A recent and insightful Forbes article, “Study Shows Why Many Business Owners Can’t Sell When They Want To” penned by Mary Ellen Biery, generates some thought-provoking ideas. The article discusses an Exit Planning Institute (EPI) study that outlined the reality that many business owners can’t control when they are able to sell. Many business owners expect to be able to sell whenever they like. However, the reality, as outlined by the EPI study, revealed that the truth is that for business owners, selling is often easier said than done.
In the article, Christopher Snider, President and CEO of EPI, noted that a large percentage of business owners have no exit planning in place. This fact is made all the more striking by the revelation that most owners have up to 90% of their assets tied up in their businesses. Snider’s view is that most business owners will have to sell within the next 10 to 15 years, and yet, are unprepared to do so. According to the EPI only 20% to 30% of businesses that go on the market will actually sell. Snider believes that at the heart of the problem is there are not enough good businesses available for sell. In short, the problem is one of quality.
As of 2016, Baby Boomer business owners, who were expected to begin selling in record numbers, are waiting to sell. As Snider stated in Biery’s Fortune article, “Baby Boomers don’t really want to leave their businesses, and they’re not going to move the business until they have to, which is probably when they are in their early 70s.”
The EPI survey of 200+ San Diego business owners found that 53% had given little or no attention to their transition plan, 88% had no written transition to transition to the next owner, and a whopping 80% had never even sought professional advice regarding their transition. Further, a mere 58% currently had handled any form of estate planning.
Adding to the concern was the fact that most surveyed business owners don’t know the value of their business. Summed up another way, a large percentage of the business owners who will be selling their businesses are Baby Boomers who plan on holding onto their businesses until they are older. They have not charted out an exit strategy or transition plan and have no tangible idea as to the true worth of their respective businesses.
In Snider’s view, the survey indicates that many business owners are not “maximizing the transferable value of their business,” and additionally that they are not “in a position to transfer successfully so that they can harvest the wealth locked in their business.”
All business owners should be thinking about the day when they will have to sell their business. Now is the time to begin working with a broker to formulate your strategy so as to maximize your business’s value.
No one keeps a business forever. At some point, you’ll either want to sell your business or have to retire. When the time comes to sell, it is important to streamline the process, experience as little stress as possible and also receive top dollar. In Alejandro Cremades’s recent Forbes magazine article, “How to Find a Buyer for Your Business,” Cremades explores the most important steps business owners should take when looking to sell.
Like so many things in life, finding a buyer for your business is about preparation. As Cremades notes, you should think about selling your business on the day you found your company. Creating a business but having no exit strategy is simply not a good idea, and it’s certainly not a safe strategy either. Instead you should “build and plan to be acquired.”
For Cremades, it is vital to decide in the beginning if your preferred exit strategy is to be acquired. If you know from the beginning that you wish to be acquired, then you should build your business accordingly from day one. That means it’s essential to understand your market and know what prospective buyers would be looking for.
According to the Leadership Development Program, Kauffman Fellows, acquirers buy businesses for a range of reasons including:
- Driving their own growth
- Expanding their market
- Accelerating time to market
- Consolidating the market
Some of the more potentially interesting reasons that acquirers buy a business include to reinvent their own business and even to respond to a disruption. At the end of the day, there is no one monolithic reason why a given party decides to buy a business. But there are indeed some general factors that acquirers are known to commonly seek out.
Additionally, Cremades believes that for those serious about finding a buyer, it is critical to make connections. Or as Cremades states, “strategic acquisitions are about who you know, and who knows you. Start making those connections early.” He also points out that buyers are not always who one expects in the beginning of the process. Keeping this fact in mind, it is important to stay open and always look to build solid relationships and keep those relationships up to date regarding your status. Getting your company acquired won’t happen overnight. Instead, it is a process that can take years. Therefore, networking years in advance is a must.
Like many seasoned business professionals, Cremades realizes how important it is to work with a business broker. If you have failed to network properly over the years, then a broker is an amazingly valuable ally. They are about more than offering sage advice, as business brokers can also make potentially invaluable introductions and help you navigate every stage of the acquisition process.
Small business transactions have been enjoying record numbers. But as of the second quarter of 2019, the numbers have begun to take a small dip. Experts feel that the trade war with China is playing a role, according to a recent article, “Q2 Small Business Transactions Down as Trade War Questions Remain.”
