What Kind of Business Seller Are You?
By Peter Siegel, MBA, Founder and President of BizBen.com.
Almost everyone who owns a company wants to put it up for sale sooner or later. And if the owner doesn’t have employees or family members ready to put up the money and take over the business, the owner must find a buyer in the business-for-sale market. Sadly, only one-third of the hopeful sellers in this market will be successful.
That means two-thirds of owners unable to connect with a buyer will ultimately have to close the business or give it away. The problem may be that the business simply is not desirable. But just as frequently, the reason an owner can’t make a sale is because he or she is one of the many seller types who inevitably will fail.
If the seller can identify what type of seller they are, they can gauge their chances of successfully selling their business.
1. Make a Killing Mike: Also known as “Make a Million, Mike,” this individual believes his business is worth more than any sensible buyer will pay for it. There are a number of ways Mike justifies the asking price. A popular idea is that a similar business recently sold for the price Mike wants. But no two businesses are alike, and Mike doesn’t understand that the “similar” business is much more profitable and in a better location. The market may not reward Mike if he should eventually lower the price to a figure close to its value. Buyers often are not interested in investigating a business that has been on the market for a long time – whatever the reason.
2. Clarence Can’t Carry: An important selling feature of most any business offering is the willingness of the seller to “carry back” part of the purchase price. Along with a cash down payment, the seller receives a promissory note usually secured by the business assets, to be paid off by the buyer over a period of time. It’s reassuring for a buyer when the seller is willing to help finance, because it demonstrates that the seller believes in the business and in the buyer’s ability to operate it successfully. An offering that can only be purchased with all cash is almost always unappealing compared to other opportunities that come with seller financing.
3. Rita Rosy Picture: According to Rita, her business is about to become as much in demand as this week’s most popular show business celebrity. She has the best inventory in town, the most helpful and loyal employees, and greater prospects for the future than any buyer can imagine. Even a business that does excel in some respects has its problems and disadvantages. Buyers know that and often don’t feel secure about an opportunity that is described only in the most optimistic way. When meeting with a seller who doesn’t come across as honest and credible, many buyers get a negative feeling about the opportunity – the opposite of what the seller intended.
4. Nick Not Ready: Any prospective buyers meeting Nick will wonder how he could be trying to sell his business but not be able to produce current financial information, a list of assets to be included, or a definitive description about the premises lease that the landlord will provide to a new owner. Does the seller have something to hide? Is he really that disorganized? If so, what does that say about the condition of the business? Did he neglect to “get his stuff together” because he doesn’t really believe the business is salable? These are questions that occur to buyers as they decide they aren’t interested in what Nick has to offer.
5. Don’t Worry Dorothy: When Dorothy tells a prospective buyer that he or she shouldn’t worry, the buyer usually worries. Buyers want to know what happens if the customer who accounts for half the company’s income decides to do business elsewhere. They want to understand the consequences if a large competitor moves into the neighborhood. If the seller can’t answer these questions, the buyers really won’t worry about those issues. That’s because they’ll look for another business to buy.
6. Secret Sam: One of the things Sam likes to tell prospective buyers is how much of the company’s income goes directly into his pocket without being recorded on the books. He may be proud of his skimming habit. He may think he’s quite clever at fooling the taxing authorities. He might think the buyer will add the total of unreported cash to the reported income and decide the business is making enough money to justify the asking price. But he’s mistaken. The buyers who investigate Sam’s business soon realize he can’t be trusted and move on to find out about other opportunities.
7. Realistic Ralph: Since he is motivated to sell, Ralph wants to present his business in a way that will generate positive responses from buyers. He understands he needs to be proactive in preparing the business for sale. The asking price accurately reflects market conditions. His books are in order and ready to be investigated by qualified buyers. Ralph met with financial institutions with the help of a niche financial advisor who specializes in business purchase financing. The business has been prequalified for financing. And Ralph is willing to carry back 20% of the price with a note. And he’s hired a professional business broker from the Georgia Association of Business Brokers who can develop a confidential plan to market his business to qualified buyers. His approach is a clear recipe for selling success.
If you identify with any of the first six seller types, you’re limiting your chances of selling your business. But if you assume the characteristics of Realistic Ralph, your business is likely to be among the one-third of business offerings that result in a sale.
About The Author: Peter Siegel, MBA is the Founder and President of BizBen.com. He is a SBA SCORE Counselor, author, consultant/coach (ProBuy, ProSell Programs), and advocate on the topic of buying and selling small to mid-sized businesses in the California marketplace. Having writen three books and hundreds of publication articles he has assisted small business owners/sellers, business brokers, agents, and business buyers for over 25 years. This article was adapted from one that originally appeared on his blog.