in sales and an EBITDA of $1 million or more are considered as solid and able to stand on their own.

6. Changing direction.  Small companies can be very adept at changing course and implementing change. They have to be able to change and move quickly to take advantage of new markets, to fill voids in existing markets and even to add or change products or services.

7. Documentation. Business plans, financial plans and personnel plans should all be in writing – and kept current. Terms of employment agreements should be spelled out and in writing. Business planning and company objectives, etc., should also be in writing and reviewed periodically. Contracts should be reviewed and maintained on a current basis.

8. Diversification. A major problem with many small companies is that their business is concentrated on one or two major customers or clients. Ideally, no customer or client should represent more than 10 percent of sales. Expanding to new markets, introducing new products, and finding new customers must be considered without deviating too far from the company’s core business.

9. Name and brand identity. Nothing beats the name Walt Disney, or Kleenex® or the soft drink called Coke® – they are household names. Small firms may not have the brand or name recognition of these companies, but they can work at it. This recognition is especially powerful in the consumer product area. But franchising has expanded this name or brand recognition to many different types of businesses.

10. Taking advantage of proprietary and other assets. Patents, brand names, copyrights, alliances, and joint ventures are all examples of not only proprietary assets, but, in many cases, valuable ones. Even equipment can be used in several different ways. Large landscape companies in cold climates put snow plows on their trucks, utilize their existing workforce and become a snow plowing company for their regular landscaping customers — office complexes, apartment and condo developments, etc.

11. “Lean and Mean.”  Many companies lease their real estate needs, outsource their payroll, have their manufacturing done offshore, or have UPS handle all of their logistical needs. Since all non-core requirements are done by someone else,  the company can focus its efforts on what they do best.

12. Do it now! The owners of small firms, even large ones, have an attitude that says, “I don’t have time now, I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too busy now putting out fires.” So the real challenges of building the business, and value, get sidetracked or put off indefinitely. Creating value is critical to the long-term (and short-term) success of the business.

Keep in mind that the best time to consider selling is when business is good, the business is running profitably, and many of the above “value-adders” are in place. By contacting your local professional intermediary you can explore which of the above will add the most value to your firm, so it will be ready to sell when you are.

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How Understanding Psychology Can Benefit Your Deals

We work closely with our clients to preserve the integrity of deals so that they have the best chance of a successful closing. An often-overlooked aspect of the process is understanding and embracing human psychology. In this article, we will explore some of the most common ways that psychology comes into play. 

The Element of Time

It is critical that both buyers and sellers feel well prepared at every stage of the process. It is also essential that a certain momentum is established through every stage of the deal. When too many delays happen, this can start to derail deals. 

Think about the Buyer and the Seller 

For both parties, the buying or selling of a business is a life-changing event. For this reason, it is important that you invest the time to think about the point of view of the other people involved. No doubt, buying and selling can be stressful, so it’s important to take other people’s thoughts and feelings into account. You are not the only one who may be experiencing a little stress. 

The Issue of Non-Active Partners

In some deals, non-active partners can pose challenges to finalizing deals. They often have different motivations than the seller who is in the role of running the business. In a situation where two sellers have divergent goals, it can pose a challenge to a deal. The best thing to do is to try to understand the point of view of each seller and help them both reach their respective goals. 

Identify Influencers

Influencers and recommenders can have a powerful sway over both buyers and sellers. By influencers, this could mean accountants, lawyers, relatives, etc. In order for a deal to go through successfully, often these influencers must be identified and their viewpoints must be addressed. On a practical level, there are also other people involved that can interfere with a deal, such as landlords. It’s important to make sure that these individuals feel as though they will benefit from the success of the deal as well. 

There are many moving parts needed to get to the finishing line. Human psychology plays a huge role in what decisions get made. It’s vitally important to take the time to consider what others involved in the deal might be thinking or doing. Your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will benefit you by getting to know all parties involved and taking the appropriate actions to ensure things are done to the satisfaction of all parties. 

