Defending Your Asking Price

When you’re putting your business on the market, one of the top considerations is your asking price. Once you have a fair price established, let’s take a closer look at how business brokers and M&A advisors work with their clients to back up that price with details concerning why it is justified. 

Telling the Story

A key aspect of defending your asking price is telling the story of your business. Your brokerage professional will help you go over the details of the story so it is properly conveyed to prospective buyers. Buyers, of course, will want to understand the story behind the business so that they can understand its history and why it is for sale. You will want to feel prepared to interact with prospective buyers and how to discuss details concerning its value. 

Your business broker or M&A advisor will put together written materials about your business. These also help buyers gain clarity on the story of your business and its sales message. 

Seeing Your Buyer’s Perspective

It goes without saying that a big part of coming up with your decision of the asking price is that you want something that sounds not only reasonable but also attractive to buyers. We recommend trying to view the entire transaction from the buyer’s perspective. The buyer must be able to see how they will successfully own and potentially operate the business, as this is essential for fostering a completed deal.

Another consideration is, how will they pay for the business? In many cases, it can tremendously benefit a transaction to offer assistance in the way of seller financing. Seller financing can speed up the process, as you will not be so reliant waiting for the bank loan process, which can drag out for months. 

The Complexities of Your Asking Price 

The process of establishing and then justifying your asking price is not always simple. It is a symphony of moving parts, and it’s important to feel educated and involved in the process. Ultimately justifying the asking price is the launching point of the process, but it is also just the beginning of the journey towards the completion of a successful deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Common Legal Mistakes That Sellers Make

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a business owner like a legal mistake. The best way to ensure that you will avoid serious legal issues is to work with a trusted and experienced team. Otherwise, it’s easy to accidentally miss necessary steps. 

When you’re selling a business, there are a lot of moving pieces, and that means that there are ample opportunities for things to go wrong. It’s always best to be prepared. When mistakes are made, it can not only mean a significant expenditure of your time, but also your money. These kinds of issues can also bring your sales process to a total halt and perhaps derail your deal completely.

There are more than a few sellers who overlooked the importance of working with an attorney. When you are selling a business, it should come as no surprise that there is a great deal of paperwork. Your attorney will guide you to make sure that all necessary preparations have been made from a legal perspective. When your prospective buyer sees that your legal “ducks are in a row,” he or she will feel more confident in your organization and level of professionalism.

One document that often is skipped is the Letter of Intent (LOI). Sellers assume that things will move along more quickly if they forego this document. Keep in mind that the LOI truly has its place in almost any deal. After all, it not only outlines both parties’ expectations in writing, it also works to protect your best interests. Once projective buyers have signed this document, it proves they are serious about the deal. That means it is not so easy for them to walk away without consequences. 

What if your deal falls through completely? Will your buyer then reveal to the public that your business was for sale and even the potential terms that were on the table? This could indeed occur if you were not backed up by an NDA. Don’t skip this very important document either. Your business broker or M&A advisor will be very well acquainted with NDAs and guide you in the best way possible. 

Warding off these kinds of issues is one great reason to be equipped with a small team of professionals to turn to for advice. This team should include your business broker or M&A advisor, accountant, and attorney. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Does the Road Ahead Look Like?

Each quarter, the Market Pulse Report issues a report revealing information about market conditions The report is supported by M&A Source and the International Business Brokers Association. The data that is analyzed is based on a comprehensive survey of business brokers and M&A advisors. The report focuses on Main Street businesses (with values up to $2MM) and the lower middle market (values between $2MM and $50MM.) 

The research is conducted and then the report is published each quarter to reflect the state of the industry. In this article, we will look at some of the key takeaways of the report and what it reveals about the path ahead for buyers and sellers.

