Price or Terms: The Structure of the Deal

An old saying in negotiating the sale of a business goes like this: The buyer says to the seller, “You name the price, and I get to name the terms.”

Another saying used to explain the actual value of the term full price: “If we could find you a business that nets you $250,000 a year after debt service, and you could buy it for $100 down, would you really care what the full price was?”

It seems that everyone is concerned only about full price.  And yet, full price is just part of the equation.  If a seller is willing to accept a relatively small down payment and carry the balance, a higher full price can be achieved.  On the other hand, the more cash the seller wants up front, the lower the full price. If the seller demands all cash, barring some form of outside financing, full price lowers – and, in most cases, the chance of selling decreases as well.  Even in cases where outside financing is used, such as through SBA, etc., the lender will do everything possible to ensure that the price makes sense.

Sellers should understand that both what they hope to accomplish in the sale of their business and the structure of the actual sale can dramatically influence the asking price.  Price is obviously important, but other factors may be even more important.  For example, consider a seller with health issues who needs to sell as quickly as possible.  In his case, timing becomes more essential than price.  Another seller may place more importance on her business remaining in the community.  In her case, finding a buyer who will not move the business may supersede price or certainly influence it.

Likewise, the structure of the deal can both influence price and be a more significant factor than price to either the buyer or the seller.  The structure can dictate how much cash the seller receives up front, which may be more important than price for some sellers.  On the other hand, sellers should also be aware how much the interest on their carry-back can add up to.  If cash is not an immediate concern, monthly payments with an above-average interest rate may be enticing.

These examples all demonstrate the importance of the business broker professional sitting down with the seller prior to recommending a go-to-market price.  During this meeting, the broker should find out what is really important to the seller, as these issues may have a direct bearing on the price.

Sellers should look at the following factors and rank them according to importance on a scale of one to five, with five being extremely important.

•    Buyer Qualifications
•    Full Price
•    Amount of Cash Involved
•    Financing
•    Confidentiality
•    Commission/Selling Fees
•    Closing Costs
•    Exclusive Listing
•    How the Business is Shown
•    Advertising/Marketing
•    How a New Owner Continues the Business

By ranking these items and discussing them with a professional Business Broker, a seller can receive helpful advice from the broker on price, terms, and structuring the sale.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Considering Generational Strategies

When you are buying or selling a business, you might very well end up making a deal with someone from another generation.  Therefore, it only makes sense to take the time to understand that individual’s background and how that might cause behavioral differences.  It is important to understand and reflect upon where many of them are coming from and the collective experiences and trends that shaped their identities and perspectives.  At the same time, you can identify your own biases, strengths and weaknesses that may be caused by your own upbringing.

The strategies in this article originated from Chuck Underwood who is considered a leading expert in the diversity of communication styles between generations.  He is the author of a major book on the subject as well as host of the long-running “America’s Generations with Chuck Underwood” on PBS. 

Generational Sensitivity 

Underwood’s perspective is that people of each generation were molded by their unique formative years.  The decisions that buyers and sellers make will be impacted by their generation.  Mostly likely, the buyers or sellers you will be coming into contact with will be either Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials. 

Working with Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are a major force in the business world.  While they often possess a patriotic passion to improve the country, they were also witness to a time of great change via many movements including the civil rights and women’s movement. 

When you’re dealing with Baby Boomers, it is important to remember that they will want to build relationships and get to know you.  Common courtesy is very important to Baby Boomers.  That means they’ll expect you to show up on time and turn your phone off during meetings. 

You’ll want to keep in mind that older Baby Boomers may be experiencing hearing and eyesight loss.  As a result, you’ll want to keep your type and font size larger, and make text easy to read. 

When you’re working with your clients, it only makes sense to pay attention to the generation during which they were raised and adapt your approach accordingly.  Understanding generational differences will help you get a leg up on the competition while at the same time helping your clients achieve their goals.

What is Generation X?

Generation X (or Gen X) had a wildly different formative experience than the Baby Boomers.  Generation X is generally defined as being born from 1965 to 1980.  This generation spent its formative years from the 1970’s through the 1990’s.  In stark contrast the relatively more pleasant and optimistic childhoods of the Baby Boomers, Gen X had a rougher ride. 

America became more mobile during the time period during which Generation Xers grew up.  As a result, many children were uprooted and separated from their friends, family and hometown roots.  Growing up, these individuals witnessed a variety of scandals ranging from political and religious figures to sports figures.  Gen Xers witnessed the systematic dismantling of the American middle class and with it a general lowering of quality of life, opportunities and confidence in corporations.  In the end, Gen X was quite literally left home alone and lived as “latch key kids.”  It is no wonder that this neglected generation has some issues.

Individuals growing up during this time learned early on that they had to be ready to fend for themselves.  Since Gen Xers have been met with consistent and systematic disappointment and even wide scale institutional betrayal, this generation, on average, is more distrustful of organizations. 

Gen Xers are self-reliant and independent and one of their core values is survival of the fittest.  In his view, Gen Xers are self-focused, individualistic and want everyone to skip the nonsense and get to the point.  They have no real interest in getting to know you or playing a round of golf.

Working with Millennials

Millennials spent their formative years in the 1980s and early 90s.  They are a very optimistic and tech savvy generation.  They are also the most classroom educated generation in history.

It is also very important to note that Millennials are the most adult supervised generation in history.  So-called “helicopter parents” who work to protect their children from setbacks are the norm.  Employers find that Millennials are entering adulthood, but are still relying upon their parents to help them make decisions and even career choices.

Where Gen Xers are distrustful of the “wisdom of their elders,” Millennials actively seek out such advice.  Likewise, Millennials tend to volunteer a good deal and look for ways to solve the world’s largest problems.

