Red Flags are Not a Pretty Sight

When it comes to selling a business, sellers simply must pay attention to red flags. Problems can always pop up, and that’s why they need to keep their eyes open.

Rarely does a “white knight” ride in and rescue a business with no questions asked. And if this were to happen, you should be asking, “Why?” Until a deal is officially inked, sellers need to evaluate every aspect of a transaction to make sure something isn’t happening that could wreck the deal.

Common Red Flags to Watch For

One example would be having a company express interest in your business but you are never able to directly contact key players, such as the President or CEO. The reason that this is a red flag is that it indicates that the interest level may not be as great as you initially hoped.

A second red flag example would be an individual buyer, with no experience in acquisitions or experience in your industry, looking to buy your business. The reason that this second example could prove problematic, is that even if the inexperienced buyer is enthusiastic as the deal progresses, he or she may become nervous upon learning what a deal would actually entail. In other words, the specifics and the reality of owning a business, or owning a business in your industry, could come as a shock to an inexperienced buyer.

Both of these examples above are examples of early-stage red flags. But what about issues that pop up at later stages? The simple fact is that red flags can come at any stage of the selling process.

A good example of a middle-stage red flag is when a seller is denied access to the buyer’s financial statements, which is of course essential to verify that the seller is able to actually make the acquisition. A final-stage red flag example is an apparent loss of momentum, as the buying and selling process can be a long one.

Business Sellers Need to Protect Their Assets

Sellers are usually very busy and don’t have time to waste; this is doubly true for owner/operators of businesses, as the time they invest with a prospective buyer is time that could be spent doing something else.

All too often, businesses begin to run into trouble when they place their business on the market. If this trouble negatively impacts the bottom line, then the business can become more difficult to sell and the final sale price will likely be lower.

That’s why it is so essential that sellers protect themselves from buyers that are not truly interested or are simply not a good fit. Working with a business broker is an easy and highly effective way for sellers to protect themselves from buyers that are simply not the right fit. A broker helps to “weed out” unfit candidates.

While red flags are never good, that doesn’t mean that a red flag means a deal is a definitely at an end. Especially with the guidance of an experienced business broker, many of these issues can be overcome.

In the end, if you, either as a buyer or seller, suspect that there is a problem, then you should take action. The problem will not simply go away. The single best way to deal with a red flag is to tackle it head on as soon as you recognize it.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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When Selling Your Business, Play to Win

If you are an independent business owner, you are most likely also an independent business seller–if not now, you will be somewhere down the road. The Small Business Administration reports that three to five years is a long enough stretch for many business owners and that one in every three plans to sell, many of them right from the outset. With fewer cases of a business being passed on to future generations, selling has become a fact of independent business life. No matter at what stage your own business life may be, prepare now to stay ahead in the selling game.

Perhaps one of the most important rules of the selling game is learning how not to “sell.” An apt anecdote from Cary Reich’s The Life of Nelson Rockefeller shows a pro at work doing (or not doing) just that:

When the indomitable J.P. Morgan was seeking the Rockefeller’s Mesabi iron ore properties to complete his assemblage of what was to become U.S. Steel, it was Junior [John D. Rockefeller, Jr.] who went head-to-head with the financier. “Well, what’s your price?” Morgan demanded, to which Junior coolly replied, “I think there must be some mistake. I did not come here to sell. I understand you wished to buy.” Morgan ended up with the properties, but at a steep cost.

As this anecdote shows, the best approach to succeeding at the selling game is to be less of a “seller” and more of a “player.” Take a look at these tips for keeping the score in your favor:

Let Others Do the Heavy Pitching

Selling a business is an intense emotional drain; at best, a distraction. Let professional advisors do the yeoman’s duty when selling a business. A business intermediary represents the seller and is experienced in completing the transaction in a timely manner and at a price and terms acceptable to the seller. Your business broker will also present and assess offers, and help in structuring the transaction itself. If you plan to use an attorney, engage one who is seasoned in the business selling process. A former Harvard Business Review associate editor once said, “Inexperienced lawyers are often reluctant to advise their clients to take any risks, whereas lawyers who have been through such negotiations a few times know what’s reasonable.”