The numbers don’t lie, as the number of transactions stood at 2,444 for Q2, which is a drop of 9.6%. But the simple fact remains that businesses are still selling at record levels. As BizBuySell points out, there were 4,948 transactions reported in just the first half of 2019. That means that 2019 could be the second most active business-for-sale market since BizBuySell began tracking data back in 2007. In other words, the Q2 9.6% drop certainly doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.
Deals per broker are declining, and many are looking to the current trade war between the U.S. and China for answers. Increased tariffs and associated worries are, according to many experts, behind the Q2 dip.
A recent BizBuySell poll of business owners noted that 43% are experiencing rising costs as a result of tariffs on Chinese goods. Summed up another way, the trade war with China is impacting small businesses across the board.
Ultimately, consumers will also feel the pinch as well with a whopping 64% of businesses noting that they will raise prices in order to address rising supplier costs. Another attention-grabbing statistic is that 65% of small business owners are considering switching to suppliers not based in China, and 54% are looking for U.S. based supplies. If this trend continues it could mark a dramatic shift.
There is, however, ample good news. According to BizBuySell, buyers looking for a business will discover that the supply of quality listings on the market is increasing. In short, now is a good time to buy a business, as the number of businesses listed as “for sale” grew by a healthy 5.2% in Q2 when compared to the same time last year.
The “business for sale” inventory is growing. According to Bob House, President of BizBuySell, “Businesses are performing better than ever.”
Some of the top performing markets by sales included Baltimore, Portland, Seattle, Austin and Dallas. Those interested in buying a business will find that now is truly a historically good time to do so. Working with a seasoned business broker can help you find a business that is right for you. While the trade war has injected some uncertainty into the overall climate, there is no doubt that now is a historically unique time to buy a business.
Selling a business is more than a big decision, as it is also quite complex. Finding the right buyer for a business is at the heart of the matter. In the recent Forbes article, “Ready to Sell Your Business? Follow These 3 Tips to Find the Best Buyer,” author Serenity Gibbons outlines that selling a business is a multifaceted process with a lot of moving parts.
A central variable for those looking to sell a business is to have a coherent and well thought out exit strategy in place. She points out that at the top of your to-do list should be selling your business the right way, and that means having a great exit strategy in place. In fact, many experts feel that you should have an exit strategy in place even when you first open your business.
Another key variable to keep in mind is that, according to Gibbons, only an estimated 20% to 30% of businesses on the market actually find buyers. This important fact means that business owners, who usually have a large percentage of their wealth tied up in their businesses, are vulnerable if they can’t sell. It is vital for business owners to make their businesses as attractive as possible to buyers for when the time comes to sell.
This article points to author Michael Lefkowitz’s book “Where’s the Exit.” This book outlines what business owners need to do to get their business ready for their exit. Updating your books, ensuring that a good team is in place and ready to go and taking steps to “polish the appeal of your brand” are some of the important topics covered.
Gibbons notes that “not every buyer with cash in hand is the right buyer for your company.” Mentioned are three key variables that must be addressed when looking to find the right buyer: consider your successor, explore your broker options and find a pre-qualified buyer.
In the end, working with a business broker is the fastest and easiest way to check off all three boxes. An experienced professional knows the importance of working exclusively with serious, pre-qualified buyers. Since a good business broker only works with serious buyers, that means business brokers can greatly expedite the process of selling your business.
In her article, Gibbons supports the fact that working with a business broker is a smart move. Those looking to get their business sold and reduce an array of potential headaches along the way, will find that there is no replacement for a good business broker.
The 65-year old owner of a multi-location retail operation doing $30 million in annual sales decided to retire. He interviewed a highly recommended intermediary and was impressed. However, he had a nephew who had just received his MBA and who told his uncle that he could handle the sale and save him some money. He would do it for half of what the intermediary said his fee would be – so the uncle decided to use his nephew. Now, his nephew was a nice young man, educated at one of the top business schools, but he had never been involved in a middle market deal. He had read a lot of case studies and was confident that he could “do the deal.”
Inexperience # 1 – The owner and the nephew agreed not to bring the CFO into the picture, nor execute a “stay” agreement. The nephew felt he could handle the financial details. Neither one of them realized that a potential purchaser would expect to meet with the CFO when it came to the finances of the business, and certainly would expect the CFO to be involved in the due diligence process.
Inexperience # 2 – It never occurred to the owner or his nephew that revealing just the name of the company to prospective buyers would send competitors and only mildly interested prospects to the various locations. There was no mention of Confidentiality Agreements. Since the owner was not in a big hurry, there were no time limits set for offers or even term sheets. It would only be a matter of time before the word that the business was on the market would be out.