You will find that Millennials will enjoy building a relationship with you.  Keep in mind these individuals tend to be quite socially conscious and they may very well expect you to agree with their views.  Additionally, there is a chance that they will have their parents involved in their business dealings. 

Keep in mind that the de facto tech addiction, or at the very least acute overreliance on technology, has led to issues with Millennials’ soft skills.  They can often lack the ability to read another person’s body language and adjust accordingly.

In the end, regardless of what generation you are working with, it is important that you continually adapt.  This will greatly increase the odds of cementing a successful deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Confidential Business Reviews Should Establish Trust

When you are selling a business, your business broker or M&A Advisor will likely create a Comprehensive Business Review, or CBR.  This comprehensive document can then be presented to prospective buyers once they have signed all necessary confidentiality documentation.  It is essential that this document builds trust between both parties, as this will go a long way towards achieving a successful deal. 

Be Honest

The bottom line is that your CBR will be 95% positive.  The majority of the document will be dedicated towards selling and promoting your business.   Therefore, it only makes sense to disclose some potential problems.  When handled correctly, the disclosure of problems can actually be a strong asset. 

For example, current weaknesses of your business could become strengths in the mind of the buyer.  For example, a business with a very poor online presence represents a substantial opportunity for a buyer to improve marketing and communications.  Summed up another way, don’t be afraid to include negative information, especially if that information represents an opportunity.

Sharing Information

It is important that there is an element of trust between the parties.  Creating that sense of trust begins with the CBR’s seller section. 

Buying a business is radically different from buying a home.  When someone buys a home, they usually don’t care too much about the person who they are buying the home from.  But buying a business is usually a different experience.  Your buyer will want to feel as though they have a fairly clear understanding of who you are and what you are about. 

In the seller’s section, the buyer should get a decent idea of who you are.  Your broker or M&A Advisor will want to interview you to gain ample information to include in your CBR.  Your broker may even want to find out about your family, hobbies, interests and more.  You may even want to consider including photos of yourself and your family.  

The bottom line is that a potential buyer should be able to pick up the CBR and get a good feel for what you are like.  If no level of trust is ever established between the buyer and seller, then it will be much more challenging for the deal to be successful.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What You Need to Know About Foreign Buyers

There is a potentially lucrative group of buyers that many sellers don’t initially think about.  We are talking about foreign buyers.  While there are some hurdles to working with these types of buyers, it is important to note that there are many huge advantages as well.  Let’s take a closer look.

How Are Foreign Buyers Different? 

At the top of the list of ways in which foreign buyers are different is that they are often seeking a visa.  Another commonality among foreign buyers, one that will surprise many, is that they may want access to the U.S. educational system. 

It is common for foreign buyers to want to buy a business so that they can get their children into a particular U.S. school district or college.  Sometimes the desire to be eligible for state tuition also plays a role in the selection of a business and the decision-making process.  In this sense, business location takes on a level of importance that it might not have for domestic buyers. 

It is important to keep in mind that there are cultural and business differences that play a role with foreign buyers.  Everything from a different use of business terminology to expectations can play a role.  This could impact negotiations. 

What About Visas and Immigration?

One of the most important things to remember is that foreign buyers are often navigating the complex world of visas and immigration.  Whether or not a visa is issued can dramatically impact whether or not a deal ultimately takes place.  This fact is often built into agreements.  For example, a purchase condition may be conditional upon visa approval.  Nonrefundable deposits may also play a role in the process.

What Do Foreign Buyers Really Want? 

Foreign buyers have been impacted by the pandemic too.  Yet, some factors remain unchanged.  Not too surprisingly, they will want to see that a business is profitable.  In this regard, you should be able to showcase profitability in a clear fashion.  You can expect foreign buyers to want to see tax returns and all the typical documentation that you’d need to provide to any buyer.

A second factor that foreign buyers are interested in is longevity.  If your business has successfully operated for decades, this will be a major advantage.  

Ultimately, most of what domestic buyers are looking for in a business will translate over to what foreign buyers are seeking as well.  With that stated, however, there are factors that are often unique to foreign buyers.  As mentioned above, navigating the often-complex visa process can add a wrinkle to the entire process.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Essential Meeting Tips for Buyers & Sellers

The buyer-seller meeting is quite often a “make or break” meeting.  Your business broker or M&A Advisor will do everything possible to ensure that this meeting goes as well as possible. 

It is vitally important to realize that rarely is there an offer before buyers and sellers actually meet.  The all-important offer usually comes directly after this all-important meeting.  As a result, you want to ensure that meetings are as positive and productive as possible.

Buyers need to understand how the process of selling a business works and what is expected of them from the process.  Buyers also need to understand that following their broker’s advice will increase the chances of a successful outcome. 

Sellers should be ready to be honest and forthcoming during the meeting.  They also want to be sure to not say or do anything that could come across as a strong-armed sales tactic. 

Asking the Right Questions

If you are a buyer preparing to meet a business owner for the first time, you’ll want to make sure any questions you ask are appropriate and logical.  It is important for buyers to place themselves in the shoes of the other party. 

Buyers also shouldn’t show up to the buyer-seller meeting without having done their homework.  So be sure to do a little planning ahead so that you are ready to go with good questions that show you understand the business. 

Building a Positive Relationship

Buyers should, of course, plan to be polite and respectful.  They should also be prepared to avoid discussing politics and religion, which often can be flashpoints for confrontation.  When sellers don’t like prospective buyers, then the odds are good that they will also not place trust in them.  

