Is It Possible to Sell to a Business Competitor?

A common question in the realm of buying and selling businesses is, “Is it possible to sell to a business competitor?” The short answer is yes, it is quite possible and rather common. That stated, selling to a business competitor is different than selling to a buyer who is completely new to the industry. The two types of buyers should not be treated the same way, as there are various differing variables.

A Competitor Can Be a Great Buyer

One reason is that a competitor may indeed be the right party to buy your business, is that they usually have an excellent understanding of how your business and your industry works. They may also enter the negotiation process already understanding the value of your business, and this can serve to speed up the process.

Always Proceed with Caution

Competitors, however, must be approached carefully. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where competitors acted as though they wanted to buy in order to acquire access to inside information. That’s why sensitive information like client lists and other “secrets” shouldn’t be shared until the sale is complete and the money is literally in the bank.

Working with a business broker is always a prudent move when it comes to buying and selling businesses; however, when working with a competitor is involved a business broker is even more important than normal. A business broker can act as something of a shield in the process, helping to ensure that you don’t reveal too much prized information until the sale is 100% complete.

Negotiate from a Place of Knowledge

Further, a business broker understands how much your business is worth and can back up that valuation. Having this information before discussing a potential sale with a competitor is of great importance.

Be Prepared to Accept Certain Legal Conditions

Finally, don’t be surprised if your competitor asks you to sign a non-compete or for you to stay on as a consult after he or she has acquired your business. This is a prudent step and one that makes tremendous sense. If you were buying a business from a competitor wouldn’t you want to make certain that the competitor didn’t simply “set up shop” somewhere else a few months or even a couple of years later? Likewise, tapping your expertise is another prudent move for your former competitor.

Summed up, selling your business to a competitor is a potentially great move, but it is also an opportunity that absolutely must be explored with extreme caution. Never divulge critical information to your competitor until the deal is finalized.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Importance of Having a Dominant Position in the Market

In order to get top dollar for your business, it is necessary to prepare for the sale well in advance. In short, a tremendous amount of strategy and preparation goes into a successful sale. The amount you ultimately receive for your business is directly tied to how well you prepare.

At the top of the list of making sure that your business is attractive to potential buyers is to make certain your business is as well positioned in the market as possible. Of course, this is often easier stated than done. Here are some of the best ways to make sure your business is optimally positioned.

Tip One – Start Positioning Your Business Well in Advance

Selling your business isn’t something you should just do one day. You should start positioning your business at least one year before the closing.

Quite often, experts say business owners should always operate as though a sale is on the horizon. This makes a great deal of sense on one hand. If you ever experience an unexpected turn of events and need to sell, then you will certainly be ready. Another reason that this advice is solid is due to the fact that operating as though a sale is on the horizon helps you make certain that your business is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Tip Two – Always Think About Growth

Another way to ensure optimal position in the market is to always stay focused on growth. Asking yourself what steps you can take to grow your business in both the short term and the long term is a prudent move. You should always know what it takes to launch a new growth stage.

Tip Three – Customers, Lots of Customers/Clients

You don’t want a prospective buyer to see that you have only one or two key customers or clients. Understandably, this situation should make a buyer quite nervous. It comes across as extreme vulnerability. Having many varied customers or clients is a step in the right direction.

Tip Four – Be Ready for Due Diligence

Whatever you do, don’t overlook due diligence. Neglecting or waiting to prepare for the buyer’s due diligence stage until the eleventh hour is quite risky. Have all of your financial, legal and operations documents ready to go. A failure to properly handle due diligence could derail a deal or even reduce the amount you receive.

Tip Five – Understand Your Business’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Every business has strengths and weaknesses. Don’t attempt to hide your weaknesses or overplay your strengths. Be transparent!

A business broker is an expert at handling investors and even writing a business plan that you can hand to potential buyers.

Think about boosting your market position while simultaneously increasing the odds that you receive top dollar for your sale. Instead of rushing, take the time to prepare and work with a business broker to achieve the best market position and sale price possible.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Are You Emotionally Ready to Sell?

Quite often sellers don’t give much thought to whether or not they are ready to sell. But this can be a mistake. The emotional components of both buying and selling a business are quite significant and should never be overlooked. If you are overly emotional about selling, then this fact can have serious ramifications on your outcomes. Many sellers who are not emotionally ready, will inadvertently take steps that undermine their progress.

Selling a business, especially one that you have put a tremendous amount of effort into over a period of years, can be an emotional experience even for those who feel they are more stoic by nature. Before you jump in and put your business up for sale, take a moment and reflect on how the idea of no longer owning your business makes you feel.

Emotional Factor #1 – Employees

It is not uncommon for business owners to form friendships and bonds with employees, especially those who have been with them long-term. However, many business owners are either unaware or unwilling to face just how deep the attachments sometimes go.

While having such feeling towards your team members shows a great deal of loyalty, it could negatively impact your behavior during the sales process. Is it possible you might interfere with the sale because you’re worried about future outcomes for your staff members? Are you concerned about breaking up your team and no longer being able to spend time with certain individuals? It is necessary ultimately to separate your business from your personal relationships.

Emotional Factor #2 – Do You Have a Plan for the Future?

Typically, business owners spend a great deal of their time and energy being concerned with their businesses. It is a common experience that most owners share. Just as no longer being with your employees every day may create an emotional void, the same may also hold true for no longer running or owning your business.

Your business is a key focal point of your entire life. No longer having that source of focus can be unnerving. It is important to have a plan for the future so that you are not left feeling directionless or confused. What will you do after you sell your business and how does that make you feel? Before you sell, make sure that you have something new and positive to focus on with your time.

Emotional Factor #3 – Are You Sure?

Are you sure that you can really let your business go? At the end of the day many business owners discover that deep down they are just not ready to move on. Are you sure you are ready for a new future? If not, perhaps it makes sense to wait until you’re in a more secure position.

Addressing these three emotional factors is an investment in your future well-being and happiness. It is also potentially an investment in determining how smoothly the sale of your business will be and whether or not you receive top dollar.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Learn the Dynamics and Save the Deal

Many business owners are unfamiliar with the dynamics of selling a company, because they have never done so. There are numerous possible “deal breakers.” Being aware of the following pitfalls and their remedies should help prevent the possibility of an aborted transaction.

