Questions Business Owners Ask & Answers I Give Them
Veteran business broker Loren Marc Schmerler, a member of the board of the Georgia Association of Business Brokers and president of Bottom Line Management, Inc., offers his advice for answering common questions asked by business owners.
- How much is my business worth?
The correct answer is the price a Buyer offers you that you are willing to accept. It makes no difference whether you are making money or losing money. It makes no difference whether sales are increasing, declining, or flat. It makes no difference how much blood, sweat, and tears you have put into your business. It makes no difference how much money you have invested in the business. It makes no difference how much money you owe to the bank or to yourself. It makes no difference what a business valuation or appraisal says. It makes no difference what your hard assets are. It makes no difference what your customer list or client list contains. It makes no difference what your patents or service marks cost you. It makes no difference whether you are a Franchiser, Franchisee, Licensor, Licensee, Distributor, or Independent Contractor. The bottom line is that what you finally accept is what your business is worth.
- How long will it take to sell my business?
The correct answer is no one knows for sure. But I tell my clients that the average time is seven months from listing to closing. For companies that sell for $1 million or more, the average is nine to twelve months. But I also explain that the quickest I ever sold a business was one week, and the longest it ever took me to sell a business was six years. Additionally, I explain that price and terms sell a business. The lower the price, the more affordable the business will be. The lower the down payment, the more people will be able to consider it. The greater the amount of owner financing, the easier the business will be to sell.
- Is there anything I can do to make my business more desirable?
The answer is yes. The most important thing you can do is to put your ego aside and not make the business dependent upon you. Ideally, the goodwill of the business should be at the lowest level that interfaces with customers or clients. This means that you want to hire and keep employees who make your customers happy with high quality work and excellent customer service.
- Is there anything I should not due during the listing period?
The answer is that you should not slack off in any way. You need to stay focused and operate your business as if it will never sell. You need to work as hard or harder no matter how burned out you feel. Do not make any major changes during the listing period. Retain all good and excellent employees, and remove those that are not contributing as they should. Keep your inventory fresh, and eliminate any obsolete items. Keep your equipment and machinery well maintained and properly functioning.
- What is due diligence?
It is the process where the Buyer examines all your books and records, gets approved by the Landlord, gets approved (if applicable) by the Franchiser, Licenser, Distributor, bank, etc. Your books and records need to be current and “bullet proof.” Your tax returns for payroll taxes, sales tax, state income tax, federal income tax, county income tax, city income tax, and any other municipality taxes should be 100% current. Your various licenses need to be current, whether or not the buyer will have to apply for their own. You want to fully disclose everything and not leave any skeletons in the closet.
- What else do you suggest I do to impress a Buyer?
Have a job description for each employee. Put together a Policies and Procedures Manual. This will make the corporate buyer feel more comfortable about taking over the reins. Make sure all your employee reviews are current. The last thing a new owner wants to do is to sit down in a vacuum with an employee who is expecting a raise. Make sure you clean everything that is dirty. Make sure you fix anything that is broken. You do not want the Buyer to wonder what else might be a potential problem. Prepare a business plan and/or marketing plan to show the Buyer how he or she can grow the business. Put together a transition plan that shows the Buyer how you will assist them daily for a period of 28 days. The Buyer may not want you for the full transition period, but at least you are showing that you have thought it through and are willing to make yourself available.
- What happens if I agree to do some owner financing, and the Buyer misses a payment?
The way the closing attorney prepares the paperwork, if a Buyer misses a rent payment or a note payment, it is considered an event of default under the note. This will allow you to take back the business in a worst-case scenario or enter into serious discussions to protect your financial interests. While the best outcome is a Seller getting paid all their money and a Buyer being successful, you must plan for the worst and hope for the best. But I also tell my clients that they should never sell their business to a person they feel will not treat their employees, customers, clients or vendors properly. If you ever get a knot in your stomach during the negotiation, that is the time to throw in the towel and let me gently explain to the Buyer that you do not feel it is a good fit.
I hope this list of questions and answers has been helpful. I offer a free no obligation consultation at any time should you wish to discuss the sale of your business or the purchase of another business. Loren Marc Schmerler, CPC, APC, President, Bottom Line Management, Inc., 404-550-1417.