When sellers get ready to put their businesses on the market, they often wonder what buyers are really looking for in an effort to make their businesses as attractive as possible. The answer to this question can seem mysterious when you are on the other side of the bargaining table. So, what are buyers typically thinking about when they make the decision about whether or not to purchase a business? It should come as no surprise that much of this is tied into earnings and stability.
Guarantees of No Surprises
Earnings that are sustainable are very attractive to buyers. After all, it allows them to know what to expect. Buyers can then factor in if they can advance the business in a way in which it would grow faster than the current pace. If not, they at least would have the confidence to know that the business will proceed at the same rate. Of course, no buyer would want to acquire a business only to find that it only had high earnings temporarily due to a one-time contract.
Accuracy of Information
Along the same line of avoiding surprises, buyers will want to verify the information they receive about a business. Anything involving past, present, or future legal issues will be scrutinized along with other issues, such as pending product returns. The due diligence process is when you can expect the buyer to really dig into the details of your business. You can expect that he or she will often do so with the assistance of an attorney and accountant.
Oftentimes, accountants or appraisers add back one-time expenses or non-recurring expenses. Buyers will want to look at the earnings and have proof of expenses that are non-recurring, such as fees for a lawsuit or heavy repairs to a building. Since this process inflates earnings, it can make it difficult for buyers to understand the actual earning potential of a business. Otherwise, those expenses would obviously throw off the true earning potential of the business.
These are just a few of the critical considerations made by business buyers when looking at a potential acquisition. There are numerous other considerations that a buyer will make and it is important to be prepared to address those questions and potential concerns a buyer may have up front, or they will quickly lose interest and move on to other potential acquisition opportunities. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential buyer and think about the kinds of assurances you would want before buying a business.
Working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor can be tremendously beneficial in this regard. These professionals have worked with many buyers in the past, and therefore easily see things from a buyer’s point of view. They will not only be able to help you get prepared up front when buyers begin looking at your business, but easily identify and point out areas of concern that a potential buyer may have in order to keep the journey to closing on track.
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When it comes time to sell your business and sign on the dotted line, you only have one opportunity to get it right. In many cases, business owners have made critical mistakes while attempting to sell their business. This kind of scenario can often occur when an owner trusts a friend or relative to help navigate the process. In some cases, business owners have even been known to try to broker their deals on their own. Let’s take a look at some common errors that have occurred during the process when experienced professionals were not brought in to assist.
Not Prioritizing Confidentiality
We cannot understate the importance of confidentiality. When business owners try to go it alone, they often share valuable information with the wrong people, such as competitors. Or accidentally alert employees, suppliers and customers that the business is up for sale. When confidentiality is breached, unexpected and unfortunate consequences can result, such as employees looking for new work or customers switching over to work with different businesses. If any of these scenarios occur, it can devalue the business or even interfere with a sale going through properly.
Mistakes in Financial Information
If the party assisting you to sell your business lacks experience, he or she may accidentally omit preparing critical paperwork. Additionally, if the financial records are not properly audited, it could negatively impact the numbers. This could lead to lower offers and less interest from prospective buyers.
Failing to Involve Key Parties
Another error that could be caused by inexperience is neglecting to bring key parties into the deal. For example, when a business owner is guided by a layperson or trying to handle everything on his or her own, important people, such as the CFO, might accidentally not be brought into the due diligence process. While an error like this one might not necessarily kill the deal, it could lead to delays and complications.
The bottom line is that when it comes to a large transaction like selling your business, it is time to rely upon trustworthy professionals. There is a long list of protocols and steps that lead to a deal going smoothly. Experienced business brokers and M&A advisors will make sure that all the best practices are followed and that you come out ahead in the end.
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Many business owners don’t understand the concept of goodwill or how to calculate it. When a buyer is willing to pay a premium price for a business, far more than the company’s assets would typically dictate, that is considered goodwill. Any company can benefit from understanding how goodwill is cultivated and increasing it within their operations.
What is Goodwill?
Goodwill can be as simple as your company having an exceptional reputation and a very loyal base of customers. Often highly sought-after technology can be a part of goodwill. In other cases, goodwill can be in the form of IP or desirable domain names. However, as you can imagine, it is difficult to put a specific price on these kinds of benefits.
When a business involving goodwill is sold, it can be very challenging to determine a fair amount for a business, since subjective values are involved. In some cases, it can even be overvalued by the buyer. Your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will take goodwill into account when determining a fair and reasonable company’s valuation.