Neglecting the Running of Your Business
A major reason companies with sales under $20 million become derailed during the selling process is that the owner becomes consumed with the pending transaction and neglects the day to day operation of the business. At some time during the selling process, which can take six to twelve months from beginning to end, the CEO/owner typically takes his or her eye off the ball. Since the CEO/owner is the key to all aspects of the business, his lack of attention to the business invariably affects sales, costs and profits. A potential buyer could become concerned if the business flattens out or falls off.

Solution: For most CEOs/owners, selling their company is one of the most dramatic and important phases in the company’s history. This is no time to be overly cost conscious. The owner should retain, within reason, the best intermediary, transaction lawyer and other advisors to alleviate the pressure so that he or she can devote the time necessary for effectively running the business.

Placing Too High a Price on the Business
Obviously, many owners want to maximize the selling price on the company that has often been their life’s work, or in fact, the life’s work of their multi-generation family. The problem with an irrational and indiscriminate pricing of the business is that the mergers and acquisition market is sophisticated; professional acquirers will not be fooled.

Solution: By retaining an expert intermediary and/or appraiser, an owner should be able to arrive at a price that is justifiable and defensible. If you set too high a price, you may end up with an undesirable buyer who fails to meet the purchase price payments and/or destroys the desirable corporate culture that the seller has created.

Breaching the Confidentiality of the Impending Sale
In many situations, the selling process involves too many parties, and due to so many participants in the information loop, confidentiality is breached. It happens, perhaps more frequently than not. The results can change the course of the transaction and in some cases; the owner—out of frustration—calls off the deal.

Solution: Using intermediaries in a transaction certainly helps reduce a confidentiality breach. Working with only a few buyers at a time can also help eliminate a breach. Involving senior management can also prevent information leaks.

Not Preparing for Sale Far Enough in Advance
Most business owners decide to sell their business somewhat impulsively. According to a survey of business sellers nationwide, the major reason for selling is boredom and burnout. Further down the list of reasons reported by survey respondents is retirement or lack of successor heirs. With these factors in mind, unless the owner takes several years of preparation, chances are the business will not be in top condition to sell.

Solution: Having well-prepared and well-documented financial statements for several years in advance of the company being sold is worth all the extra money, and then some. Buying out minority stockholders, cleaning up the balance sheet, settling outstanding lawsuits and sprucing up the housekeeping are all-important. If the business is a “one-man-band,” then building management infrastructure will give the company value and credibility.

Not Anticipating the Buyer’s Request
A buyer usually has to obtain bank financing to complete the transaction. Therefore, he needs appraisals on the property, machinery and equipment, as well as other assets. If the owner is selling real estate, an environmental study is necessary. If a seller has been properly advised, he will realize that closing costs will amount to five to seven percent of the purchase price; i.e., $250,000-$350,000 for a $5 million transaction. These costs are well worth the expense, because the seller is more apt to receive a higher price if he can provide the buyer with all the necessary information to do a deal.

Solution: The owner should have appraisals completed before he tries to sell the business, but if the appraisals are more than two years old, they may have to be updated.

Seller Desiring To Retire After Business Is Sold
It is a natural instinct for the burnt-out owner to take his cash and run. However, buyers are very concerned with the integration process after the sale is completed, as well as discovering whether or not the customer and vendor relationships are going to be easily transferable.

Solution: If the owner were to become a director for one year after the company is sold, the chances are that the buyer would feel a lot more secure that the all-important integration would be smoother and the various relationships would be successfully transferable.

Negotiating Every Item
Being boss of one’s own company for the past ten to twenty years will accustom one to having his or her own way… just about all the time. The potential buyer probably will have a similar set of expectations.

Solution: Decide ahead of the negotiation which are the very important items and which ones are not critical. In the ensuing negotiating process, the owner will have a better chance to “horse trade” knowing the negotiatiable and non-negotiable items.

Allocating Too Much Time for Selling Process
Owners are often told that it will take six to twelve months to sell a company from the very beginning to the very end. For the up-front phase, when the seller must strategize, set a range of values, and identify potential buyers, etc., it is all right to take one’s time. It is also acceptable for the buyer to take two or three months to close the deal after the Letter of Intent is signed by both parties. What is not acceptable is an extended delay during which the company is “put in play” (the time between identifying buyers, visiting the business and negotiating). This phase should not take more than three months. If it does, this means that the deal is dragging and is unlikely to close. The pressure on the owner becomes emotionally exhausting, and he tires of the process quickly.

Solution: Again, the seller needs to have a professional orchestrate the process to keep the potential buyers on a time schedule, and move the offers along so the momentum is not lost. The merger and acquisition advisor or intermediary plays the role of coach, and the player (seller) either wins or loses the game depending on how well those two work together.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Selling: What Does An Intermediary Expect From You

If you are seriously considering selling your company, you have no doubt considered using the services of an intermediary. You probably have wondered what you could expect from him or her. It works both ways. To do their job, which is selling your company; maximizing the selling price, terms and net proceeds; plus handling the details effectively; there are some things intermediaries will expect from you. By understanding these expectations, you will greatly improve the chances of a successful sale. Here are just a few:

• Next to continuing to run the business, working with your intermediary in helping to sell the company is a close second. It takes this kind of partnering to get the job done. You have to return all of his or her telephone calls promptly and be available to handle any other requests. You, other key executives, and primary advisors have to be readily available to your intermediary.

• Selling a company is a group effort that will involve you, key executives, and your financial and legal advisors all working in a coordinated manner with the intermediary. Beginning with the gathering of information, through the transaction closing, you need input about all aspects of the sale. Only they can provide the necessary information.

• Keep in mind that the selling process can take anywhere from six months to a year — or even a bit longer. An intermediary needs to know what is happening — and changing — within the company, the competition, customers, etc. The lines of communication must be kept open.

• The intermediary will need key management’s cooperation in preparation for the future visits from prospective acquirers. They will need to know just what is required, and expected, from such visits.

• You will rightfully expect the intermediary to develop a list of possible acquirers. You can help in several ways. First, you could offer the names of possible candidates who might be interested in acquiring your business. Second, supplying the intermediary with industry publications, magazines and directories will help in increasing the number of possible purchasers, and will help in educating the intermediary in the nature of your business.

• Keep your intermediary in the loop. Hopefully, at some point, a letter of intent will be signed and the deal turned over to the lawyers for the drafting of the final documents. Now is not the time to assume that the intermediary’s job is done. It may just be beginning as the details of financing are completed and final deal points are resolved. The intermediary knows the buyer, the seller, and what they really agreed on. You may be keeping the deal from falling apart by keeping the intermediary involved in the negotiations.

