Keys to a Successful Closing

The closing is the formal transfer of a business. It usually also represents the successful culmination of many months of hard work, extensive negotiations, lots of give and take, and ultimately a satisfactory meeting of the minds. The document governing the closing is the Purchase and Sale Agreement. It generally covers the following: • A description of the transaction – Is it a stock or asset sale? • Terms of the agreement – This covers the price and terms and how it is to be paid. It should also include the status of any management that will remain with the business. • Representations and Warranties – These are usually negotiated after the Letter of Intent is agreed upon. Both buyer and seller want protection from any misrepresentations. The warranties provide assurances that everything is as represented. • Conditions and Covenants – These include non-competes and agreements to do or not to do certain things. There are four key steps that must be undertaken before the sale of … [Read more...]

“Red Flags” in the Sunset

Unlike that poetic title of an old-time standard song, Red Sails in the Sunset, red flags are not a pretty sight. They can cause a deal to crater. Sellers have to learn to recognize situations indicating there might be a problem in their attempt to sell their business. Very, very seldom does a white knight in shining armor riding a white horse gallop up, write a large check and take over the business – no questions asked. And, if he did, it probably should raise the red flag – because that only happens in fairy tales. Now, if the check clears – then fairy tales can come true. Sellers need to step back and examine every element of the transaction to make sure something isn't happening that might sink the deal. For example, if a company appears interested in your business, and you can't get through to the CEO, President, or, even the CFO, there most likely is a problem. Perhaps the interest level is not what you have been led to believe. A seller does not want to waste time on buyers … [Read more...]

The Confidentiality Myth

When it comes time to sell the company, a seller's prime concern is one of confidentiality. Owners are afraid that “if the word gets out” they will lose employees, customers and suppliers. Not to downplay confidentiality, but these incidents seldom happen if the process is properly managed. There is always the chance that a “leak” will occur, but when handled correctly, serious damage is unlikely. Nevertheless, a seller should still be very careful about maintaining confidentiality since avoiding problems is always better than dealing with them. Here are some suggestions: Understand that there is a “Catch 22” involved. The seller wants the highest price and the best deal, and this usually means contacting numerous potential buyers. Obviously, the more prospective buyers that are contacted, the greater the opportunity for a breach of confidentiality to occur. Business intermediaries understand that buyers have to be contacted, but they also realize the importance of confidentiality and … [Read more...]

A Selling Memorandum

A sellers memorandum includes all those points one would normally expect to see in any business plan, to wit: an executive summary, a business description, financial requirements, target market niche, identification of top management, an operations review, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and current financial statements and projections. Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions published by PPC A proposed sale of a middle-market company almost always begins with a selling memorandum. This document is called many things, including offering memorandum, confidential descriptive memorandum or simply the book. Regardless of what you choose to call it, its purpose is to encourage prospective buyers to take a further look at the company. For the seller, it has a secondary side benefit. It forces them to take a hard look at the company, its strengths and its weaknesses. Upon reviewing the information necessary to prepare a selling memorandum, the seller may, in fact, decide that it's not such a … [Read more...]

Common Seller Questions

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

Are You Ready to Exit?

If you've gone this far, then selling your business has aroused enough curiosity that you are taking the first step. You don't have to make a commitment at this point; you are just getting informed about what is necessary to successfully sell your business. This section should answer a lot of your questions and help you through the maze of the process itself. Question 1 The first question almost every seller asks is: “What is my business worth?” Quite frankly, if we were selling our business, that is the first thing we would want to know. However, we're going to put this very important issue off for a bit and cover some of the things you need to know before you get to that point. Before you ask that question, you have to be ready to sell for what the market is willing to pay. If money is the only reason you want to sell, then you're not really ready to sell. *Insider Tip:It doesn't make any difference what you think your business is worth, or what you want for it. It also doesn't make … [Read more...]

10 Tips for a Successful Sale

1.Sellers should find out the loan value of the fixtures, equipment and machinery prior to a sale. Many buyers will count on using it for loan or collateral purposes. No one wants to find out at the last minute that the value of the machinery won't support the debt needed to put the deal together. 2.Sellers should resolve all litigation and environmental issues before putting the company on the market. 3.Sellers should be flexible about any real estate involved. Most buyers want to invest in the business, and real estate usually doesn't make money for an operating company. 4.Sellers should be prepared to accept lower valuation multiples for lack of management depth, regional versus national distribution, and a reliance on just a few large customers. 5.If a buyer indicates that he or she will be submitting a Letter of Intent, or even a Term Sheet, the seller should inform them up-front what is to be included: price and terms what assets and liabilities are to be assumed, if it is to be … [Read more...]

