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What Does the Road Ahead Look Like?

Each quarter, the Market Pulse Report issues a report revealing information about market conditions The report is supported by M&A Source and the International Business Brokers Association. The data that is analyzed is based on a comprehensive survey of business brokers and M&A advisors. The report focuses on Main Street businesses (with values up to $2MM) and the lower middle market (values between $2MM and $50MM.) 

The research is conducted and then the report is published each quarter to reflect the state of the industry. In this article, we will look at some of the key takeaways of the report and what it reveals about the path ahead for buyers and sellers.

Tracking the Labor Shortage 

For the second quarter, the report revealed a variety of interesting information. One massive data point from the report is that the labor shortage continues to be a significant variable for business owners. A staggering 92% of report respondents state that the labor shortage has negatively impacted their business with 54% stating that the shortage has had a “very negative impact” and 35% stating that the impact is “somewhat negative.”

Closing Times

The report further indicated that it is taking about seven months for a business to close. They noted that it takes about six months to a year to sell a well-priced business or a well benchmarked business. The report noted that approximately 60-120 days are spent in the due diligence or execution stage, once the letter of intent has been signed. 

The Strongest Industries

In terms of what kinds of businesses are selling, the report points to restaurants making a solid comeback. It is interesting to note that restaurants valued from less than $500K to $1 million are enjoying a particularly strong rebound. Business services, personal services, construction and manufacturing remain steady. 

In Summary 

The latest Market Pulse Report is pointing in several directions. Currently, three factors are impacting business owners, namely, the labor shortage, inflation, and supply chain issues. Many businesses have had no choice but to give large raises to employees, and others have been able to pass the costs on to consumers and buyers.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Will Your Buyer Be Looking For?

The buyer loves your business; it’s just what he or she has been looking for.  He has reviewed your financial statements and has made an offer contingent on several items.  You’ve reviewed the offer and it looks fine, so what’s next?  The contingencies in the deal mean that the buyer or his or her advisors have some concerns.  In larger deals, this process might be called due diligence.  However, in the smaller business sale, the items of concern are usually spelled out as opposed to a general review of everything.  The reason for this is that larger businesses or companies have a lot more areas of concern than the typical smaller business.

Most contingencies concern the review of financial statements and/or business tax returns.  Others may involve lease issues, the seller staying on for a set period of time, or some very specific issue such as repaving the parking lot, if the landlord won’t or isn’t required to.

Unfortunately, some contingencies may be hiding other ones such as a list of fixtures and equipment included in the sale.  Sounds easy on the surface, but the seller forgot that two pieces of equipment currently not in use need repair or the walnut desk in the office belongs to Grandfather Smith and is not included.  Or, while reviewing the lease, the buyer discovers that the landlord requires that the business must close by 9:00 PM or some other restriction applies and was not disclosed. Deals have fallen apart over similar issues.

Most contingency problems can be resolved prior to the business being placed on the market.  The seller should do all of the following:

  • Check the status of all furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E).  Remove any that are not included in the sale or are inoperable if not in use –  or make repairs.
  •  Review any contract such as the lease, any equipment leases, and contracts that will be assumed by the buyer.  Make sure there aren’t “clinkers” in them. If there are, disclose them to a potential buyer out front – and be sure your business intermediary is also aware of them.
  • Be prepared to answer questions such as:
    • Are there any environmental, governmental or legal issues?
    • How long will you be willing to stay and work with a new buyer – at no cost?
    • Will the employees stay?
    • Why was last year the worst one in years?
    • Why was last year the best one in years?

The list could go on and on, but sellers need to be ready. Buyers don’t like surprises.  A business broker professional knows the process like a book and can be invaluable in preparing the business for the marketplace.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Storytelling and Its Role in Selling a Business

When it comes to selling a business, there is more to it than just relaying the facts. It’s also important to emphasize the story behind the business. Business brokers and M&A advisors are also storytellers, as they must convey to buyers the story behind the business and how it can ultimately be transformed. 

It is through storytelling that humans organize the information they have about the world. In short, storytelling is an exceptional way to learn lessons in life and a great way to frame information about a business to sellers. 