• Be open to all suggestions. You may feel that you only want one type of buyer to look at your business. For example, you may think that only a foreign company will pay you what you want for the company. Your intermediary may have some other prospects. Sometimes you have to be willing to change directions.

The time to call a business intermediary professional is when you are considering the sale of your company. He or she is a major member of your team. Selling a company can be a long-term proposition. Make sure you are willing to be involved in the process until the job is done. Maintain open communications with the intermediary. And, most of all – listen. He or she is the expert.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Family-Owned Businesses Do Have Choices

Family-owned businesses do have some options when it comes time to sell. Selling the entire business may not be the best choice when there are no other family members involved. Here are some choices to be considered:

Internal Transactions

  • Hire a CEO – This approach is a management exit strategy in which the owner retires, lives off the company’s dividends and possibly sells the company many years later.
  • Transition ownership within the family – Keeping the business in the family is a noble endeavor, but the parent seldom liquefies his investment in the short-term, and the son or daughter may run the company into the ground.
  • Recapitalization – By recapitalizing the company by increasing the debt to as much as 70 percent of the capitalization, the owner(s) is/are able to liquefy most of their investment now with the intent to pay down the debt and sell the company later on.
  • Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) – Many types of companies such as construction, engineering, and architectural are difficult to sell to a third party, because the employees are the major asset. ESOPs are a useful vehicle in this regard, but are usually sold in stages over a time period as long as ten years.

External Transactions

  • Third party sale – The process could take six months to a year to complete. This method should produce a high valuation, sometimes all cash at closing and often the ability of the owner to walk away right after the closing.
  • Complete sale over time – The owner can sell a minority interest now with the balance sold after maybe five years. Such an approach allows the owner to liquefy some of his investment now, continue to run the company, and hopefully receive a higher valuation for the company years later.
  • Management buy-outs (MBOs) – Selling to the owners’ key employee(s) is an easy transaction and a way to reward them for years of hard work. Often the owner does not maximize the selling price, and usually the owner participates in the financing.
  • Initial public offering (IPO) – In today’s marketplace, a company should have revenues of $100+ million to become a viable candidate. IPOs receive the highest valuation, but management must remain to run the company.

Source: “Buying & Selling Companies,” a presentation by Russ Robb, Editor, M&A Today

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Who Is Today’s Buyer?

It has always been the American Dream to be independent and in control of one’s own destiny. Owning your own business is the best way to meet that goal. Many people dream about owning their own business, but when it gets right down to it, they just can’t make that leap of faith that is necessary to actually own one’s own business. Business brokers know from their experience that out of fifteen or so people who inquire about buying a business, only one will become an owner of a business.

Today’s buyer is most likely from the corporate world and well-educated, but not experienced in the business-buying process. These buyers are very number-conscious and detail-oriented. They require supporting documents for almost everything and will either use outside advisors or will do the verification themselves, but verify they will. A person who is realistic and understands that he or she can’t buy a business with a profit of millions for $10 down is probably serious. They must be able to make decisions and not depend on outside parties to do it for them. They must also have the financial resources available, have an open mind, and understand that owning one’s own business means being the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer.

Today’s buyers are usually what might be termed “event” driven. This means that the desire to own their own business is coupled with a need or reason. Maybe they have been downsized out of a job, they don’t want to be transferred, they travel too much, they see no future in their current position, etc. Many people have the desire, but not the reason. Most people don’t have the courage to quit a job and the paycheck to venture out on their own.

There are the perennial lookers. Those people who dream about owning their own business, are constantly looking, but will never leave the job to fulfill the dream. In fact, perspective business buyers who have been looking for over six months would probably fit into this category.

Business brokers spend a lot of time interviewing buyers. Here are just a few of the questions they will ask. The answers they receive will determine whether or not the prospective buyer is serious and qualified.

  • Why is the person considering buying a business?
  • Has the person ever owned their own business?
  • How long has the person been looking?
  • Is the person currently employed?
  • What kind of business is the person looking for?
  • Is he or she flexible in the kind of business?
  • What are the most important considerations?
  • How much money is available?
  • What is the person’s timeframe?
  • Does the person’s experience match the type of business under consideration?
  • Who else is involved in the purchase decision?
  • Is the person’s spouse positive about owning a business?

There are other questions and considerations, but those cited above reveal the depth of a buyer interview. Business brokers want to work only with buyers who are serious about purchasing a business. They don’t want to show a business to anyone who is not qualified, which is simply a waste of their time and the seller’s time.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Why Deals Fall Apart — Loss of Momentum

Deals fall apart for many reasons – some reasonable, others unreasonable.

For example:

• The seller doesn’t have all his financials up to date.
• The seller doesn’t have his legal/environmental/administrative affairs up to date.
• The buyer can’t come up with the necessary financing.
• The well known “surprise” surfaces causing the deal to fall apart.

The list could go on and on and this subject has been covered many times. However, there are more hidden reasons that threaten to end a deal usually half to three-quarters of the way to closing. These hidden reasons silently lead to a lack of or loss of momentum.

This essentially means a lack of forward progress. No one notices at first. Even the advisors who are busy doing the necessary due diligence and paperwork don’t notice the waning or missing momentum. Even though a slow-down in momentum may not be noticeable at first, an experienced business intermediary will catch it.

Let’s say a buyer can’t get through to the seller. The buyer leaves repeated messages, but the calls are not returned. (The reverse can also happen, but for our example we’ll assume the seller is unresponsive.) The buyer then calls the intermediary. The intermediary assures the buyer that he or she will call the seller and have him or her get in touch. The intermediary calls the seller and receives the same response. Calls are not returned. Even if calls are returned the seller may fail to provide documents, financial information, etc.

To the experienced intermediary the “red flag” goes up. Something is wrong. If not resolved immediately, the deal will lose its momentum and things can fall apart quite rapidly. What is this hidden element that causes a loss of momentum? It is generally not price or anything concrete.

It often boils down to an emotional issue. The buyer or seller gets what we call “cold feet.” Often it is the seller who has decided that he really doesn’t want to sell and doesn’t know what to do. It may also be that the buyer has discovered something that is quite concerning and doesn’t know how to handle it. Maybe the chemistry between buyer and seller is just not there for one or the other of them. Whatever the reason, the reluctant party just tries to ignore the proceedings and lack of momentum occurs.

