New Year’s Resolutions & Selling Your Business

Most people fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions.  But where buying and selling a business is concerned, failing to keep those resolutions could mean an abundance of lost opportunity.

Todd Ganos at Forbes recently penned a thought-provoking article entitled The 8 New Year’s Resolutions for the Sale of Your Business.  In this article, he compares selling a business to getting in shape in the months preceding your visit to the beach.  It is necessary to do a great deal of planning and hard work if you want to be in good shape for the big “beach body reveal.”

When it comes to selling a company, Ganos believes that there are eight factors that must be taken into consideration.  Listed below are those factors he feels are a must for business owners looking to get their business ready for “the beach.”  These are the eight factors that Ganos believes are most essential and should be on your New Years’ Resolution list for your business:

  1. Planning
  2. Legal
  3. Leadership
  4. Sales
  5. Marketing
  6. People
  7. Operations
  8. Financial

In order to get your business ready, it is necessary to take a good long and honest look at each of these eight important categories.

Planning is at the heart of everything.  He points out that owners who truly want to get their business ready for the market will want to adopt a focused month-by-month plan.

This plan means having discipline, developing a business plan and involving your team in the development of that plan.  Once the plan has been developed, it should be reviewed with your leadership team each month.

New Years’ Resolutions fail because they don’t get properly integrated into peoples’ lives.  And the same holds true for making changes in one’s businesses.  Ganos correctly asserts that in order to get your business ready to sell, you have to make it an “all-of-the-time thing” in which you are constantly focused on success.

New Years’ Resolutions have to be about doing things differently, having a plan and then sticking to these changes permanently.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

mauscraft/BigStock.com

Confidentiality Agreements: What are the Most Important Elements?

Every business has to be concerned about maintaining confidentiality.  In fact, it is common for business owners to become somewhat obsessed with confidentiality when they are getting ready to sell their business.

It goes without saying that owners don’t want the word that they are selling to spread to the public, employees or most certainly their competitors.  Yet, there is something of a tug of war between the natural desire for confidentiality and the desire to sell a business for the highest amount possible.  At the end of the day, any business owner looking to sell his or her business will have to let prospective buyers “peek behind the curtain.”  Let’s explore some key points that any good confidentiality agreement should cover.

At the top of your confidentiality list should be the type of negotiations.  This aspect of the confidentiality agreement is, in fact, quite important as it stipulates whether the negotiations are secret or open.  Importantly, this part of the confidentiality agreement will outline what information can be revealed and what cannot be revealed.

Also consider the duration of the agreement.  Your agreement must be 100% clear as to how long the agreement is in effect.  If possible, your confidentiality agreement should be permanently binding.

You will undoubtedly want to outline what steps will be taken in the event that a breach does occur.  Having a confidentiality agreement that spells out what steps you can, and may, take if a breach does occur will help to enhance the effectiveness of your contract.  You want your prospective buyers to take the document very seriously, and this step will help make that a reality.

When it comes to “special considerations” category, this should be elements that apply to the business in question.  Patents are a good example.  A buyer could learn about inventions while “kicking the tires,” and you’ll want to be quite certain that any prospective buyer realizes that he or she must maintain confidentiality regarding any patent related information.

Of course, do not forget to include any applicable state laws.  If the prospective buyer is located outside of your state, then that is an issue that must be adequately addressed.

A confidentiality agreement is a legally binding agreement.  And it is important that all parties involved understand this critical fact.  Investing the money and time to create a professional confidentiality agreement is time and money very well spent.  An experienced business broker can prove invaluable in helping you navigate not just the confidentiality process, but also the process of buying and selling in general.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

tashatuvango/BigStock.com

Goodwill and Its Importance to Your Business

What exactly does the term “goodwill” mean when it comes to buying or selling a business?  Usually, the term “goodwill” is a reference to all the effort that a seller puts into a business over the years that he or she operates that business.  In a sense, goodwill is the difference between an array of intangible, but important, assets and the total purchase price of the business.  It is important not to underestimate the value of goodwill as it relates to both the long-term and short-term success of any given business.