Telling Your Story

Everything begins with the financials, in short, the facts of the business. When a business broker or M&A advisor begins working with a seller, he or she will look to gather those details. Once that information has been gathered, it is possible to begin to create a story. That story can be presented in many ways, including through a confidential business review or confidential information memorandum.

While many, if not most, buyers and sellers may think that when it comes to business, they are cold and methodical like a reptile on the hunt, the truth is more complex. Human emotion always comes into play. It is no accident that well-crafted stories, with their power to motivate and guide, play a role in the art of buying and selling businesses.

Decisions are Guided by Emotion

If we want to make the best decisions, it is important to consider the role of emotions in our decision-making. “In order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it,” said scientist Herbert Simon who is an American Nobel Laureate. [1]

Good stories grab the imagination and enable people to expand their definition of what is and is not possible. When buyers are considering buying a business, it is important that they can picture themselves as being the hero that transforms that business and takes it to a new level. It is a story of evolution and reaching new heights while simultaneously achieving one’s own goals.

It is no accident that so many of today’s mass culture storytelling revolves around sequels. The notion that there is a “storytelling continuum” where a buyer can plug into something that already has a history can be a powerful motivating force. Most epic stories have the hero as part of some sort of continuum. In other words, the hero does not simply appear out of nothingness. It is the hero’s mission to transform the world, in some fashion, for the better.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/05/09/how-your-emotions-influence-your-decisions/?sh=7bda49da3fda

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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How to Transfer Your Business to a Family Member

Are you thinking of transferring your business to a family member? This occurrence is fairly common, especially among small businesses. Here are some considerations that will help with your planning and decision making.

Do You Have a Good Contract?

Sometimes close family members are tempted to skip a contract, but it’s always a mistake not to have things in writing. When you create a buy-sell agreement, it helps keep things clear between the parties involved. Make sure that your documentation is thorough. It should cover a wide variety of details including the amount being paid, your continued involvement, and the business value. 

Does Your Family Member Need Financing?

When it comes to selling businesses to family members, seller financing is common. You could even consider agreeing to a private annuity. This will allow payments to be spread out over many years.  One benefit to providing financing assistance is that you will receive a steady stream of income along with interest on the loan as well. 

You could also consider a self-cancelling clause on your installment note. This would allow debt to attach to your will in case of your untimely passing before the payments were complete. 

Are You Selling or Gifting Your Business?

Gifting a business takes place more often than you might think, due to the tax benefits involved. Also, when you gift a business, you can still maintain some level of control. 

The federal gift tax exemption changes every year. In 2022, the annual gift tax exclusion is $16,000. The lifetime gift exemption limit is $12 million. While you may owe some federal gift taxes if the amounts exceed the exemption limits, the good news is that after you have transferred your business, any future growth of the business won’t affect your financials. 

Is Everything Accurate?

Unfortunately, many business owners have acted unethically when it comes to transferring their business to their family members. As a result, the IRS tends to give this kind of transaction extra scrutiny. You will want to ensure that all your paperwork is in proper order and highly accurate. 

You may very well want to hire the services of a lawyer and accountant to assist you with this matter. Of course, a business broker or M&A advisor will also help you with the details of this agreement and figuring out what benefits you and your family members.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Why Is Confidentiality So Vitally Important

When it’s time to sell a business, you will want to keep confidentiality first and foremost in your mind. The reality is that many deals do not succeed when confidentiality is breached and others learn that your business is for sale. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

What Can Occur When Confidentiality is Compromised?

If vendors or suppliers find out that your company is for sale, it can negatively impact your business in different ways. One common occurrence is that vendors begin to change the terms they have established with you. Even a small change might end up not being minor at all, as it could impact cash flow. The same can be said for word of your business being for sale reaching your creditors, as they could also suddenly change their terms. 

Another major issue that could be caused when confidentiality is breached is that your employees and customers might begin to worry. Employees could even start looking for new jobs. Your customers might worry about the new ownership and preemptively stop patronizing your business.

