Selling Your Business? Expect the Unexpected!

According to the experts, a business owner should lay the groundwork for selling at about the same time as he or she first opens the door for business.  Great advice, but it rarely happens.  Most sales of businesses are event-driven; i.e., an event or circumstance such as partnership problems, divorce, health, or just plain burn-out pushes the business owner into selling.  The business owner now becomes a seller without considering the unexpected issues that almost always occur.  Here are some questions that need answering before selling:

How much is your time worth?
Business owners have a business to run, and they are generally the mainstay of the operation.  If they are too busy trying to meet with prospective buyers, answering their questions and getting necessary data to them, the business may play second fiddle.  Buyers can be very demanding and ignoring them may not only kill a possible sale, but will also reduce the purchase price.  Using the services of a business broker is a great time saver. In addition to all of the other duties they will handle, they will make sure that the owners meet only with qualified prospects and at a time convenient for the owner.

How involved do you need to be?
Some business owners feel that they need to know every detail of a buyer’s visit to the business. They want to be involved in this, and in every other detail of the process.  This takes away from running the business.  Owners must realize that prospective buyers assume that the business will continue to run successfully during the sales process and through the closing.  Micromanaging the sales process takes time from the business.  This is another reason to use the services of a business broker.  They can handle the details of the selling process, and they will keep sellers informed every step of the way – leaving the owner with the time necessary to run the business.  However, they are well aware that it is the seller’s business and that the seller makes the decisions.

Are there any other decision makers?
Sellers sometimes forget that they have a silent partner, or that they put their spouse’s name on the liquor license, or that they sold some stock to their brother-in-law in exchange for some operating capital.  These part-owners might very well come out of the woodwork and create issues that can thwart a sale.  A silent partner ceases to be silent and expects a much bigger slice of the pie than the seller is willing to give.  The answer is for the seller to gather approvals of all the parties in writing prior to going to market.

How important is confidentiality?

This is always an important issue.  Leaks can occur.  The more active the selling process (which benefits the seller and greatly increases the chance of a higher price), the more likely the word will get out.  Sellers should have a back-up plan in case confidentiality is breached.  Business brokers are experienced in maintaining confidentiality and can be a big help in this area.

Selling a Business: How Long Does It Take?

A recent survey revealed that the average time between listing and sale was 9 months.

Why does it take so long to sell a business?  Price and terms are the biggest reasons.  Not over-pricing the business at the beginning of the sales process is a big plus, as well as structuring the transaction to include a reasonable down payment with the seller carrying the balance. Having all of the necessary information right from the beginning can also greatly reduce the time period from listing to closing. 

Being prepared for the information a buyer may want to review or having the answers available for the questions a buyer may want answered is also key.

Here is the basic information that a prospective acquirer will want to review:

  • Copies of the financials for the past three years.
  • A copy of the lease and any assignments of the lease from previous sales.
  • A list of the fixtures and equipment that will be included in the sale. Note: If something is not included, it is best to remove it prior to the sale or at least have a list of items not included.
  • A copy of the franchise agreement if applicable or any agreements with suppliers or vendors.
  • Copies of any other documentation pertaining to the business.
  • Supporting documents for patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.
  • Sales brochures, press releases, advertisements, menus or other sales materials.

In addition, here are some of the questions that buyers may have.  A prepared seller should have ready answers as well as the information to support them.

  • Is the seller willing to train a new owner at no charge?
  • Are there any zoning or local restrictions that would impact the business?
  • Is there any pending litigation?
  • Are any license issues involved?
  • Are there any federal or state requirements, or environmental OSHA issues that could affect the business?
  • What about the employee situation? Are there key employees?
  • Are there any copyrights, secret recipes, mailing lists, etc?
  • What about major suppliers or vendors?

A prepared seller is a willing seller, and having the answers to the above questions can significantly reduce the time it takes to sell a business.  Using the services of a professional business broker can also greatly reduce the time period.  They are knowledgeable about the current market, how to market a business and how to best advise a seller on price and terms.  They can also recommend professional advisors, if a seller doesn’t have them already.  Using advisors who are transaction-experienced can also shorten the time it takes to close the sale.