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 a business can close:
1. The seller must show satisfactory evidence that he or she has the legal right to act on behalf of the selling company and the legal authority to sell the business.
2. The buyer’s representatives must have completed the due diligence process, and claims and representations made by the seller must have been substantiated.
3. The necessary financing must have been secured, and the proper paperwork and appropriate liens must be in place so funds can be released.
4. All representations and warranties must be in place, with remedies made available to the buyer in case of seller’s breech.
There are two major elements of the closing that take place simultaneously:
• Corporate Closing: The actual transfer of the corporate stock or assets based on the provisions of the Purchase and Sale Agreement. Stockholder approvals are in, litigation and environmental issues satisfied, representations and warranties signed, leases transferred, employee and board member resignations, etc. completed, and necessary covenants and conditions performed. In other words, all of the paperwork outlined in the Purchase and Sale Agreement has been completed.
• Financial Closing: The paperwork and legal documentation necessary to provide funding has been executed. Once all of the conditions of funding have been met, titles and assets are transferred to the purchaser, and the funds delivered to the seller.
It is best if a pre-closing is held a week or so prior to the actual closing. Documents can be reviewed and agreed upon, loose ends tied up, and any open matters closed. By doing a pre-closing, the actual closing becomes a mere formality, rather than requiring more negotiation and discussion.
The closing is not a time to cut costs – or corners. Since mistakes can be very expensive, both sides require expert advice. Hopefully, both sides are in complete agreement and any disagreements were resolved at the pre-closing meeting. A closing should be a time for celebration!
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 that really aren’t buyers. In the example cited, the red flag should certainly be raised.
A red flag should be raised if an individual buyer shows a great deal of interest in the company, but has no experience in acquisitions and has no prior experience in the same industry. Even if this buyer appears very interested, the chances are that as the deal progresses, he or she will be tentative, cautious and will probably have a problem overcoming any of the business’s shortcomings. Retaining an intermediary generally eliminates this problem, since every buyer is screened and only those that are really qualified are even introduced to the business.
Both of the above examples are early-stage red flags. Sellers have to be focused so they don’t waste their time on buyers that are undesirable. If a buyer appears to be weak, does not have a good reason to need the deal, or is otherwise unqualified, the red flag should be raised because the chances of a successful transaction are diminished. The seller might seriously consider moving on to other prospects.
Red flags do not necessarily mean the end of the deal or that it should be aborted immediately. It simply means that the seller should pay close attention to what is happening. Sellers should keep their antenna up during the entire transaction. Problems can develop right up to closing. Here is an example of a middle-stage red flag: The seller has received a term sheet from a prospective buyer and is then denied access to the buyer’s financial statements in order to verify their ability to make the acquisition. As a reminder, a term sheet is a written range of value for the purchase price plus an indication of how the transaction would be structured. It is normally prepared by the would-be purchaser and presented to the seller and is non-binding. A buyer who is not willing to divulge financial information about his or her company, or, himself, in the case of an individual, may have something to hide. Due diligence on the buyer is equally as important as due diligence on the business.
If a proposed deal has entered the final stages, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any red flags, or any additional ones, if there have been some along the way. If there have been several red flags, perhaps the transaction shouldn’t have gone on any further. It is these latter stages where the red flags become more serious. However, at this point, it makes sense to try to work through them since problems or issues early-on apparently have been resolved.
One red flag at this juncture might be an apparent loss of momentum. This might mean a problem at the buyer’s end. Don’t let it linger. As mentioned earlier, at this juncture all stops should be pulled out to try to overcome any problems. If a seller, or a buyer, for that matter, suspects a problem, there might very well be one. Ignoring it will not rectify the situation. When a red flag is recognized, it is best that it be confronted head-on. It is only by acting proactively that red flags in the deal can become red sails in the sunset – a harbinger of smooth sailing ahead.
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 have the procedures in place to reduce the risk of a breach. Another alternative is to work with just a few buyers. This, however, does reduce the chances of obtaining the best price.
