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Seller Financing: It Makes Dollars and Sense

When contemplating the sale of a business, an important option to consider is seller financing.  Many potential buyers don’t have the necessary capital or lender resources to pay cash.  Even if they do, they are often reluctant to put such a hefty sum of cash into what, for them, is a new and untried venture.

Why the hesitation?  The typical buyer feels that, if the business is really all that it’s “advertised” to be, it should pay for itself.  Buyers often interpret the seller’s insistence on all cash as a lack of confidence–in the business, in the buyer’s chances to succeed, or both.

The buyer’s interpretation has some basis in fact.  The primary reason sellers shy away from offering terms is their fear that the buyer will be unsuccessful.  If the buyer should cease payments–for any reason–the seller would be forced either to take back the business or forfeit the balance of the note.

The seller who operates under the influence of this fear should take a hard look at the upside of seller financing.  Statistics show that sellers receive a significantly higher purchase price if they decide to accept terms.  On average, a seller who sells for all cash receives approximately 70 percent of the asking price.  This adds up to approximately 16 percent difference on a business listed for $150,000, meaning that the seller who is willing to accept terms will receive approximately $24,000 more than the seller who is asking for all cash.

Even with these compelling reasons to accept terms, sellers may still be reluctant.  Selling a business can be perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the cash jackpot.  Therefore, it is important to note that seller financing has advantages that, in many instances, far outweigh the immediate satisfaction of cash-in-hand.

  •  Seller financing greatly increases the chances that the business will sell.
  • The seller offering terms will command a much higher price.
  • The interest on a seller-financed deal will add significantly to the actual selling price. (For example, a seller carry-back note at eight percent carried over nine years will double the amount carried.  Over a nine-year period, $100,000 at eight percent will result in the seller receiving $200,000.)
  • With interest rates currently the lowest in years, sellers can get a much higher rate from a buyer than they can get from any financial institution.
  • The tax consequences of accepting terms can be much more advantageous than those of an all-cash sale.
  • Financing the sale helps assure the success of both the sale and the business, since the buyer will perceive the offer of terms as a vote of confidence.

Obviously, there are no guarantees that the buyer will be successful in operating the business.  However, it is well to note that, in most transactions, buyers are putting a substantial amount of personal cash on the line–in many cases, their entire capital.  Although this investment doesn’t insure success, it does mean that the buyer will work hard to support such a commitment.

There are many ways to structure the seller-financed sale that make sense for both buyer and seller. Creative financing is an area where your business broker professional can be of help. He or she can recommend a variety of payment plans that, in many cases, can mean the difference between a successful transaction and one that is not. Serious sellers owe it to themselves to consider financing the sale. By lending a helping hand to buyers, they will, in most cases, be helping themselves as well.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Negotiating the Price Gap Between Buyers and Sellers

Sellers generally desire all-cash transactions; however, oftentimes partial seller financing is necessary in typical middle market company transactions.  Furthermore, sellers who demand all-cash deals typically receive a lower purchase price than they would have if the deal were structured differently.

Although buyers may be able to pay all-cash at closing, they often want to structure a deal where the seller has left some portion of the price on the table, either in the form of a note or an earnout.  Deferring some of the owner’s remuneration from the transaction will provide leverage in the event that the owner has misrepresented the business.  An earnout is a mechanism to provide payment based on future performance.  Acquirers like to suggest that, if the business is as it is represented, there should be no problem with this type of payout.  The owner’s retort is that he or she knows the business is sound under his or her management but does not know whether the buyer will be as successful in operating the business.

Moreover, the owner has taken the business risk while owning the business; why would he or she continue to be at risk with someone else at the helm?  Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which an earnout can be quite useful in recognizing full value and consummating a transaction.  For example, suppose that a company had spent three years and vast sums developing a new product and had just launched the product at the time of a sale.  A certain value could be arrived at for the current business, and an earnout could be structured to compensate the owner for the effort and expense of developing the new product if and when the sales of the new product materialize.  Under this scenario, everyone wins.