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How to Achieve High Buyer Success Rates

Both buyers and sellers have a lot of emotion wrapped up in their respective decisions. It’s completely natural to feel that way. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors can assist clients with their concerns and fears by giving them more information about how the sales process works and also discussing common pitfalls to avoid. In this article, we’ll go over some of the various issues impacting buyers. If you are able to anticipate potential issues that could interfere with the deal, you’ll be more likely to be able to overcome those issues. 

The Initial Intake Process 

Buyers should understand that they will need to sign an NDA and treat the non-disclosure process seriously. Brokers representing a seller will be requiring a good deal of information, including financial details, and often even your resume. So don’t be surprised when you’re asked for this information. It’s all a normal part of the process. 

The Lending Process

It’s important to realize ahead of time that the lending process can be slow. It is also very common for lenders to ask for more and more information before the approval goes through. If this happens to you, don’t panic or worry. This too is a standard method of operation. 

Working with Lawyers 

While lawyers are obviously necessary in the process of buying and selling a business, they can also be a source of anxiety. In their efforts to protect their clients, they also can often kill a deal. Of course, get the facts and logistical information that you need from a lawyer, but always remember that lawyers and other business advisors are not the decision makers. If you’re buying a business, the decision is ultimately yours. 

The Non-Binding Offer 

A non-binding offer allows both the buyer and seller to walk away from a deal if terms cannot be agreed upon in a set amount of time. A non-binding offer shows the seller that the buyer is interested in acquiring the business, but this form of agreement isn’t legally binding. The benefit of the non-binding offer is that it allows discussions and negotiations to move forward.  

The Due Diligence Process

The due diligence process is another aspect that allows the buyer to move forward, while simultaneously having protection. At this point, the buyer will receive confidential and sensitive information about a business, such as the financials, inventory, and legal matters. Buyers will also have the ability to conduct additional research and ask the sellers questions. Like the non-binding offer, the due diligence process also means that you have the right to walk away. It is important to have this step available so that buyers can make the most informed decisions possible.

Business brokers and M&A advisors are essential in order to help buyers find the best fit. We not only save our buyers time and energy, but  we also help to ensure that the transaction goes as smoothly as possible.

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10 Mistakes that Sellers Make

1. Not knowing what the business should sell for

One of the most costly errors a business owner can make is not knowing the approximate price of his or her business prior to entering the selling process. Although the marketplace ultimately determines the final price, an owner needs to know what the approximate price his or her business is prior to placing the business on the market. Before making the decision to sell, owners should work with someone qualified to place a price on their company.

An experienced business broker has both the technical ability and the market experience to produce the most realistic pricing opinion. The business broker will also be the only alternative for supporting his or her opinion by selling the business.

Fair Market Value

Asking Price is what the seller wants

Selling Price is what the seller gets

Fair Market Value is the highest price the buyer is willing to pay and the lowest price the seller is willing to accept.

2. Not preparing the business for sale

Determining the starting price point is only the first step. Prior to exposing the business to the marketplace, preparation is necessary. A business is certainly not a house, but the same attention to appearance prior to sale is necessary. Financial and legal affairs should be current. Anything a potential purchaser might want to see should be up-to-date, accurate and available for review.

Momentum is very important in business transactions and can make or break a deal. The constant need to develop information for a serious prospect will destroy momentum and with it, possibly, the deal. Demonstrating preparedness places the business in a favorable light and prospective buyers will feel comfortable that everything is in order. Being unprepared can delay a closing, create costly expenditures to play catch-up, and cause prospective purchasers to lose confidence in the deal itself. Too much time almost always works against the deal happening.

3. Not being able to see their business through the eyes of a buyer

This can be very difficult for any seller. It is only natural to see one’s own business in a most favorable light and overlook the blemishes or problems inherent in any business. Sellers have to approach their business realistically, knowing that a potential buyer will be doing the same. By recognizing the deficiencies of their business, sellers are in a much better position to deal with the concerns of the buyer. In fact, the best way to handle any potential problem areas is to bring them up in the very beginning.