- Another way to avoid this breach is to try to keep a short timetable between going to market and a closing. The shorter the timetable, the less the chance for the word to get out. One way to keep a short timetable is to gather all of the information necessary for the buyer’s due diligence ahead of time. Create a place where all of this material can be consolidated. This can be as simple as a set of secured file drawers. Such documentation as: customer and vendor contracts, leases and real estate records, financial statements and supporting schedules (assets, receivables, payables), conditions of employment agreements, organization charts and pay schedules, summary of benefit programs, patents, etc. should be gathered. It is not unusual for due diligence examinations to look back 3 to 5 years, so there could be a lot of records.
- The above means that the seller has to get organized. Selling one’s business is fraught with paperwork. Set up some three-ring binders so all of the relevant paperwork and resulting documentation has a place. These binders should be kept in a secure location.
- The seller’s employees should be conditioned to having strange people (potential buyers) walk through the facility. One way to avoid suspicion is to arrange to have unrelated people, for example – customers, suppliers, advisors – tour the company facilities prior to placing the business on the market.
- If sellers have not prepared their employees for strangers walking through the facilities as suggested above, awkward situations can develop. A valued employee may question why tours are being conducted. The seller is then placed in the position of explaining what is happening or covering the question with a “smokescreen.” A seller could reply by saying that the strangers are possible investors in the company. If asked directly if the business is for sale, the seller could respond by saying that if General Electric wants to pay a bundle for it – anything is for sale. Once in the selling process, it is also important to minimize traffic by only allowing serious, qualified prospects to tour the operation.
- Keep in mind that confidentiality leaks can emanate from many sources. For example, an errant email ends up on someone else’s email. A fax gets sent to the wrong fax machine or UPS or FedEx deliveries go to the wrong people. Establish methods ahead of time on how to communicate with potential buyers or an intermediary.
- The key to handling confidentiality is for the seller to retain a third party intermediary. They will insist that all potential buyers sign a confidentiality agreement. They will also be able to advise the seller on how to handle the “company tours” and can insure that only qualified buyers are shown the facilities.
- The “myth” is that confidentiality issues can make or break a deal, or cause serious damage to the seller’s business. The reality is that breaches seldom occur when an intermediary is involved, and if they do occur and are handled properly, there is little damage to the business or a potential transaction.
By Bill Husted, a.k.a. Technobuddy
When it comes to computing there are glitches, just small hiccups that are annoying but not serious. Then there are the fatal mistakes. That’s when your computer becomes a beige paperweight and you lose all the data you’ve stored.
It’s worthwhile to spend today talking about the really big mistakes computer users make, the kind that can’t easily be reversed. All the mistakes that I mention here are almost sure to eventually come to pass if you fail to protect against them.
Fatal Mistake No. 1 – Everything you had is gone
If hard disks had a tattoo, it would say “Born to Die.” Hard disks, both the conventional type and the newer solid state ones, will eventually fail if you own your computer long enough. When that happens, all your data disappears from that disk. When I say “all your data disappears” that sounds too clinical, not important enough. So let me say it another way. We’re talking about all your family photos, all your financial records, even your only copy of Aunt Emily’s recipe for meat balls. Gone forever.
Even so, you’d be surprised how many people fail to keep a back-up copy of their data. The best figures I can find – from Harris Interactive – say that fully a third of computer users never back-up data and that more than 70 percent don’t back-up often enough.
The shame is that backing up is easy to do. The best and easiest way is to do as I do – use a commercial online service that automates the process and stores your data at a site away from your home. I use the online service called Carbonite. But competitor Mozy also does the job just fine. In either case, once you’ve subscribed and set up the service, you literally never have to worry about it again. Each time I create a new file, the system backs it up and stores it away. And unlike using an external hard disk to store the information, it’s stored on a remote site. That way if my home is destroyed by fire, or if a lightning bolt zaps my computer and hard drives, the data is safe.
But even if you store the information on an external hard disk you are way ahead of those who don’t back up data at all.
Fatal Mistake No. 2 – Not using anti-malware software
You can connect a brand new computer to the Internet at 8 a.m. and, if it is not protected from spyware, adware, viruses and other malware, it’ll be infected by 8:06 a.m. If that happens, it’s way more than an annoyance.