The sooner this loss of momentum is addressed, the better the chance for the deal to continue to closing. Because the root of the problem is often an emotional issue, it has to be faced directly. An advisor, the intermediary or someone close to the person should immediately make a personal visit. Another suggestion is to get the buyer and seller together for lunch or dinner, preferably the latter. Regardless of how it happens, the loss of momentum should be addressed if the sale has any chance of closing.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Personal Goodwill: Who Owns It?

Personal Goodwill has always been a fascinating subject, impacting the sale of many small to medium-sized businesses – and possibly even larger companies. How is personal goodwill developed? An individual starts a business and, during the process, builds one or more of the following:

• A positive personal reputation
• A personal relationship with many of the largest customers and/or suppliers
• Company products, publications, etc., as the sole author, designer, or inventor

The creation of personal goodwill occurs far beyond just customers and suppliers. Over the years, personal goodwill has been established through relationships with tax advisors, doctors, dentists, attorneys, and other personal service providers. While these relationships are wonderful benefits, they are, unfortunately, non-transferable. There is an old saying: In businesses built around personal goodwill, the goodwill goes home at night.

It can be difficult to sell a business, regardless of size, where personal goodwill plays an integral role in the business’ success. The larger the business, the less likely that one person holds the key to its profitability. In small to medium-sized businesses, personal goodwill can be a crucial ingredient. A buyer certainly has to consider it when considering whether to buy such a business.

In the case of the sale of a medical, accounting, or legal practice, existing clients/patients may visit a new owner of the same practice; they are used to coming to that location, they have an immediate problem, or they have some other practical reason for staying with the same practice. However, if existing clients or patients don’t like the new owner, or they don’t feel that their needs were handled the way the old owner cared for them, they may look for a new provider. The new owner might be as competent as, or more competent than, his predecessor, but chemistry, or the lack of it, can supersede competency in the eyes of a customer.

Businesses centered on the goodwill of the owner can certainly be sold, but usually the buyer will want some protection in case business is lost with the departure of the seller. One simple method requires the seller to stay for a sufficient period after the sale to allow him or her to work with the new owner and slowly transfer the goodwill. No doubt, some goodwill will be lost, but that expectation should be built into the price.

Another approach uses some form of “earnout.” At the end of the year, the lost business that can be attributed to the goodwill of the seller is tallied. A percentage is then subtracted from monies owed to the seller, or funds from the down payment are placed in escrow, and adjustments are made from that source.

In some cases, the sale of goodwill may offer some favorable tax benefits for the seller. If the seller of the business is also the owner of the personal goodwill, the sale can essentially be two taxable events. The tax courts have ruled that the business doesn’t own the goodwill, the owner of the business does. The seller thus sells the business and then also sells his or her personal goodwill. The seller’s tax professional will be able to give further advice on this matter.

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Copyright:Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

The Three Ways to Negotiate

Basically, there are three major negotiation methods.

1. Take it or leave it. A buyer makes an offer or a seller makes a counter-offer – both sides can let the “chips fall where they may.”

2. Split the difference. The buyer and seller, one or the other, or both, decide to split the difference between what the buyer is willing to offer and what the seller is willing to accept. A real oversimplification, but often used.

3. This for that. Both buyer and seller have to find out what is important to each. So many of these important areas are non-monetary and involve personal things such as allowing the owner’s son to continue employment with the firm. The buyer may want to move the business.

There is an old adage that advises, “Never negotiate your own deal!”

The first thing both sides have to decide on is who will represent them. Will they have their attorney, their intermediary or will they go it alone? Intermediaries are a good choice for a seller. They have done it before, are good advocates for their side and they understand the company and the seller.

How do the parties get together in a win-win negotiation? The first step is for both sides to work with their advisors to settle on the price and deal structure positions. Both sides should be able to present their side of these issues. Which is more important – price or terms, or non-monetary items?

Information is vital to a buyer. Buyers should keep in mind that the seller knows more about the business than he or she does. Both buyer and seller need to anticipate what is important to the other and keep that in mind when discussing the deal. Buyer and seller should do due diligence on each other. Both buyer and seller must be able to walk away from a deal that is just not going to work.

Bob Woolf, the famous sports agent said in his book, Friendly Persuasion: My Life as a Negotiator, “I never think of negotiating against anyone. I work with people to come to an agreement. Deals are put together.”

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Due Diligence — Do It Now!

Due diligence is generally considered an activity that takes place as part of the selling process. It might be wise to take a look at the business from a buyer’s perspective in performing due diligence as part of an annual review of the business. Performing due diligence does two things: (1) It provides a valuable assessment of the business by company management, and (2) It offers the company an accurate profile of itself, just in case the decision is made to sell, or an acquirer suddenly appears at the door.

This process, when performed by a serious acquirer, is generally broken down into five basic areas:

• Marketing due diligence
• Financial due diligence
• Legal due diligence
• Environmental due diligence
• Management/Employee due diligence

Marketing Issues
It has been said that many company officers/CEOs have never taken a look at the broad picture of their industry; in other words, they know their customers, but not their industry. For example, here are just a few questions concerning the market that due diligence will help answer:

• What is the size of the market?
• Who are the industry leaders?
• Does the product or service have a life cycle?
• Who are the customers/clients, and what is the relationship?
• What’s the downside and the upside of the product/service? What is the risk and potential?

Financial Issues
Two important questions have to be answered before getting down to the basics of the financials: (1) Do the numbers really work? and (2) Are the seller’s claims supported by the figures? If the answer to both is yes, the following should be carefully reviewed:

• The accounts receivables
• The accounts payable
• The inventory

Legal Issues
Are contracts and agreements current? Are products patented, if necessary? How about copyrights and trademarks? What is the current status of any litigation? Are there any possible law suits on the horizon? What would an astute attorney representing a buyer want to see and would it be acceptable?

Environmental Issues
Not too long ago this area would have been a non-issue. Not any more! Current governmental guidelines can levy responsibility regarding environmental issues that existed prior to the current occupancy or ownership of the real estate. Possible acquirers – and lenders – are really “gun-shy” about these types of problems.

Management/Employee Issues
What employment agreements are in force? What family members are on the payroll? Who are the key people? In other words, who does what, why, and how much are they paid?

Operational Issues
The company should have a clear program covering how their products are handled from raw material to “out the door.” Service companies should also have a program covering how services are delivered from initial customer contact through delivery of the services.

The question is, do you give your company a “physical” now, or do you wait until someone else does it for you – with a lot riding on the line?