4. Not really knowing the buyer

The better you know the buyer, the smoother the transaction. By knowing the buyers, their motives, their interests and their backgrounds, the better equipped a seller is to make informed decisions about whether they are the right people to operate the business. When final negotiations begin, knowing the buyers can help resolve some of the issues that will arise. Are their interests the same as yours? If you, as the seller, are financing the deal, do you feel confident that they can make the payments? The more you know about why a buyer wants to buy your business, the better position you are in to know when to be firm in the negotiations and when to be flexible.

5. Trying to sell the company to a buyer who doesn’t want to buy

There are usually many more potential buyers than there are businesses for sale. The question is — how serious are they? A buyer may indicate a great deal of interest but when it gets down to the wire, he or she may back out of the deal. Some buyers want to buy only on their terms and conditions, some may have too many decision-makers to please, and others only want to buy the “perfect” business. Wasting time on those who aren’t serious about purchasing a business takes away valuable time from those buyers who really want to buy.

6. Being your own worst enemy

Many business owners feel that no one knows their business like they do. They think they can do a deal by themselves. They don’t need, or want, any help. They think they are lawyers, accountants, business brokers and outside advisors all rolled up into one person. Then when the going gets tough, they become impatient and inflexible. They then blame others, usually the buyer, when the deal blows up. As the old saying goes: “The attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The same could be said for the business owner who thinks he can sell his or her own business. Not using outside advisors, such as a professional business broker, is a serious mistake.

7. Not understanding the structure of the deal

Regardless of the size of the deal this could be the scenario: an offer is presented, the seller takes one look at the price, immediately says “no” and refuses to look any further. The price, within reason, is immaterial. The real crux of the deal is how it is structured. Consider the negotiating axiom “You can name the price if I can name the terms.” The terms and conditions are important. A seller may be ecstatic about price only to find that the devil is in the details.

8. Not being able to walk away from the deal

Too many sellers get so involved in trying to put a deal together that they don’t see the big picture. They don’t realize that the deal isn’t a good one. In other words, it’s time to walk away from the deal and go on to the next one. Many sellers don’t want to let the deal get away. Since they have invested a lot of time and effort, and probably expenses, it’s often difficult to just end it. However, in some cases that’s exactly what must be done. If the deal isn’t right, and can’t be fixed, there is no other choice. It’s much better not to do the deal than to do a bad one!

9. Waiting too long to sell

Too many owners wait until the last minute to decide to sell their business. They wait until business is down, or they are completely burned-out, or their business partnership has soured completely. The time to sell is before the emergency happens. The time to sell is when business is good. The time to sell is prior to when exasperation hits. The old adage is that a business owner should think about and plan the eventual sale of the business the day after it is started or purchased.

10. Changing your mind

The sale is progressing nicely, the buyer is happy and the seller well, the seller is contemplating life without the business. He or she realizes that when the business is gone, they will have nothing to do. The business has been a major part of their life for many years. Just before the closing, the seller decides that he or she can’t live without the business and the deal starts to unravel. Sometimes, seller’s remorse arises because a business acquaintance says the price was too low, or there isn’t enough cash involved or offers some other uninformed reason. If it was a good deal in the beginning, don’t let well-meaning outsiders influence the sale. And, if there is even a speck of doubt about selling the business, don’t begin the process. Wait until there is not one shred of doubt.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Top Questions Business Buyers Want Answers To

If you are even thinking about selling your business, it’s important to know the questions that buyers generally want answers to. For example, the first question almost always asked by buyers is: If this is such a good business why is it for sale? How you answer this question can make or break a sale. A vague answer can discourage buyers from further consideration of your business, as they may assume the worst.