Stay in the Game

With the right advisors on your side, you can do the all-important work of tending to the daily life of the business. There is a tendency for sellers to let things slip once the business is officially for sale. Keeping normal operating hours, maintaining inventory at constant levels, and attention to the appearance and general good repair of the premises are ways to make the right impression on prospective buyers. Most important of all, tending to the daily running of the business will help ward off deterioration of sales and earnings.

Keep Pricing and Evaluation in the Ballpark

Like all sellers, you will want the best possible price for your business. You have probably spent years building it and have dreamed about its worth, based on your “sweat equity.” You’ll need to keep in mind that the marketplace will determine the value of the business. Ignoring that standard by asking too high a price will drive prospective buyers away, or will at the least slow the process, and perhaps to a standstill.

Play Fair with Confidentiality

Your business broker will constantly stress confidentiality to the prospects to whom he or she shows your business. They will use nonspecific descriptions of the business, require signatures on strict confidentiality agreements, screen all prospects, and sometimes phase the release of information to match the growing evidence of buyer sincerity. As the seller you must also maintain confidentiality in your day-to-day business activities, never forgetting that a breach of confidentiality can wreck the deal.

Sell Before Striking Out

Don’t wait until you are forced to sell for any reason, whether financial or personal. Instead of selling impulsively, you should plan ahead carefully by cleaning up the balance sheet, settling any litigation, providing a list of loans against the business with amounts and payment schedule, tackling any environmental problems, and by gathering in one place all pertinent paperwork, such as franchise agreement (if applicable), the lease and any lease-related documents, and an approximation of inventory on-hand. In addition, you could increase the value of your business by up to 20 percent by providing audited financial statements for one or two years in advance of selling.

Think Twice Before Retiring Your “Number”

The trend is for sellers to assume they will retire after selling the business. But consider this: agreeing to stay on in some capacity can actually help you get a better price for your business. Many buyers will pay more to have the seller stay aboard, thus helping to reduce their risk.

Keep the Ball Rolling

You need to keep the negotiation ball rolling once an offer has been presented. Even if you don’t get your asking price, the offer may have other points that will offset that disappointment, such as higher payments or interest, a consulting agreement, more cash than you anticipated, or a buyer who seems “just right.” The right buyer may be better than a higher price, especially if there is seller financing involved, and there usually is. In many cases, the structure of the deal is more important than the price. And when the ball is rolling, allow it to pick up speed. Deals that drag are too often deals that fail to close.

By following these tips, and by working closely with your business broker, you can have confidence in being a seller who, like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., doesn’t “come here to sell.” You will play the selling game–and be a winner.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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There’s No Business Quite Like a Family Business

The simple fact is that family businesses are different. After all, a family business means working with family and all the good and bad that comes with it.

While an estimated 80% to 90% of all businesses are family owned, relatively few are properly planning for what happens when it comes time to sell. According to one study, a whopping 72% of family businesses lack a developed succession plan which is, of course, a recipe for confusion and potentially disaster. Additionally, there are many complicating factors, for example, studies indicate that 40% to 60% of owners of family businesses want the business to remain in the family, but only 40% of businesses are passed to a second generation and a mere 10% are passed down to a third generation.

Let’s turn our attention to a few of the key points that family business owners should consider when selling a business.

  1. Confidentiality should be placed at the top of your “to do” list. When it comes to selling a family business, it is vital that confidential is strictly observed.
  2. Remember that it may be necessary to lower your asking price if maintaining the jobs of family members is a key concern for you.
  3. Family members who stay on after the sale of the business must realize that they will no longer be in charge. In other words, after the sale of the business the power dynamic will be radically different, meaning that family members will now have to answer to new management, outside investors and an outside board of directors.
  4. Family members will want to appoint a single family member to speak for them in the negotiation process. A failure to appoint a family member could lead to confusion, poor decision making and ultimately the destruction of deals.
  5. When hiring a team to help you with selling your business, it is critical that your lawyer, accountant and business broker are all experienced and proven.
  6. Don’t hold meetings with potential buyers on-site.
  7. Every family member, regardless of whether they are an employee or an investor, must be in agreement regarding the sale of the company. Again, one of your primary goals is to avoid confusion.
  8. Family employees and family investors must be in agreement regarding the sale price or there could be problems.