For most sellers, their business is a legacy.  It quite often represents years, or even decades, of hard work.  Needless to say, sellers value their businesses.  Many will feel as though it reflects them personally, at least in some fashion.  Buyers should keep these facts in mind when dealing with sellers.  A failure to follow these guidelines could lead to ill will between buyers and sellers and negatively impact the chances of success.

Sellers Should Be Truthful

Sellers also have a significant role in the process.  While it is true that sellers are trying to sell their business, they don’t want to come across as a salesperson.  Instead, sellers should try to be as real and honest as possible.

Every business has some level of competition.  With this in mind, sellers should not pretend that there is zero competition.  A savvy buyer will be more than a little skeptical.

The key to a successful outcome is for business brokers and M&A Advisors to work with their buyers and sellers well in advance and make sure that they understand what is expected and how best to approach the buyer-seller meeting.  With the right preparation, the odds of success will skyrocket.

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The Main Street Lending Program

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 situation seems to change with each and every day.  The disruption and chaos that the pandemic has injected into both daily life and business is obvious.  Just as it is often difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, the same can be stated for keeping up to speed on the government’s response and what options exist to assist companies of all sizes. 

 In this article, we’ll turn our attention to an overlooked area of the government’s pandemic response and how businesses can use a whole new lending platform to navigate the choppy waters. 

As the pandemic continues, you will want to be aware of the main street lending program, which is a whole new lending platform.  It was designed for businesses that were financially sound prior to the pandemic.  Authorized under the CARE Act, the main street lending program is quite attractive for an array of reasons.  Let’s take a closer look at what makes this program almost too good to be true.

This lender delivered program is a commercial loan.  Unlike the PPP, there is no forgivable component.  However, the main street lending program does have one remarkable feature that will certainly grab the attention of all kinds of businesses.  It can be used to refinance existing debt at a rate of around 3%.  With that stated, it is also important to note that businesses cannot refinance existing debt with the current lender.  Instead, a new lender must be found.  Generally, loans are a minimum of a quarter million dollars and have a five-year term.  In another piece of good news, there is a two-year payment deferment period.

The main street lending program can be used in a variety of ways.  In short, the program is not simply for refinancing existing debt.  Additionally, there is no penalty for prepayment.  The way the program works is that lenders make the loans and then sell 95% of the loan value to the Fed.  This of course means that the lender is only required to retain 5% of the loan on their balance sheet.  The end result is that lenders can dramatically expand the amount of loans they can make.

Whether it is the PPP or a program like the main street lending program, there are solid options available to help you.  Businesses looking to restructure debt or put an infusion of cash to good use may find that the main street lending program offers a very flexible loan with great interest rates.

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Why Does Your Business Need Google Reviews?

In today’s business climate, reviews are the differentiator.  Years ago, people commonly asked for references when they were vetting a product or service.  But these days when people are searching for a local business to work with, they are likely to conduct research on their own and read online reviews. 

Google reviews can give businesses a big credibility boost without having to spend a dime.  Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.

Increased Credibility & Trust

According to statistics, approximately 91% of consumers read reviews to determine credibility of a local business.  In fact, 84% of consumers say the positive reviews have helped them gain trust.  Without the reviews, that level of trust would not have been established. 

Needless to say, people trust Google.  The fact that these reviews are on a 3rd party website increases transparency.  These reviews have much higher value than testimonials posted on the actual business website.

Improved Business Conversions

Once a potential customer gains trust in your company through reading Google reviews, it is more likely the conversation will get converted to an actual business transaction. 

Customer Feedback Loop

When your customers write reviews about your business and post them on Google, these reviews often clearly mention details about your product or service.  Through this means, future customers become educated.  These reviews can also serve as a feedback loop for you if things need improvement.

Increases Online Reputation & Visibility

The power of online marketing methods you might be using to promote your business will be amplified, as users will become more attracted to your business due to 5-star reviews.  This factor increases online traffic to your website and an increase in leads and business.

Another fact to be conscious of is that your clients will review your products or services whether you want them to or not.  If you fail to set up Google reviews, you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain a level of control and visibility.

How to Set Up Google Reviews

  • Create a Google My Business account.  – Visit https://business.google.com/ to sign in or create a Google account for a business.  Complete the step by step process by filing required information like email, phone number, business details, etc.
  • Ask clients to review your services. – Start sharing your Google My Business URL with clients and ask them to post a review about your services.  When asking for reviews, you can mention to clients that their review will help everybody else make an informed decision when they are looking for help.  It is important to ask about the review within a few days of closing your transaction.  If more time goes by, the client may be less motivated to post a review for you.
  • Remind clients. – Everybody is busy.  Therefore, there is a chance that your client might forget to write a review.  In this case, we recommend reminding them to do so.  You can also politely inquire if they need any help posting the review that you discussed.

Through the above-mentioned process, you can begin generating reviews for your business.  Of course, it goes without saying that you can only guarantee good reviews when you are providing excellent customer service along with a top-notch product or service.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Seller Financing: It Makes Dollars and Sense

When contemplating the sale of a business, an important option to consider is seller financing.  Many potential buyers don’t have the necessary capital or lender resources to pay cash.  Even if they do, they are often reluctant to put such a hefty sum of cash into what, for them, is a new and untried venture.

Why the hesitation?  The typical buyer feels that, if the business is really all that it’s “advertised” to be, it should pay for itself.  Buyers often interpret the seller’s insistence on all cash as a lack of confidence–in the business, in the buyer’s chances to succeed, or both.

The buyer’s interpretation has some basis in fact.  The primary reason sellers shy away from offering terms is their fear that the buyer will be unsuccessful.  If the buyer should cease payments–for any reason–the seller would be forced either to take back the business or forfeit the balance of the note.