If you say you are “burned out” or just ready to try something new – that’s fine. If you’ve owned and operated the business for 10 to 15 years, buyers will most likely accept your reason for sale and continue their investigation. However, if you’ve only owned and operated the business for two years or less, a prospective buyer may find it concerning that you are already burned out or ready for something new.

If you’re sick, be open about what the problem is; otherwise buyers will think you are just sick of the business. The worst thing a seller can do is to fudge an answer or not provide a completely honest answer. Buyers will, most likely, see right through the given reason for sale and walk away. So, even if you really are tired of or just plain hate running your own business, be up front and explain why. Honesty is always the best policy.

It is also a good policy to engage the services of a professional business broker. Brokers have been through many transactions and can help a prospective seller deal with the reason for sale as well as the other questions a buyer may have. Here is a brief list of other questions buyers often ask and business brokers deal with all of the time:

•    Why should I buy an existing business rather than start one myself?
•    How are businesses priced?
•    What should I look for?
•    What does it take to be successful?
•    What happens if I find a business I want to buy?
•    Do I need outside advisors?

In addition, buyers often want answers to some more specific questions such as:

•    How long has the business been in business?
•    How long has the present owner owned the business
•    How much money is the business making?
•    Are the books and records readily available?
•    Will the new owner help me learn the business?

These and many other questions are ones that business brokers deal with every day, equipping them to help you prepare honest and useful answers.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Selling Your Business? Do-It-Yourself is Risky Business!

When the owner of a business makes the decision to sell, he or she is taking a giant step that involves the emotions as well as the marketplace, each with its own set of complexities. Those sellers who are tempted to undertake the transaction on their own should understand both the process and the emotional environment that this process is set against. The steps outlined below are just some of the items for a successful sale. While these might seem daunting to the do-it-yourselfer, by engaging the help of a business intermediary, the seller can feel confident about what is often one of the major decisions of a lifetime.

1. Set the stage.

What kind of impression will the business make on prospective buyers? The seller may be happy with a weathered sign (the rustic look) or weeds poking up through the pavement (the natural look), but the buyer might only think, “What a mess!” Equally problematic can be improvements planned by the seller that appeal to his or her sense of aesthetics but that will, in fact, do nothing to benefit the sale. Instead of guessing what might make a difference and what might not, sellers would be wise to seek the advice of a business broker–a professional with experience in dealing regularly with buyers and with an eye experienced in properly setting the business scene.

2. Get the record(s) straight.

Although outward appearance does count, what’s inside the books is even more important. Ultimately, a business will sell according to the numbers. The business broker can offer the seller invaluable assistance in the presentation of the financials.

3. Weigh price against value.

All sellers naturally want to get the best possible price for their business. However, they also need to be realistic. To determine the best price, a business broker will use industry-tested pricing techniques that include ratios based on sales of similar businesses, as well as historical data on the type of business for sale.

4. Market professionally.

Engaging the services of a business broker is the key to the successful marketing of a business. The business broker will prepare a marketing strategy and offer advice about essential marketing tools–everything from a business description to media advertising. Through their professional networks and access to data on prospective buyers, business brokers can get the word out about the business far more effectively than any owner could manage on an individual basis.

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What a Buyer May Really Be Looking At

Buyers, as part of their due diligence, usually employ accountants to check the numbers and attorneys to both look at legal issues and draft or review documents. Buyers may also bring in other professionals to look at the business’ operations. The prudent buyer is also looking behind the scenes to make sure there are not any “skeletons in the closet.” It makes sense for a seller to be just as prudent. Knowing what the prudent buyer may be checking can be a big help. A business intermediary professional is a good person to help a seller look at these issues. They are very familiar with what buyers are looking for when considering a company to purchase.