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Considerations When Selling…Or Buying

Important questions to ask when looking at a business…or preparing to have your business looked at by prospective buyers.

• What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Does it include real estate? Are some of the machines leased instead of owned?

• What assets are not earning money? Perhaps these assets should be sold off.

• What is proprietary? Formulations, patents, software, etc.?

• What is their competitive advantage? A certain niche, superior marketing or better manufacturing.

• What is the barrier of entry? Capital, low labor, tight relationships.

• What about employment agreements/non-competes? Has the seller failed to secure these agreements from key employees?

• How does one grow the business? Maybe it can’t be grown.

• How much working capital does one need to run the business?

• What is the depth of management and how dependent is the business on the owner/manager?

• How is the financial reporting undertaken and recorded and how does management adjust the business accordingly?

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Keys to a Successful Closing

The closing is the formal transfer of a business. It usually also represents the successful culmination of many months of hard work, extensive negotiations, lots of give and take, and ultimately a satisfactory meeting of the minds. The document governing the closing is the Purchase and Sale Agreement. It generally covers the following:

• A description of the transaction – Is it a stock or asset sale?

• Terms of the agreement – This covers the price and terms and how it is to be paid. It should also include the status of any management that will remain with the business.

• Representations and Warranties – These are usually negotiated after the Letter of Intent is agreed upon. Both buyer and seller want protection from any misrepresentations. The warranties provide assurances that everything is as represented.

• Conditions and Covenants – These include non-competes and agreements to do or not to do certain things.

There are four key steps that must be undertaken before the sale of a business can close:

1. The seller must show satisfactory evidence that he or she has the legal right to act on behalf of the selling company and the legal authority to sell the business.

2. The buyer’s representatives must have completed the due diligence process, and claims and representations made by the seller must have been substantiated.

3. The necessary financing must have been secured, and the proper paperwork and appropriate liens must be in place so funds can be released.

4. All representations and warranties must be in place, with remedies made available to the buyer in case of seller’s breech.

There are two major elements of the closing that take place simultaneously:

• Corporate Closing: The actual transfer of the corporate stock or assets based on the provisions of the Purchase and Sale Agreement. Stockholder approvals are in, litigation and environmental issues satisfied, representations and warranties signed, leases transferred, employee and board member resignations, etc. completed, and necessary covenants and conditions performed. In other words, all of the paperwork outlined in the Purchase and Sale Agreement has been completed.

• Financial Closing: The paperwork and legal documentation necessary to provide funding has been executed. Once all of the conditions of funding have been met, titles and assets are transferred to the purchaser, and the funds delivered to the seller.

It is best if a pre-closing is held a week or so prior to the actual closing. Documents can be reviewed and agreed upon, loose ends tied up, and any open matters closed. By doing a pre-closing, the actual closing becomes a mere formality, rather than requiring more negotiation and discussion.

The closing is not a time to cut costs – or corners. Since mistakes can be very expensive, both sides require expert advice. Hopefully, both sides are in complete agreement and any disagreements were resolved at the pre-closing meeting. A closing should be a time for celebration!

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

“Red Flags” in the Sunset

Unlike that poetic title of an old-time standard song, Red Sails in the Sunset, red flags are not a pretty sight. They can cause a deal to crater. Sellers have to learn to recognize situations indicating there might be a problem in their attempt to sell their business. Very, very seldom does a white knight in shining armor riding a white horse gallop up, write a large check and take over the business – no questions asked. And, if he did, it probably should raise the red flag – because that only happens in fairy tales. Now, if the check clears – then fairy tales can come true.

Sellers need to step back and examine every element of the transaction to make sure something isn’t happening that might sink the deal. For example, if a company appears interested in your business, and you can’t get through to the CEO, President, or, even the CFO, there most likely is a problem. Perhaps the interest level is not what you have been led to believe. A seller does not want to waste time on buyers that really aren’t buyers. In the example cited, the red flag should certainly be raised.

A red flag should be raised if an individual buyer shows a great deal of interest in the company, but has no experience in acquisitions and has no prior experience in the same industry. Even if this buyer appears very interested, the chances are that as the deal progresses, he or she will be tentative, cautious and will probably have a problem overcoming any of the business’s shortcomings. Retaining an intermediary generally eliminates this problem, since every buyer is screened and only those that are really qualified are even introduced to the business.

Both of the above examples are early-stage red flags. Sellers have to be focused so they don’t waste their time on buyers that are undesirable. If a buyer appears to be weak, does not have a good reason to need the deal, or is otherwise unqualified, the red flag should be raised because the chances of a successful transaction are diminished. The seller might seriously consider moving on to other prospects.

Red flags do not necessarily mean the end of the deal or that it should be aborted immediately. It simply means that the seller should pay close attention to what is happening. Sellers should keep their antenna up during the entire transaction. Problems can develop right up to closing. Here is an example of a middle-stage red flag: The seller has received a term sheet from a prospective buyer and is then denied access to the buyer’s financial statements in order to verify their ability to make the acquisition. As a reminder, a term sheet is a written range of value for the purchase price plus an indication of how the transaction would be structured. It is normally prepared by the would-be purchaser and presented to the seller and is non-binding. A buyer who is not willing to divulge financial information about his or her company, or, himself, in the case of an individual, may have something to hide. Due diligence on the buyer is equally as important as due diligence on the business.

If a proposed deal has entered the final stages, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any red flags, or any additional ones, if there have been some along the way. If there have been several red flags, perhaps the transaction shouldn’t have gone on any further. It is these latter stages where the red flags become more serious. However, at this point, it makes sense to try to work through them since problems or issues early-on apparently have been resolved.

One red flag at this juncture might be an apparent loss of momentum. This might mean a problem at the buyer’s end. Don’t let it linger. As mentioned earlier, at this juncture all stops should be pulled out to try to overcome any problems. If a seller, or a buyer, for that matter, suspects a problem, there might very well be one. Ignoring it will not rectify the situation. When a red flag is recognized, it is best that it be confronted head-on. It is only by acting proactively that red flags in the deal can become red sails in the sunset – a harbinger of smooth sailing ahead.