The Case of Personal Goodwill
In some cases, a company’s goodwill is personal. This is often due to a professional building personal goodwill with customers or clients. Oftentimes this is a relationship built over a period of time. In these cases, the goodwill is not necessarily transferable. The business is associated with a person who is often the founder of the company. You will typically see this kind of situation with dental and doctor’s practices and law offices.
So how does personal goodwill impact the sale of the business? When you sell it might be natural that the buyer will want protection in case the business faces a downturn when the current management departs.
What can work for the buyers and sellers is for the business owner to agree to stay onboard for a designated period of time. This can help ease the transition to the new business owner. In other cases, the buyer and seller arrange an “earn out.” Any lost business is factored at the end of the year, and then this percentage is subtracted from the amount owed to the seller. In some cases, funds are placed in escrow and adjustments are made depending on the performance of the business.
If you are buying or selling a business that involves personal goodwill, your situation may be different from that of the majority of businesses. However, a Business Broker or M&A Advisor can guide you through the process and ensure that all parties are satisfied.
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You may have heard the advice, “the best time to prepare to sell is when you start your business.” While this statement is far from realistic for most business owners and may even sound humorous, it does contain a certain amount of wisdom. When it comes to getting the best outcomes selling your business, preparation cannot be undervalued.
No matter where you are in the journey of running your business, we encourage you to prepare as much as you can. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some considerations and decisions that you’ll need to make when you do get ready to sell. It’s never too early to begin pondering the answers to these questions.
If you are involved in the day-to-day running of your business, logic would dictate that you’re quite busy and don’t have time to dedicate a lot of time towards the process of selling your business. The good news is that is one area where a Business Broker or M&A Advisor will make all of the difference.
Brokerage professionals will perform a variety of tasks from start to finish, including negotiating and interacting with prospective buyers on your behalf. These professionals will be able to work on many things independently and, if it is your preference, they can notify you only about the most relevant details of the transaction. On the other hand, you may want to be very involved in the process of selling. If that is the case, let your brokerage professional know.
Regardless of how involved you are with the business and the sales process, you will want to ensure that things stay as consistent as possible when you are in the sales phase. The reason for this is that buyers will want to see consistency. Any change in operations or revenue earned could turn out to be a red flag for a buyer.
Another item that is worth thinking about ahead of time is confidentiality. Professional Business Brokers and M&A Advisors will put utmost importance on confidentiality. When confidentiality isn’t taken seriously, leaks are very common. These could quickly interfere with the sale, whether it is due to a client/staff looking elsewhere or competitors taking advantage of the situation. Your brokerage professional will advise you of the policies and precautions that work best when it comes to preventing leaks and only revealing details about your business to prospective buyers who have been carefully vetted.
If you have partners in your business, it makes sense to bring up the discussion of a future sale well in advance. This will allow you to get on the same page about your plans for how things will be handled when the time comes. In the case that the date of the sale ends up being before you expect it to be, it will be very helpful to have already addressed these issues.
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Everyone knows that good employees are important for a thriving business. That’s why there has been so much emphasis on keeping employees happy. When your employees are feeling not only satisfied, but also valued, they will be more likely to keep your clients satisfied too. Your business will be more likely to thrive and grow. Of course, this works in the opposite direction as well. When your staff is frustrated and angry, their actions can drive away your customers and clients. If you are looking to sell your business for maximum revenues, it is a good idea to also maximize employee satisfaction levels.
Research from Oxford University found a link between happiness and productivity. According to their study, workers are 13% more productive when they are happy. It goes without saying that employees will be more likely to feel satisfied when they feel that their salary and benefits are fair for the work they do. If they are resentful about the compensation they are receiving for their work, this will ultimately impact their performance.
When you think about some of the most successful companies, you realize that many of them invest substantially in supporting their employees to cultivate higher levels of employee satisfaction. For example, Google is well-known for offering a wide range of perks ranging from parental leave and paid time off to free lunches and fitness facilities.
When it is feasible for employees to work remotely, many employers are finding that it makes sense to offer them this possibility. Not only will it help staff members to manage childcare, but also it can end lengthy and stressful commutes to work that could result in stress and anxiety.
Research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology showed helpful interventions that are proven to increase employee happiness levels. These included training in resiliency, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral techniques.