Here are some examples of things that a prudent buyer will be checking:

Finance

  • Is the business taking all of the trade discounts available or is it late in paying its bills? This could indicate poor cash management policies.
  • Checking the gross margins for the past several years might indicate a lack of control, price erosion or several other deficiencies.
  • Has the business used all of its bank credit lines? Does the bank or any creditor have the company on any kind of credit watch?
  • Does the company have monthly financial statements? Are the annual financials prepared on a timely basis?

Management

  • Is the owner constantly interrupted by telephone calls or demands that require immediate attention? This may indicate a business in crisis.
  • Has the business experienced a lot of management turnover over the past few years?
  • If there are any employees working in the business, do they take pride in what they do and in the business itself?

Manufacturing

  • What is the inventory turnover? Does the company have too many suppliers?
  • Is the business in a stagnant or dying market, and can it shift gears rapidly to make changes or enter new markets?

Marketing

  • Is the business introducing new products or services?
  • Is the business experiencing loss of market share, especially compared to the competition? Price increases may increase dollar sales, but the real measure is unit sales.

When business owners consider selling, it will pay big dividends for them to consider the areas listed above and make whatever changes are appropriate to deal with them. It makes good business sense to not only review them, but also to resolve as many of the issues outlined above as possible.

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Do You Have What It Takes to Find Success in the 21st Century?

There is no doubt that the times are definitely changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift across many industries, and the simple fact is that many industries will never return to the old normal. Success in the 21st century will require a good deal of adaptation and the ability to evaluate where you stand today and where you need to be tomorrow.

Flexible Thinking

One of the cornerstones of being successful in life and in business is to embrace flexible thinking. A flexible approach to problems can lead to finding new and highly effective ways of tackling problems. Being able to find success in the 21st century is about much more than simply riding the next technological wave or trend. Instead, it is about being amongst the first to use flexible thinking to spot trends and developments ahead of the competition and exploit those developments first. Technology and the world are changing faster than ever. Being able to utilize fluid, flexible thinking to identify problems and then seek out cutting-edge solutions to those problems will be a key aspect for success in this century.

A Solid Plan

Flexible thinking is essential for success, but so is having a plan. Just as business leaders needed a plan to achieve final success two-thousand years ago, the same holds true today. In many ways, evolving technology has not reshaped basic logic. 

You’ll want your business plan to strike the right balance between being rigid and flexible. At the same time, you’ll need a solid business plan that includes specific written goals and concrete time frames.

Embracing Technology

The days of ignoring technology or “working around” it are simply gone. The modern business landscape has integrated not just digital marketing, but digital financial transactions as well. This trend is only going to become more pronounced in the coming years. 

The business landscape means understanding and embracing the fact that commerce now has a massive digital component at every level. The pandemic has served to accelerate this fact and has very likely permanently changed how business will be conducted in the future. Whether it is meeting clients or customers online for a Zoom or Skype meeting, embracing digital marketing, or a range of other changes, it is essential for business owners to recognize change and incorporate it into their business and their long-term plans.

You can try to fight the future, but in the end you will fail. Charting the right course for the future means having the right mindset and a great support team in your corner. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at helping business owners prepare their businesses for sale. Demonstrating that your business has adapted to the dynamic and ever-changing environment will help you make your business much more attractive to prospective buyers.

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What You Should Know About Selling Your Business

There can be no doubt that selling your business stands as one of the most complex and important decisions you’ll likely ever make. It is quite often the case that a business represents decades, or even a lifetime, of dedicated work. In this article, we’ll examine some of the key steps that you should take when it comes time to sell.

One of the most important steps that any seller can take is to begin the sales process far in advance of the date that he or she plans to put the business on the market. Working with an experienced business broker or M&A advisor (and doing so preferably years in advance) is one of the single best ways to ensure that you’ll be ready to sell your business when the time comes. It will also help you to avoid the numerous pitfalls that potentially await.

A good brokerage professional can also help identify weaknesses in your business and help you address those issues; however, this is only the beginning. Your broker can help you with everything from strategy and negotiations, maintaining confidentiality and establishing the market value of your business, to connecting you with other seasoned professionals, such as accountants and lawyers.

