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Common Reasons for Selling

It has been said that the sale of a business is usually event driven. Very few owners of businesses, whether small or large, wake up one morning and think, “Today I am going to sell my company.” It is usually a decision made after considerable thought and usually also prompted by some event. Here are a few common “events” that may prompt the decision to sell:

Boredom or “Burn-out” – Many business owners, especially those who started their companies and have spent years building and running them, find that the “batteries are starting to run low.”

Divorce or Illness – Both divorce and illness can cause a rapid change in one’s life. Either of these events, or a similar personal tragedy, can prompt a business owner to decide that selling is the best course of action.

Outside Investors – Outside investors may include family, friends, or just plain outside investors. These outside investors may be putting pressure on the owner/majority owner in order to recoup their investment.

No Heir Apparent – In this scenario, no family member has any interest in the business; and the owner has not groomed his or her successor. Unfortunately, in this event the owner often continues to run the business until he is almost forced to sell.

Competition is Around the Corner – In this scenario, the owner would have been better off selling prior to competition becoming an issue.

A “Surprise” Offer is Received – This may be about the only reason not truly event driven; an unsolicited offer is presented that is too good to pass up.

Everything is Tied Up in the Company – The owner/ founder sometimes becomes aware that everything he or she has is tied up in the business. In other words, all the eggs are in one basket.

Should Have Sold Sooner – Owning a small to midsize company (or even a large one) is not without its risks. A large customer goes under, suppliers decide to increase their prices, trends change, business conditions change, etc.

Surveys indicate that many small company owners do not have an exit strategy; so, when an event does strike, they are not prepared. Developing an exit strategy doesn’t mean the owner has to use it. What it does mean is that a strategy is ready when the owner needs it.

A professional intermediary can supply a business owner the real world information necessary not only to develop a plan, but also to know how to implement the plan when it becomes necessary.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Valuing the Business: Some Difficult Issues

Business valuations are almost always difficult and often complex. A valuation is also frequently subject to the judgment of the person conducting it. In addition, the person conducting the valuation must assume that the information furnished to him or her is accurate.

Here are some issues that must be considered when arriving at a value for the business:

Product Diversity – Firms with just a single product or service are subject to a much greater risk than multiproduct firms.

Customer Concentration – Many small companies have just one or two major customers or clients; losing one would be a major issue.

Intangible Assets – Patents, trademarks and copyrights can be important assets, but are very difficult to value.

Critical Supply Sources – If a firm uses just a single supplier to obtain a low-cost competitive edge, that competitive edge is more subject to change; or if the supplier is in a foreign country, the supply is more at risk for delivery interruption.

ESOP Ownership – A company owned by employees, either completely or partially, requires a vote by the employees. This can restrict marketability and, therefore, the value.

Company/Industry Life Cycle – A retail/repair typewriter business is an obvious example, but many consumer product firms fall into this category.

Other issues that can impact the value of a company would include inventory that is dated or not saleable, reliance on short contracts, work-in-progress, and any third-party or franchise approvals necessary to sell the company.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Considering Selling? Some Important Questions

Some years ago, when Ted Kennedy was running for president of the United States, a commentator asked him why he wanted to be president. Senator Kennedy stumbled through his answer, almost ending his presidential run. Business owners, when asked questions by potential buyers, need to be prepared to provide forthright answers without stumbling.

Here are three questions that potential buyers will ask:

  1. Why do you want to sell the business?
  2. What should a new owner do to grow the business?
  3. What makes this company different from its competitors?

Then, there are two questions that sellers must ask themselves:

  1. What is your bottom-line price after taxes and closing costs?
  2. What are the best terms you are willing to offer and then accept?

You need to be able to answer the questions a prospective buyer will ask without any “puffing” or coming across as overly anxious. In answering the questions you must ask yourself, remember that complete honesty is the only policy.

The best way to prepare your business to sell, and to prepare yourself, is to talk to a professional intermediary.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Is Your “Normalized” P&L Statement Normal?

Normalized Financial StatementsStatements that have been adjusted for items not representative of the current status of the business. Normalizing statements could include such adjustments as a non-recurring event, such as attorney fees expended in litigation. Another non-recurring event might be a plant closing or adjustments of abnormal depreciation. Sometimes, owner’s compensation and benefits need to be restated to reflect a competitive market value.

Privately held companies, when tax time comes around, want to show as little profit as possible. However, when it comes time to borrow money or sell the business, they want to show just the opposite. Lenders and prospective acquirers want to see a strong bottom line. The best way to do this is to normalize, or recast, the profit and loss statement. The figures added back to the profit and loss statement are usually termed “add backs.” They are adjustments added back to the statement to increase the profit of the company.