According to the M&A Dictionary, an intangible asset can be thought of as asset that is carried on the balance sheet, and it may include a company’s reputation or a recognized name in the market.  If a company is purchased for more than its book value, then the odds are excellent that goodwill has played a role.

Goodwill most definitely contrasts and should not be confused with “going concern value.”  Going concern value is usually defined as the fact that a business will continue to operate in a fashion that is consistent with its original intended purpose instead of failing and closing down.

Examples of goodwill can be quite varied.  Listed below are some of the more common and interesting examples:

  • A strong reputation
  • Name recognition
  • A good location
  • Proprietary designs
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Trade secrets
  • Specialized know-how
  • Existing contracts
  • Skilled employees
  • Customized advertising materials
  • Technologically advanced equipment
  • Custom-built factory
  • Specialized tooling
  • A loyal customer base
  • Mailing list
  • Supplier list
  • Royalty agreements

In short, goodwill in the business realm isn’t exactly easy to define.  The simple fact, is that goodwill can, and usually does, encompass a wide and diverse array of factors.  There are, however, many other important elements to consider when evaluating and considering goodwill.  For example, standards require that companies which have intangible assets, including goodwill, be valued by an outside expert on an annual basis.  Essentially, a business owner simply can’t claim anything under the sun as an intangible asset.

Whether you are buying or selling a business, you should leverage the know how of seasoned experts.  An experienced business broker will be able to help guide you through the buying and selling process.  Understanding what is a real and valuable intangible asset or example of goodwill can be a key factor in the buying and selling process.  A business broker can act as your guide in both understanding and presenting goodwill variables.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

mangostock/BigStock.com

The Sale of a Business May Actually Excite Employees

Many sellers worry that employees might “hit the panic button” when they learn that a business is up for sale.  Yet, in a recent article from mergers and acquisitions specialist Barbara Taylor entitled, “Selling Your Business?  3 Reasons Why Your Employees Will Be Thrilled,” Taylor brings up some thought-provoking points on why employees might actually be glad to hear this news.  Let’s take a closer look at the three reasons that Taylor believes employees might actually be pretty excited by the prospect of a sale.

Taylor is 100% correct in her assertion that employees may indeed get nervous when they hear that a business is up for sale.  She recounts her own experience selling a business in which she was concerned that her employees might “pack up their bags and leave once we (the owners) had permanently left the building.”  As it turns out, this wasn’t the case, as the employees did in fact stay on after the sale.

Interestingly, Taylor points to something of a paradox.  While employees may sometimes worry that a new owner will “come in and fire everyone” the opposite is usually the case.  Usually, the new owner is worried that everyone will quit and tries to ensure the opposite outcome.

Here Taylor brings up an excellent point for business owners to relay to their employees.  A new owner will likely mean enhanced job security, as the new owner is truly dependent on the expertise, know-how and experience that the current employees bring to the table.

A second reason that employees may be excited with the prospect of a new owner is their potential career advancement.  The size of your business will, to an extent, dictate the opportunities for advancement.  However, if a larger entity buys your business then it is suddenly possible for your employees to have a range of new career advancement opportunities.  As Taylor points out, if your business goes from a “mom and pop operation” to a mid-sized company overnight, then your employees will suddenly have new opportunities before them.

Finally, selling a business could mean “new growth, energy and ideas.”  Taylor discusses how she had worked with a 72-year-old business owner that was exhausted and simply didn’t have the energy to run the business.  This business owner felt that a new owner would bring new ideas and new energy and, as a result, the option for new growth.