A third key point that all sellers should consider is their own psychology. It is vital that all sellers remain flexible in their approach to selling their business and also remain respectful of prospective buyers. It is important that you put yourself in the shoes of your buyer and try to think of what they will need to feel confident in their decision. 

The right seller psychology is also absolutely essential. Sellers should not attempt to rush or force a sale or overprice their business. In short, you need to keep “your head in the game” and as much as possible, keep your emotions out of the process. 

Sellers also need to realize that the statistics strongly indicate that seller financing is likely. Only 75% of sellers ultimately receive their asking price, and businesses that are listed as “all cash” generally don’t sell. Reasonable sales terms will greatly increase the chances of successfully selling a business. It is common that sellers fail to realize just how much interest they can generate by financing the sale of their business. A reasonable down payment is also another way to improve the odds of selling a business. Being willing to offer financing makes a clear statement to a prospective buyer that you believe in the business and its ability to generate revenue. From a buyer’s perspective an “all cash” demand can be a red flag.

At the end of the day, an open mind and steady temperament will increase your chances of selling. You may want to sell your business and completely move on to new things. But the reality of selling a business is such that “walking away” may not be feasible. Transitioning your business into the hands of a new owner is usually more of an ongoing process than a “sign on the dotted line and receive a check” type of situation. Understanding this fact, and working closely with a business broker or M&A advisor in advance of selling your business, will help to streamline the sales process and greatly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

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5 Tips for Dealing with Customer Complaints

Companies of all sizes frequently fail to handle customer complaints appropriately.  In the digital era, where complaints can be seen by hundreds, thousands or go viral to millions, it is essential that customer complaints, especially serious ones or ones backed by considerable emotion, are treated seriously and dealt with in a timely manner.

If you are failing to provide good customer service, this should be corrected.  After all, offering decent customer service is neither costly nor overly complicated.  At its core, good customer service can be reduced down to listening to the customer, letting the customer know that his or her complaint has been acknowledged and cataloged, and then working to remedy the situation if possible. 

A good positive attitude and staying calm when dealing with irritated or dissatisfied customers can go a long way towards keeping a customer happy and halting them from expressing their feelings in an online public forum.  Let’s look at five tips for dealing with customer complaints in an effective manner.

Tip #1 – Take a Proactive Stance 

A good attitude and a proactive stance can go a very long way towards diffusing an unhappy or angry customer.  A disappointed customer wants to know that he or she is being heard and that steps are being taken to remedy their situation.  Clearly communicating that you are working to fix the situation and doing so in a positive manner will diffuse most negative customer scenarios.

Tip #2 – Take Quick Action to Fix the Problem

Once a customer is calm and is feeling a little better about your company, there is still more work to do.  When you state that a problem will be addressed, it is essential that the problem is indeed addressed.  This is vitally important for the reputation of your company.  A failure to follow up on a promise to fix a situation could actually backfire and leave customers feeling as though they were initially manipulated.

Tip #3 – Always Stay Calm

If a customer is unhappy enough to write an email or post a negative review online, then they are obviously displeased.  However, if a customer is angry enough to pick up the phone and call, you can be fairly certain that the customer in question is rather upset.  This anger may boil over on the phone call. That’s why customer service people need to be ready to deal with that anger in a calm and collected fashion.  Customer service team members or salespeople should never match the anger of a customer.  Instead, they should focus on demonstrating that they are committed to fixing the problem.  It may benefit you to invest in employee training so that employees are ready to deal with angry or disappointed customers when the time arrives.

Tip #4 – Look for Customer Dissatisfaction Problem Patterns

If the same complaints and issues come up again and again, then it is very likely that there is a larger problem that must be addressed.  Numerous customer complaints from different customers shouldn’t be treated as a “headache.”  Instead, it should be viewed as a great opportunity to improve your goods and/or services.  Once you have detected a negative customer service pattern, be sure that you and your team move quickly to remedy the problem.  Your business will be stronger for doing so in the long run.