Tracking the Labor Shortage 

For the second quarter, the report revealed a variety of interesting information. One massive data point from the report is that the labor shortage continues to be a significant variable for business owners. A staggering 92% of report respondents state that the labor shortage has negatively impacted their business with 54% stating that the shortage has had a “very negative impact” and 35% stating that the impact is “somewhat negative.”

Closing Times

The report further indicated that it is taking about seven months for a business to close. They noted that it takes about six months to a year to sell a well-priced business or a well benchmarked business. The report noted that approximately 60-120 days are spent in the due diligence or execution stage, once the letter of intent has been signed. 

The Strongest Industries

In terms of what kinds of businesses are selling, the report points to restaurants making a solid comeback. It is interesting to note that restaurants valued from less than $500K to $1 million are enjoying a particularly strong rebound. Business services, personal services, construction and manufacturing remain steady. 

In Summary 

The latest Market Pulse Report is pointing in several directions. Currently, three factors are impacting business owners, namely, the labor shortage, inflation, and supply chain issues. Many businesses have had no choice but to give large raises to employees, and others have been able to pass the costs on to consumers and buyers.

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What Will Your Buyer Be Looking For?

The buyer loves your business; it’s just what he or she has been looking for.  He has reviewed your financial statements and has made an offer contingent on several items.  You’ve reviewed the offer and it looks fine, so what’s next?  The contingencies in the deal mean that the buyer or his or her advisors have some concerns.  In larger deals, this process might be called due diligence.  However, in the smaller business sale, the items of concern are usually spelled out as opposed to a general review of everything.  The reason for this is that larger businesses or companies have a lot more areas of concern than the typical smaller business.

Most contingencies concern the review of financial statements and/or business tax returns.  Others may involve lease issues, the seller staying on for a set period of time, or some very specific issue such as repaving the parking lot, if the landlord won’t or isn’t required to.

Unfortunately, some contingencies may be hiding other ones such as a list of fixtures and equipment included in the sale.  Sounds easy on the surface, but the seller forgot that two pieces of equipment currently not in use need repair or the walnut desk in the office belongs to Grandfather Smith and is not included.  Or, while reviewing the lease, the buyer discovers that the landlord requires that the business must close by 9:00 PM or some other restriction applies and was not disclosed. Deals have fallen apart over similar issues.

Most contingency problems can be resolved prior to the business being placed on the market.  The seller should do all of the following:

  • Check the status of all furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E).  Remove any that are not included in the sale or are inoperable if not in use –  or make repairs.
  •  Review any contract such as the lease, any equipment leases, and contracts that will be assumed by the buyer.  Make sure there aren’t “clinkers” in them. If there are, disclose them to a potential buyer out front – and be sure your business intermediary is also aware of them.
  • Be prepared to answer questions such as:
    • Are there any environmental, governmental or legal issues?
    • How long will you be willing to stay and work with a new buyer – at no cost?
    • Will the employees stay?
    • Why was last year the worst one in years?
    • Why was last year the best one in years?

The list could go on and on, but sellers need to be ready. Buyers don’t like surprises.  A business broker professional knows the process like a book and can be invaluable in preparing the business for the marketplace.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Storytelling and Its Role in Selling a Business

When it comes to selling a business, there is more to it than just relaying the facts. It’s also important to emphasize the story behind the business. Business brokers and M&A advisors are also storytellers, as they must convey to buyers the story behind the business and how it can ultimately be transformed. 

It is through storytelling that humans organize the information they have about the world. In short, storytelling is an exceptional way to learn lessons in life and a great way to frame information about a business to sellers. 

Telling Your Story

Everything begins with the financials, in short, the facts of the business. When a business broker or M&A advisor begins working with a seller, he or she will look to gather those details. Once that information has been gathered, it is possible to begin to create a story. That story can be presented in many ways, including through a confidential business review or confidential information memorandum.

While many, if not most, buyers and sellers may think that when it comes to business, they are cold and methodical like a reptile on the hunt, the truth is more complex. Human emotion always comes into play. It is no accident that well-crafted stories, with their power to motivate and guide, play a role in the art of buying and selling businesses.