It goes without saying that you won’t want your competitors knowing that you are selling your business. This might make them more aggressive, and they could even start using this knowledge to take your customers. 

On some occasions, business owners set out to sell their business on their own. Unfortunately, this decision can put them at higher risk for confidentiality breaches to occur, which start to cause things to go wrong. When you are in the process of selling your business, you will want everything to appear as steady and reliable as possible.

Keeping Up Appearances

When a buyer is carefully vetting your business for a potential acquisition, you won’t want anything showing up on the radar that could give them pause. It’s important to show that the business is continuing to operate in a successful manner and there have been no recent changes. 

The good news is that business brokers and M&A advisors have proven strategies that will keep the news that your business is for sale confidential. Your brokerage professional will be sure to vet all prospective buyers, and they will use the most reliable confidentiality agreements that will protect your best interests. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Selling a Business Means You Should Expect the Unexpected

No one ever said selling a business was predictable. However, the truth of the matter is that every sale is different. Even the reasons behind a business owner deciding to sell his or her business vary tremendously. If you are getting ready to sell, it’s important to be aware of the various aspects that could catch you off-guard. If you are prepared for the unexpected, you’ll be mentally ready for the sales process, which often does not go as planned. Even the smoothest and most streamlined sales encounter a few road bumps along the way. 

Price Considerations

When it comes to the price structure for a potential sale, many business owners have numbers in their minds that do not meet with reality. As a result, a potential offer could be far less than what they expected, and this causes conflict and delays. Your brokerage professional will prepare you with a thorough valuation so you can have a clear idea of the fair market price of your business. Be sure to ask any questions that you might have so that you feel fully informed when it comes to prices.

Confidentiality 

Throughout the sales process, confidentiality must be carefully guarded. Otherwise, this too can interfere with a sale. Your business broker or M&A advisor will have effective strategies to help maintain the highest levels of confidentiality. Even with the best safeguards in place, there is a small chance that a rumor could begin to circulate and word could get out to your employees, customers or supplies. In the case of this incident, it’s important to have a contingency plan in place to quell the rumors. 

Your Stockholders

Oftentimes, business owners of privately owned companies forget that their minority stockholders have rights too. You will not be able to sell your business without dealing with all parties involved. When you get a “fairness opinion,” it can go a long way to convince your shareholders of the best price and terms. Even if your shareholders are members of your family, they will have to be successfully dealt with before the sale goes through. 

Expect to Allocate Time

You may have hired an experienced business broker or M&A advisor, but you should still be prepared to spend some time dealing with the sale of your business. You’ll be expected to do everything from prepare documents to meet with prospective buyers. This fact that selling will take up your time is particularly true if you haven’t begun making preparations years in advance. That’s why we advise clients to start working with us early on.

You’ll want to make sure that despite your need to focus on elements pertaining to the sale of your business, it is necessary to keep your business running smoothly. Otherwise, any signs of weakness could interfere with your potential sale and your efforts could backfire. This issue just stresses the importance of preparing to sell years in advance. 

Through the sales process you must still run your company as well as ever. You’ll want to make sure things are progressing nicely, even if you don’t plan to own the company in the near future. Obviously, your buyer will want things to look reliable and any dips can trigger a red flag. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What You Need to Know About Partnership Agreements

There have been countless instances when someone has gone into business with a relative or close friend and made the mistake of skipping a formal agreement. No matter how good a friend may be, you will always want to get the terms of the partnership in writing. A partnership agreement is a vitally important document that is designed to protect all parties. It will reduce the possibility for disagreements or misunderstandings down the line. When you make sure you have everything documented legally, it will greatly serve you and your partner(s). 

Building Your Partnership Agreement

Your partnership agreement should first and foremost address the general rules of the partnership. This means it should cover who owns what, and how you will handle profits and losses. It should cover the basics of issues that may seem obvious, such as what are each partner’s roles and duties. And it should also address the details pertaining to resolving small potential problems that you may never expect to actually arise. 