Tip #5 – Track Your Success

It is important to never assume that you have successfully addressed customer service issues until customers have, in fact, verified that the situation is resolved.  For this reason, it is wise to follow up with customers and ask for feedback via either questionnaires in the mail, email follow ups, or even phone calls.

Customer complaints that are not appropriately addressed can fester and become larger problems.  The time, effort, and money you invest in boosting the quality of your customer service team will yield significant positive results for the long-term.

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The Top Ten Ways to Avoid Wrecking a Deal

Finalizing a deal is usually a complex process, and there is a good deal of room for error, misunderstandings, miscalculations, and good old-fashioned wild cards.  That is why it is critical to carefully think through the deal process well in advance.  In this article, we’re going to explore the top ten steps you can take to avoid wrecking a good deal.

  1. Confidentiality – At the top of our “how not to wreck a deal list” is confidentiality.  It is vital that everyone involved in the deal takes steps to avoid a breach.  Experienced business brokers are experts at maintaining confidentiality.
  2. Flexibility  – The second tip on our list is to be flexible. A lack of flexibility can absolutely destroy a deal. You shouldn’t go into a deal expecting to have all of your terms met.
  3. Be Open to Negotiations – Just as it is critical to be flexible, it is also important to embrace the concept of negotiation.  Sellers are used to being their own bosses, but when it comes to successfully selling a business, no factor is quite as important as a willingness to negotiate.
  4. Advance Preparation – Next on our list of musts to avoid wrecking a deal is to prepare for the sale well in advance.  Sellers will want to make sure that they have several years of records as well as legal and accounting documentation ready and well-prepared.  You can be 100% certain that any serious buyer will want to see your records and take a look at your financials.
  5. A Reasonable Selling Price – An inflated price will decrease the number of buyers that take a serious look at a business.  Additionally, an unreasonable price may make a seller look uninformed.  Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts at handling valuations.  One of the single best ways to boost your chances of finalizing a sale is to establish a fair and justifiable price for your business.
  6. Maintain Operations – Far too often sellers lose track of the day-to-day operations once their business goes on the market.  It is absolutely vital that sellers continue operating their business as though it may never sell.  The bottom line is that it can take months, or even years to sell.  The last thing any seller wants is for their business to lose value when they are in the process of trying to sell.
  7. Keep up the Momentum – A lack of momentum can kill a deal.  Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an easy way to make sure you maintain momentum throughout the process.
  8. Consider Your Buyer’s Needs – Serious buyers will need a variety of information from sellers in order to obtain financing.  You can expect buyers to need appraisals of assets, information on environmental regulations, and more.  Sellers should have this kind of key information ready and waiting.
  9. Encourage Competition – Another great way to avoid wrecking a deal is to achieve leverage via buyer competition.  In general, it is a good idea to create a competitive situation – one in which prospective buyers know that there is more than one interested party.  Brokerage industry professionals understand the delicacies of presenting this information.
  10.  Seller Participation – Finally, sellers must stay involved in the entire process, and that includes being willing to assist during the transition. Showing a willingness to help during the transition period will help to foster goodwill and trust.

There are many reasons why a deal could potentially fall apart.  You may not be able to control every single variable, but by following the ten key tips outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to increasing your chances of successfully completing a deal.

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“Hello” is a Key Part of Making the Right First Impression

Just as people will form judgments and ideas about you as a person based on first impressions, the same holds true for your company.  It is always best to put your “best foot forward,” and this is true whether we’re talking about your personal life or business.  Periodically, it is prudent for every company to step back and evaluate its initial point of communication with customers and clients.

In today’s digitally interconnected world, it is critical that customers and clients feel as though they are not just being listened to; they really want to be heard.  Emails must be responded to promptly.  This is true regardless of whether the email is from a customer requesting more information about your goods or services, or if it’s a message with a question or complaint.  If your company is unresponsive, this fact can quickly spread on social media.