The Term Sheet

Buyers, sellers, intermediaries and advisors often mention the use of a term sheet prior to the creation of an actual purchase and sale agreement. However, very rarely do you ever hear this document explained. It sounds good but what is it specifically? Very few books about the M&A process even mention term sheet. Russ Robb's book Streetwise Selling Your Business defines term sheet as follows: “A term sheet merely states a price range with a basic structure of the deal and whether or not it includes the real estate.” Attorney and author Jean Sifleet offers this explanation: “A one page ‘term sheet' or simply answering the questions: Who? What? Where? and How Much? helps focus the negotiations on what's important to the parties. Lawyers, accountants and other advisors can then review the term sheet and discuss the issues.” She cautions, “Be wary of professional advisors who use lots of boilerplate documents, take extreme positions or use tactics that are adversarial. Strive always … [Read more...]

What Makes Your Company Unique?

There are unique attributes of a company that make it more attractive to a possible acquirer and/or more valuable. Certainly, the numbers are important, but potential buyers will also look beyond them. Factors that make your company special or unique can often not only make the difference in a possible sale or merger, but also can dramatically increase value. Review the following to see if any of them apply to your company and if they are transferable to new ownership. Brand name or identity Do any of your products have a well recognizable name? It doesn't have to be Kleenex or Coke, but a name that might be well known in a specific geographic region, or a name that is identified with a specific product. A product with a unique appearance, taste, or image is also a big plus. For example, Cape Cod Potato Chips have a unique regional identity, and also a distinctive taste. Both factors are big pluses when it comes time to sell. Dominant market position A company doesn't have to be a … [Read more...]

Is This the Right Time to Sell?

“Whatever the reason, there should be something other than dollars that motivates you to explore a sale. After all, if it weren't more valuable to own the business than to sell it, no one would ever buy it.” Mike Sharp, M&A Today, November 2002 The owner of a successful company is considering selling, thinking now may be a good time. However, he is told by an outside advisor that business is good and that if he holds on to it for several more years he will get a much higher price. On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. After all, when an advisor tells the owner that if he keeps it for three more years the price will double, that's a terrific incentive to keep plugging away. However, there is another side to what would appear to be sound advice. The most dramatic downside would be that the business could go downhill rather than uphill as the advisor predicted. Although no one can predict what the economy will do, there are a couple of possible scenarios. The industry itself … [Read more...]

Tips on Avoiding the Dealbreakers

One of the most important steps is to hire the right advisors. This begins with the right professional business broker/ M&A specialist. The right attorney should be added to the team. The right one is an attorney who has been through the sales process many times – one who is a deal maker seeking solutions, not a deal breaker seeking “why not to” reasons. The accountants must be deal oriented, and if they are the firm's outside advisor, they should be aware that they may not be retained by the buyer, and must still be willing to work in the best interest of putting the deal together. Getting through due diligence One of the three or four times a deal can fall apart is half-way into the due diligence phase, when the buyer finds something he or she did not expect. No one likes surprises, and they can't all be anticipated. An experienced buyer will probably work his way through it, but a novice may walk away. Although sellers too often hope a potential problem doesn't surface, it … [Read more...]

Do You Have an Exit Plan?

“Exit strategies may allow you to get out before the bottom falls out of your industry. Well-planned exits allow you to get a better price for your business.” From: Selling Your Business by Russ Robb, published by Adams Media Corporation Whether you plan to sell out in one year, five years, or never, you need an exit strategy. As the term suggests, an exit strategy is a plan for leaving your business, and every business should have one, if not two. The first is useful as a guide to a smooth exit from your business. The second is for emergencies that could come about due to poor health or partnership problems. You may never plan to sell, but you never know! The first step in creating an exit plan is to develop what is basically an exit policy and procedure manual. It may end up being only on a few sheets of paper, but it should outline your thoughts on how to exit the business when the time comes. There are some important questions to wrestle with in creating a basic plan and … [Read more...]

What Is Burnout?

Burnout can come with a business that's successful as well as with one that's failing to grow. The right time to sell is before the syndrome becomes a threat to the effective management of a business. What are the warning signs of burnout? • That isolated feeling. The burnt-out owner has been “chief cook and bottle washer” for such an extended period of time that even routine acts of decision-making and action-taking seem like Sisyphean tasks. These owners have been shouldering the burdens alone too long. • Fuzzy perspective. 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 increase profits. • No more fun. Of course, owning a business is hard work, but it should also include an element of enjoyment. The owner who drags himself or herself through every day, with a sense of dread – or … [Read more...]

Happy Employees Can Increase Profits…and Value

Happy employees mean happy customers and clients. An unhappy employee can mean loss of business or worse. How does a business owner create happy and contented employees? It all starts with the hiring process – hiring positive people to start with certainly helps. Offering as many benefits as your business can afford is also a plus. However, one of the big keys is simply for the business owner to treat employees well, and appreciate their contributions. Some owners expect their employees to have the same dedication to the business as they do. They are not owners and don't have the same privileges as an owner does. In most cases, the business is an owner's life, whereas the employee has a life outside of the business. It is important that the owner understands this difference. In the long run, positive and happy owners have happy employees. But if being a good role model doesn't do the job with workers who remain negative, your only recourse is to get rid of them. Reward your people with … [Read more...]