Working with an experienced business broker is a savvy move, especially when it comes to selling a family business. Business brokers know what it takes to make deals happen. Being able to point to a business brokers’ past success will help reduce family member resistance to adopting the strategies necessary to successfully sell a business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Difficult Issues Often Attached to Valuing a Business

There is little doubt that valuing a business is often complex. In part, this complexity is due to the fact that business evaluation is subjective. The simple fact is that the value of a business is often left to the mercy of the person conducting the evaluation. Adding yet another level of complexity is the fact that the person conducting the valuation has no choice but to assume that all the information provided is, in fact, correct and accurate.

In this article, we will explore the six key issues that must be considered when determining the value of a business. As you will see, determining the value of a business involves taking in several factors.

Factor #1 – Intangible Assets

Intangible assets can make determining the value of a business quite tricky. Intellectual property ranging from patents to trademarks and copyrights can impact the value of a business. These intangible assets are notoriously difficult to value.

Factor #2 – Product Diversity

One of the truisms of valuing a business is that businesses with only one product or service are at much greater risk than a business that has multiple products or services. Product or service diversity will play a role in most valuations.

Factor #3 – ESOP Ownership

A company that is owned by its employees can present evaluators with a real challenge. Whether partially or completely owned by employees, this situation can restrict marketability and in turn impact value.

Factor #4 – Critical Supply Sources

If a business is particularly vulnerable to supply disruptions, for example, using a single supplier in order to achieve a low-cost competitive advance, then expect the evaluator to take notice. The reason is that a supply disruption could mean that a business’ competitive edge is subject to change and thus vulnerable. When supply is at risk then there could be a disruption of delivery and evaluators will notice this factor.

Factor #5 – Customer Concentration

If a company has just one or two key customers, which is often the situation with many small businesses, this can be seen as a serious problem.

Factor #6 – Company or Industry Life Cycle

A business, who by its very nature, may be reaching the end of an industry life cycle, for example, typewriter repair, will also face challenges during the evaluation process. A business that is facing obsolescence usually has bleak prospects.

There are other issues that can also impact the valuation of a company. Some factors can include out of date inventory, as well as reliance on short contracts and factors such as third-party or franchise approvals being necessary for selling a company. The list of factors that can negatively impact the value of a company are indeed long. Working with a business broker is one way to address these potential problems before placing a business up for sale.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Do Buyers Want in a Company?

Selling your business doesn’t have to feel like online dating, but for many sellers this is exactly what it can feel like. Many sellers are left wondering, “What exactly do buyers want to see in order to buy my company?” Working with a business broker is an excellent way to take some of the mystery out of this often elusive equation. In general, there are three areas that buyers should give particular attention to in order to make their businesses more attractive to sellers.

Area #1 – The Quality of Earnings

The bottom line, no pun intended, is that many accountants and intermediaries can be rather aggressive when it comes to adding back one-time or non-recurring expenses. Obviously, this can cause headaches for sellers. Here are a few examples of non-recurring expenses: a building undergoing foundation repairs, expenses related to meeting new government guidelines or legal fees involving a lawsuit or actually paying for a major lawsuit.

Buyers will want to emphasize that a non-recurring expense is just that, a one-time expense that will not recur, and are not in fact, a drain on the actual, real earnings of a company. The simple fact is that virtually every business has some level of non-recurring expenses each and every year; this is just the nature of business. However, by adding back these one-time expenses, an accountant or business appraiser can greatly complicate a deal as he or she is not allowing for extraordinary expenses that occur almost every year. Add-backs can work to inflate the earnings and lead to a failure to reflect the real earning power of the business.