Inexperience # 3 – The owner wanted to spend some time with each prospective purchaser. Confidentiality didn’t seem to be an issue. There was no screening process, no interview by the nephew.
Inexperience # 4 – The nephew prepared what was supposed to be an Offering Memorandum. He threw some financials together that had not been audited, which included a missing $500,000 that the owner took and forgot to inform his nephew about. This obviously impacted the numbers. There were no projections, no ratios, etc. This lack of information would most likely result in lower offers or bids or just plain lack of buyer interest. In addition, the mention of a pending lawsuit that could influence the sale was hidden in the Memorandum.
Inexperience # 5 – The owner and nephew both decided that their company attorney could handle the details of a sale if it ever got that far. Unfortunately, although competent, the attorney had never been involved in a business sale transaction, especially one in the $15 million range.
Results — The seller was placing almost his entire net worth in the hands of his nephew and an attorney who had no experience in putting transactions together. The owner decided to call most of the shots without any advice from an experienced deal-maker. Any one of these “inexperiences” could not only “blow” a sale, but also create the possibility of a leak. The discovery that the company was for sale could be catastrophic, whether discovered by the competition, an employee, a major customer or a supplier .
The facts in the above story are true!
The moral of the story – Nephews are wonderful, but inexperience is fraught with danger. When considering the sale of a major asset, it is foolhardy not to employ experienced, knowledgeable professionals. A professional intermediary is a necessity, as is an experienced transaction attorney.
If you’ve never bought or sold a business before, then the factors that drive and influence business valuations likely seem a bit murky. In a recent Divestopedia article from Kevin Ramsier entitled, “A Closer Look at What Drives and Influences Business Valuations,” Ramsier takes a closer look at this important topic.
Business brokers and M&A advisors play a key role in helping business owners understand why their business receives the valuation that it does. No doubt, the final assessed value is based on a wide array of variables. But with some effort, clarity is possible.
In his article, Ramsier points out that “value means different things to different buyers” and that the “perceived value depends on the circumstances, interpretation and the role that is played in a transition.” It is important to remember that no two businesses are alike. For that reason, what goes into a given valuation will vary, often greatly.
Looking to EBITDA
Ramier points to several metrics including return on assets, return on equity and return on investment. Another important valuable for companies with positive cash flow is a multiple of EBITDA, which stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.” EBITDA is widely used in determining value. On the flip side of the coin, if the company in question has a negative cash flow, then the liquidation value of the business will play a large role in determining its value.
Primary Drivers to Consider
Ramsier provides a guideline of Primary Drivers of Valuation, Secondary Drivers of Valuation and Other Potential Drivers of Valuation. In total there are 25 different variables listed, which underscores the overall potential complexity of accurately determining valuation.
In the Primary Drivers of Valuation list, Ramsier includes everything from the size of revenue and revenue stability to historical and projected EBITDA as well as potential growth and margin percentages. Other variables, ones that could easily be overlooked, such as the local talent pool and people training are also listed as variables that should be considered.
Support for the Business Owner
The bottom line is that determining valuation is not a one-dimensional affair, but is instead a dynamic and complex process. One of the single best moves any business owner can make is to reach out to an experienced business broker. Since business brokers are experts in determining valuation, owners working with brokers will know what to expect when the time comes to sell.
Before you begin your business, you should be thinking about how you will hand that business over to someone else. No one runs a business forever. Whether you sell your business or let a relative inherit it, at some point you will need to step away.
When you finally do separate from your business, it is critical that you are certain that it is worth handing over. In his January 2019 article in Forbes magazine entitled “Make Sure Your Business is Worth Handing Over,” author Francois Botha dives in and explores this very topic.
In this article, Botha emphasizes that family businesses should not “fall into the trap of prioritizing job creation for their children.” Instead, that the priority should be to perpetuate the business. Botha cites the co-founder and chairman of The Leadership Pipeline Institute, Stephen Drotter, who feels that the main goal of any business needs to be its suitability.
Drotter established five principles designed to assist family businesses as they seek to prepare for succession. The first principle is to “Identify and Fix Your Problems.” Current ownership should deal promptly with any business problems before passing a business on to a new generation.
The second principle Drotter covers is to “Adjust Your Management to the Strategic Evolution of Your Business.” Businesses evolve from the creation of a product to sell to focusing on sales, marketing and distribution to finally addressing a plateau in sales which facilitates the need for multi-functional management.