There is no way around it, Taylor’s article definitely provides ample food for thought.  It underscores the fact that how information is presented is critical.  It is not prudent to assume that your employees may panic if you sell your business.  The simple fact is that if you provide them with the right information, your employees may see a wealth of opportunity in the sale of your business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

VadimGuzhva/BigStock.com

A Look at Divestopedia’s Article, “The Myth of Fair Business Valuation”

In Divestopedia’s article, “The Myth of Fair Business Valuation: What Professional Valuations Don’t Tell You,” author Chak Reddy is quick to point out that the “type of buyer and method of sale are two important (yet often overlooked) value determinants when finding a starting price for your business.”

Reddy brings up some excellent points.  One notion in particular that every business owner should be aware of is that there is “NO fair value for illiquid assets.”  He points to the fact that between January 2007 and March 2008, the historic Bear Stearns went from a value of $20 billion dollars to just $238 million.  In a mere 14 months, Bear Stearns lost most of its value.

Additionally, the article points to the fact that business owners often suffer enormously from “dramatic valuation compression.”  In Reddy’s view, this compression is the direct result of poor planning and a failure on the part of business owners to select the right advisory teams.

Reddy believes that professional valuations can be quite lacking.  He feels that they are “contingent on multiple assumptions,” and that the valuations are only as good as the assumptions upon which they are based.  In other words, professional valuations can be limited and flawed.  In particular, he points to the fact that two of the most important factors in valuations, future growth rate and operational synergies are “highly subjective and no two views on these topics are likely to be identical.”  Summed up another way, valuations are inherently a matter of opinion and perspective.  Reddy feels that a seller will be “lucky” if the real sales price comes within 10% to 20% of the professional valuation.

In the end, as always, it is the market that determines value. It is the acquirer who will determine the value more than any other factor.  The perception of the buyer will play a key role in the process and, further to the point, no two buyers will perceive the business exactly the same way.  In other words, valuations can be tricky and certainly do involve a personal element of the individual who is appraising the business’ value.  Adding to this point, Reddy states, “From our experience, the type of buyer and the type of sale skew the valuation to such an extent that it is unwise for a business owner to not be familiar with these variables and their impact before the beginning of the sales process.”

Ultimately, finding the right buyer is essential and this is where a business broker can prove simply invaluable.  And finding that right buyer may take time.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Successphoto/BigStock.com

5 Big Questions to Consider when Financing a Business Sale

How should the purchase of a business be structured?  This is a point that you’ll want to address early in the sale process.  For most people, buying or selling a business is one of the most, if not the most, important business decision that they will ever make.  For this reason, it is vital not to wait until the last minute to structure your deal. Let’s turn our attention to the most significant questions that you need to answer when entering the sales process.

1. What is My Lowest Price?

The first question you should ask yourself is, “What is the lowest price I’m willing to take?”  If an offer is made, the last thing you want is to be sitting around trying to decide if you can take a given offer at a given price.  You need to be ready to jump if the right offer is made.

2. What are the Tax Implications?

Secondly, you’ll want to seriously consider the tax consequences of any sale.  Taxes are always a fact of life and you need to work with a professional, such as an accountant or business broker, to understand the tax implication of any decision you make.

3. What are the Interest Rates?

The third factor you want to consider is interest rates.  If you get a buyer, what is an acceptable interest rate for a seller financed sale?

4. Are there Additional Costs Involved?

A fourth key question to ask yourself is do you have any unsecured creditors that have not been paid off?  Additionally, you’ll also want to determine whether or not the seller plans on paying for a part of the closing costs.

5. Will the Buyer Need to Assume Debt?

Finally, will the buyer need to assume any long-term or secured debt?  The issue of long term and/or secured debt is no small issue. Be sure to clarify this important point well in advance.  Also keep in mind that favorable terms typically translate to a higher sales price.