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

The Confidentiality Myth

When it comes time to sell the company, a seller’s prime concern is one of confidentiality. Owners are afraid that “if the word gets out” they will lose employees, customers and suppliers. Not to downplay confidentiality, but these incidents seldom happen if the process is properly managed. There is always the chance that a “leak” will occur, but when handled correctly, serious damage is unlikely. Nevertheless, a seller should still be very careful about maintaining confidentiality since avoiding problems is always better than dealing with them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Understand that there is a “Catch 22” involved. The seller wants the highest price and the best deal, and this usually means contacting numerous potential buyers. Obviously, the more prospective buyers that are contacted, the greater the opportunity for a breach of confidentiality to occur. Business intermediaries understand that buyers have to be contacted, but they also realize the importance of confidentiality and have the procedures in place to reduce the risk of a breach. Another alternative is to work with just a few buyers. This, however, does reduce the chances of obtaining the best price.
  • Another way to avoid this breach is to try to keep a short timetable between going to market and a closing. The shorter the timetable, the less the chance for the word to get out. One way to keep a short timetable is to gather all of the information necessary for the buyer’s due diligence ahead of time. Create a place where all of this material can be consolidated. This can be as simple as a set of secured file drawers. Such documentation as: customer and vendor contracts, leases and real estate records, financial statements and supporting schedules (assets, receivables, payables), conditions of employment agreements, organization charts and pay schedules, summary of benefit programs, patents, etc. should be gathered. It is not unusual for due diligence examinations to look back 3 to 5 years, so there could be a lot of records.
  • The above means that the seller has to get organized. Selling one’s business is fraught with paperwork. Set up some three-ring binders so all of the relevant paperwork and resulting documentation has a place. These binders should be kept in a secure location.
  • The seller’s employees should be conditioned to having strange people (potential buyers) walk through the facility. One way to avoid suspicion is to arrange to have unrelated people, for example – customers, suppliers, advisors – tour the company facilities prior to placing the business on the market.
  • If sellers have not prepared their employees for strangers walking through the facilities as suggested above, awkward situations can develop. A valued employee may question why tours are being conducted. The seller is then placed in the position of explaining what is happening or covering the question with a “smokescreen.” A seller could reply by saying that the strangers are possible investors in the company. If asked directly if the business is for sale, the seller could respond by saying that if General Electric wants to pay a bundle for it – anything is for sale. Once in the selling process, it is also important to minimize traffic by only allowing serious, qualified prospects to tour the operation.
  • Keep in mind that confidentiality leaks can emanate from many sources. For example, an errant email ends up on someone else’s email. A fax gets sent to the wrong fax machine or UPS or FedEx deliveries go to the wrong people. Establish methods ahead of time on how to communicate with potential buyers or an intermediary.
  • The key to handling confidentiality is for the seller to retain a third party intermediary. They will insist that all potential buyers sign a confidentiality agreement. They will also be able to advise the seller on how to handle the “company tours” and can insure that only qualified buyers are shown the facilities.
  • The “myth” is that confidentiality issues can make or break a deal, or cause serious damage to the seller’s business. The reality is that breaches seldom occur when an intermediary is involved, and if they do occur and are handled properly, there is little damage to the business or a potential transaction.

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A Selling Memorandum

A sellers memorandum includes all those points one would normally expect to see in any business plan, to wit: an executive summary, a business description, financial requirements, target market niche, identification of top management, an operations review, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and current financial statements and projections.

Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions published by PPC

A proposed sale of a middle-market company almost always begins with a selling memorandum. This document is called many things, including offering memorandum, confidential descriptive memorandum or simply the book. Regardless of what you choose to call it, its purpose is to encourage prospective buyers to take a further look at the company.

For the seller, it has a secondary side benefit. It forces them to take a hard look at the company, its strengths and its weaknesses. Upon reviewing the information necessary to prepare a selling memorandum, the seller may, in fact, decide that it’s not such a bad company after all and elect to keep it. On the other hand, the seller could decide that the current condition of the company needs to be improved before attempting to sell it. Looking at the company through the eyes of a buyer, could also prompt the seller to try to increase the value prior to selling. This may be done, for example, by building a stronger brand loyalty, by entering into employee contracts with key managers, or perhaps by diversifying the customer base.

Assuming, however, that the decision to sell has been made, the importance of the selling memorandum can not be emphasized enough. It is like a strong advertisement for the company and it must tell a good story. It should highlight the positive parts of the company, add value for the buyer, and show the negatives as opportunities. The selling memorandum has to make a good first impression. A seller wants to attract qualified buyers and bring value to the company being sold. This means that the selling memorandum has to be prepared and written by a professional. It is too important a document to do it any other way. It is also the basis of a strong marketing program to attract the best buyer at the best price.

What makes up a strong selling memorandum? It includes quite a few different elements. But, first a few caveats:

  • Don’t include confidential company information or reveal trade secrets. Although the document may be intended for qualified buyers only, once it is disseminated it really becomes a public document. Professional intermediaries and investment bankers do make prospective buyers sign a confidentiality agreement, which does help in this area. Still, with copy machines and email services readily available, it never hurts to maintain confidential information until much further in the negotiations.
  • Make sure that a prospective buyer knows exactly what you are selling. It is assumed unless otherwise mentioned that it is the entire company that is for sale. You don’t want prospects to think that they can purchase just the most profitable portions of the company. Obviously, a seller wants to show-off the excellent parts of the company, but this should not be done at the expense of the not-so-good parts. These can be presented as excellent opportunities.
  • The selling memorandum should not be aimed at the right prospects. If the business requires technical language to best explain it, use it. A buyer, who doesn’t understand it, probably isn’t a buyer.
  • There should be an explanation of how the company works so a prospective acquirer can read through the lines about the selling company’s corporate culture. This element can make or break a sale and it’s best to discover it at the outset.
  • There is always a tendency to include too much information – don’t. Don’t over-sell. You don’t need to include the names of customers and vendors and the names of all the employees.
  • Be sure to also include the blemishes. If there is a pending lawsuit, include. The bad news should be revealed early on – no one likes surprises, especially later in the negotiations.
  • And, finally, and probably, most important, the selling memorandum should be easy to read.

Now, what about the various elements of the selling memorandum. Here are the areas that should be covered in it.

Business Profile (or Executive Summary) – This may be the most important element of the selling memorandum. The entire offering should be covered in brief – no more than four-pages, at most. Many are done in one page. Remember, the sole purpose of the business profile is to generate excitement and interest. It is a selling piece! It should include:

  • Ownership
  • The Business
  • Financial highlights
  • Products and/or services
  • Markets
  • The opportunities
  • Reason for sale (Why is it for sale?)