Some of the nastiest malware can encrypt all the data on your computer. Then the hackers blackmail you by asking that you pay them big bucks to restore your computer. Other malware can steal the information – including financial and personal records – from your hard disk.
All this is certain to happen unless you protect your computer. I’ve written column after column about some free programs that can protect you. But even if you decide to pay for anti-malware software it is money well spent.
Fatal Mistake No. 3 – Being an idiot
I’m not being rude, but you are the most common cause of fatal mistakes. None of us – not the smartest computer professional – is immune to being an idiot. I was a mass murderer of computers for years and still have that potential.
Here’s what I mean when I ask you not to be an idiot: Don’t abandon your common sense when sitting at the keyboard. There are so many ways that this can happen that I’ll just mention a few so you get the idea.
One example would be this. I often hear from readers who tried to fix a computer without knowing what was wrong. So they looked on the Web and found a suggestion on what to do. Look if you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you know how to fix it? How can you tell if the suggested method is a good one? Let’s be charitable and say the suggested method is legit – many aren’t. But the reader was trying to do something that was too difficult for his skill level and turned a minor problem into a disaster.
Another example is furnished by the reader who wrote me recently to tell me he responded to an email that claimed to be from his bank. He was told the bank was requiring customers to change their passwords because of a breach by hackers and was directed to an official looking site to perform that chore. You’ve guessed it – that official site was one constructed by hackers. He entered his old password and then his new one. Next thing he knew hackers had entry to his bank account with predictable results.
So what I’m saying with these examples is that your common sense has taken you far in life. Please don’t abandon it while messing with your computer.
Here’s the deal when it comes to these mega mistakes. You can guard against them, or you can ignore them and suffer the consequences. Me? I vote for guarding against them.
Q: My Hotmail account password was changed two weeks ago by someone who hacked my account. I have contacted Microsoft twice and they say I will get a response in 24 hours but I haven’t. There is no phone number to contact them, and now I want my Hotmail account back. I am really tired of them not answering. There is some sensitive information in some of the folders too. Thank you for any help you are able to provide.
A: I wish I could help but I couldn’t do anything even if it was my own account at Hotmail that had been hacked. It’s a free service and basically you get what you pay for. Also there’s been a real rash of hacking going on with those free accounts. Based on reader emails and some other buzz on the Web, I think hackers target those free accounts more aggressively than other email accounts. That’s why I don’t use them. Most Internet providers also offer a free email service. If you use that service and have trouble then you have a much better chance of getting help since you are a paying customer, not someone just getting a free service.
Bill Husted’s Technobuddy column appears regularly in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other Cox newspapers. Reprinted with permission of the author.Read More
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 bad company after all and elect to keep it. On the other hand, the seller could decide that the current condition of the company needs to be improved before attempting to sell it. Looking at the company through the eyes of a buyer, could also prompt the seller to try to increase the value prior to selling. This may be done, for example, by building a stronger brand loyalty, by entering into employee contracts with key managers, or perhaps by diversifying the customer base.
Assuming, however, that the decision to sell has been made, the importance of the selling memorandum can not be emphasized enough. It is like a strong advertisement for the company and it must tell a good story. It should highlight the positive parts of the company, add value for the buyer, and show the negatives as opportunities. The selling memorandum has to make a good first impression. A seller wants to attract qualified buyers and bring value to the company being sold. This means that the selling memorandum has to be prepared and written by a professional. It is too important a document to do it any other way. It is also the basis of a strong marketing program to attract the best buyer at the best price.
What makes up a strong selling memorandum? It includes quite a few different elements. But, first a few caveats:
- Don’t include confidential company information or reveal trade secrets. Although the document may be intended for qualified buyers only, once it is disseminated it really becomes a public document. Professional intermediaries and investment bankers do make prospective buyers sign a confidentiality agreement, which does help in this area. Still, with copy machines and email services readily available, it never hurts to maintain confidential information until much further in the negotiations.
- Make sure that a prospective buyer knows exactly what you are selling. It is assumed unless otherwise mentioned that it is the entire company that is for sale. You don’t want prospects to think that they can purchase just the most profitable portions of the company. Obviously, a seller wants to show-off the excellent parts of the company, but this should not be done at the expense of the not-so-good parts. These can be presented as excellent opportunities.