Business brokers are experts at buying and selling all kinds of businesses.  When it comes time to structure a deal that benefits both the buyer and the seller, business brokers can prove to be invaluable.  At the end of the day, working with a business broker is one of the single biggest steps you can take to ensure that your business is sold and sold as quickly as possible.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

cclimj/BigStock.com

Obtaining a Fair Market Value for Your Business

Divestopedia published a rather insightful article, “Letting the Market Bridge the Valuation Gap.”  In this October 2018 article, Dave Kauppi dives in and explores how fair market value can be used as a way for business owners to “bridge the gap between the valuation they feel they deserve and that which they’re likely to receive.”  This, of course, increases the chances of a deal actually taking place.  Let’s turn our attention to some of the key points in Kauppi’s informative article.

Understanding the Reality of Selling a Business

One key point is that only a low percentage of businesses actually sell on their first attempt.  The article points out that a mere 10% of businesses that are for sale are actually sold three years later; this is a simply brutal fact.  Few facts, if any, help underscore the value of working with a business broker more than this point.  Selling a business can be difficult under even the best of circumstances.  The process is complex, and most sellers have never actually sold a business before.

Divestopedia believes that it is critical for business owners to have realistic expectations regarding valuation.  As the article points out, the market doesn’t care “how much money you need for retirement,” or how much you’ve invested.

Four Points to Consider

According to the article, it is important that business owners understand that a few business characteristics will ultimately drive the sale.  There are four key factors to consider: contractually recurring revenue, durable competitive advantage, growth rate and customer concentration.

There is a lot packed into these four points, but here are a couple of big takeaways.  In terms of customer growth, if a large percentage of your business is derived from a single customer, then that is going to be seen as a problem.  As Divestopedia points out, if your company is dependent and partially dependent on a single customer, then you can expect a lot of pressure for you, as the business owner, to stick around a lot longer to ensure that this key customer isn’t lost.  If intellectual property, such as software, is involved, then things can get even more complex.  In the end, determining value in technology-based companies can be more challenging.

In the end, working with a seasoned business broker, one that understands valuation and how best to get there, is a must.  You want to receive the best possible price for your business.  An experienced business broker will help you understand how to navigate the complex process of determining a price.  However, and most importantly, a business broker will help you achieve a fair market value, so that your business doesn’t remain unsold for years.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

zeatrue/BigStock.com

Determining Your Company’s Undocumented Value

Business appraisals are not one-dimensional.  In fact, a good business appraisal is one that factors in a wide range of variables in order to achieve an accurate result.  Indisputable records ranging from comparables and projections to EBITDA multiples, discount rates and a good deal more are all factored in.

It is important to remember that while an appraiser may feel that he or she has all the information necessary, it is still possible they have overlooked key information.  Business appraisers must understand the purpose of their appraisal before beginning the process.  All too often appraisers are unaware of important additional factors and considerations that could enhance or even devalue a business’s worth.

There Can Be Unwritten Value

Value isn’t always “black and white.”  Instead, many factors can determine value.  Prospective buyers may be looking at variables, such as profitability, depth of management and market share, but there can be more that determines value.

Here are some of the factors to consider when determining value: How much market competition is there?  Does the business have potential beyond its current niche?  Are there a variety of vendors?  Does the company have easy access to its target audience?  At the end of the day, what is the company’s competitive advantage?  Is pricing in line with the demographic served?  These are just some of the key questions that you’ll want to consider when evaluating a company.

There are Ways to Increase Both Valuation and Success

No doubt, successful businesses didn’t get that way by accident.  A successful business is one that is customer focused and has company-wide values.  Brian Tracy’s excellent book, “The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business,” notes that it is critical for businesses to have a company-wide focus on three key pillars: marketing, sales and, of course, revenue generation.  Tracy also points out that trends can be seen as the single most vital factor and bottom-line contributor to any company’s success and, ultimately, valuation.  For 2018 and beyond, projected trends include an increase in video marketing, the use of crowdfunding as a means of product validation and more.

No Replacement for Understanding Trends

If a company doesn’t understand trends, then it can’t understand both the market as it stands and as it may be tomorrow.  Savvy business owners understand today’s trends and strive to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors while simultaneously learning from their competitors’ successes.