When you exhibit good leadership and act as a positive role model, your employees will likely follow suit. Employees should be acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done. In some cases, this may be a financial bonus, but in other cases it could simply be patting that employee on the back. Cultivating a positive company culture will prove to boost overall morale. This will increase success for your entire company.
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Are you selling a business that involves a lease? If so, this will be a factor that has significance to a buyer when you go to complete your deal. If your business relies heavily on its location and you don’t own property, then you’ll find the lease will be quite an important consideration for your buyer. By the same token, if you’re buying a business that involves a lease, you’ll want to carefully examine this document and consider how it might impact you and your business. Let’s take a look at some important clauses and terms you’ll want to be looking for.
What are the terms for transfer of the lease? This is something you’ll want to know before signing on the dotted line if you think you’ll be selling at some point in the near future.
How long is your lease? If your buyer can confirm that there are many more years on your lease, he or she will find that to be an advantage.
In the case of a business owner with a new endeavor, a shorter lease may actually be an advantage. That way the owner can get out of the lease if the business is not successful.
If you’re planning on a lease in a shopping center, it’s essential to get in writing that the center will not accept other tenants that do what your business does. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly faced with competing with a similar business.
It’s also important to look for clauses that address what happens in the case of an adverse event. For example, if the property was destroyed by a fire, who will pay in the interim?
There are other practical considerations to consider in leases that many business owners tend to overlook. For example, how are real estate taxes covered? Will you be charged a fee to cover maintenance of the property and, if so, what is it? Is someone in particular responsible for necessary repairs and who will pay for those?
It goes without saying that you’ll also want to check out clauses impacting rent changes. Otherwise, you may face unexpected rent increases that negatively impact your business.
If you are a new business owner, a landlord may ask you to personally guarantee the rent. This would be quite a different lease from one that accepts a well-established corporation as a tenant.
As you can see, there is much more involved in a lease than just the amount of the rent. Be sure to read your lease carefully and ask questions. A Business Broker or M&A Advisor can assist you with lease terms when you are buying a business.
If you’re selling your business, at some point you’ll likely be presented with a term sheet. As the name suggests, this document will include the “terms” of the deal including the basic economic terms and conditions of a prospective acquisition. It is a list of conditions to be met if the sale successfully takes place, yet it is not legally binding.
What is the Difference Between a Term Sheet and the LOI?
Both a term sheet and letter of intent (LOI) will include stipulations and lists for a buyer and seller to agree upon. The major difference is that the term sheet doesn’t require a signature, while the letter of intent does. In many cases, buyers are hesitant to sign before the due diligence stage. In this situation, you may find that the term sheet will precede the LOI.
How Lengthy are Term Sheets?
There is no standard model or form to a term sheet. Therefore, it may be as short as one page, or it could even be five or more pages. But no matter how many pages it may be, it should explain what is being purchased and a stated price. In some cases, the information in a basic term sheet will lead to a formal letter of intent.
What Components Should be Included?
In addition to the price and terms, a term sheet can include other considerations relating to the purchase of the business. For example, it can include employment agreements or non-compete clauses. They can also include conditions to be met upon closing. Often the term sheet will detail plans for the buyer to conduct due diligence and gain additional information. You can expect to find everything from warranties and lists of what is included in the sale to exclusivity clauses within term sheets.
One aspect of the term sheet that should not be overlooked is the method of payment. Typically, the payment sections are far more complex than just “cash at close.” Instead, they will describe a combination of elements including cash at closing, but also other forms of payments. In some situations, they will include details regarding a loan from the seller.
The term sheet is quite beneficial as it can expedite the sales process and prevent serious misunderstandings. As a result, this non-legally binding document can initiate a smooth beginning to a successful deal.
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Once you get to the stage of your deal where you have a signed letter of intent, you may already be feeling a sense of relief that your deal is near finalization. But remember that the due diligence stage is typically yet to come. This stage includes everything from financial and legal investigations to a review of specific information regarding how a business is run.
The due diligence process can be quite comprehensive and it often reveals some surprises. Because it is important for sellers to know what to prepare and for buyers to know what to look for, let’s examine some of the categories that are reviewed during this process.
Trademarks and Copyrights
Will assets like trademarks, patents and copyrights be transferred? This is a point that has certainly interfered with some deals being successful. Due to the fact that trademarks, patents, and copyrights are often essential parts of a business, they cannot be overlooked.