The seller who operates under the influence of this fear should take a hard look at the upside of seller financing.  Statistics show that sellers receive a significantly higher purchase price if they decide to accept terms.  On average, a seller who sells for all cash receives approximately 70 percent of the asking price.  This adds up to approximately 16 percent difference on a business listed for $150,000, meaning that the seller who is willing to accept terms will receive approximately $24,000 more than the seller who is asking for all cash.

Even with these compelling reasons to accept terms, sellers may still be reluctant.  Selling a business can be perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the cash jackpot.  Therefore, it is important to note that seller financing has advantages that, in many instances, far outweigh the immediate satisfaction of cash-in-hand.

  •  Seller financing greatly increases the chances that the business will sell.
  • The seller offering terms will command a much higher price.
  • The interest on a seller-financed deal will add significantly to the actual selling price. (For example, a seller carry-back note at eight percent carried over nine years will double the amount carried.  Over a nine-year period, $100,000 at eight percent will result in the seller receiving $200,000.)
  • With interest rates currently the lowest in years, sellers can get a much higher rate from a buyer than they can get from any financial institution.
  • The tax consequences of accepting terms can be much more advantageous than those of an all-cash sale.
  • Financing the sale helps assure the success of both the sale and the business, since the buyer will perceive the offer of terms as a vote of confidence.

Obviously, there are no guarantees that the buyer will be successful in operating the business.  However, it is well to note that, in most transactions, buyers are putting a substantial amount of personal cash on the line–in many cases, their entire capital.  Although this investment doesn’t insure success, it does mean that the buyer will work hard to support such a commitment.

There are many ways to structure the seller-financed sale that make sense for both buyer and seller. Creative financing is an area where your business broker professional can be of help. He or she can recommend a variety of payment plans that, in many cases, can mean the difference between a successful transaction and one that is not. Serious sellers owe it to themselves to consider financing the sale. By lending a helping hand to buyers, they will, in most cases, be helping themselves as well.

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Negotiating the Price Gap Between Buyers and Sellers

Sellers generally desire all-cash transactions; however, oftentimes partial seller financing is necessary in typical middle market company transactions.  Furthermore, sellers who demand all-cash deals typically receive a lower purchase price than they would have if the deal were structured differently.

Although buyers may be able to pay all-cash at closing, they often want to structure a deal where the seller has left some portion of the price on the table, either in the form of a note or an earnout.  Deferring some of the owner’s remuneration from the transaction will provide leverage in the event that the owner has misrepresented the business.  An earnout is a mechanism to provide payment based on future performance.  Acquirers like to suggest that, if the business is as it is represented, there should be no problem with this type of payout.  The owner’s retort is that he or she knows the business is sound under his or her management but does not know whether the buyer will be as successful in operating the business.

Moreover, the owner has taken the business risk while owning the business; why would he or she continue to be at risk with someone else at the helm?  Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which an earnout can be quite useful in recognizing full value and consummating a transaction.  For example, suppose that a company had spent three years and vast sums developing a new product and had just launched the product at the time of a sale.  A certain value could be arrived at for the current business, and an earnout could be structured to compensate the owner for the effort and expense of developing the new product if and when the sales of the new product materialize.  Under this scenario, everyone wins.

The terms of the deal are extremely important to both parties involved in the transaction.  Many times the buyers and sellers, and their advisors, are in agreement with all the terms of the transaction, except for the price.  Although the variance on price may seem to be a “deal killer,” the price gap can often be resolved so that both parties can move forward to complete the transaction.

Listed below are some suggestions on how to bridge the price gap:

  • If the real estate was originally included in the deal, the seller may choose to rent the premise to the acquirer rather than sell it outright.  This will decrease the price of the transaction by the value of the real estate.  The buyer might also choose to pay higher rent in order to decrease the “goodwill” portion of the sale.  The seller may choose to retain the title to certain machinery and equipment and lease it back to the buyer.
  • The purchaser can acquire less than 100% of the company initially and have the option to buy the remaining interest in the future.  For example, a buyer could purchase 70% of the seller’s stock with an option to acquire an additional 10% a year for three years based on a predetermined formula.  The seller will enjoy 30% of the profits plus a multiple of the earnings at the end of the period.  The buyer will be able to complete the transaction in a two-step process, making the purchase easier to accomplish.  The seller may also have a “put” which will force the buyer to purchase the remaining 30% at some future date.
  • A subsidiary can be created for the fastest growing portion of the business being acquired.  The buyer and seller can then share 50/50 in the part of the business that was “spun-off” until the original transaction is paid off.
  • A royalty can be structured based on revenue, gross margins, EBIT, or EBITDA.  This is usually easier to structure than an earnout.
  • Certain assets, such as automobiles or non-business-related real estate, can be carved out of the sale to reduce the actual purchase price.

Although the above suggestions will not solve all of the pricing gap problems, they may lead the participants in the necessary direction to resolve them.  The ability to structure successful transactions that satisfy both buyer and seller requires an immense amount of time, skill, experience, and most of all – imagination.

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Getting Back to Business After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Historians have long known the historical relevance and impact of epidemics and pandemics.  Despite our various technological advances and the complexity of our society, disease can instantly change the course of history.  Not having a robust global system for dealing with disease and pandemics comes with a hefty price tag.  In the case of the COVID-19 economic crisis, the price tag will no doubt be in the trillions. 

You can’t control what has happened, but you can focus on what to do when the pandemic is over and life begins to slowly return to normal.  In his recent article, “How to Hit the Ground Running After the Pandemic,” author Geoffrey James explores what businesses need to do to jumpstart their operations once the pandemic is in the history books.