Tracy accurately states that while there are many variables in determining value, finding and retaining the best people is absolutely essential.  One of the greatest assets that any company has is, in the end, its people.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Stoathphoto/BigStock.com

Considering All of Your Business Real Estate Options

In a recent December 2018 article in Divestopedia entitled, “Options for Business Real Estate When Selling a Company,” the topic of business real estate was explored at length.

One of the key points of the article was that understanding one’s business real estate options would ultimately help in achieving “the goals desired in a transaction.”  The article is correct to point out that many, or even arguably most, business owners simply don’t know what real estate options are available to them when it comes time to sell the company.

In particular, there are two big options:

  1. Sell everything including the real estate.
  2. Hold onto the real estate for the rental income.

In the Divestopedia article, the authors correctly point out that if you, as the business owner, personally own the real estate in a separate entity, then you are good to go.  You should have a “clear path to valuation.”

However, if your company owns the real estate, then things get a little more complicated.  If this is the situation you’ll want to have a third-party appraisal of the real estate so that its value is clear.  The article also points out that if your business is a C-Corp and your business also owns the real estate, then it’s a good idea to talk to your accountant as there will be differences in taxation.

Every situation is different.  Many buyers will prefer to acquire the real estate along with the business.  On the other hand, many buyers may prefer a lease, as they don’t want everything that comes along with owning real estate.  Communicating with the buyer regarding his or her preference is a savvy move.

Now, as Divestopedia points out, if you do plan to retain the building, then you’ll want to be certain that a strong lease is in place.  Ask any business broker about the importance of having a strong lease, and you’ll get some pretty clear-cut feedback.  Namely, you always want to have a strong lease.

Issues such as who repairs what and why should all be spelled out in the lease.  It should leave nothing to chance.  One of the best points made in the Divestopedia article is that you will want a strong lease for another key reason.  When the time comes to sell the property, you want to show you have a lease that is generating good income.

Real estate and the sale of your business are not one-dimensional topics.  There are many variables that go into selling when real estate is involved.  It is important to consider all of the variables and work with a business broker who can help guide you through this potentially complex topic.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

imging/BigStock.com

Four Significant Issues You Need to Consider When Selling Your Business

The process of selling a business can be very complex. Whether you’ve sold a business in the past or are selling a business for the very first time, it is imperative that you work with an expert. A seasoned business broker can help you navigate through what can be some pretty rough waters. Let’s take a closer look at four issues any seller needs to keep in mind why selling a business.

Number One – Overreaching

If you are both simultaneously the founder, owner and operator of a business, then there is a good chance that you are involved in every single decision. And that can be a significant mistake. Business owners typically want to be involved in every aspect of selling their business, but handling the sale of your business while operating can lead to problems or even disaster.

The bottom line is that you can’t handle it all. You’ll need to delegate the day-to-day operation of your business to a sales manager. Additionally, you’ll want to consider bringing on an experienced business broker to assist with the sale of your business. Simultaneously, running a business and trying to sell has gone awry for even the most seasoned multitaskers.

Number Two – Money Related Issues

It is quite common that once a seller has decided on a price, he or she has trouble settling for anything less. The emotional ties that business owners have to their businesses are understandable, but they can also be irrational and serve as an impediment to a sale. A business broker is an essential intermediary that can keep deals on track and emotions at a minimum.

Number Three – Time

When you are selling a business, the last thing you want is to waste time. Working with a business broker ensures that you avoid “window shoppers” and instead only deal with real, vetted prospects who are serious about buying. Your time is precious, and most sellers are unaware of just how much time selling a business can entail.

Number Four – Don’t Forget the Stockholders

Stockholders simply must be included in the process whatever their shares may be. A business owner needs to obtain the approval of stock holders. Two of the best ways to achieve this is to get an attractive sales price and secondly, to achieve the best terms possible. Once again, a business broker serves as an invaluable ally in both regards.

