No one keeps a business forever. At some point, you’ll either want to sell your business or have to retire. When you’re ready to sell, it is important to streamline the process, minimize the stress, and also receive top dollar. In a recent Forbes magazine article, “How to Find a Buyer for Your Business,”serial entrepreneur Alejandro 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. Cremades, author of The Art of Startup Fundraising, says you should start thinking 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 the Kauffman Fellows Leadership Development Program, acquirers buy businesses for a range of reasons including:
- Driving their own growth
- Expanding their market
- Accelerating time to market
- Consolidating the market
- Reinventing their own business
- Responding to disruption
Startups should be prepared to answer these questions:
- How profitable is the company
- Size of total addressable market
- What are the top line revenues
- How much are gross profit margins
- Are customers retail consumers, SMB clients or enterprise level
- Customer churn rates
- Customer satisfaction ratings
- Value of contracts
Additionally, it is critical to make connections. “Strategic acquisitions are about who you know, and who knows you,” says Cremades. “Start making those connections early.” 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. Cremades says brokers “can help make introductions, hype up the opportunity, demonstrate the value, create a bidding war, manage the process and hopefully get you more for your company. That’s their job. The more they get you, the more they get paid.”
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.
“A talented team alone may warrant a bigger company buying your startup,” Cremades says. “So, hire the best. Who you put on your board can make it very easy (or more challenging) to get your company acquired as well. What experience do they have in M&A transactions? Who do they know that will also invest or may want to buy you out?”
Small business transactions have been enjoying record numbers. However, during 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 posted by BizBuySell, “Q2 Small Business Transactions Down as Trade War Questions Remain.”
The number of transactions stood at 2,444 for Q2, a drop of 9.6%. On the other hand, businesses are still selling at record levels. There were 4,948 transactions reported in just the first half of 2019, according to BizBuySell. That means that 2019 could be the second most active business-for-sale market since BizBuySell began tracking data back in 2007. Certainly the Q2 9.6% drop 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 behind the Q2 dip, according to many experts.
Amost half of business owners — 43% — are experiencing rising costs as a result of tariffs on Chinese goods, according to a recent BizBuySell poll. Small businesses across the board are feeling the effects of the trade war with China.
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 a complex process that boils down to this: Finding the right buyer. In a recent Forbes article, “Ready to Sell Your Business? Follow These 3 Tips to Find the Best Buyer,” author Serenity Gibbons, a former assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal, outlines the multifaceted process of selling a business.
Gibbons cautions small business owner to thoughtfully consider when, how, and to whom you sell your stock. “Create a for-sale plan that sets up the business for long-term success,” she recommends. To sell your business the right way, have a coherent and well thought out 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.
If you’re like most small businesses, a large percentage of your wealth is tied up in your business. Unfortunately, studies indicate that only estimated 20% to 30% of businesses on the market actually find buyers. This important fact means that business owners 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.
To make a business attractive for sale at the best price, “the owner’s role has to be relatively easy to transfer, ” says Michael Lefkowitz, author of the exit planning book “Where’s the Exit.” “Before you make your exit, you have to take some time to step away from daily operations, polish the appeal of your brand, update your books, and build up the capability of your subordinates,” Lefkowitz says. In short, you have to become replaceable.
Gibbons notes that “not every buyer with cash in hand is the right buyer for your company.” Three key variables 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.
“Assuming you choose wisely, this person will know how to craft a unique and compelling narrative about your business to inspire people to pony up the necessary dough—all the while helping you navigate the emotional ups and downs that accompany the selling process,” says James Moran, founder and managing partner of ValueStreet Equity Partners, a San Diego-based small business investment firm.
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 simple but undeniable fact is buying a business is one of the single greatest financial decisions a person can make. Buying a business can lead to great financial success or great financial failure. This fact helps to underscore why it is so important to work with an experienced broker who can help guide you through the often labyrinthian process of buying a business.
In a July 2019 article from Smallbusiness.co.uk, author Kyle Carins explores three key factors that everyone should consider before they buy a business. The first factor covered in Carins’ article, “3 Things to Consider When Buying a Business,” is appeal vs. viability.
Appeal Vs. Viability
Not surprising, the most important variable for most prospective owners is that the business is indeed viable. Not being able to differentiate between an appealing business and one that is viable can lead to financial disaster.
As Carins points out, “Do you want to make money or do you want to fulfill a dream?” Sometimes those two variables can intersect, but not always and not often. In the end, it is vital to know whether a given business is, in fact, potentially lucrative.
However, as Carins points out, it is also important that you choose a business that you will enjoy. Nothing can be more spirit crushing than running a business that you truly hate, even if it is lucrative. Selecting the right business for you is something of a balancing act that must take in a variety of often competing variables.
Considering Hidden Costs
The second factor that Carins looks at is the issue of “hidden costs.” One of the key reasons that it is so important to work with a business broker is that a business broker understands these kinds of factors that you might otherwise overlook. Due diligence is amazingly important. For those who have never bought a business before, working with a business broker offers substantial protection against making a potentially serious mistake.
The third factor examined in Carins article is “Getting a second opinion.” For Carins, getting a second opinion is actually linked to due diligence. He feels that additional opinions regarding a given business should go beyond working with professionals and should also include talking to friends and family who know you well. Additional opinions can help one see angles that might otherwise be missed.
Again, buying a business is complicated and will take up a good deal of one’s time and mental energy. Your friends and relatives, understand your personality and your wants and desires. Their input can be particularly beneficial.
Finding an experienced business broker can help you do more than simply establish whether or not a given business is a “good deal.” Brokers with years of proven experience can also help you determine whether or not a specific business is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.
Fair market value can be used as a way for business owners to “bridge the gap between the valuation they feel they deserve and that which they’re likely to receive.” In an October 2018 Divestopedia article, Dave Kauppi says this increases the chances of a deal actually taking place. Let’s turn our attention to some of the key points in Kauppi’s informative article.
Understanding the Reality of Selling a Business
Few businesses actually sell on their first attempt. Just 10% of businesses that are for sale are actually sold three years later, according to the article. This low percentage underscores the value of working with a business broker. Selling a business can be difficult under even the best of circumstances. The process is complex, and most sellers have never actually sold a business before.
Business owners should have realistic expectations regarding valuation. The market doesn’t care “how much money you need for retirement,” or how much you’ve invested.
Four Points to Consider
Business owners should understand the few business characteristics that will ultimately drive the sale. The four key factors to consider: contractually recurring revenue, durable competitive advantage, growth rate and customer concentration.
There is a lot packed into these four points, but here are a couple of big takeaways. In terms of customer growth, if a large percentage of your business is derived from a single customer, then that is going to be seen as a problem. As Divestopedia points out, if your company is dependent and partially dependent on a single customer, then you can expect a lot of pressure for you, as the business owner, to stick around a lot longer to ensure that this key customer isn’t lost. If intellectual property, such as software, is involved, then things can get even more complex. In the end, determining value in technology-based companies can be more challenging.
In the end, working with a seasoned business broker, one that understands valuation and how best to get there, is a must. You want to receive the best possible price for your business. An experienced business broker will help you understand how to navigate the complex process of determining a price. However, and most importantly, a business broker will help you achieve a fair market value, so that your business doesn’t remain unsold for years.
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