The third principle cited by Drotter is “Talk to Your People About Them.” In this principle, communication with employees is key. Getting to know and understand employees is vital.
“Be on the Lookout for Talent Everywhere,” is the fourth principle. There is no replacement for skilled and motivated employees, and you never know where you may find them.
Finally, the fifth principle, “Provide Development” emphasizes that “almost everything is learned, and somebody often taught that which is learned.” Employee skill must be seen as a key priority.
Making sure that a business is ready for transition to the next generation involves careful preparation and a good deal of advanced planning. The sooner that you begin asking the right kind of thoughtful questions about the current state of your business and what will benefit it moving forward, the better off everyone will be.
There is no denying the fact that life is much, much easier when one can find the right buyer for his or her business. Buying or selling a business can be a stressful affair, but much of that stress can be eliminated by getting the right support.
The Concept of the “Right Buyer”
In the recent Inc. article entitled, “How to Find the Right Buyer for Your Business and Avoid Negative Consequences,” Bob House builds his article around a relatively simple and straightforward, but powerful, concept. House’s notion is, “the right buyer is worth more than a big check.”
House correctly points out that far too many sellers become fixated on exiting their business and grabbing a big pay day. In their focused interest in the sum they will receive, these sellers ignore a range of other important details. In part, sellers often miss the single greatest variable in the entire process: finding the most qualified buyer. The simple fact is that if sellers want to reduce their long-term stress, then there is no replacement for finding the most qualified buyer, as the wrong buyer can be “headache city!”
Plan in Advance
As House points out, it is only prudent to determine what you want out of a buyer well before you put your business up for sale. For example, if you don’t want to offer financing, then that is a decision you need to make well before you begin the process.
Additionally, House wisely places considerable interest on pre-screening potential buyers. Pre-screening is a great reason to work with an experienced and proven business broker who can assist with the process. As a business owner your time is precious. The last thing you want are a lot of window shoppers wasting your time.
Keep Your Focus on Your Business
Remember, while your business is up for sale, you still have to run your business. Quite often, business owners have difficulty running their business and navigating the complex sales process simultaneously. The end result can be disastrous, as revenue can drop and business problems can arise.
Working with a business broker means that you are dramatically reducing your potential stressors throughout the sales process. A business broker will ensure that potential buyers are pre-screened and that only serious buyers are brought to you for consideration.
Currently, the market conditions are great for sellers. If you are considering selling, now is the time to find a business broker and jump into the market!
Does your business have real, long-lasting longevity or is your business a temporary entity that will vanish the second you stop working on it? In his insightful article in The Business Journals entitled, “Are You Living for Today as a Business Owner or Building Value?” author Kent Bernhard asks a very important question of readers, “Are you a lifestyle business owner or a value accelerator?”
Many business owners have never stopped to ask this very important, yet basic, question regarding their businesses. So, let’s turn our attention to this key question that all business owners must stop and ask at some point.
As Bernhard points out the core issue here is how a given business owner defines the idea of success for him or herself. As Chuck Richards, the CEO of CoreValue Software notes, “At the end of the day, a lifestyle business is just a job.”
Richards goes on to note that this is fine for many people. But if this is the case, it is a choice that one is making. Therefore, lifestyle business owners should be aware that they are, in fact, clearly making a choice.
Business owners who are lawyers, consultants and accountants often fall into the category of those with a “business as a job.” They fail to accumulate enough assets for their business to really be more than a job. Summed up in another fashion, the business generates enough revenue to provide a comfortable lifestyle. However, it does not have the infrastructure or equity to remain profitable, or even in existence, once they walk away. As the owner and operator of the business, they are vital to its very existence. This means that the business only has value so long as the owner is working in the business on a regular basis. As a result, the owner may never really be able to exit the business.
As Bernhard points out, “To build a business as an asset, you have to become a value accelerator who looks beyond whether the business’ profits are sufficient to maintain your lifestyle. It means looking at the business as an entity outside yourself.” Those who fall into the value accelerator category, focus on figuring out creating value for the business as a financial asset that can operate independently.
Making sure that your business can continue on without you means that you have to build it, and that involves having a coherent and focused plan. Plan in advance and know how you will exit your business. To ultimately create value for the business entity itself, a plan must be in place that allows for your successful exit.
Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business. Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late. Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you. Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them. In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.
Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business.
As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.” This statement does not only apply to buyers. Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.
There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees. It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering. If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.
In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees. Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor. Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit. Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed. Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.
It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business. The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely. But sellers should understand what employees are key and why. Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so. Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.