Selling a business isn’t just complicated; it can also be stressful, confusing and overwhelming. This is especially true if you have never sold a business before. Business brokers “know the ropes” and they know what it takes to both get a deal on the table and then push that deal to the finish line.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

wutzkoh/BigStock.com

The Importance of Understanding Leases

Leases should never be overlooked when it comes to buying or selling a business.  After all, where your business is located and how long you can stay at that location plays a key role in the overall health of your business.  It is easy to get lost with “larger” issues when buying or selling a business.  But in terms of stability, few factors rank as high as that of a lease.  Let’s explore some of the key facts you’ll want to keep in mind where leases are concerned.

The Different Kinds of Leases

In general, there are three different kinds of leases: sub-lease, new lease and the assignment of the lease.  These leases clearly differ from one another, and each will impact a business in different ways.

A sub-lease is a lease within a lease.  If you have a sub-lease then another party holds the original lease.  It is very important to remember that in this situation the seller is the landlord.  In general, sub-leasing will require that permission is granted by the original landlord.  With a new lease, a lease has expired and the buyer must obtain a new lease from the landlord.  Buyers will want to be certain that they have a lease in place before buying a new business otherwise they may have to relocate the business if the landlord refuses to offer a new lease.

The third lease option is the assignment of lease.  Assignment of lease is the most common type of lease when it comes to selling a business.  Under the assignment of lease, the buyer is granted the use of the location where the business is currently operating.  In short, the seller assigns to the buyer the rights of the lease.  It is important to note that the seller does not act as the landlord in this situation.

Understand All Lease Issues to Avoid Surprises

Early on in the buying process, buyers should work to understand all aspects of a business’s lease.  No one wants an unwelcomed surprise when buying a business, for example, discovering that a business must be relocated due to lease issues.

Summed up, don’t ignore the critical importance of a business’s leasing situation.  Whether you are buying or selling a business, it is in your best interest to clearly understand your lease situation.  Buyers want stable leases with clearly defined rules and so do sellers, as sellers can use a stable leasing agreement as a strong sales tool.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Chinnapong/BigStock.com

The Pre-Sale Business Tune-Up

Owners are often asked, “do you think you will ever sell your business?” The answer varies from, “when I can get my price” to “never” to “I don’t really know” to everything in between. Most sellers may think to themselves when asked this question, “I’ll sell when the time is right.” Obviously, misfortune can force the decision to sell. Despite the questions, most business owners just go merrily along their way conducting business as usual. They seem to believe in the old expression that basically states, “it is a good idea to sell your horse before it dies.”

Four Ways to Leave Your Business

There are really only four ways to leave your business. (1) Transfer ownership to your children or other family members. Unfortunately, many children do not want to become involved in the family business, or may not have the capability to operate it successfully. (2) Sell the business to an employee or key manager. Usually, they don’t have enough cash, or interest, to purchase the business. And, like offspring, they may not be able to manage the entire business. (3) Selling the business to an outsider is always a possibility. Get the highest price and the most cash possible and go on your way. (4) Liquidate the business – this is usually the worst option and the last resort.

When to Start Working on Your Exit Plan

There is another old adage that says, “you should start planning to exit the business the day you start it or buy it.” You certainly don’t want to plan on misfortune, but it’s never to early to plan on how to leave the business. If you have no children or other relative that has any interest in going into the business, your options are now down to three. Most small and mid-size businesses don’t have the management depth that would provide a successor. Furthermore liquidating doesn’t seem attractive. That leaves attempting to find an outsider to purchase the business as the exit plan.

The time to plan for succession is indeed, the day you begin operations. You can’t predict misfortune, but you can plan for it. Unfortunately, most sellers wait until they wake up one morning, don’t want to go to their business, drive around the block several times, working up the courage to begin the day. It is often called “burn-out” and if it is an on-going problem, it probably means it’s time to exit. Other reasons for wanting to leave is that they face family pressure to start “taking it easy” or to move closer to the grandkids.