Financial Issues

A good part of your partnership agreement should address issues related to money. As you can imagine, misunderstandings about earnings can quickly become huge disagreements if the details are not plainly stated in writing. On a very practical level, you’ll want your document to cover what percentage of earnings both you and your partner will receive. You will even want to go into detail about how money is distributed. What if money is required to keep the business operational and thriving? You’ll want to cover the details of who will contribute any necessary funds and how this will be handled. 

Other Decisions

Another decision you’ll want to make now will cover the nature of decisions themselves. For example, how will you make business decisions? Is it a vote, and if so, how does that vote work? You can also include other situations that could arise, such as what happens in the instance of the unfortunate death of one of the owners? What happens if you decide to bring in an additional partner or partners? 

Getting Assistance with Your Legal Documents

While it might seem possible to create your partnership agreement on your own, the best thing you can do is hire a competent professional to help you. That way you’ll know that your partnership agreement is written in the most accurate way possible. 

When you have this document established, you can proceed with your partnership with confidence that any potential problems down the line are addressed. It may take some extra time and consideration now, but in the long run, you’ll be able to run your business smoothly and more efficiently. The fact of the matter is that if you address everything now in a partnership agreement, it will benefit your business for years to come.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Preparing for Your Eventual Retirement

Many business owners are truly committed to their businesses. As a result, it is very difficult for them to step away even when they approach retirement age. It is not uncommon for business owners to keep working into their golden years. But the truth of the matter is that at some point almost everyone will need to embrace retirement whether it is for health issues, moving to a new location, or simply for greater peace of mind.

If you see this path approaching for you in the near future, it could feel overwhelming. After all, most people have not sold a business before. As a result, they feel unclear about the process and don’t know where to start. However, everyone should be thinking about the eventual sale of their business because this future event should determine many of your current activities and decisions. 

Let’s take a look at some things you can do well in advance to ensure that an eventual sale of your business goes as smoothly as possible. 

Automate Processes

When prospective buyers look at your business, they will want to be able to easily envision it operating smoothly without you involved. Because a good portion of business owners are so integral to the functioning of their businesses, it can be difficult for them to figure out how to decouple themselves from operations. In some cases, this process can take years. 

Now is a good time to consider this issue and what you can do to make sure your business can function without you one day. Give some thought to who at your organization could be a second in command. When a buyer sees that a competent and knowledgeable employee will be staying on to assist them, it can go a long way in allaying any concerns. 

Put Yourself in the Buyer’s Shoes

Imagine you were buying your business. What kinds of issues might be of concern to you? Chances are these will be the same issues that could concern potential buyers. Once you have identified any spots of weakness, you can start to zero in on figuring out how to handle them.

First and foremost, you will want your buyer to feel confident that there will be a smooth transition and that they can almost immediately begin to profit from their purchase of your business. Anything that you can do to help ensure that is true will benefit the sales process. 

Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts in the world of buying and selling businesses. They will help you to properly evaluate your business and look for these areas of weakness. Through this means when you do decide it is time to retire, the process will go more quickly and seamlessly. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Seller’s Dilemma

When one sells their house, the best deal is usually the highest price.  When one decides to sell their business, there may be other factors to consider.  Many buyers are similar to the “overlooked” buyer described below, serious and qualified; and most sales of businesses are win-win transactions.  However, there are a few exceptions, and sellers should consider them carefully, balancing their prerequisites to the goals of the buyer.

Selling to a Competitor – Many company owners think this is the best way to go.  They read about the mega-mergers such as Bank of America and Fleet bank, or the pending deals such as Federated and the May Company Department Stores, and U.S. Air and American West.  Consolidation may play a major role in large public companies; this is not the case in middle market companies.

Many owners of middle market firms look at these mega-deals and think it might work for them.  However, upon further consideration, they realize that by disclosing a lot of confidential information to a competitor, their business could suffer irreparable damage if the deal would fall apart – and many do.

Selling to a Strategic Acquirer – This may bring the highest price, but there are several reasons why this may not be in the company’s best interest.  Many owners have worked with key employees for years and would not like to see them replaced. The strategic owner might not only replace members of management, but might also move the company to another part of the country.

Selling to a Financial Buyer – This buyer may not be willing to pay the seller’s price and is usually buying a company with intentions of selling it at a profit in three to five years.  This leaves the company and its employees in limbo waiting for a new owner to take over.