- The selling memorandum should not be aimed at the right prospects. If the business requires technical language to best explain it, use it. A buyer, who doesn’t understand it, probably isn’t a buyer.
- There should be an explanation of how the company works so a prospective acquirer can read through the lines about the selling company’s corporate culture. This element can make or break a sale and it’s best to discover it at the outset.
- There is always a tendency to include too much information – don’t. Don’t over-sell. You don’t need to include the names of customers and vendors and the names of all the employees.
- Be sure to also include the blemishes. If there is a pending lawsuit, include. The bad news should be revealed early on – no one likes surprises, especially later in the negotiations.
- And, finally, and probably, most important, the selling memorandum should be easy to read.
Now, what about the various elements of the selling memorandum. Here are the areas that should be covered in it.
Business Profile (or Executive Summary) – This may be the most important element of the selling memorandum. The entire offering should be covered in brief – no more than four-pages, at most. Many are done in one page. Remember, the sole purpose of the business profile is to generate excitement and interest. It is a selling piece! It should include:
- The Business
- Financial highlights
- Products and/or services
- The opportunities
- Reason for sale (Why is it for sale?)
This business profile is usually sent to possible purchasers. If the prospect is interested further, they sign a confidentiality agreement before receiving the entire selling memorandum. The selling memorandum includes detailed information on the key elements of the company and usually covers the following:
- Business overview – In other words, who and what is the company? This is the place where everything about the company is summarized: it’s history, the employees (in general), the management team, the locations, any important intangible assets, and the outlook for the business.
- Company strengths – What does the company do well? This should cover those strengths that bring value to this particular company.
- Markets – Who are the customers/clients? What and how does the company sell its products or market its services.
- The Risks – What are they? If there are risks in the business, they should be described and then an explanation of how the company solves them.
- Financial data – Is the company making money? Cash flow statements are important. Current thinking is that the seller doesn’t have to include all of the available financial data – which the prospective buyer will go through all the financial history as the deal moves forward.
The selling memorandum should include any relevant corporate and/or product brochures as attachments. Prior to putting the business on the market, it is important that an outside valuation be performed. However, the price and terms are not usually a part of the selling memorandum – the marketplace will dictate the price. The purpose of the entire selling memorandum is to generate sufficient interest so that a prospective acquirer will make an offer.
Prior to putting a company on the market for sale, the question of value has to be addressed. Increasing the value should, in fact, be considered a year, preferably two, prior to sale. Value is based on profitability, cash flow, management and the overall quality of the operation itself. Here are some considerations in building value, whether the business is going to be sold or not.
- Are the company’s pricing policies set too low, creating low margins? Perhaps they were set some time ago in order to boost sales. Now might be a good time to review them to make sure they are in keeping with current market conditions.
- Is the inventory level too high? How about work-in-progress or finished goods? Increasing the turns in inventory can increase cash flow.
- Are you paying too much for raw material? Talk to your vendors and suppliers, you might be able to get some better prices or terms. Take a look at all of the expenses: utilities, telephone, technology, office expenses – it all adds up.
- Are there services that could be outsourced for increased savings?
- Increasing the quality of customer service may entice customers or clients to pay their bill promptly.
- Are all the employees working together to improve the operation and profitability of the company?
These are just a few of the areas that can and should be reviewed. Although profits are important, there is an old expression that cash is king. The time to take a look at the overall company operations is now.
Measuring the Value of a Company
Consider the following important areas of a company. How does your company stack up in these critical areas? If you were to rank them on a 1 to 4 scale, for instance, what would your score be? The higher the score the more valuable the company! They are considered value drivers – in other words, they are important to a prospective buyer.
- Type of business
- History of company and industry
- Business growth
- Market share
- Return on investment
- Quality of financial statements
- Terms of sale
For example, in looking at a company’s financial data – are the statements audited or merely compiled? Is the growth of the company slow or is it growing quickly? How about the customer base – is it based on several major ones, or is it spread out over many customers? The time to consider these critical value drivers is now!Read More