Products and Industry
Due diligence will likely include analysis of product lines and the respective percentage of sales that they make up. If the business in question is a manufacturing business, then all aspects of the process will be examined. For example, buyers will be looking for age and value of the equipment, information about suppliers, etc.
It goes without saying that financial statements should be poured over during due diligence. Current statements and incoming sales should be carefully reviewed. Review of financial information will also include balance sheets. Is there bad debt? Is there work in progress? These kinds of issues will be evaluated.
If you are selling a business, you should be prepared to share lists of major customers. Buyers may also want to compare your market share to that of your competitors.
Buyers should be looking for information on key personnel, as well as data on any potential employee turnover. If you are selling a business, it’s important to try to fix any staffing problems that might interfere with a buyer’s ability to properly run the business.
A key goal of the due diligence process is to find potential problems, such as liabilities and contractual issues. But on the upside, due diligence also includes investigation into assets and benefits. The end result should be that the selling price of the business is justified and both parties walk away satisfied. As stated above, it is very common for problems and issues to pop up during due diligence, so it’s important to stay proactive and be open to negotiation until the deal is finalized.
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Almost every sale of a business involves a high degree of negotiation between buyers and sellers. In this article, we share some of the questions you can ask yourself to prepare for this part of the process. After all, optimal outcomes are typically only achieved through proper negotiation strategies. Keep in mind that one of the key strengths possessed by Business Brokers and M&A Advisors is expertise and skills in negotiating deals.
Can Both Parties Split the Difference?
If the buyer and seller can’t agree on a number, one negotiating tactic is to have them split the difference. This is a tactic that is simple to understand, and it shows both parties that the other is willing to be flexible. This reveals a good degree of goodwill and can serve to not only keep both parties talking, but also lower any pre-existing tensions. When both parties are still at the table, there is still hope that a deal can be reached. This tactic serves to continue the discussions and can often be highly beneficial.
Can the Buyer and Seller Better Understand One Another?
When it comes to good negotiations, one of the goals is for both parties to seek to understand one another. Sometimes a buyer or seller’s needs don’t even involve the numbers on paper. Instead, they may be seeking to adjust terms to make them more conducive to their overall goals. If you can keep an open mind and seek to better understand what the other party is ultimately looking for, it can go a long way in making the deal happen.
Can You Bring in a Professional?
There is an old saying that says “Never negotiate your own deal.” One of the benefits of bringing in a brokerage professional is that this third party won’t have the same level of emotional investment. This means that he or she can keep a neutral perspective and be more apt to see things from both sides. Sometimes a new perspective can work wonders. Further, a brokerage professional will understand the myriad of complex factors that must be successfully resolved before the deal is finalized. A Business Broker or M&A Advisor will have tips and techniques that can only be gained from years of first hand exposure to making deals happen.
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When you’re trying to sell your business, the last thing you want is to waste time dealing with buyers who aren’t qualified and are unlikely to actually make a purchase. After all, you will not want to reveal details about your business to someone who may be looking to take advantage of the situation. Let’s take a closer look at how you can weed out legitimate buyers from those who are just kicking the can down the road.
Legitimate buyers will ask the right questions. They will have a keen interest in your industry and are seeking to gain more information. They will also be likely to ask intelligent probing questions about your customer base and the strengths and weaknesses of your business.
The best buyers will also ask logistical questions about your inventory and cash flow. It goes without saying they will want to know details about profits that are generated. Real buyers will also be concerned about wages and salaries. Their goal will be to ensure that your employees are taken care of and will be unlikely to quit.
Another area that you can expect serious buyers to ask about is capital expenditures. They will evaluate any equipment and machines involved in the business. They will also likely inquire about inventory that is unusable due to the fact that it is outdated or problematic. After all, if they are truly planning to buy the business, they would inherit any headaches.
A good rule of thumb is to imagine yourself in the shoes of the prospective buyer. What kinds of questions would you ask? If you find that a buyer is only asking the bare minimum of questions that only scratch the surface, odds are that they are not really interested. You can expect the legitimate buyer to ask about everything from environmental concerns to details about your competitors.
The best way to evaluate buyers is to turn to the experts. Your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will have years of experience in talking to buyers and will have a leg up on evaluating who is worth your time and energy.
Further, you would likely be overwhelmed with the process of handling buyer inquiries while you are still trying to effectively run and manage your business. A good brokerage professional will handle your incoming inquiries and only notify you of buyers who are suitable, qualified candidates. They will ensure that the highest standards of confidentiality are held along the way.