This business profile is usually sent to possible purchasers. If the prospect is interested further, they sign a confidentiality agreement before receiving the entire selling memorandum. The selling memorandum includes detailed information on the key elements of the company and usually covers the following:

  • Business overview – In other words, who and what is the company? This is the place where everything about the company is summarized: it’s history, the employees (in general), the management team, the locations, any important intangible assets, and the outlook for the business.
  • Company strengths – What does the company do well? This should cover those strengths that bring value to this particular company.
  • Markets – Who are the customers/clients? What and how does the company sell its products or market its services.
  • The Risks – What are they? If there are risks in the business, they should be described and then an explanation of how the company solves them.
  • Financial data – Is the company making money? Cash flow statements are important. Current thinking is that the seller doesn’t have to include all of the available financial data – which the prospective buyer will go through all the financial history as the deal moves forward.

The selling memorandum should include any relevant corporate and/or product brochures as attachments. Prior to putting the business on the market, it is important that an outside valuation be performed. However, the price and terms are not usually a part of the selling memorandum – the marketplace will dictate the price. The purpose of the entire selling memorandum is to generate sufficient interest so that a prospective acquirer will make an offer.

Building Value

Prior to putting a company on the market for sale, the question of value has to be addressed. Increasing the value should, in fact, be considered a year, preferably two, prior to sale. Value is based on profitability, cash flow, management and the overall quality of the operation itself. Here are some considerations in building value, whether the business is going to be sold or not.

  • Are the company’s pricing policies set too low, creating low margins? Perhaps they were set some time ago in order to boost sales. Now might be a good time to review them to make sure they are in keeping with current market conditions.
  • Is the inventory level too high? How about work-in-progress or finished goods? Increasing the turns in inventory can increase cash flow.
  • Are you paying too much for raw material? Talk to your vendors and suppliers, you might be able to get some better prices or terms. Take a look at all of the expenses: utilities, telephone, technology, office expenses – it all adds up.
  • Are there services that could be outsourced for increased savings?
  • Increasing the quality of customer service may entice customers or clients to pay their bill promptly.
  • Are all the employees working together to improve the operation and profitability of the company?

These are just a few of the areas that can and should be reviewed. Although profits are important, there is an old expression that cash is king. The time to take a look at the overall company operations is now.

Measuring the Value of a Company

Consider the following important areas of a company. How does your company stack up in these critical areas? If you were to rank them on a 1 to 4 scale, for instance, what would your score be? The higher the score the more valuable the company! They are considered value drivers – in other words, they are important to a prospective buyer.

  • Profitability
  • Type of business
  • History of company and industry
  • Business growth
  • Customers/Clients
  • Market share
  • Return on investment
  • Quality of financial statements
  • Size
  • Management
  • Terms of sale

For example, in looking at a company’s financial data – are the statements audited or merely compiled? Is the growth of the company slow or is it growing quickly? How about the customer base – is it based on several major ones, or is it spread out over many customers? The time to consider these critical value drivers is now!

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Common Seller Questions

How long does it take to sell my business?

It generally takes, on average, between five to eight months to sell most businesses. Keep in mind that an average is just that. Some businesses will take longer to sell, while others will sell in a shorter period of time. The sooner you have all the information needed to begin the marketing process, the shorter the time period should be. It is also important that the business be priced properly right from the start. Some sellers, operating under the premise that they can always come down in price, overprice their business. This theory often backfires, because buyers often will refuse to look at an overpriced business. It has been shown that the amount of the down payment may be the key ingredient to a quick sale. The lower the down payment (generally 40 percent of the asking price or less), the shorter the time to a successful sale. A reasonable down payment also tells a potential buyer that the seller has confidence in the business’s ability to make the payments.

What Happens When There is a Buyer for My Business?

When a buyer is sufficiently interested in your business, he or she will, or should, submit an offer in writing. This offer or proposal may have one or more contingencies. Usually, they concern a detailed review of your financial records and may also include a review of your lease arrangements, franchise agreement (if there is one) or other pertinent details of the business. You may accept the terms of the offer or you may make a counter-proposal. You should understand, however, that if you do not accept the buyer’s proposal, the buyer can withdraw it at any time.

At first review, you may not be pleased with a particular offer; however, it is important to look at it carefully. It may be lacking in some areas, but it might also have some positives to seriously consider. There is an old adage that says, “The first offer is generally the best one the seller will receive.” This does not mean that you should accept the first, or any offer — just that all offers should be looked at carefully.

When you and the buyer are in agreement, both of you should work to satisfy and remove the contingencies in the offer. It is important that you cooperate fully in this process. You don’t want the buyer to think that you are hiding anything. The buyer may, at this point, bring in outside advisors to help them review the information. When all the conditions have been met, final papers will be drawn and signed. Once the closing has been completed, money will be distributed and the new owner will take possession of the business.

What Can I Do To Help Sell My Business?

A buyer will want up-to-date financial information. If you use accountants, you can work with them on making current information available. If you are using an attorney, make sure he or she is familiar with the business closing process and the laws of your particular state. You might also ask if their schedule will allow them to participate in the closing on very short notice. If you and the buyer want to close the sale quickly, usually within a few weeks (unless there is an alcohol license or other license involved that might delay things), you don’t want to wait until the attorney can make the time to prepare the documents or attend the closing. Time is of the essence in any business sale transaction. The failure to close on schedule permits the buyer to reconsider or make changes in the original proposal.

What Can Business Brokers Do – And, What Can’t They Do?

Business brokers are the professionals who will facilitate the successful sale of your business. It is important that you understand just what a professional business broker can do — as well as what they can’t. They can help you decide how to price your business and how to structure the sale so it makes sense for everyone — you and the buyer. They can find the right buyer for your business, work with you and the buyer in negotiating, and work with you both every step of the way until the transaction is successfully closed. They can also help the buyer in all the details of the business buying process.

A business broker is not, however, a magician who can sell an overpriced business. Most businesses are saleable if priced and structured properly. You should understand that only the marketplace can determine what a business will sell for. The amount of the down payment you are willing to accept, along with the terms of the seller financing, can greatly influence not only the ultimate selling price, but also the success of the sale itself.

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Are You Ready to Exit?

If you’ve gone this far, then selling your business has aroused enough curiosity that you are taking the first step. You don’t have to make a commitment at this point; you are just getting informed about what is necessary to successfully sell your business. This section should answer a lot of your questions and help you through the maze of the process itself.