The terms of the deal are extremely important to both parties involved in the transaction.  Many times the buyers and sellers, and their advisors, are in agreement with all the terms of the transaction, except for the price.  Although the variance on price may seem to be a “deal killer,” the price gap can often be resolved so that both parties can move forward to complete the transaction.

Listed below are some suggestions on how to bridge the price gap:

  • If the real estate was originally included in the deal, the seller may choose to rent the premise to the acquirer rather than sell it outright.  This will decrease the price of the transaction by the value of the real estate.  The buyer might also choose to pay higher rent in order to decrease the “goodwill” portion of the sale.  The seller may choose to retain the title to certain machinery and equipment and lease it back to the buyer.
  • The purchaser can acquire less than 100% of the company initially and have the option to buy the remaining interest in the future.  For example, a buyer could purchase 70% of the seller’s stock with an option to acquire an additional 10% a year for three years based on a predetermined formula.  The seller will enjoy 30% of the profits plus a multiple of the earnings at the end of the period.  The buyer will be able to complete the transaction in a two-step process, making the purchase easier to accomplish.  The seller may also have a “put” which will force the buyer to purchase the remaining 30% at some future date.
  • A subsidiary can be created for the fastest growing portion of the business being acquired.  The buyer and seller can then share 50/50 in the part of the business that was “spun-off” until the original transaction is paid off.
  • A royalty can be structured based on revenue, gross margins, EBIT, or EBITDA.  This is usually easier to structure than an earnout.
  • Certain assets, such as automobiles or non-business-related real estate, can be carved out of the sale to reduce the actual purchase price.

Although the above suggestions will not solve all of the pricing gap problems, they may lead the participants in the necessary direction to resolve them.  The ability to structure successful transactions that satisfy both buyer and seller requires an immense amount of time, skill, experience, and most of all – imagination.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Where Does Transferable Business Value Come From?

One of the most important elements of a successful business transition is transferable value. No matter what an owner sees for the future of the business, the transferable value can be the common denominator that makes all goals more achievable.

What is Transferable Value?

Transferable value, for a closely-held business, is most simply what a business is worth to someone else without its original owner. The transferable value should not be confused with profit. Just because your company brings in millions of dollars of profit each year, does not necessarily mean it has transferable value. True transferable value in a business is determined not by how well you run the business, but by how well the business runs without you.

Business owners aren’t always aware that transferable value is more than a formula involving multiples of earnings or some calculation of discounted future cash flows. To get a more accurate representation of the current state of your company’s transferable value, you can start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • If you permanently leave your business today, would it continue with minimal disruption to its cash flow?
  • Who will be responsible for running the business without you—and with minimal disruption to cash flow?

Value Drivers

One way to start to build transferable value is to evaluate your value drivers. Installing and enhancing value drivers can help create a company that can be transferred to someone else (whether that’s the next generation of family members or an outside third-party buyer)—without the owner—with minimal disruption to its cash flow. Some examples of value drivers that you may need to focus on are:

  • Next-Level Management
  • Operating Systems Demonstrated to Increase the Sustainability of Cash Flows
  • Diversified Customer Base
  • Proven Growth Strategy
  • Recurring Revenue That Is Sustainable and Resistant to Commoditization
  • Good and Improving Cash Flow
  • Demonstrated Scalability
  • Competitive Advantage
  • Financial Foresight and Controls

One might measure the effectiveness of value drivers in two ways:

  • Their positive contribution to cash flow.
  • Their ability to continue to contribute to cash flow under new ownership.

A company with strong value drivers might demand (and receive) a higher multiple on the same amount of EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) than a company with weak or non-existent value drivers.

Build Transferable Value with Your Management Team

Building a management team that you can confidently leave your company with can be challenging. You may want to create a loyal “next-level” management team that will not only maintain the value of your business but is just as motivated as you are to grow the business to new heights. Understanding where your company may have weaknesses is an important step in knowing the type of person you will need to attract to help fill the gaps. It’s worth it to ask yourself whether you are focusing on attracting people with the skill sets the company needs to accomplish growth independently from the efforts and resources of the current owners. Establishing this highly qualified team long before you are thinking you’ll transfer the can give them the time and space to prove their ability to perform.