For example, legal fees used for litigation purposes would be considered a one-time expense. Or, consider a new roof, tooling or equipment for a new product, or any expensed item considered to be a one-time charge. Obviously, adding back the money spent on one or more of these items to the profit of the company increases the profits, thus increasing the value.

Using a reasonable EBITDA, for example an EBITDA of five, an add back of $200,000 could increase the value of a company by one million dollars. Most buyers will take a hard look at the add backs. They realize that there really is no such thing as a one-time expense, as every year will produce other “one-time” expenses. It’s also not wise to add back the owner’s bonuses and perks unless they are really excessive. The new owners may hire a CEO who will require essentially the same compensation package.

The moral of all this is that reconstructed earnings are certainly a legitimate way of showing the real earnings of a privately held company unless they are puffed up to impress a lender or potential buyer. Excess or unreasonable add backs will not be acceptable to buyers, lenders or business appraisers. Nothing can squelch a potential deal quicker than a break-even P&L statement padded with add backs.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Do You Have an Exit Plan?

“Exit strategies may allow you to get out before the bottom falls out of your industry. Well-planned exits allow you to get a better price for your business.” From: Selling Your Business by Russ Robb, published by Adams Media Corporation Whether you plan to sell…

The Devil May Be in the Details

When the sale of a business falls apart, everyone involved in the transaction is disappointed – usually. Sometimes the reasons are insurmountable, and other times they are minuscule – even personal. Some intermediaries report a closure rate of 80 percent; others say it is even lower. Still other intermediaries claim to close 80 percent or higher. When asked how, this last group responded that they require a three-year exclusive engagement period to sell the company. The theory is that the longer an intermediary has to work on selling the company, the better the chance they will sell it. No one can argue with this theory. However, most sellers would find this unacceptable.

In many cases, prior to placing anything in a written document, the parties have to agree on price and some basic terms. However, once these important issues are agreed upon, the devil may be in the details. For example, the Reps and Warranties may kill the deal. Other areas such as employment contracts, non-compete agreements and the ensuing penalties for breach of any of these can quash the deal. Personality conflicts between the outside advisers, especially during the
due diligence process, can also prevent the deal from closing.

One expert in the deal-making (and closing) process has suggested that some of the following items can kill the deal even before it gets to the Letter of Intent stage:

  • Buyers who lose patience and give up the acquisition search prematurely, maybe under a year’s time period.
  • Buyers who are not highly focused on their target companies and who have not thought through the real reasons for doing a deal.
  • Buyers who are not willing to “pay up” for a near perfect fit, failing to realize that such circumstances justify a premium price.
  • Buyers who are not well financed or capable of accessing the necessary equity and debt to do the deal.
  • Inexperienced buyers who are unwilling to lean heavily on their experienced advisers for proper advice.
  • Sellers who have unrealistic expectations for the sale price.
  • Sellers who have second thoughts about selling, commonly known as seller’s remorse and most frequently found in family businesses.
  • Sellers who insist on all cash at closing and/or who are inflexible with other terms of the deal including stringent reps and warranties.
  • Sellers who fail to give their professional intermediaries their undivided attention and cooperation.
  • Sellers who allow their company’s performance in sales and earnings to deteriorate during the selling process.

Deals obviously fall apart for many other reasons. The reasons above cover just a few of the concerns that can often be prevented or dealt with prior to any documents being signed.
If the deal doesn’t look like it is going to work – it probably isn’t. It may be time to move on.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Family Businesses

A recent study revealed that only about 28 percent of family businesses have developed a succession plan. Here are a few tips for family-owned businesses to ponder when considering
selling the business:

  • You may have to consider a lower price if maintaining jobs for family members is important.
  • Make sure that your legal and accounting representatives have “deal” experience. Too many times, the outside advisers have been with the business since the beginning and just are not “deal” savvy.
  • Keep in mind that family members who stay with the buyer(s) will most likely have to answer to new management, an outside board of directors and/or outside investors.
  • All family members involved either as employees and/or investors in the business must be in agreement regarding the sale of the company. They must also be in agreement about price and terms of the sale.
  • Confidentiality in the sale of a family business is a must.
  • Meetings should be held off-site and selling documentation kept off-site, if possible.
  • Family owners should appoint one member who can speak for everyone. If family members have to be involved in all decision-making, delays are often created, causing many deals to fall apart.