Every business owner wants as much money as possible when the decision to sell is made. If you haven’t even thought of exiting your business, or selling it, now is the time to begin a pre-exit or pre-sale strategy.

Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

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

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

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

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

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

 

Burnout: An Ever-Present Threat

Burnout is an often-used reason for an owner selling his or her business. Potential buyers may have trouble accepting this as a valid reason for sale. However, burnout is a valid reason for selling one’s business.

A business owner can experience burnout even with a business that’s successful and growing. Many independent business owners feel they’ve worked hard, made their money, and now is a good time to cash out and move on, before burnout endangers the health of the business.

The following warning signs should remind a business owner that cashing out beats burning out:

You are overwhelmed on a daily basis.

When a business owner is a one-man show, even small tasks and minor decisions can seem bigger than Mount Everest. These owners have been shouldering the burden alone for too long, and the isolation has taken its toll.

You sense a failure of imagination.

Burnt-out owners are so close to their work that they lose perspective. Prioritizing becomes a major daily challenge, and problem solving sometimes goes no further than the application of business Band-Aids that cost money in the long run rather than increasing profits.

The joy is gone.

Although owning a business is hard work, it should also provide a good measure of enjoyment. When the work day begins with dread or boredom, the owner probably needs a change of scenery and a new challenge.

You are simply exhausted.

Being “just too tired” is a complaint heard just as often from the owner of the successful business as from the business that’s struggling to survive. In fact, a business that is growing will create increased demands of time and energy.

No matter what the status of the operation, the sheer work of keeping a business going day after day, year after year, is enough to encourage a business owner to make a change. This kind of schedule is not for everyone; in fact, statistics show that it’s hardly for anyone on a long-term basis.

Key Items Necessary for Selling a Business

  • Three years of profit and loss statements
  • Federal taxes for the same three years
  • Current list of fixtures and equipment
  • The lease and related documents
  • Franchise agreement (if applicable)
  • List of encumbrances, loans, equipment leases, etc.
  • Approximate amount of inventory on hand
  • Names of outside advisors with contact information
  • Marketing materials, catalogs, promotional pieces, etc.
  • Operations Manual (if available)
  • Brief history of business

What Makes a Business Unique

Most business owners think that their business is unique. There are obviously many different attributes that can make a business stand out from others. However, there are some key factors that make a business both unique and, at the same time, make it more valuable in the marketplace and more desirable by prospective purchasers. Just as importantly, these unique factors also need to be generally transferable to a new owner. Here are some key ones:

Intangible Assets
One example of an intangible asset could be a long-term lease for a great location that is transferable to a new owner. Other examples include a mailing list of current and past customers, a popular franchise relationship, a well-known product line such as Hallmark, or a well-established mailing program designed to attract new customers or clients. Trademarks and copyrights are some other examples of intangible assets.

Difficulty of Replication
For example, in most jurisdictions, liquor licenses are doled out by population or on some other limited basis. One can not just decide to rent some space and open a liquor store. Franchises often limit the number of units in a geographical area. Selling certain brand collectibles is a license not granted to just any store.

Proprietary Products, Services or Technology
A business owner may have developed, or have had developed, software unique to their business which is a key to its success. Or the proprietary item could be something as simple as a secret recipe for a food item, sauce or other food product unique to a restaurant.

Reputation
There is the pharmacy that is known all over town for delivering prescriptions or other medical needs. And there is the hardware store that will still sharpen knives or fix screens. Then there are the local businesses that have “just what you need” or that special something that makes them known all over town. While these characteristics make these businesses unique, it is up to a new owner to continue them.

When looking at businesses to buy, buyers should look beyond the numbers for the unique qualities that separate a particular business from the pack.

Are You Serious?

There are three good questions to consider before selling your business.

First, “Do you really want to sell this business?” If you’re really serious about selling and have a solid reason (or reasons) why you want to sell, it will most likely happen.