Take a Look at Your Lease

If your business is not location-sensitive, that is, if your business location is immaterial to its success, then the following may not be important. However, lease information is usually helpful no matter what the situation. The business owner whose business is very dependent on its current location should certainly read on. If your business is location-sensitive, which is almost always true for a restaurant, a retail operation, or, in fact, any business that depends on customers finding you (or coming upon you, as is often the case with a well-located gift shop) – the lease is critical. It may be too late if you already have executed it, but the following might be helpful in your next lease negotiation. Obviously, a very important factor is the length of the lease, usually the longer the better. If the property ever becomes available – do whatever it takes to purchase it. However, if you are negotiating a lease for a new business, you might want to make sure you can get out of … [Read more...]

Rating Today’s Business Buyers

Once the decision to sell has been made, the business owner should be aware of the variety of possible business buyers. Just as small business itself has become more sophisticated, the people interested in buying them have also become more divergent and complex. The following are some of today's most active categories of business buyers: Family Members Members of the seller's own family form a traditional category of business buyer: tried but not always “true.” The notion of a family member taking over is amenable to many of the parties involved because they envision continuity, seeing that as a prime advantage. And it can be, given that the family member treats the role as something akin to a hierarchical responsibility. This can mean years of planning and diligent preparation, involving all or many members of the family in deciding who will be the “heir to the throne.” If this has been done, the family member may be the best type of buyer. Too often, however, the difficulty with the … [Read more...]

A Buyer’s Quandary

Statistics reveal that out of about 15 would-be business buyers, only one will actually buy a business. It is important that potential sellers be knowledgeable on what buyers go through to actually become business owners. This is especially true for those who have started their own business or have forgotten what they went thorough prior to buying their business. If a prospective business buyer is employed, he or she has to make the decision to leave that job and go into business for and by himself. There is also the financial commitment necessary to actually invest in a business and any subsequent loans that are a result of the purchase. The new owner will likely need to execute a lease or assume an existing one, which is another financial commitment. These financial obligations are almost always guaranteed personally by the new owner. The prospective business owner must also be willing to make that “leap of faith” that is so necessary to becoming a business owner. There is also the … [Read more...]

Why Your Company Needs a Physical

Many executives of both public and private firms get a physical check-up once a year. Many of these same executives think nothing of having their investments checked over at least once a year – probably more often. Yet, these same prudent executives never consider giving their company an annual physical, unless they are required to by company rules, ESOP regulations or some other necessary reason. A leading CPA firm conducted a survey that revealed: 65% of business owners do not know what their company is worth; 75% of their net worth is tied up in their business; and 85% have no exit strategy There are many obvious reasons why a business owner should get a valuation of his or her company every year such as partnership issues, estate planning or a divorce; buy/sell agreements; banking relationships; etc. No matter what the reason, the importance of getting a valuation cannot be over-emphasized:An astute business owner should like to know the current value of his or her company as … [Read more...]

Should You Be Selling Your Company…Now?

The answer to the question asked in the title is, “It all depends!” There are all sorts of studies, surveys and the like suggesting that as more and more “baby-boomers” reach retirement age, the market will be flooded with companies for sale. The consensus is that with these privately-held company owners reaching and nearing retirement age, the time to sell is now. In one survey, 57 percent of business owners said that their age was the motivating factor for exiting their business. In another one, 75 percent of owners with revenues between $1 million and $150 million stated that they looked to sell within the next three years. Reading all of this information, one gets the feeling that over the next few years almost every privately-held business will be on the market. While there are always going to be those who feel that Armageddon is coming, or that all of these companies are going to be on the market on the day that baby-boomer owners hit 65, there are some compelling reasons to sell … [Read more...]

How Does Your Business Compare?

When considering the value of your company, there are basic value drivers. While it is difficult to place a specific value on them, one can take a look and make a “ballpark” judgment on each. How does your company look? Value DriverLowMediumHigh Business TypeLittle DemandSome DemandHigh Demand Business Growth LowSteadyHigh & Steady Market Share SmallSteady GrowthLarge & Growing ProfitsUnsteadyConsistentGood & Steady Management Under StaffedOkayAbove Average FinancialsCompiledReviewedAudited Customer BaseNot SteadyFairly SteadyWide & Growing Litigation SomeOccasionallyNone in Years SalesNo GrowthSome GrowthGood Growth Industry TrendOkaySome GrowthGood Growth The possible value drivers are almost endless, but a close look at the ones above should give you some idea of where your business stands. Don't just compare against businesses in general, but specifically consider the competition. As part of your overall exit strategy, what can you do to improve your company? © … [Read more...]