Attracting the right team is the first step, retaining the team long after your departure is the real task. To hold onto these vital team members, they may require more money or some percent of ownership as a condition of employment. Creating an effective incentive plan that fits the needs of your team is the best way to ensure your management team stays in place and continues to increase business value after your departure.

Getting Back to Business After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Historians have long known the historical relevance and impact of epidemics and pandemics.  Despite our various technological advances and the complexity of our society, disease can instantly change the course of history.  Not having a robust global system for dealing with disease and pandemics comes with a hefty price tag.  In the case of the COVID-19 economic crisis, the price tag will no doubt be in the trillions. 

You can’t control what has happened, but you can focus on what to do when the pandemic is over and life begins to slowly return to normal.  In his recent article, “How to Hit the Ground Running After the Pandemic,” author Geoffrey James explores what businesses need to do to jumpstart their operations once the pandemic is in the history books.

James wants his readers to understand that the pandemic will end and that business owners need to be ready to charge back in when the pandemic is over and the economy rebounds.  As James points out, if history is any indicator, the economy will eventually rebound. 

Almost everything about this economic downturn is unique.  Take, for example, the fact that the U.S. has just seen its largest-ever economic expansion.  The gears and wheels of the economy were spinning along quite quickly before the pandemic hit.  This could help restart the economy faster than in past severe economic downturns.  In short, many experts feel that this particular economic downturn could be short, but of course, this is speculation.  There is no way to know for sure until COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

James correctly asserts that businesses need to put together a plan for how they will get up and running as soon as the pandemic is over.  His recommendation is to divide your plan and thinking into four distinct categories: Facilities, Personnel, Manufacturing, and Marketing.

Each of these categories has three key questions that business owners should be asking themselves so that their businesses are ready to hit the ground running when COVID-19 is over.  Below are a few of the key questions James recommends asking.

  1. How can we create the most sanitary and disease-free workplace possible?
  2. Which employees will continue to work from home?
  3. When there’s a spike in demand, how will we ramp-up?
  4. What will be our “We’re Back!” marketing message?

The pandemic caught everyone except the experts off guard.  Moving forward, business leaders, think tanks, and politicians alike need to work to develop and implement robust plans to minimize the damage caused by pandemics.  Humanity, and business, has been “lucky” several times in recent years, as we dodged bullets ranging from Ebola to SARS. 

As James points out in his article, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Businesses need to plan for the recovery and they need to plan for another pandemic because another one is quite possible especially if better planning and decision making are not firmly entrenched in place.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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COVID-19 Advice for Hospitality Businesses

Clearly, some industries are taking a bigger hit from COVID-19 than others.  Any industry that requires a great deal of interaction with the public, or where people gather in large groups, are obviously having very tough times.  Movie theaters and restaurants, for example, have essentially gone dark.  Some restaurants are easing the bloodletting a bit by providing delivery, but in the vast majority of cases, revenue pales in comparison to what it was prior to the pandemic. 

While there is no doubt that the hospitality industry is suffering right now, business owners should understand that there are concrete steps they can take now to improve their odds of surviving the pandemic.  In this article, we’ll explore a few of these key ideas.

One of the areas every decision maker and business owner in the hospitality industry should be thinking about right now is staff.  During a recent industry roundtable discussion, John Howe, chairman of the International Association of Business Intermediaries, pointed out that staffing problems will continue long after the pandemic has paused or is over.  He believes that hospitality businesses will have a tough time getting the staff they need, especially in the short run. 

His key piece of advice is to work to have a line on people for key positions.  This will allow you to at least get back up and running with basic operations.  While it may be a while before hospitality businesses are at “full steam,” it is critical that they are able to open up in some fashion, as this will translate into much needed revenue.  Hospitality businesses looking to survive the pandemic should focus on making certain that key positions have been filled.  In this way, the post-pandemic relaunch can be as smooth as possible.

Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, Scott Bushkie, explained that there are a lot of hospitality industry people out of work right now, and this represents a real opportunity.  Now, is the perfect time to potentially upgrade staff.  There are plenty of experienced and proven hospitality people looking for positions.  The new people you bring may come with extra benefits such as bringing their customers, suppliers, and other relationships with them.  For those in the hospitality industry who may have always wanted to upgrade their team, now is perhaps the best time in history to do so.

Employees are a foundational element of your business.  Improving your staff means you’ve improved your business and boosted your odds of survival.  Bringing in new team members can help you prepare for the post-pandemic business environment.  It also offers up the potential for you to upgrade an important element within your business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Dealing with COVID-19’s Economic Impact: Planning and Communication are Key

There are many things that you should be doing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the top of the list is to be proactive.  Now is the time to be thinking about how best to position your business after the economy has returned to something near normal.  Now is not the time for self-pity.  In fact, not preparing for the relaunch of the economy will cost you.

In David Finkel’s recent Inc. article entitled, “10 Things Every Small-Business Owner Needs to Do to Deal with the Impact of COVID-19 on Their Business,” Finkel outlines the 10 key steps business owners should take immediately.  Finkel is the author of 12 business books and CEO of Maui Mastermind business coaching company.

There is no way of knowing how long the COVID-19 fueled economic downturn will last, and that means time is of the essence.  Business owners, regardless of their particular sector, need to prepare as though the economy could relaunch tomorrow.

Finkel’s 10 Things: 

  • Take steps to protect your staff and customers from getting sick.
  • Tell your customers what safety steps you’re taking.
  • Educate your staff on how to stay healthy at work and at home.
  • Engage in scenarios planning to deal with how markets could change.
  • Enlist vendors and suppliers for help.  You should ask them to negotiate payment terms.
  • Take steps to plan out your cash flow.
  • Open a dialogue with your management team.
  • Go on the offensive and look for opportunities.
  • Get your team together and brainstorm.
  • Be sure your key leaders communicate in a united fashion.

There are definitely some commonalities amongst these 10 important steps.  You’ll notice that communication and education are at the heart of most of these points. 

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty out there.  More than almost any time in modern history now is the time to communicate.  All business owners should be advised to communicate with their customers, clients, suppliers, staff, and management team in a clear fashion.  Effective communication based around a consistent and logical message can help to reduce fear.  The fear sections of the brain are driven by our primordial ancestors’ dread of the unknown lurking in the darkness.  Part of being a good leader is to reduce those fears whenever possible. 

Another common thread is planning, which includes looking for new opportunities.  Whenever there is chaos and fear, there are also opportunities.  You should be looking for those opportunities, whether it is improving your own business practices or looking for other companies to buy.

Good communication and planning can help you navigate these choppy waters.  Planning for the recovery from COVID-19 pandemic could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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How to Make Remote Teams Accountable

One of the many, many changes that COVID-19 has ushered in is the extreme uptick in people working remotely.  Social distancing has made working from home a necessity for millions.

The technology that is allowing remote working to take place has matured greatly in the last decade.  Today, it is possible for team members to work from virtually any location.  Of course, as with most technologies, there is a potential downside.  Accountability can become a significant challenge with remote workers.  Of course, the more remote workers you have at a given time, the greater the potential challenges will be. 

Many businesses are struggling with the phenomenon of remote working, as it is something new for them.  Under normal circumstances, large numbers of employees working remotely simply wouldn’t happen.  In a recent article, “The Right Way to Keep Your Remote Team Accountable,” author Elise Keith, Co-Founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings, explores the key steps businesses should take to help ensure that their employees stay on target while working from home.

Starting Slow

Keith believes that for remote working to be effective that there are 4 major mistakes that should be avoided.  One of the biggest mistakes that employers, especially those unfamiliar with remote work, make is that they demand too much productivity right out of the gate. 

She points out that remote teams can, in fact, be very productive and even outperform their in-office counterparts.  Summed up another way, remote work can be extremely productive.  Keith’s perspective is that businesses should “identify the highest priority tasks right now and relax the rest.”  Business owners need to remember that they are not the only ones under stress.  The simple and undeniable fact is that your employees are feeling the stress of COVID-19 as well.