Question 1
The first question almost every seller asks is: “What is my business worth?” Quite frankly, if we were selling our business, that is the first thing we would want to know. However, we’re going to put this very important issue off for a bit and cover some of the things you need to know before you get to that point. Before you ask that question, you have to be ready to sell for what the market is willing to pay. If money is the only reason you want to sell, then you’re not really ready to sell.

*Insider Tip:
It doesn’t make any difference what you think your business is worth, or what you want for it. It also doesn’t make any difference what your accountant, banker, attorney, or best friend thinks your business is worth. Only the marketplace can decide what its value is.

Question 2
The second question you have to consider is: Do you really want to sell this business? If you’re really serious and have a solid reason (or reasons) why you want to sell, it will most likely happen. You can increase your chances of selling if you can answer yes to the second question: Do you have reasonable expectations? The yes answer to these two questions means you are serious about selling.

The First Steps

Okay, let’s assume that you have decided to at least take the first few steps to actually sell your business. Before you even think about placing your business for sale, there are some things you should do first.The first thing you have to do is to gather information about the business.

Here’s a checklist of the items you should get together:

  • Three years’ profit and loss statements
  • Federal Income tax returns for the business
  • List of fixtures and equipment
  • The lease and lease-related documents
  • A list of the loans against the business (amounts and payment schedule)
  • Copies of any equipment leases
  • A copy of the franchise agreement, if applicable
  • An approximate amount of the inventory on hand, if applicable
  • The names of any outside advisors

Notes:
If you’re like many small business owners you’ll have to search for some of these items. After you gather all of the above items, you should spend some time updating the information and filling in the blanks. You most likely have forgotten much of this information, so it’s a good idea to really take a hard look at all of this. Have all of the above put in a neat, orderly format as if you were going to present it to a prospective purchaser. Everything starts with this information.

Make sure the financial statements of the business are current and as accurate as you can get them. If you’re halfway through the current year, make sure you have last year’s figures and tax returns, and also year-to-date figures. Make all of your financial statements presentable. It will pay in the long run to get outside professional help, if necessary, to put the statements in order. You want to present the business well “on paper”. As you will see later, pricing a small business usually is based on cash flow. This includes the profit of the business, but also, the owner’s salary and benefits, the depreciation, and other non-cash items. So don’t panic because the bottom line isn’t what you think it should be. By the time all of the appropriate figures are added to the bottom line, the cash flow may look pretty good.

Prospective buyers eventually want to review your financial figures. A Balance Sheet is not normally necessary unless the sale price of your business would be well over the $1 million figure. Buyers want to see income and expenses. They want to know if they can make the payments on the business, and still make a living. Let’s face it, if your business is not making a living wage for someone, it probably can’t be sold. You may be able to find a buyer who is willing to take the risk, or an experienced industry professional who only looks for location, etc., and feels that he or she can increase business.

*Insider Tip
The big question is not really how much your business will sell for, but how much of it can you keep. The Federal Tax Laws do determine how much money you will actually be able to put in the bank. How your business is legally formed can be important in determining your tax status when selling your business. For example: Is your business a corporation, partnership or proprietorship? If you are incorporated, is the business a C corporation or a sub-chapter S corporation? The point of all of this is that before you consider price or even selling your business, it is important that you discuss the tax implications of a sale of your business with a tax advisor. You don’t want to be in the middle of a transaction with a solid buyer and discover that the tax implications of the sale are going to net you much less than you had figured.

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

10 Tips for a Successful Sale

1.Sellers should find out the loan value of the fixtures, equipment and machinery prior to a sale. Many buyers will count on using it for loan or collateral purposes. No one wants to find out at the last minute that the value of the machinery won’t support the debt needed to put the deal together.

2.Sellers should resolve all litigation and environmental issues before putting the company on the market.

3.Sellers should be flexible about any real estate involved. Most buyers want to invest in the business, and real estate usually doesn’t make money for an operating company.

4.Sellers should be prepared to accept lower valuation multiples for lack of management depth, regional versus national distribution, and a reliance on just a few large customers.

5.If a buyer indicates that he or she will be submitting a Letter of Intent, or even a Term Sheet, the seller should inform them up-front what is to be included:

  • price and terms
  • what assets and liabilities are to be assumed, if it is to be an asset purchase
  • lease or purchase of any real estate involved
  • what contracts and warranties are to be assumed
  • schedule for due diligence and closing
  • what employee contracts and/or severance agreements the buyer will be responsible for

6.Non-negotiable items should be pointed out early in the negotiations.

7.The sale of a company usually involves three inconsistent objectives: speed, confidentiality and value. Sellers should pick the two that are most important to them.

8.A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of more than 300 privately held U.S. companies that were sold or transferred pointed out the most common things a company can do to improve the prospects of selling:

  • improve profitability by cutting costs
  • restructure debt
  • limit owner’s compensation
  • fully fund company pension plan
  • seek the advice of a consultant
  • improve the management team
  • upgrade computer systems

9.Sellers should determine up-front who has the legal authority to sell the business. This decision may lie with the board of directors, a majority stockholder, and a bank with a lien on the business, etc.

10.Partner with professionals. A professional intermediary can be worth his or her weight in gold.

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The Term Sheet

Buyers, sellers, intermediaries and advisors often mention the use of a term sheet prior to the creation of an actual purchase and sale agreement. However, very rarely do you ever hear this document explained. It sounds good but what is it specifically?

Very few books about the M&A process even mention term sheet. Russ Robb’s book Streetwise Selling Your Business defines term sheet as follows: “A term sheet merely states a price range with a basic structure of the deal and whether or not it includes the real estate.” Attorney and author Jean Sifleet offers this explanation: “A one page ‘term sheet’ or simply answering the questions: Who? What? Where? and How Much? helps focus the negotiations on what’s important to the parties. Lawyers, accountants and other advisors can then review the term sheet and discuss the issues.” She cautions, “Be wary of professional advisors who use lots of boilerplate documents, take extreme positions or use tactics that are adversarial. Strive always to keep the negotiations ‘win-win.’”

If the buyer and the seller have verbally agreed on the price and terms, then putting words on paper can be a good idea. This allows the parties to see what has been agreed on, at least verbally. This step can lead to the more formalized letter of intent based on the information contained in the term sheet. The term sheet allows the parties and their advisors to put something on paper that has been verbally discussed and tentatively agreed on prior to any documentation that requires signatures and legal review.

A term sheet is, in essence, a preliminary proposal containing the outline of the price, terms and any major considerations such as employment agreements, consulting agreements and covenants not to compete. It is a good first step to putting a deal together.

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