Decisions are Guided by Emotion

If we want to make the best decisions, it is important to consider the role of emotions in our decision-making. “In order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it,” said scientist Herbert Simon who is an American Nobel Laureate. [1]

Good stories grab the imagination and enable people to expand their definition of what is and is not possible. When buyers are considering buying a business, it is important that they can picture themselves as being the hero that transforms that business and takes it to a new level. It is a story of evolution and reaching new heights while simultaneously achieving one’s own goals.

It is no accident that so many of today’s mass culture storytelling revolves around sequels. The notion that there is a “storytelling continuum” where a buyer can plug into something that already has a history can be a powerful motivating force. Most epic stories have the hero as part of some sort of continuum. In other words, the hero does not simply appear out of nothingness. It is the hero’s mission to transform the world, in some fashion, for the better.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/05/09/how-your-emotions-influence-your-decisions/?sh=7bda49da3fda

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How to Transfer Your Business to a Family Member

Are you thinking of transferring your business to a family member? This occurrence is fairly common, especially among small businesses. Here are some considerations that will help with your planning and decision making.

Do You Have a Good Contract?

Sometimes close family members are tempted to skip a contract, but it’s always a mistake not to have things in writing. When you create a buy-sell agreement, it helps keep things clear between the parties involved. Make sure that your documentation is thorough. It should cover a wide variety of details including the amount being paid, your continued involvement, and the business value. 

Does Your Family Member Need Financing?

When it comes to selling businesses to family members, seller financing is common. You could even consider agreeing to a private annuity. This will allow payments to be spread out over many years.  One benefit to providing financing assistance is that you will receive a steady stream of income along with interest on the loan as well. 

You could also consider a self-cancelling clause on your installment note. This would allow debt to attach to your will in case of your untimely passing before the payments were complete. 

Are You Selling or Gifting Your Business?

Gifting a business takes place more often than you might think, due to the tax benefits involved. Also, when you gift a business, you can still maintain some level of control. 

The federal gift tax exemption changes every year. In 2022, the annual gift tax exclusion is $16,000. The lifetime gift exemption limit is $12 million. While you may owe some federal gift taxes if the amounts exceed the exemption limits, the good news is that after you have transferred your business, any future growth of the business won’t affect your financials. 

Is Everything Accurate?

Unfortunately, many business owners have acted unethically when it comes to transferring their business to their family members. As a result, the IRS tends to give this kind of transaction extra scrutiny. You will want to ensure that all your paperwork is in proper order and highly accurate. 

You may very well want to hire the services of a lawyer and accountant to assist you with this matter. Of course, a business broker or M&A advisor will also help you with the details of this agreement and figuring out what benefits you and your family members.

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Why Is Confidentiality So Vitally Important

When it’s time to sell a business, you will want to keep confidentiality first and foremost in your mind. The reality is that many deals do not succeed when confidentiality is breached and others learn that your business is for sale. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

What Can Occur When Confidentiality is Compromised?

If vendors or suppliers find out that your company is for sale, it can negatively impact your business in different ways. One common occurrence is that vendors begin to change the terms they have established with you. Even a small change might end up not being minor at all, as it could impact cash flow. The same can be said for word of your business being for sale reaching your creditors, as they could also suddenly change their terms. 

Another major issue that could be caused when confidentiality is breached is that your employees and customers might begin to worry. Employees could even start looking for new jobs. Your customers might worry about the new ownership and preemptively stop patronizing your business.

It goes without saying that you won’t want your competitors knowing that you are selling your business. This might make them more aggressive, and they could even start using this knowledge to take your customers. 

On some occasions, business owners set out to sell their business on their own. Unfortunately, this decision can put them at higher risk for confidentiality breaches to occur, which start to cause things to go wrong. When you are in the process of selling your business, you will want everything to appear as steady and reliable as possible.