James wants his readers to understand that the pandemic will end and that business owners need to be ready to charge back in when the pandemic is over and the economy rebounds.  As James points out, if history is any indicator, the economy will eventually rebound. 

Almost everything about this economic downturn is unique.  Take, for example, the fact that the U.S. has just seen its largest-ever economic expansion.  The gears and wheels of the economy were spinning along quite quickly before the pandemic hit.  This could help restart the economy faster than in past severe economic downturns.  In short, many experts feel that this particular economic downturn could be short, but of course, this is speculation.  There is no way to know for sure until COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

James correctly asserts that businesses need to put together a plan for how they will get up and running as soon as the pandemic is over.  His recommendation is to divide your plan and thinking into four distinct categories: Facilities, Personnel, Manufacturing, and Marketing.

Each of these categories has three key questions that business owners should be asking themselves so that their businesses are ready to hit the ground running when COVID-19 is over.  Below are a few of the key questions James recommends asking.

  1. How can we create the most sanitary and disease-free workplace possible?
  2. Which employees will continue to work from home?
  3. When there’s a spike in demand, how will we ramp-up?
  4. What will be our “We’re Back!” marketing message?

The pandemic caught everyone except the experts off guard.  Moving forward, business leaders, think tanks, and politicians alike need to work to develop and implement robust plans to minimize the damage caused by pandemics.  Humanity, and business, has been “lucky” several times in recent years, as we dodged bullets ranging from Ebola to SARS. 

As James points out in his article, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Businesses need to plan for the recovery and they need to plan for another pandemic because another one is quite possible especially if better planning and decision making are not firmly entrenched in place.

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COVID-19 Advice for Hospitality Businesses

Clearly, some industries are taking a bigger hit from COVID-19 than others.  Any industry that requires a great deal of interaction with the public, or where people gather in large groups, are obviously having very tough times.  Movie theaters and restaurants, for example, have essentially gone dark.  Some restaurants are easing the bloodletting a bit by providing delivery, but in the vast majority of cases, revenue pales in comparison to what it was prior to the pandemic. 

While there is no doubt that the hospitality industry is suffering right now, business owners should understand that there are concrete steps they can take now to improve their odds of surviving the pandemic.  In this article, we’ll explore a few of these key ideas.

One of the areas every decision maker and business owner in the hospitality industry should be thinking about right now is staff.  During a recent industry roundtable discussion, John Howe, chairman of the International Association of Business Intermediaries, pointed out that staffing problems will continue long after the pandemic has paused or is over.  He believes that hospitality businesses will have a tough time getting the staff they need, especially in the short run. 

His key piece of advice is to work to have a line on people for key positions.  This will allow you to at least get back up and running with basic operations.  While it may be a while before hospitality businesses are at “full steam,” it is critical that they are able to open up in some fashion, as this will translate into much needed revenue.  Hospitality businesses looking to survive the pandemic should focus on making certain that key positions have been filled.  In this way, the post-pandemic relaunch can be as smooth as possible.

Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, Scott Bushkie, explained that there are a lot of hospitality industry people out of work right now, and this represents a real opportunity.  Now, is the perfect time to potentially upgrade staff.  There are plenty of experienced and proven hospitality people looking for positions.  The new people you bring may come with extra benefits such as bringing their customers, suppliers, and other relationships with them.  For those in the hospitality industry who may have always wanted to upgrade their team, now is perhaps the best time in history to do so.

Employees are a foundational element of your business.  Improving your staff means you’ve improved your business and boosted your odds of survival.  Bringing in new team members can help you prepare for the post-pandemic business environment.  It also offers up the potential for you to upgrade an important element within your business.

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Dealing with COVID-19’s Economic Impact: Planning and Communication are Key

There are many things that you should be doing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the top of the list is to be proactive.  Now is the time to be thinking about how best to position your business after the economy has returned to something near normal.  Now is not the time for self-pity.  In fact, not preparing for the relaunch of the economy will cost you.

In David Finkel’s recent Inc. article entitled, “10 Things Every Small-Business Owner Needs to Do to Deal with the Impact of COVID-19 on Their Business,” Finkel outlines the 10 key steps business owners should take immediately.  Finkel is the author of 12 business books and CEO of Maui Mastermind business coaching company.

There is no way of knowing how long the COVID-19 fueled economic downturn will last, and that means time is of the essence.  Business owners, regardless of their particular sector, need to prepare as though the economy could relaunch tomorrow.

Finkel’s 10 Things: 

  1. Take steps to protect your staff and customers from getting sick.
  2. Tell your customers what safety steps you’re taking.
  3. Educate your staff on how to stay healthy at work and at home.
  4. Engage in scenarios planning to deal with how markets could change.
  5. Enlist vendors and suppliers for help.  You should ask them to negotiate payment terms.
  6. Take steps to plan out your cash flow.
  7. Open a dialogue with your management team.
  8. Go on the offensive and look for opportunities.
  9. Get your team together and brainstorm.
  10. Be sure your key leaders communicate in a united fashion.

There are definitely some commonalities amongst these 10 important steps.  You’ll notice that communication and education are at the heart of most of these points. 

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty out there.  More than almost any time in modern history now is the time to communicate.  All business owners should be advised to communicate with their customers, clients, suppliers, staff, and management team in a clear fashion.  Effective communication based around a consistent and logical message can help to reduce fear.  The fear sections of the brain are driven by our primordial ancestors’ dread of the unknown lurking in the darkness.  Part of being a good leader is to reduce those fears whenever possible. 

Another common thread is planning, which includes looking for new opportunities.  Whenever there is chaos and fear, there are also opportunities.  You should be looking for those opportunities, whether it is improving your own business practices or looking for other companies to buy.