Other Buyers – The employees may decide to buy the company (ESOP).  However, this usually means a long-term payout for the owner. An individual buyer may come along such as a Warren Buffett, but what are the chances?  A key member or members of management might decide to purchase the company, but generally they won’t pay the price.  If a sale is not consummated, the key management member(s) will most likely leave.

The “Overlooked” Buyer – There are many individuals who want to own their own company.  They might be former executives of major companies who want to do something on their own. Some buyers have access to large amounts of investment capital. There are many qualified individual buyers in the market place. Russ Robb, the editor of a leading M& A newsletter, M&A Today, has written a book, Buying Your Own Business, for those individuals interested in buying their own company. This book has sold over 20,000 copies, which indicates the large number of people who are interested in buying a company.

There Is No Magic Answer – Selling a company comes with no guarantees.   When Badger Meter Company, a public company headquartered in Milwaukee, acquired Data Industrial Corporation based in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, this appeared to be a marriage made in heaven.  Their respective product lines fit like a glove, their corporate cultures seemed compatible, and sales expansion by cross-selling was evident.

This strategic acquisition would have been fine except for one change.  The parent company moved Data Industrial’s operation to Kansas, and every employee’s job was terminated.  However, one should not construe that all acquisitions by strategic or competitive acquirers end up in a similar fate.  Furthermore, for price considerations, the seller can draft restrictions in the Purchase & Sale agreement to prevent the transfer of the business, at least for a specified time period.

Certainly selling to the overlooked type buyer doesn’t guarantee all of the seller’s concerns, but knowing the interests of some of the various buyer types can help insure that the goals of both buyer and seller are met.  Sellers should determine their goals prior to attempting to sell their business.  A consultation with a professional intermediary is a good start to this process.

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A Look at the Market Pulse Report

The Market Pulse Report Survey is a resource that has a variety of information that business brokers and M&A advisors regularly utilize to better understand the business landscape. The most recent survey was conducted April 1st to April 15th 2022 and had 360 broker and advisor respondents. It also marked the 40th edition of the quarterly report. The Executive Summary of the report can be accessed here https://www.ibba.org/resource-center/industry-research/ 

The Main Street Market 

One notable fact included in the latest report is that in the Main Street market, between 70% to 80% of buyers are likely to come from within a 20-mile radius. However, with larger companies, it is common for buyers to originate from a distance of over 100 miles away or greater.

The survey also indicated there are two key “headwinds” that businesses are currently facing. These include labor shortages and supply chain issues. Not surprisingly, labor issues are currently creating problems for organic growth. Likewise, supply chain issues can cause prospective buyers to shy away from a business.

The Profile of Current Buyers

The survey also indicated that Main Street buyers not only include the “typical” first-time business buyer. These individuals are often looking for a job in the form of owning a business. Serial entrepreneurs who have made money off previous deals are also now seeking to jump back in and buy another business. The survey indicates that about one-third of buyers who purchased businesses in the $500K to $1M range are serial entrepreneurs. 

Additionally, there is a great deal of money flooding into the industry. The money is mostly coming from private equity, family offices, and corporations. Feeling burned by the lack of bank credit by the 2008-2009 economic downturn, these buyers don’t want to get caught in a similar situation again. 

A Seller’s Market

The survey indicates that it is currently a seller’s market and that record setting multiples have been occurring. In Q1, an impressive 97% of businesses were receiving their asking price. However, nothing lasts forever. If you’re considering selling your business, it’s a good idea to start making progress now before this trend stops benefitting sellers. 

Even with the strong sales track record last quarter, it’s important to note that a fast sale is still improbable. Even in the best economic conditions, it typically takes many months to sell a business. 

There are many factors currently benefiting sellers, such as low interest rates, SBA involvement, and people not wanting to work for corporations. However, it’s important not to wait for the “right moment” as often that moment never comes. 

It’s always a good idea to begin taking steps to prepare for the sale of your business as soon as possible. This can make a tremendous difference toward fostering a positive final outcome.

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