Area #2 – Buyers Want to See Sustainability of Earnings

It is only understandable that any new owner will be concerned that the business in question will have sustainable earnings after the purchase. No one wants to buy a business only to see it fail due to a lack of earnings a short time later or buy a business that is at the height of its earnings or buy a business whose earnings are the result of a one-time contract. Sellers can expect that buyers will carefully examine whether or not a business will grow in the same rate, or a faster rate, than it has in the past.

Area #3 – Buyers Will Verify Information

Finally, sellers can expect that buyers will want to verify that all information provided is accurate. No buyer wants an unexpected surprise after they have purchased a business. Sellers should expect buyers to dig deep in an effort to ensure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet. Whether its potential litigation issues or potential product returns or a range of other potential issues, you can be certain that serious buyers will carefully evaluate your business and verify all the information you’ve provided.

By stepping back and putting yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer, you can go a long way towards helping ensure that the deal is finalized. Further, working with an experienced business broker is another way to help ensure that you anticipate what a buyer will want to see well in advance.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Short Story All Family-Owned Businesses Should Read

When it comes to selling a family-owned business there are no shortage of complicating factors, but one in particular pops up quite often. This article contains a true story about a popular family business that was built up from the ground up only to later meet a very sad ending. While this is just one story, there are countless similar situations all across the country.

Once upon a time, there was a family-owned pizza dough company that had millions in sales. They sold their pizza dough to a range of businesses including restaurants and supermarkets. The founder had five children and split the business equally amongst them. Complicating matters was the fact that the children didn’t feel compelled to work in the family business. As a result, they turned the operation of the business over to two members of the third generation.

Once the founder’s children reached retirement age, they decided that they wanted to sell. So, they hired a business broker. The business broker began the search for an appropriate buyer, however, there was little interest. After considerable effort, the business broker found a successful businessman who offered to buy the pizza dough business for 50% of the sales, which was a good price. The business broker took the offer to the five owners and that is when the problems began.

A huge family argument was unleashed and the business broker was cut out of the loop. Later the offer was turned down flat and worst of all there was no counter-proposal, no attempt to negotiate price, terms, conditions or anything else. In short, the offer was finished and done. In the end, the business broker had lost several months of hard work.

Wondering what had happened, the business broker learned that two of the third-generation members who had been operating the business didn’t want to sell out of fear of losing their jobs. Over two decades later, the business has experienced almost no growth and is essentially breaking even. The owners, now in their 70s will likely never receive anything for their equity.

What you have just read is a true story, although the specific business type has been changed. This story serves to outline the problems that can arise when it comes time to sell a family business, especially if there is no agreement in place. Passing on this deal meant that the five children lost a considerable amount of money; this would have of course been money that could have made their retirement much more pleasant.

The story is both tragic and cautionary, in that this great business built from scratch by its founder was, in the end, left to flounder.

There is a moral to this story. Family-owned businesses need to have strict guidelines in place concerning issues such as salaries, benefits, what happens when one member wants to cash out and more. Such issues should be worked out with professionals, such as business brokers, years in advance.

When Two Million Dollars is Just Not Enough

Not everyone wants to sell when they feel as though they have to sell. Life changes, such as divorce or illness, can trigger the sale of a business. Everything from declining business revenue to partnership problems and more can send business owners scrambling for the exit sign. However, selling isn’t always an option, especially for small businesses. In this article, we will take a closer look at just such a situation.

The business under consideration is a successful distribution business, which is also a classic example of a value-enhanced business. The two owners each draw several hundred thousand from the business each year to go along with a range of other benefits. If hypothetically, the business was to sell for $2 million dollars, each of the owners would receive approximately $1 million. Of course, this sounds like a sizable amount. So, what is the problem?

When one stops to factor in such variables as taxes, closing expenses and debt, that $1 million-dollar number has shrunk dramatically, leaving each owner with much less, perhaps as little as just two years of income. In such a situation, selling isn’t a great idea. Many owners of small companies want to “cash in” and retire only to discover that their business isn’t worth enough to do so.

