Many business owners are truly committed to their businesses. As a result, it is very difficult for them to step away even when they approach retirement age. It is not uncommon for business owners to keep working into their golden years. But the truth of the matter is that at some point almost everyone will need to embrace retirement whether it is for health issues, moving to a new location, or simply for greater peace of mind.
If you see this path approaching for you in the near future, it could feel overwhelming. After all, most people have not sold a business before. As a result, they feel unclear about the process and don’t know where to start. However, everyone should be thinking about the eventual sale of their business because this future event should determine many of your current activities and decisions.
Let’s take a look at some things you can do well in advance to ensure that an eventual sale of your business goes as smoothly as possible.
When prospective buyers look at your business, they will want to be able to easily envision it operating smoothly without you involved. Because a good portion of business owners are so integral to the functioning of their businesses, it can be difficult for them to figure out how to decouple themselves from operations. In some cases, this process can take years.
Now is a good time to consider this issue and what you can do to make sure your business can function without you one day. Give some thought to who at your organization could be a second in command. When a buyer sees that a competent and knowledgeable employee will be staying on to assist them, it can go a long way in allaying any concerns.
Put Yourself in the Buyer’s Shoes
Imagine you were buying your business. What kinds of issues might be of concern to you? Chances are these will be the same issues that could concern potential buyers. Once you have identified any spots of weakness, you can start to zero in on figuring out how to handle them.
First and foremost, you will want your buyer to feel confident that there will be a smooth transition and that they can almost immediately begin to profit from their purchase of your business. Anything that you can do to help ensure that is true will benefit the sales process.
Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts in the world of buying and selling businesses. They will help you to properly evaluate your business and look for these areas of weakness. Through this means when you do decide it is time to retire, the process will go more quickly and seamlessly.
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When one sells their house, the best deal is usually the highest price. When one decides to sell their business, there may be other factors to consider. Many buyers are similar to the “overlooked” buyer described below, serious and qualified; and most sales of businesses are win-win transactions. However, there are a few exceptions, and sellers should consider them carefully, balancing their prerequisites to the goals of the buyer.
Selling to a Competitor – Many company owners think this is the best way to go. They read about the mega-mergers such as Bank of America and Fleet bank, or the pending deals such as Federated and the May Company Department Stores, and U.S. Air and American West. Consolidation may play a major role in large public companies; this is not the case in middle market companies.
Many owners of middle market firms look at these mega-deals and think it might work for them. However, upon further consideration, they realize that by disclosing a lot of confidential information to a competitor, their business could suffer irreparable damage if the deal would fall apart – and many do.
Selling to a Strategic Acquirer – This may bring the highest price, but there are several reasons why this may not be in the company’s best interest. Many owners have worked with key employees for years and would not like to see them replaced. The strategic owner might not only replace members of management, but might also move the company to another part of the country.
Selling to a Financial Buyer – This buyer may not be willing to pay the seller’s price and is usually buying a company with intentions of selling it at a profit in three to five years. This leaves the company and its employees in limbo waiting for a new owner to take over.
Other Buyers – The employees may decide to buy the company (ESOP). However, this usually means a long-term payout for the owner. An individual buyer may come along such as a Warren Buffett, but what are the chances? A key member or members of management might decide to purchase the company, but generally they won’t pay the price. If a sale is not consummated, the key management member(s) will most likely leave.
The “Overlooked” Buyer – There are many individuals who want to own their own company. They might be former executives of major companies who want to do something on their own. Some buyers have access to large amounts of investment capital. There are many qualified individual buyers in the market place. Russ Robb, the editor of a leading M& A newsletter, M&A Today, has written a book, Buying Your Own Business, for those individuals interested in buying their own company. This book has sold over 20,000 copies, which indicates the large number of people who are interested in buying a company.
There Is No Magic Answer – Selling a company comes with no guarantees. When Badger Meter Company, a public company headquartered in Milwaukee, acquired Data Industrial Corporation based in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, this appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. Their respective product lines fit like a glove, their corporate cultures seemed compatible, and sales expansion by cross-selling was evident.
This strategic acquisition would have been fine except for one change. The parent company moved Data Industrial’s operation to Kansas, and every employee’s job was terminated. However, one should not construe that all acquisitions by strategic or competitive acquirers end up in a similar fate. Furthermore, for price considerations, the seller can draft restrictions in the Purchase & Sale agreement to prevent the transfer of the business, at least for a specified time period.
Certainly selling to the overlooked type buyer doesn’t guarantee all of the seller’s concerns, but knowing the interests of some of the various buyer types can help insure that the goals of both buyer and seller are met. Sellers should determine their goals prior to attempting to sell their business. A consultation with a professional intermediary is a good start to this process.
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The Market Pulse Report Survey is a resource that has a variety of information that business brokers and M&A advisors regularly utilize to better understand the business landscape. The most recent survey was conducted April 1st to April 15th 2022 and had 360 broker and advisor respondents. It also marked the 40th edition of the quarterly report. The Executive Summary of the report can be accessed here https://www.ibba.org/resource-center/industry-research/
The Main Street Market
One notable fact included in the latest report is that in the Main Street market, between 70% to 80% of buyers are likely to come from within a 20-mile radius. However, with larger companies, it is common for buyers to originate from a distance of over 100 miles away or greater.