Good communication and planning can help you navigate these choppy waters.  Planning for the recovery from COVID-19 pandemic could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.

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How to Make Remote Teams Accountable

One of the many, many changes that COVID-19 has ushered in is the extreme uptick in people working remotely.  Social distancing has made working from home a necessity for millions. 

The technology that is allowing remote working to take place has matured greatly in the last decade.  Today, it is possible for team members to work from virtually any location.  Of course, as with most technologies, there is a potential downside.  Accountability can become a significant challenge with remote workers.  Of course, the more remote workers you have at a given time, the greater the potential challenges will be. 

Many businesses are struggling with the phenomenon of remote working, as it is something new for them.  Under normal circumstances, large numbers of employees working remotely simply wouldn’t happen.  In a recent article, “The Right Way to Keep Your Remote Team Accountable,” author Elise Keith, Co-Founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings, explores the key steps businesses should take to help ensure that their employees stay on target while working from home.

Starting Slow

Keith believes that for remote working to be effective that there are 4 major mistakes that should be avoided.  One of the biggest mistakes that employers, especially those unfamiliar with remote work, make is that they demand too much productivity right out of the gate. 

She points out that remote teams can, in fact, be very productive and even outperform their in-office counterparts.  Summed up another way, remote work can be extremely productive.  Keith’s perspective is that businesses should “identify the highest priority tasks right now and relax the rest.”  Business owners need to remember that they are not the only ones under stress.  The simple and undeniable fact is that your employees are feeling the stress of COVID-19 as well.

Getting Good at Working Remotely

The second major mistake she points to is that people are assuming the current pandemic situation is temporary.  Other crises will occur in the future, and it makes sense to be prepared.  As she phrases it, why not “get good at working remotely?”  Teams with good remote working skills are proving to be rather resilient right now.

Being Open to Technology

A third mistake she points out is businesses shouldn’t disallow the use of non-approved tools.  In short, now is not the time to worry too much about what software tools people are using.  Instead, she suggests creating an expedited process for the adoption of new tools.  If your team finds a new tool that boosts productivity, you should consider buying it. 

She astutely points out, “Software costs pale when compared to the costs of lost opportunity.”  At the heart of this point is the fact that now, more than any time in decades, is the time to set aside restrictive thinking and become more open-minded and flexible.  After all, your number one goal, and the number one goal of your clients, is to stay in business until the pandemic has passed.

Staying Flexible

Keith’s fourth mistake centers on management’s design to dictate hours and response times.  Remote work is, by its nature, going to be more flexible.  Trying to micromanage every move digitally is simply not a savvy move and will hurt morale. 

Instead, she feels businesses should opt for having a daily meeting via phone or videoconference with the team.  Additionally, she puts forth the idea of having a one-on-one meeting with every team member as well.

For many businesses and many situations, remote work may be the “only game in town.”  Trying to carry on business as usual is only going to cause headaches for everyone.  Remote work can be highly effective for you, especially when used correctly.

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Now is the Time for Focus

As of late April 2020, there is one thought at the forefront of the vast majority of businesses around the globe, namely, what steps do I need to take to stay in business until the COVID-19 pandemic is over or recedes?  There is no doubt about it, this is the “big question” of the day. 

The global economic structure hasn’t seen this much uncertainty since WWII, and some would argue that we’ve never seen this level of simultaneous global economic disruption.  Knowing what steps you need to take to keep your business up and running is of paramount importance. 

In short, business owners must be sure that their businesses are in good shape.  You should take every step possible to position yourself for when the economy is back up and running at full steam.  Right now, there is a degree of chaos and uncertainty, but this will not last.  As a business owner, you need to focus on getting your house in order.

Now is not a time to take a vacation.  Instead, you should be focused like never before on the inner workings of your business.  You should be striving to find ways to improve every single aspect.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  There is a real psychological hurdle, as for many people it seems as though everything has “stopped.”  While customers, clients, and staff interactions have been dramatically reduced, now is not the time for you to “check out” mentally and wait for things to get better.

Rarely, if ever, has it been more important for owners to invest as much of their time and energy as possible.  After all, as a business owner, you have already shown a great deal of drive and determination, as well as at least some level of out of the box thinking.  You have proven that you have what it takes to get through the recent challenges. 

Many will feel dejected right now.  But you should pool on the same skill sets that allowed you to create a successful business in the first place.  What obstacles did you overcome in life to create your business?  Was your business created during a prior economic downturn?  The odds are that you already have skill sets and strengths that will allow you to survive the fallout of COVID-19.

For business owners who truly want to survive the economic stress of the pandemic, ultimately, focus is key to survival.  The odds are excellent that there are revenue streams and different approaches that may have been overlooked.  Your job is to identify and then exploit those avenues.

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Questions for Helping Businesses Survive the COVID

Developing Your 90-Day Plan

Those who want to make sure their businesses survive this pandemic will want to achieve a laser-like focus.  It is important to realize that the forced downtime triggered by the pandemic affords you the opportunity to work on potentially neglected aspects of your business. 

Summed up another way, now is the time for dynamic and focused action.  In this article, we’ll address what you can do to help your business survive this unusual time period. 

Reevaluating Your Business

It’s time to step back and look at every aspect of your business, including your processes.  You should be encouraged to find new ways of doing things.  In short, now should be viewed as a time of opportunity to reboot your business.  That way when the pandemic has subsided, and your business picks up once more, it is more efficient, more effective, and more competitive.