Of course, customers and clients still pick up their phones and make calls.  While many people’s first impressions of your business are increasingly likely to be via your website, there is no denying the importance of the phone call experience.  When callers reach your business, it is vital that they receive a professional and warm reception.  Whether the point of contact is a live person or a message, the experience should be a trouble-free and low stress experience. 

Far too many businesses overlook this variable, but you can be quite certain that not all of their competitors are doing so.  If you have a navigation system, it should be easy to navigate.  If possible, there should be an option to talk to an operator so that callers don’t get lost within a labyrinthian phone maze filled with dead ends.  Callers might not remember a positive phone experience, but you can bet that they will remember a stressful one.

When a team member greets a caller, the response should be pleasant and should include some version of “How may I help you?”  Every operator should know company basics, such as your times of operation and the key names of your personnel.  They should also demonstrate a willingness to help.  Your team members should understand that their job depends on the success of the company and that they are on the frontlines of maintaining a positive business-customer relationship.  Professionalism is a must, and team members should never lose sight of this fact.

Finally, your key management executives should invest the time to experience your company’s sphere of communication.  What is it like to call your company and interact with team members?  What improvements could be made? 

In this very digital era, it is important to remember that there is still no replacement for human interaction.  When a caller reaches out to your company for information or assistance, it is best to use technology judiciously.  Try to opt for the human touch when possible.  While the person answering the phones at your business might not be the highest paid person on your payroll, always remember that their job is an essential part of your company’s image.

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Can Sellers Use Buyer Warning Signs to Their Advantage?

When buyers are looking to make a purchase, the most important step they can take is to perform due diligence on both the business and the seller.  Yet, it is important to note that a large percentage of sellers fail to do their due diligence on buyers. 

Deals fail all the time.  Sadly, this means that all parties lose a tremendous amount of time and effort.  Additionally, sellers not only waste time, but often lose money due to business disruptions during the process of working with a prospective buyer. 

Let’s dive in and look at a few warning signs that you should look for when dealing with a buyer.  The sooner you spot these red flags, the sooner you can avoid potential problems.

There are several key questions that sellers should ask. The list includes:

-What, if any, other businesses have you considered to date? 

-How much equity will you be committing? 

-Do you have any experience with my kind of business? 

It is important to look for warning signs early on, as this is the way that sellers can avoid wasting considerable time.  It should also be noted that sellers shouldn’t be afraid to listen to their gut instincts.  If you feel that a prospective buyer isn’t serious and may only be window shopping (or if you feel that the buyer is looking for a far greater deal than you are willing to provide), then simply move on.  When you cut your losses early on, this can free you up to focus on prospective buyers that are a better fit. 

What if your intermediary informs you that there has been no communication from the prospective buyer after they received the memorandum?  Simply stated, this lack of communication could mean that the prospective buyer has changed his or her mind, or was never that serious in the first place. 

Another red flag you might see is when the process is turned over to a junior member of the prospective buyer’s management team.  In other cases, the prospect may fail to provide details or information concerning their financial capability to successfully complete the deal.  If any of these three red flags pop up, you should consider being proactive.  You and your broker might want to reach out to the prospective buyer and ask to meet to discuss the situation. 

Warning signs can also occur just prior to closing.  Even after the letter of intent has been signed, there is still room for problems to arise.  An inexperienced attorney representing the buyer, one that simply doesn’t understand what is involved in a deal, can spell doom for what could have otherwise been a good deal. The same is true for an over aggressive attorney.  One potential remedy for this situation is for your own attorney to intervene and discuss the situation.

Spotting warning signs is about more than not wasting everyone’s time. When you can observe these indicators and act effectively to address them, it can help keep deals on track. Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an excellent way to not only spot red flags, but also to know how to respond appropriately.  The end result will be more successfully completed deals. 

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