Second, “Do you have reasonable expectations?” You increase your chances of selling if you can answer “yes” to this second question. This can include your expectations about the selling price, the time it will take to sell your business, and the amount of seller financing you are willing to offer.

Third, “What will you do once your business sells?” The time to consider this is before you place your business on the market. This may seem obvious, but many transactions fall through because the business owner did not consider what he or she would do once the business was sold.

A “yes” answer to the first two questions plus having an answer to the third question (other than “I don’t know”) means you are serious about selling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Sellers Can Do

In addition to using a business broker, there are specific steps you can take to increase the chance of a successful closing.

Know why you want to sell your business.
Before placing your business for sale, it is important that you both know why you want to sell your business and that you are certain about this decision.

Have a plan for what you will do following the closing.

Make sure important parties are on board. The time to discuss the sale of your business, as well as future plans, with partners, spouses, children and other involved parties is before you list.

Communicate to your outside advisors that you want the deal to work.

Choose your battles. Both buyers and sellers need to be willing to compromise. It is helpful to consider in advance the areas that are most important to you so you can come to the table with a willingness to compromise in other areas.

And a Letter of Intent Is…

The Letter of Intent (LOI) is a pre-contractual written instrument prepared by the buyer for the seller, which is usually the preliminary understanding of both parties. The Letter of Intent can also be called Agreement in Principle or Memorandum of Understanding. They all have the same general meaning and lay out the following: What is being purchased and what is not, how much will be paid, and the general terms. It is also meant to be non-binding (more on this a bit later) on either the sell side or buy side.

In any event, most transactions are started with an LOI. The LOI precedes the Acquisition Agreement, better known as the Purchase and Sale Agreement. It is a non-binding agreement subject to the buyer obtaining satisfactory due diligence by both parties.

This is how the LOI has been defined by Stanley Foster Reed, author of The Art of M&A:

“A Letter of intent is a pre-contractual written instrument which defines the respective preliminary understandings of the parties about to engage in contractual negotiations. In most cases, such a letter is not intended to have a binding effect except for certain limited provisions. The Letter of Intent crystallizes in writing what has, up to that point, been oral negotiations between the parties about the basic terms of the transaction. While the Letter of Intent is usually non-binding, it does create a moral commitment and allows the buyer to proceed with the extensive due diligence process with a feeling of confidence. Conversely the seller is required to withdraw the company from the marketplace and not discuss the potential sale with anyone else.”

The elements of the Letter of Intent are as follows:

  • The price of the company
  • The form of purchase: Is it a stock or asset sale? What is being purchased and what is not?
  • The structure of the sale: Specifications about cash, notes, stock, non-competes or consulting agreements, contingencies, etc.
  • Management contracts: Specifics about for whom, duration, and incentives
  • Closing costs and the responsibilities of the buyer and seller, such as environmental due diligence and title searches
  • Representations and Warranties: Boilerplate legal statements
  • Brokerage fees: Who pays and how much?
  • Timing for completion: Drop-dead date for due diligence and financing period; How long before money is exchanged and final closing takes place?
  • Insurance: Proof of insurability; What happens with policies?
  • Disposition of earnings before closing and viability of non-ordinary expenditures before closing (conduct of business)
  • Access to books and records, key customers, and key employees prior to closing
  • Disclosure of any outstanding non-compete agreements or obligations with third parties
  • Stipulation of confidentiality of buyer (a breach could cause the seller to sue the buyer): The buyer promises not to disclose information about the seller to outsiders and to not disclose that negotiations are underway.
  • Seller will take the company off the market for a designated period of time of forty-five to sixty days (a breach could cause the buyer to sue the seller).

The LOI is at the heart of the transaction and reveals key issues early on in the process. The signing of the Letter of Intent begins the buyer’s due diligence process and his or her ability to secure the necessary financing. Although the LOI is just the beginning of a lot of necessary paperwork, both sides will assume that the LOI represents the basics of the deal and that they have reached an agreement in principle.