Scott Bushkie, Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, recommended that business owners create 90-day plans where they look for ways to innovate.  This strategic plan should focus on what they are going to do and what they want to accomplish.  It is critical that there is an actual plan that achieves tangible results and not simply a list of things that should be accomplished.  Listed below are a few questions you should be pondering.

  1. How can I outperform the competition?
  2. How can I innovate?
  3. How can I increase my use of technology?
  4. How can I deliver my products and services in a different way?
  5. How can I reduce my operational costs?
  6. Have I reached out to my suppliers and creditors for assistance?
  7. Have I applied to applicable SBA COVID-19 focused programs?
  8. What do I want to accomplish in the next 90-days? 

It’s Time to Reboot

The main point is that businesses should not look at this pandemic situation as some sort of “miserable and stressful vacation,” but instead as an opportunity to reboot what is not working, and look for ways to make improvements in every aspect of your business.  This process begins by asking the right questions and striving to find the answers.

In answering these questions and finding ways to help boost your rates of survival, you should turn to every asset at your disposal.  Why not ask your management team as well as all of your employees for ideas that could help their business?  Everyone should understand that owners are looking for ways to keep their business healthy while navigating the pandemic.

Now is the time for reflection, short-term and long-term planning, and tangible actions.  Business owners should also consult with a range of business professionals, including, of course, business brokers and M&A Advisors.  Brokers are uniquely positioned to help business owners through this crisis.

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6 Tips and 90 Days to Protect Your Business

There can be no way around it, Inc. contributor Brian Hamilton’s April 2020 COVID-19 centered article, “6 Actions to Take in the Next 90 Days to Save Your Business,” isn’t pulling any punches.  Hamilton, Founder of the Brian Hamilton Foundation, believes that the next 90-days could be make or break days for business owners looking to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.  His latest Inc. article provides readers with 6 actions they should take now to survive the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tip #1 Vigorously Control What You Can

Hamilton’s first tip is to “Vigorously control what you can.  Vigorously ignore what you can’t control.”  As Hamilton points out, you can’t control the economy; instead, you need to focus on what you can control.  His view is that there has never been a more important time to focus, “More than ever, you’ll need to go to war with things within your control.”  Now is the time to exercise control.

Tip #2 Guard Morale

During tough economic times, employee morale can be a real issue.  This brings us to Hamilton’s second point, “guard employee morale.”  Significant drops in employee morale can lead to serious problems with your business, which is exactly what you don’t want to see right now.  Hamilton notes that you have to be the general that helps his or her troops rise above potential panic.

Tip #3 Preserve Cash

Hamilton’s third tip is to “preserve cash where you can.”  He states, “Right now, your motto should be: Live to fight another day.”  The pandemic means that you need to keep expenses down and watch every dollar.  No one knows what the next few months, or the next couple of years, could have in store.

Tip #4 Be First in Line

“Be first in line,” is Hamilton’s fourth point.  Hamilton wisely pushes business owners to be the first in line for government assistance.  This is very good advice, as SBA and other funds are likely to be limited.

Tip #5 Get Back to the Basics

Fifth, Hamilton recommends, “Get back to the basics…starting with monomaniacal customer service.”  As always, customers, whether existing or new, are the lifeblood of your business.  You can’t afford to lose customers now and for this reason, you need to have a laser-like focus on customer service. 

Tip #6 Pivot your Product or Service 

Hamilton’s sixth tip is to “Pivot your product or service to new conditions.”  Small changes to your business can open up new streams of revenue.  Even if these streams of revenue are comparatively small, they could mean the difference between sink or swim!  Try to step back and look at your business with fresh eyes and strive to find ways to offer something new to your customers.  Whatever you offer should be based on your existing goods and services and not require a new, large expenditure.

The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously disruptive, but it won’t last forever.  Hamilton’s advice of focusing intensely on the next 90 days is sound advice.  You won’t regret looking for ways to safeguard your business for the next 3 months.

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Improving Your Telework Habits

In her recent April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams,” author Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, explored how to get the most out of telework.  This highly timely article covers some very important territory for many companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Let’s explore Agarwal’s key points so that you can help your team get the most out of telework.

Agarwal notes that people may tend to shy away from sharing personal information and feelings while in the office.  But via video conferencing, the story can be different.  For this and other reasons, it is necessary for employers to keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing.  This will also often be the case when your employees speak with one another. 

She prudently cautions business owners from taking a “business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation, as it can make them look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality.  On the flip side, however, it is also important to not dwell on the negative aspects of the pandemic.  Offering some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is a smart move as well. 

How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance.  On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed.  But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic.  After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees. 

It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals.  The keyword here is “balance.”  Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values.  This is the best antidote for anxiety.”

From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility.  First, there has to be good communication.  For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually.  She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all. 

The second factor to consider is socialization.  As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.”  Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks. 

In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins.  Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue. 

Agarwal’s third key is flexibility.  Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience.  Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge.  Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.

It goes without saying that telework presents challenges.  However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable.  There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.

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Don’t Fear Failure, Learn from It Instead

Failure is rarely fun.  But it is also a key ingredient in success.  While failure can be painful, there is no doubting the fact that the lessons that come from failure can be powerful teachers that provide life-long lessons and even life-trajectory altering results.  Summed up another way, failure hurts.  But on occasion, not failing could hurt more, especially in the long run.

In her Inc. article, “Why Tons of Failure Is the Key to Success, According to Seth Godin,” author Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, points out that most people “avoid failure like the plague.”  Instead, they spend their time trying to achieve perfection.  In the process of adopting this approach, people miss all kinds of opportunities because they are afraid of damaging their egos.  Embracing failure is a way to experience many “transformational benefits,” which would never be experienced without the lessons of failure.