Owners who want to retire but can’t afford to do so are in a difficult position. Such owners may have already “checked out” mentally and in the process, have lost their focus resulting in a failure to both invest financially and creatively in the business. In turn, this decreases the value of the business even more, as competitors may likely move in to fill the void.

So, what does all of this mean for business owners? Business owners don’t want to get stuck in the position we discussed thus far. Instead, business owners want to sell at the optimal moment, when a business is at its high point and the owners are not considering retiring and feel as though they have to sell.

Determining when is the best time to sell can be one of the single smartest business decisions that a business owner ever makes. Working with a professional and experienced business broker is a fast and simple way to determine if the time is right to sell your business or if you should wait. Waiting until the optimal moment to sell has passed you by could be a painful experience.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Three Common Errors Caused by Inexperience

The old saying that “there is no replacement for experience” is a truism that has stood the test of time. The simple fact is that a lack of experience can dismantle your deal.

Consider the following scenario – a business owner nearing retirement owns a multi-location retail operation that is doing several million in annual sales. He interviews a well-respected and experienced intermediary and is impressed.

However, the business owner’s niece has recently received her MBA and has told her uncle that she can handle the sale of his business and in the process, save him a bundle. On paper, everything sounds fine, but as it turns out the lack of experience gives this business owner less than optimal results.

Let’s take a look at a few problems that recently arose with our nameless, but successful, business owner and his well-meaning and smart, but inexperienced niece.

Error #1 No Confidentiality Agreements

One problem is that the business owner and his niece don’t use confidentiality agreements with prospective buyers. As a result, competitors, suppliers, employees and customers all learn that the business is available for sale. Of course, learning that the business is for sale could cause a range of problems, as both employees and suppliers get nervous about what the sale could mean. Ultimately, this could undermine the sale of the business.

Error #2 Incorrect Financials

Another problem is that the inexperienced MBA was supposed to prepare an offering memorandum. In the process, she compiled some financials together that had not been audited. While on paper this seemed like a small mistake, it failed to include several hundred thousand dollars the owner took. He simply forgot to mention this piece of information to his niece. Clearly this mishap dramatically impacted the numbers. Additionally, this lack of information would likely result in lower offers as well as lower bids, or even decrease overall prospective buyer interest.

Error #3 Failing to Include the CFO

A third key mistake in this unfortunate story was a failure to bring in the CFO. The niece felt that she could handle the financial details, but in the end, her assumption was incorrect. The owner and the niece failed to realize that prospective buyers would want to meet with their CFO, and that he would be involved in the due diligence process. In short, not bringing the CFO on board early in the process was a blunder that greatly complicated the process.

The problem is clear. Selling a business, any business, is far too important for an amateur. When it comes time to sell your business, you want an experienced business broker with a great track record. Again, there is no replacing experience.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Around the Web: A Month in Summary

A recent article posted on Forbes.com entitled “Small Business Owners Are Retiring, And Millennials May Not Fill The Gap On America’s Main Street” uses the closing of a 235-year-old hardware store to prove a startling fact: the Millennial generation may not be suited to take over small business ownership like the generations before them. In the case of Elwood Adams Hardware, which has seen a multitude of owners over the last almost two and a half centuries, the current owner simply couldn’t find a buyer.

While student loan debt and an inclination to pursue work in the gig economy may be factors in this unwillingness to take on small business ownership, their age may actually be the driving factor. The article mentions that the sweet spot for entrepreneurship is typically the 40’s, so it may take some time to truly see if millennials are suited for small business ownership.

Click here to read the full article.

A recent article from the Axial Forum entitled “Five Due Diligence Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them” outlines some common mistakes and pitfalls that are made during the due diligence process and gives tips on how to navigate the due diligence waters. The pitfalls include:

  1. Missed Opportunities
  2. Pointless Provisions
  3. Red Flags at the 11th Hour
  4. Poor Communication
  5. Leaving Money on the Table

Avoiding these five things won’t guarantee success, but doing so can definitely help give an owner the best chance at success. Buying a business is not an easy process, but knowing what to expect, what to avoid, and how to maximize the value of a dollar can go a long way.