Getting Good at Working Remotely

The second major mistake she points to is that people are assuming the current pandemic situation is temporary.  Other crises will occur in the future, and it makes sense to be prepared.  As she phrases it, why not “get good at working remotely?”  Teams with good remote working skills are proving to be rather resilient right now.

Being Open to Technology

A third mistake she points out is businesses shouldn’t disallow the use of non-approved tools.  In short, now is not the time to worry too much about what software tools people are using.  Instead, she suggests creating an expedited process for the adoption of new tools.  If your team finds a new tool that boosts productivity, you should consider buying it. 

She astutely points out, “Software costs pale when compared to the costs of lost opportunity.”  At the heart of this point is the fact that now, more than any time in decades, is the time to set aside restrictive thinking and become more open-minded and flexible.  After all, your number one goal, and the number one goal of your clients, is to stay in business until the pandemic has passed.

Staying Flexible

Keith’s fourth mistake centers on management’s design to dictate hours and response times.  Remote work is, by its nature, going to be more flexible.  Trying to micromanage every move digitally is simply not a savvy move and will hurt morale. 

Instead, she feels businesses should opt for having a daily meeting via phone or videoconference with the team.  Additionally, she puts forth the idea of having a one-on-one meeting with every team member as well.

For many businesses and many situations, remote work may be the “only game in town.”  Trying to carry on business as usual is only going to cause headaches for everyone.  Remote work can be highly effective for you, especially when used correctly.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Now is the Time for Focus

As of late April 2020, there is one thought at the forefront of the vast majority of businesses around the globe, namely, what steps do I need to take to stay in business until the COVID-19 pandemic is over or recedes?  There is no doubt about it, this is the “big question” of the day. 

The global economic structure hasn’t seen this much uncertainty since WWII, and some would argue that we’ve never seen this level of simultaneous global economic disruption.  Knowing what steps you need to take to keep your business up and running is of paramount importance. 

In short, business owners must be sure that their businesses are in good shape.  You should take every step possible to position yourself for when the economy is back up and running at full steam.  Right now, there is a degree of chaos and uncertainty, but this will not last.  As a business owner, you need to focus on getting your house in order.

Now is not a time to take a vacation.  Instead, you should be focused like never before on the inner workings of your business.  You should be striving to find ways to improve every single aspect.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  There is a real psychological hurdle, as for many people it seems as though everything has “stopped.”  While customers, clients, and staff interactions have been dramatically reduced, now is not the time for you to “check out” mentally and wait for things to get better.

Rarely, if ever, has it been more important for owners to invest as much of their time and energy as possible.  After all, as a business owner, you have already shown a great deal of drive and determination, as well as at least some level of out of the box thinking.  You have proven that you have what it takes to get through the recent challenges. 

Many will feel dejected right now.  But you should pool on the same skill sets that allowed you to create a successful business in the first place.  What obstacles did you overcome in life to create your business?  Was your business created during a prior economic downturn?  The odds are that you already have skill sets and strengths that will allow you to survive the fallout of COVID-19.

For business owners who truly want to survive the economic stress of the pandemic, ultimately, focus is key to survival.  The odds are excellent that there are revenue streams and different approaches that may have been overlooked.  Your job is to identify and then exploit those avenues.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Questions for Helping Businesses Survive the COVID

Developing Your 90-Day Plan

Those who want to make sure their businesses survive this pandemic will want to achieve a laser-like focus.  It is important to realize that the forced downtime triggered by the pandemic affords you the opportunity to work on potentially neglected aspects of your business. 

Summed up another way, now is the time for dynamic and focused action.  In this article, we’ll address what you can do to help your business survive this unusual time period. 

Reevaluating Your Business

It’s time to step back and look at every aspect of your business, including your processes.  You should be encouraged to find new ways of doing things.  In short, now should be viewed as a time of opportunity to reboot your business.  That way when the pandemic has subsided, and your business picks up once more, it is more efficient, more effective, and more competitive.