Thompson points to the work of 18-time best-selling author Seth Godin who has written about how entrepreneurs who fail more often perform at a higher level.  She quotes Godin as follows, “The rule is simple.  The person who fails the most will win.  If I fail more than you do, I will win.  Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.”  Godin continues that failure imparts a gift of sorts in that it teaches us how to distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea.

As Thompson notes, research supports the notion that if you want a breakthrough idea, you will need to “produce an enormous volume of ideas.”  Obviously, most ideas won’t work, but that isn’t the issue.  The issue is to work your way through the bad ideas to get to the winners.  Sure, it would be great to have nothing but winners.  But life and reality don’t work that way.  Failure should be seen more as a path forward than the end of the road.

Getting comfortable with failure, in Thompson’s view, is critically important.  She believes entrepreneurs should take steps that make them more comfortable with failure, such as detaching oneself from the results. 

It is vital to remember that you are not the work.  In contrast, the work is part of an ongoing process.  Getting good at something takes time, and there will be failures.  For this reason, entrepreneurs simply must embrace a “growth mindset.”  Don’t think of failure as failure, but instead as part of a learning process.  There is no denying that this approach will make you calmer and that, in turn, may help you make better decisions.

There will be failure in life.  There will be problems and there will be obstacles.  Much will happen that you can’t predict, manage or control, such as the COVID-19 outbreak.  The trick is to focus on what you can control and move forward without a paralyzing fear of failure.  Because in the end, failure may be one of your best tools.

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How to Connect During a Crisis

Small business owners are facing new challenges during this crisis.  Communicating with customers requires more focus and depth than ever before.  In Mat Zuker’s latest article for Forbes Magazine, he cites Jay Mandel who runs The Collective NYC, a marketing consulting team focusing on a customer’s experience, who underlines the importance of businesses to understand their mission statement and values in order to re-enforce marketing strategies. 

Information is Crucial.  Each customer purveying your business’s website needs to understand your hours of operation, any limitations to service and what is being done to ensure cleanliness.  Providing this information establishes to your customer your seriousness of precautions which will be appreciated during this time.

If your financial situation allows, focus on your employees, donate to charities or offer discounted or free products.  By marketing this information, your brand’s scope will bolster with the customer as well. 

Utilizing the Customer’s Time.  Most customers are adhering to social distancing guidelines put forth by their state and the federal government.  Now, more than ever, it is important to exhibit to your customers how your brand can be utilized beyond your brick and mortar.  Zuker cites how universities are beginning to offer free online classes and telecommunication companies are offering two months of free service to low-income families; King Arthur flour is promoting its library of comfort food recipes (yes, please!).  Thinking beyond your storefront to put your service or product into your customer’s virtual hands is important.

Remember to entertain.  By each passing day, customers are looking for new stimulation to help the time go by at home.  Movie companies are making the best of the situation by sending theatrical releases to online streaming services.  We don’t think it is necessary to always make your customers laugh, but it might be within your branding to aim for content geared towards warmth, humanity and empathy. 

The metric for engaging your customers is changing; moving beyond views and shares to quality feedback or social impact on your community.  Do not bite off more than you can chew.  Cited in Zuker’s article, Social Media Today warns of virtue signaling; meaning declaring a set of values, but not following through on the actual deeds. 

Also, this is a fantastic opportunity to consider your marketing strategies for when this crisis ends.  What will your business look like once you are able to open the doors?  How are you able to stay relevant with your competitors?  These are all questions needing answers, but today we must do our best to accomplish what is in front of us. 

Read Mat Zucker’s full article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/matzucker/2020/04/01/content-in-a-crisiswhat-brands-can-deliver/

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Finding the Best Business for You

Owning a business and owning the right kind of business for you are, of course, two wildly different things.  Owning the wrong kind of business can make you absolutely miserable.  So if you are considering buying a business, it is prudent that you invest the time and effort into determining the best kind of business for your needs and your personality.  In a recent Forbes article, “What is the Right Type of Business for You to Buy?” author Richard Parker explores how buyers should go about finding the right business fit.

Parker is definitely an expert when it comes to working with buyers as he has spoken with an estimated 100,000 buyers over his career.  In that time, Parker has concluded that it is critical that you don’t “learn on your own time.” 

His key piece of advice concerning what type of business to buy is as follows.  “While there are many factors to be considered, the answer is simple: whatever it is you do best has to be the single most important driving factor of the revenues and profits of any business you consider purchasing.”  And he also believes that expertise is more important than experience.  Parker’s view is that it is critical for prospective buyers to perform an honest self-assessment in order to identify their single greatest business skill and area of expertise.  The last thing you want to do is pretend to be something that you are not.

Parker makes one very astute point when he notes, “Small business owners generally wear many hats: this is usually why their businesses remain small.  Remember that every big business was once a small business.”  As Parker points out, whoever is in charge of the business will ultimately determine how the business will evolve, or not evolve.  Selecting the right business for you and your skillsets is pivotal for the long-term success of your business.

All of this adds up to make the process of due diligence absolutely essential.  Before buying a business, you must understand every aspect of that business and make certain that the business is indeed a good fit for you.  According to Parker, if you don’t love your business, it will have trouble growing.  This point is impossible to refute.  Owning and growing a business requires a tremendous amount of time and effort.  If you don’t enjoy owning and/or operating your business, success will be a much more difficult proposition.

Finding the right business for you is a complicated process even after you have performed a proper evaluation of your skills and interests.  After all, do you really want a solid business with great potential for growth that you would hate owning?  By working with brokers and M&A advisors, you can find the best business fit for your needs, personality, and goals.  These professionals are invaluable allies in the process of discovering the right business for you.

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