Keeping Up Appearances

When a buyer is carefully vetting your business for a potential acquisition, you won’t want anything showing up on the radar that could give them pause. It’s important to show that the business is continuing to operate in a successful manner and there have been no recent changes. 

The good news is that business brokers and M&A advisors have proven strategies that will keep the news that your business is for sale confidential. Your brokerage professional will be sure to vet all prospective buyers, and they will use the most reliable confidentiality agreements that will protect your best interests. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Selling a Business Means You Should Expect the Unexpected

No one ever said selling a business was predictable. However, the truth of the matter is that every sale is different. Even the reasons behind a business owner deciding to sell his or her business vary tremendously. If you are getting ready to sell, it’s important to be aware of the various aspects that could catch you off-guard. If you are prepared for the unexpected, you’ll be mentally ready for the sales process, which often does not go as planned. Even the smoothest and most streamlined sales encounter a few road bumps along the way. 

Price Considerations

When it comes to the price structure for a potential sale, many business owners have numbers in their minds that do not meet with reality. As a result, a potential offer could be far less than what they expected, and this causes conflict and delays. Your brokerage professional will prepare you with a thorough valuation so you can have a clear idea of the fair market price of your business. Be sure to ask any questions that you might have so that you feel fully informed when it comes to prices.

Confidentiality 

Throughout the sales process, confidentiality must be carefully guarded. Otherwise, this too can interfere with a sale. Your business broker or M&A advisor will have effective strategies to help maintain the highest levels of confidentiality. Even with the best safeguards in place, there is a small chance that a rumor could begin to circulate and word could get out to your employees, customers or supplies. In the case of this incident, it’s important to have a contingency plan in place to quell the rumors. 

Your Stockholders

Oftentimes, business owners of privately owned companies forget that their minority stockholders have rights too. You will not be able to sell your business without dealing with all parties involved. When you get a “fairness opinion,” it can go a long way to convince your shareholders of the best price and terms. Even if your shareholders are members of your family, they will have to be successfully dealt with before the sale goes through. 

Expect to Allocate Time

You may have hired an experienced business broker or M&A advisor, but you should still be prepared to spend some time dealing with the sale of your business. You’ll be expected to do everything from prepare documents to meet with prospective buyers. This fact that selling will take up your time is particularly true if you haven’t begun making preparations years in advance. That’s why we advise clients to start working with us early on.

You’ll want to make sure that despite your need to focus on elements pertaining to the sale of your business, it is necessary to keep your business running smoothly. Otherwise, any signs of weakness could interfere with your potential sale and your efforts could backfire. This issue just stresses the importance of preparing to sell years in advance. 

Through the sales process you must still run your company as well as ever. You’ll want to make sure things are progressing nicely, even if you don’t plan to own the company in the near future. Obviously, your buyer will want things to look reliable and any dips can trigger a red flag. 

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Preparing for Your Eventual Retirement

Many business owners are truly committed to their businesses. As a result, it is very difficult for them to step away even when they approach retirement age. It is not uncommon for business owners to keep working into their golden years. But the truth of the matter is that at some point almost everyone will need to embrace retirement whether it is for health issues, moving to a new location, or simply for greater peace of mind.

If you see this path approaching for you in the near future, it could feel overwhelming. After all, most people have not sold a business before. As a result, they feel unclear about the process and don’t know where to start. However, everyone should be thinking about the eventual sale of their business because this future event should determine many of your current activities and decisions. 

Let’s take a look at some things you can do well in advance to ensure that an eventual sale of your business goes as smoothly as possible. 

Automate Processes

When prospective buyers look at your business, they will want to be able to easily envision it operating smoothly without you involved. Because a good portion of business owners are so integral to the functioning of their businesses, it can be difficult for them to figure out how to decouple themselves from operations. In some cases, this process can take years. 