Many experts in family-owned businesses suggest that a professional intermediary be engaged by the family to handle the sale. Intermediaries are aware of the critical time element and can help sellers locate experienced outside advisers. They can also move the sales process along as quickly as possible and assist in negotiations.

Keeping it in the Family

It’s hard to transfer a family business to a younger kin. Below are some statistics regarding family businesses.

  • 30% of family businesses pass to a second generation.
  • 10% of family businesses reach a third generation.
  • 40% to 60% of owners want to keep firms in their family.
  • 28% of family businesses have developed a succession plan.
  • 80% to 95% of all businesses are family owned.
Source: Ted Clark, Northeastern University Center for Family Business

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Two Similar Companies ~ Big Difference in Value

Consider two different companies in virtually the same industry. Both companies have an EBITDA of $6 million – but, they have very different valuations. One is valued at five times EBITDA, pricing it at $30 million. The other is valued at seven times EBITDA, making it $42 million. What’s…

What Are Buyers Looking for in a Company?

It has often been said that valuing companies is an art, not a science.  When a buyer considers the purchase of a company, three main things are almost always considered when arriving at an offering price.

Quality of the Earnings

Some accountants and intermediaries are very aggressive when adding back, for example, what might be considered one-time or non-recurring expenses.  A non-recurring expense could be:

  • meeting some new governmental guidelines,
  • paying for a major lawsuit, or
  • adding a new roof on the factory.

The argument is made that a non-recurring expense is a one-time drain on the “real” earnings of the company. Unfortunately, a non-recurring expense is almost an oxymoron.  Almost every business has a non-recurring expense every year.  By adding back these one-time expenses, the accountant or business appraiser is not allowing for the extraordinary expense (or expenses) that come up almost every year.  These add-backs can inflate the earnings, resulting in a failure to reflect the real earning power of the business.

Sustainability of Earnings

The new owner is concerned that the business will sustain the earnings after the acquisition.  In other words, the acquirer doesn’t want to buy the business if it is at the height of its earning power, or if the last few years of earnings have reflected a one-time contract, etc.  Will the business continue to grow at the same rate it has in the past?

Verification of Information

Is the information provided by the selling company accurate, timely, and is all of it being made available? A buyer wants to make sure that there are no skeletons in the closet.  How about potential litigation, environmental issues, product returns or uncollectible receivables?  The above areas, if handled professionally and communicated accurately, can greatly assist in creating a favorable impression.  In addition, they may also lead to a higher price and a quicker closing.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

 

A Reasonable Price for Private Companies

Putting a price on privately-held companies is more complicated than placing a value or price on a publicly-held one. For one thing, many privately-held businesses do not have audited financial statements; these statements are very expensive and not required.  Public companies also have to reveal a lot more about their financial issues and other information than the privately-held ones.  This makes digging out information for a privately-held company difficult for a prospective purchaser.  So, a seller should gather as much information as possible, and have their accountant put the numbers in a usable format if they are not already.

Another expert has said that when the seller of a privately-held company decides to sell, there are four estimates of price or value:

  1. A value placed on the company by an outside appraiser or expert.  This can be either formal or informal.
  2. The seller’s “wish price.”  This is the price the seller would really like to receive – best case scenario.
  3. The “go-to-market price” or the actual asking price.
  4. And, last but not least, the “won’t accept less than this price” set by the seller.

The selling price is usually somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price set by the seller. However, sometimes it is less than all four estimates mentioned above. The ultimate selling price is set by the marketplace, which is usually governed by how badly the seller wants to sell and how badly the buyer wants to buy.

What can a buyer review in assessing the price he or she is willing to pay?  The seller should have answers available for all of the pertinent items on the following checklist.  The more favorable each item is, the higher the price.

  •  Stability of Market
  •  Stability of Historical Earnings
  •  Cost Savings Post-Purchase
  •  Minimal Capital Expenditures Required
  •  Minimal Competitive Threats
  •  Minimal Alternative Technologies
  •  Reasonable Market
  •  Large Market Potential
  •  Reasonable Existing Market Position
  •  Solid Distribution Network
  •  Buyer/Seller Synergy
  •  Owner or Top Management Willing to Remain
  •  Product Diversity
  •  Broad Customer Base
  •  Non-dependency on Few Suppliers

There may be some additional factors to consider, but this is the type of analysis a buyer should perform.  The better the answers to the above benchmarks, the more likely it is that a seller will receive a price between the market value and the “wish” price.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.