Scott Bushkie, Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, recommended that business owners create 90-day plans where they look for ways to innovate.  This strategic plan should focus on what they are going to do and what they want to accomplish.  It is critical that there is an actual plan that achieves tangible results and not simply a list of things that should be accomplished.  Listed below are a few questions you should be pondering.

  1. How can I outperform the competition?
  2. How can I innovate?
  3. How can I increase my use of technology?
  4. How can I deliver my products and services in a different way?
  5. How can I reduce my operational costs?
  6. Have I reached out to my suppliers and creditors for assistance?
  7. Have I applied to applicable SBA COVID-19 focused programs?
  8. What do I want to accomplish in the next 90-days? 

It’s Time to Reboot

The main point is that businesses should not look at this pandemic situation as some sort of “miserable and stressful vacation,” but instead as an opportunity to reboot what is not working, and look for ways to make improvements in every aspect of your business.  This process begins by asking the right questions and striving to find the answers.

In answering these questions and finding ways to help boost your rates of survival, you should turn to every asset at your disposal.  Why not ask your management team as well as all of your employees for ideas that could help their business?  Everyone should understand that owners are looking for ways to keep their business healthy while navigating the pandemic.

Now is the time for reflection, short-term and long-term planning, and tangible actions.  Business owners should also consult with a range of business professionals, including, of course, business brokers and M&A Advisors.  Brokers are uniquely positioned to help business owners through this crisis.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Growing Business Value When Times Are Tough

In times of great uncertainty or disruption, some business owners will panic and bury their heads in the sand.  Some will sit tight and wait for things to settle down.  But others will try to create opportunities and future growth.  Which will you be?  We’re here to help you be the latter.

Minimize Tax Exposure

In your annual tax review with your internal and external teams, try taking a new perspective on tax planning. Ask for help in investigating:

  • Federal and state tax relief programs and government stimulus or support measures.
  • Strategically using losses in a single tax year.
  • Leveraging tax reduction devices, such as qualified retirement plans, healthcare plans for all employees, or programs that encourage investment in disadvantaged areas.

Tighten the Belt

Your peers and competitors are making difficult decisions right now about where to cut expenses or streamline operations. Sometimes it takes a big event to help business owners see their business models in a new light. You’ve no doubt already made some changes, and your future business value may benefit from making more of these tough decisions now, such as:

  • Combining roles and responsibilities to more efficiently deliver your products or services.
  • Canceling or delaying planned expansions or equipment purchases.
  • Eliminating customers or lines of services that require a high level of human capital or a high degree of customization, which can eat into profits.

Be cautious to not let these decisions affect the remaining employees’ morale. Whatever decisions you make, be sure to keep communication open and frequent to eliminate any fears and concerns within the company.

Consider Growing Rather Than Shrinking

Now may be the time to acquire smaller, less adaptable companies who are struggling to continue. You may have strategic business plans that are more achievable with the help of another company’s assets. Keep in mind that you may not need to acquire an entire business if that approach does not work for you. Consider these options:

  • Purchase the customer list of a competitor who is not going to continue their business.
  • Look at acquiring inventory, equipment, or staff from smaller competitors; these may be options for growing your business that wasn’t available just a few months ago.
  • Suggest seller financing and more flexible payment terms; sellers are willing to consider alternate sale structures when bank financing and cash are less likely to be available.

Personal Planning Considerations

Be sure to revisit your personal planning in light of any recent changes in your business value, investments outside of your business, or other areas of personal financial stability. Think through issues such as:

  • Business Continuity – how will your business continue if something happens to you?
  • Exit Timeline – how has your personal plan to continue working or owning your business changed recently, and what adjustments are necessary to get you back on track or support your new timeline?
  • Family Support – Do you have family members who need additional support, financial or otherwise? If so, are there creative ways you can help them?

We strive to help business owners identify and prioritize their objectives with respect to their business, their employees, and their family.  If you are ready to talk about your goals for the future and get insights into how you might achieve those goals, we’d be happy to sit down and talk with you.  Please feel free to contact us at your convenience.   Call 443.982.7332 or email Tom at tom@colonialbb.com for more information.