Now is a good time to consider this issue and what you can do to make sure your business can function without you one day. Give some thought to who at your organization could be a second in command. When a buyer sees that a competent and knowledgeable employee will be staying on to assist them, it can go a long way in allaying any concerns. 

Put Yourself in the Buyer’s Shoes

Imagine you were buying your business. What kinds of issues might be of concern to you? Chances are these will be the same issues that could concern potential buyers. Once you have identified any spots of weakness, you can start to zero in on figuring out how to handle them.

First and foremost, you will want your buyer to feel confident that there will be a smooth transition and that they can almost immediately begin to profit from their purchase of your business. Anything that you can do to help ensure that is true will benefit the sales process. 

Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts in the world of buying and selling businesses. They will help you to properly evaluate your business and look for these areas of weakness. Through this means when you do decide it is time to retire, the process will go more quickly and seamlessly. 

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A Seller’s Dilemma

When one sells their house, the best deal is usually the highest price.  When one decides to sell their business, there may be other factors to consider.  Many buyers are similar to the “overlooked” buyer described below, serious and qualified; and most sales of businesses are win-win transactions.  However, there are a few exceptions, and sellers should consider them carefully, balancing their prerequisites to the goals of the buyer.

Selling to a Competitor – Many company owners think this is the best way to go.  They read about the mega-mergers such as Bank of America and Fleet bank, or the pending deals such as Federated and the May Company Department Stores, and U.S. Air and American West.  Consolidation may play a major role in large public companies; this is not the case in middle market companies.

Many owners of middle market firms look at these mega-deals and think it might work for them.  However, upon further consideration, they realize that by disclosing a lot of confidential information to a competitor, their business could suffer irreparable damage if the deal would fall apart – and many do.

Selling to a Strategic Acquirer – This may bring the highest price, but there are several reasons why this may not be in the company’s best interest.  Many owners have worked with key employees for years and would not like to see them replaced. The strategic owner might not only replace members of management, but might also move the company to another part of the country.

Selling to a Financial Buyer – This buyer may not be willing to pay the seller’s price and is usually buying a company with intentions of selling it at a profit in three to five years.  This leaves the company and its employees in limbo waiting for a new owner to take over.

Other Buyers – The employees may decide to buy the company (ESOP).  However, this usually means a long-term payout for the owner. An individual buyer may come along such as a Warren Buffett, but what are the chances?  A key member or members of management might decide to purchase the company, but generally they won’t pay the price.  If a sale is not consummated, the key management member(s) will most likely leave.

The “Overlooked” Buyer – There are many individuals who want to own their own company.  They might be former executives of major companies who want to do something on their own. Some buyers have access to large amounts of investment capital. There are many qualified individual buyers in the market place. Russ Robb, the editor of a leading M& A newsletter, M&A Today, has written a book, Buying Your Own Business, for those individuals interested in buying their own company. This book has sold over 20,000 copies, which indicates the large number of people who are interested in buying a company.

There Is No Magic Answer – Selling a company comes with no guarantees.   When Badger Meter Company, a public company headquartered in Milwaukee, acquired Data Industrial Corporation based in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, this appeared to be a marriage made in heaven.  Their respective product lines fit like a glove, their corporate cultures seemed compatible, and sales expansion by cross-selling was evident.

This strategic acquisition would have been fine except for one change.  The parent company moved Data Industrial’s operation to Kansas, and every employee’s job was terminated.  However, one should not construe that all acquisitions by strategic or competitive acquirers end up in a similar fate.  Furthermore, for price considerations, the seller can draft restrictions in the Purchase & Sale agreement to prevent the transfer of the business, at least for a specified time period.

Certainly selling to the overlooked type buyer doesn’t guarantee all of the seller’s concerns, but knowing the interests of some of the various buyer types can help insure that the goals of both buyer and seller are met.  Sellers should determine their goals prior to attempting to sell their business.  A consultation with a professional intermediary is a good start to this process.

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