The survey also indicated there are two key “headwinds” that businesses are currently facing. These include labor shortages and supply chain issues. Not surprisingly, labor issues are currently creating problems for organic growth. Likewise, supply chain issues can cause prospective buyers to shy away from a business.
The Profile of Current Buyers
The survey also indicated that Main Street buyers not only include the “typical” first-time business buyer. These individuals are often looking for a job in the form of owning a business. Serial entrepreneurs who have made money off previous deals are also now seeking to jump back in and buy another business. The survey indicates that about one-third of buyers who purchased businesses in the $500K to $1M range are serial entrepreneurs.
Additionally, there is a great deal of money flooding into the industry. The money is mostly coming from private equity, family offices, and corporations. Feeling burned by the lack of bank credit by the 2008-2009 economic downturn, these buyers don’t want to get caught in a similar situation again.
A Seller’s Market
The survey indicates that it is currently a seller’s market and that record setting multiples have been occurring. In Q1, an impressive 97% of businesses were receiving their asking price. However, nothing lasts forever. If you’re considering selling your business, it’s a good idea to start making progress now before this trend stops benefitting sellers.
Even with the strong sales track record last quarter, it’s important to note that a fast sale is still improbable. Even in the best economic conditions, it typically takes many months to sell a business.
There are many factors currently benefiting sellers, such as low interest rates, SBA involvement, and people not wanting to work for corporations. However, it’s important not to wait for the “right moment” as often that moment never comes.
It’s always a good idea to begin taking steps to prepare for the sale of your business as soon as possible. This can make a tremendous difference toward fostering a positive final outcome.
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If you are like most business owners, you have never sold a business before and might not have a clear idea of what the process is like. We recommend preparing your business in a way that makes the sale and transition process as easy for your buyer as possible. It should come as no surprise that buyers will like the idea of an easy transition.
It will be very beneficial if you take the time in advance to evaluate the steps and think about what you can do on your end to benefit your buyer. Since you’re the expert on your business, you have unique insights into what would make the transition the most seamless for the other party. When you prepare for the sale with your buyer’s experience in mind, you will likely not only speed up the sales process, but also increase the selling price.
1. Automate Processes
Just like you may have never sold a business before, your buyer may have never bought a business before. If you can figure out how to automate as many processes as you can, it will help with their workflow and reduce the level of intimidation your buyer may be feeling about taking over.
2. Establish a Second in Command
One thing you can do is have a second in command on your staff. If there is a competent employee that your buyer can depend upon for assistance and support, that fact alone will be tremendously attractive. If you do not yet have that person in place, you might have an eye on choosing a person and preparing them for this role. Speaking of staff, you will want to make sure your entire staff is well-trained and any HR issues are resolved in advance.
3. Keep Things Consistent
As you get closer to the time you will put your business up for sale, you will want to begin to work with vendors and key customers. You will want to ensure that the supply chain and significant customers are consistent. Otherwise, this could cause major disruptions for your buyer and impede his or her success. Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll want to keep the potential sale of your business completely confidential. If customers, vendors, and even employees learn about an upcoming sale, this fact alone can lead to a chain reaction of disruptions and problems.
A business broker or M&A advisor can help in a wide variety of ways when you are getting ready to sell. They are experts in maintaining confidentiality while taking you through the sales process from start to finish. Brokerage professionals will also assess your business and inform you of any areas that could be improved to make your business more attractive to buyers.
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Have you been thinking that business ownership is for you? Many people are committed to the idea of owning a business and work hard to pursue this goal. Of course, the path towards buying a business is indeed complicated and requires a significant investment of not only money but also time. As a result, you’ll want to ensure that you are fully committed to business ownership before beginning the process. Let’s take a look at some common reasons why individuals choose to buy a business.
Desire to Grow Your Income
Most people will say that they would like to make more money. However, keep in mind that while owning a business will likely mean you grow your income, it also requires a significant amount of work, especially in the early stages.
Research shows that the longer you own your business, the more profits you will generate. Those who have owned their business for more than a decade will typically earn more than 100K a year. Of course, owning a business always comes with a degree of financial risk, but if you do successfully run your company for a series of years, you will likely succeed financially. Just be prepared for the possibility that the first few years may not generate as much income as you had hoped.
On the positive side, owning your own business allows you to have control over your financial destiny. You have the ability to make decisions that will grow your business
Interest in Shaping Your Lifestyle
When you work for someone else’s business, the way your life is organized is dictated by the rules and regulations of the company. For example, you may want to work at home, but your job requires you to spend 40 hours a week in the office.
If you want to make key decisions that impact your day-to-day life, owning a business will be quite attractive to you. You will be able to decide not only where you work, but also how many hours you work and with whom you work. You have the power and ability to shape many aspects of not only your life, but the life of your employees as well.
You are Willing to Take on Some Risk
The personality of a typical business owner is a person who is comfortable with taking on some risks. After all, not all businesses succeed. At some level, you are always risking your time, money, and energy. Of course, this aspect will vary dramatically depending on the kind of business you acquire.
It is also important to consider that many business owners find that they are working around the clock. They simply cannot go home and forget about their job at the end of the day. In sharp contrast, they are always on call and actively thinking about their business and relevant decisions. You also may not get a paid vacation or sick days.
Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute studied the ideal personality traits for a business owner and found that successful owners are action oriented, curious, self-fulfilled, tech-savvy, and future focused. They surveyed over 1,000 small businesses to generate this data. If you resonate with these traits, it is likely you are indeed cut out to own a business.
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