Click here to read the full article.

A recent article posted on Divestopedia.com entitled “The Investment Banking Landscape: Different Types of M&A Firms” gives an overview of the different types of M&A firms as well as how they can be useful in different situations. Owners interested in selling should know how each type of firm works and how each could be of use to them during the sale of their business. The following represent these different types of firm:

  1. Boutique Investment Firms
  2. Regional Investment Banks
  3. Bulge Bracket Investment Banks
  4. M&A Advisory Firms
  5. Business Brokerage

Each of these types of M&A firms has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it is very important for an owner to understand and explore the options available to them before settling on one.

Click here to read the full article.

A recent article posted on BizBuySell.com entitled “Small Business Transactions Reach Record High As Buyers Shrug Off Amazon Effect” explores business transaction data from the third quarter of 2017. As outlined by the report, closed transactions numbered 2,589 in the third quarter, up 24% from the same time period last year. This quarter continues the overall trend of quarter-over-quarter growth in reported transactions going back two years.

Increases in median revenue and cash flow of sold businesses as well as a decrease in the median time to sell a business show a strengthening small business sector and an improving overall market. Although retail has taken a hit from the “Amazon Effect,” retail transactions are actually up 23% since this time last year. Read the full report by clicking the link below.

Click here to read the full article.

A recent article posted on BizJournals.com entitled “Closely-held Businesses Head Toward a Slippery Slope” explores a startling truth about small businesses in the United States: around 60 percent of owners will likely retire within the next 10 years. On the surface, this may sound unimportant or irrelevant to the small business world. But just beyond the surface lies the fact that almost 70 percent of successions fail. But still, what does this mean for the small business sector?

Finding a suitable well-trained successor will be of absolute necessity within the next 10 years for these 60 percent of retiring owners. Failure is inherently more common than success post-transition, so finding qualified individuals to take over will be paramount to continued small business success in the United States.

Click here to read the full article.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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It’s Time To Embrace CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

If you are unfamiliar with CSR or corporate social responsibility, you are certainly not alone. In the coming years, you’ll be hearing a lot about CSR. In this article, we’ll look at CSR and how, when implemented with sincerity, it can positively impact your company and its operation.

Building Your CSR Locally

One of the key ways that you can build your CSR is to think about ways to help your community. Contributing to local community programs, for example, is a great place to start. Everything from personal involvement to direct financial support can help build your company’s reputation within your community.

Your Connection to the Environment

A second way to build your CSR is to show that your company is thinking about its impact on the environment. Recycling is important but so is using eco-friendly packaging and containers. Additionally, embracing low-emission and high mileage vehicles is another good step as this lowers your company’s carbon footprint.

Advertising and Good PR

A third area to consider is how your company interacts with the marketplace. Using responsible advertising, business conduct and public relations is a savvy move. Likewise, providing fair treatment of your shareholders, suppliers and vendors and contractors will all help to improve your CSR.

Yet, one of the single most important areas of corporate social responsibility occurs in the workplace. The advent of social media has helped fuel the dispersal of information. If your business isn’t treating its employees in a fair manner and/or has unsafe work conditions or unfair employment practices, the word will eventually get out. There has never been a more important time to treat your employees well.

Embracing CSR serves to increase shareholder and investor interest. In short, it is expected. Socially-conscious companies are considered smart and stable investments. A company that has fully embraced CSR will find greater buyer interest and even a higher selling price when the time comes to sell. Most buyers want excellent customer loyalty with no skeletons hiding in a company’s closet. They also are seeking happy and loyal employees, low employee turnover and for a company to have a good reputation within a community. CSR helps achieve all of these goals and more.

Ultimately, corporate social responsibility works to create additional value. When you invest in CSR, you are investing in achieving a higher selling price and making your business more attractive to sellers. Summed up another way, you can’t afford not to think about this topic.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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