The following is some basic information for anyone considering purchasing a business. Is may also be of interest to anyone thinking of selling their business. The more information and knowledge both sides have about buying and selling a business, the easier the process will become.
A Buyer Profile
Here is a look at the make-up of the average individual buyer looking to replace a lost job or wanting to get out of an uncomfortable job situation. The chances are he is a male (however, more women are going into business for themselves, so this is rapidly changing). Almost 50 percent will have less than $100,000 in which to invest in the purchase of a business. More than 70 percent will have less than $250,000 to invest. In many cases the funds, or part of them, will come from personal savings followed by financial assistance from family members. He, or she, will never have owned a business before. Despite what he thinks he wants in the way of a business, he will most likely buy a business that he never considered until it was introduced, perhaps by a business broker.
His, or her primary reason for going into business is to get out of his or her present situation, be it unemployment, job disagreement, or dissatisfaction. The potential buyers now want to do their own thing, be in charge of their own destiny, and they don’t want to work for anyone. Money is important, but it’s not at the top of the list, in fact, it is probably fourth or fifth on their priority list. In order to pursue the dream of owning one’s own business, the buyer must be able to make that “leap of faith” necessary to take the plunge. Once that has been made, the buyer should review the following tips.
Importance of Information
Understand that in looking at small businesses, you will have to dig up a lot of information. Small business owners are not known for their record-keeping. You want to make sure you don’t overlook a “gem” of a business because you don’t or won’t take the time it takes to find the information you need to make an informed decision. Try to get an understanding of the real earning power of the business. Once you have found a business that interests you, learn as much as you can about that particular industry.
Negotiating the Deal
Understand, going into the deal, that your friendly banker will tell you his bank is interested in making small business loans; however, his “story” may change when it comes time to put his words into action. The seller finances the vast majority of small business transactions. If your credit is good, supply a copy of your credit report with the offer. The seller may be impressed enough to accept a lower-than-desired down payment.
Since you can’t expect the seller to cut both the down payment and the full price, decide which is more important to you. If you are attempting to buy the business with as little cash as possible, don’t try to substantially lower the full price. On the other hand, if cash is not a problem (this is very seldom the case), you can attempt to reduce the full price significantly. Make sure you can afford the debt structure–don’t obligate yourself to making payments to the seller that will not allow you to build the business and still provide a living for you and your family.
Furthermore, don’t try to push the seller to the wall. You want to have a good relationship with him or her. The seller will be teaching you the business and acting as a consultant, at least for a while. It’s all right to negotiate on areas that are important to you, but don’t negotiate over a detail that really isn’t key. Many sales fall apart because either the buyer or the seller becomes stubborn, usually over some minor detail, and refuses to bend.
The responsibility of investigating the business belongs to the buyer. Don’t depend on anyone else to do the work for you. You are the one who will be working in the business and must ultimately take responsibility for the decision to buy it. There is not much point in undertaking due diligence until and unless you and the seller have reached at least a tentative agreement on price and terms. Also, there usually isn’t reason to bring in your outside advisors, if you are using them, until you reach the due diligence stage. This is another part of the “leap of faith” necessary to achieve business ownership. Outside professionals normally won’t tell you that you should buy the business, nor should you expect them to. They aren’t going to go out on a limb and tell you that you should buy a particular business. In fact, if pressed for an answer, they will give you what they consider to be the safest one: “no.” You will want to get your own answers–an important step for anyone serious about entering the world of independent business ownership.
The Letter of Intent has been signed by both buyer and seller and everything seems to be moving along just fine. It would seem that the deal is almost done. However, the due diligence process must now be completed. Due diligence is the process in which the buyer really decides to go forward with the deal, or, depending on what is discovered, to renegotiate the price – or even to withdraw from the deal. So, the deal may seem to be almost done, but it really isn’t – yet!
It is important that both sides to the transaction understand just what is going to take place in the due diligence process. The importance of the due diligence process cannot be underestimated. Stanley Foster Reed in his book, The Art of M&A, wrote, “The basic function of due diligence is to assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”
Prior to the due diligence process, buyers should assemble their experts to assist in this phase. These might include appraisers, accountants, lawyers, environmental experts, marketing personnel, etc. Many buyers fail to add an operational person familiar with the type of business under consideration. The legal and accounting side may be fine, but a good fix on the operations themselves is very important as a part of the due diligence process. After all, this is what the buyer is really buying.
Since the due diligence phase does involve both buyer and seller, here is a brief checklist of some of the main items for both parties to consider.
Figure the percentage of sales by product line, review pricing policies, consider discount structure and product warranties; and if possible check against industry guidelines.
Review names, positions and responsibilities of the key management staff. Also, check the relationships, if appropriate, with labor, employee turnover, and incentive and bonus arrangements.
Get a list of the major customers and arrive at a sales breakdown by region, and country, if exporting. Compare the company’s market share to the competition, if possible.
Review the current financial statements and compare to the budget. Check the incoming sales, analyze the backlog and the prospects for future sales.
Accounts receivables should be checked for aging, who’s paying and who isn’t, bad debt and the reserves. Inventory should be checked for work-in-process, finished goods along with turnover, non-usable inventory and the policy for returns and/or write-offs.
This is a new but quite complicated process. Ground contamination, ground water, lead paint and asbestos issues are all reasons for deals not closing, or at best not closing in a timely manner.
This is where an operational expert can be invaluable. Does the facility work efficiently? How old and serviceable is the machinery and equipment? Is the technology still current? What is it really worth? Other areas, such as the manufacturing time by product, outsourcing in place, key suppliers – all of these should be checked.
Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights
Are these intangible assets transferable, and whose name are they in. If they are in an individual name – can they be transferred to the buyer? In today’s business world where intangible assets may be the backbone of the company, the deal is generally based on the satisfactory transfer of these assets.
Due diligence can determine whether the buyer goes through with the deal or begins a new round of negotiations. By completing the due diligence process, the buyer process insures, as far as possible, that the buyer is getting what he or she bargained for. The executed Letter of Intent is, in many ways, just the beginning.
Buying a Business – Some Key Consideration
- What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Is real estate included? Is some of the machinery and/or equipment leased?
- Is there anything proprietary such as patents, copyrights or trademarks?
- Are there any barriers of entry? Is it capital, labor, intellectual property, personal relationships, location – or what?
- What is the company’s competitive advantage – special niche, great marketing, state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, well-known brands, etc.?
- Are there any assets not generating income and can they be sold?
- Are agreements in place with key employees and if not – why not?
- How can the business grow? Or, can it grow?
- Is the business dependent on the owner? Is there any depth to the management team?
- How is the financial reporting handled? Is it sufficient for the business? How does management utilize it?
According to the experts, a business owner should lay the groundwork for selling at about the same time as he or she first opens the door for business. Great advice, but it rarely happens. Most sales of businesses are event-driven; i.e., an event or circumstance such as partnership problems, divorce, health, or just plain burn-out pushes the business owner into selling. The business owner now becomes a seller without considering the unexpected issues that almost always occur. Here are some questions that need answering before selling:
How much is your time worth?
Business owners have a business to run, and they are generally the mainstay of the operation. If they are too busy trying to meet with prospective buyers, answering their questions and getting necessary data to them, the business may play second fiddle. Buyers can be very demanding and ignoring them may not only kill a possible sale, but will also reduce the purchase price. Using the services of a business broker is a great time saver. In addition to all of the other duties they will handle, they will make sure that the owners meet only with qualified prospects and at a time convenient for the owner.
How involved do you need to be?
Some business owners feel that they need to know every detail of a buyer’s visit to the business. They want to be involved in this, and in every other detail of the process. This takes away from running the business. Owners must realize that prospective buyers assume that the business will continue to run successfully during the sales process and through the closing. Micromanaging the sales process takes time from the business. This is another reason to use the services of a business broker. They can handle the details of the selling process, and they will keep sellers informed every step of the way – leaving the owner with the time necessary to run the business. However, they are well aware that it is the seller’s business and that the seller makes the decisions.
Are there any other decision makers?
Sellers sometimes forget that they have a silent partner, or that they put their spouse’s name on the liquor license, or that they sold some stock to their brother-in-law in exchange for some operating capital. These part-owners might very well come out of the woodwork and create issues that can thwart a sale. A silent partner ceases to be silent and expects a much bigger slice of the pie than the seller is willing to give. The answer is for the seller to gather approvals of all the parties in writing prior to going to market.
How important is confidentiality?
This is always an important issue. Leaks can occur. The more active the selling process (which benefits the seller and greatly increases the chance of a higher price), the more likely the word will get out. Sellers should have a back-up plan in case confidentiality is breached. Business brokers are experienced in maintaining confidentiality and can be a big help in this area.
A recent survey revealed that the average time between listing and sale was 9 months.
Why does it take so long to sell a business? Price and terms are the biggest reasons. Not over-pricing the business at the beginning of the sales process is a big plus, as well as structuring the transaction to include a reasonable down payment with the seller carrying the balance. Having all of the necessary information right from the beginning can also greatly reduce the time period from listing to closing.
Being prepared for the information a buyer may want to review or having the answers available for the questions a buyer may want answered is also key.
Here is the basic information that a prospective acquirer will want to review:
- Copies of the financials for the past three years.
- A copy of the lease and any assignments of the lease from previous sales.
- A list of the fixtures and equipment that will be included in the sale. Note: If something is not included, it is best to remove it prior to the sale or at least have a list of items not included.
- A copy of the franchise agreement if applicable or any agreements with suppliers or vendors.
- Copies of any other documentation pertaining to the business.
- Supporting documents for patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.
- Sales brochures, press releases, advertisements, menus or other sales materials.
In addition, here are some of the questions that buyers may have. A prepared seller should have ready answers as well as the information to support them.
- Is the seller willing to train a new owner at no charge?
- Are there any zoning or local restrictions that would impact the business?
- Is there any pending litigation?
- Are any license issues involved?
- Are there any federal or state requirements, or environmental OSHA issues that could affect the business?
- What about the employee situation? Are there key employees?
- Are there any copyrights, secret recipes, mailing lists, etc?
- What about major suppliers or vendors?
A prepared seller is a willing seller, and having the answers to the above questions can significantly reduce the time it takes to sell a business. Using the services of a professional business broker can also greatly reduce the time period. They are knowledgeable about the current market, how to market a business and how to best advise a seller on price and terms. They can also recommend professional advisors, if a seller doesn’t have them already. Using advisors who are transaction-experienced can also shorten the time it takes to close the sale.Read More
Owners are often asked, “do you think you will ever sell your business?” The answer varies from, “when I can get my price” to “never” to “I don’t really know” to everything in between. Most sellers may think to themselves when asked this question, “I’ll sell when the time is right.” Obviously, misfortune can force the decision to sell. Despite the questions, most business owners just go merrily along their way conducting business as usual. They seem to believe in the old expression that basically states, “it is a good idea to sell your horse before it dies.”
Four Ways to Leave Your Business
There are really only four ways to leave your business. (1) Transfer ownership to your children or other family members. Unfortunately, many children do not want to become involved in the family business, or may not have the capability to operate it successfully. (2) Sell the business to an employee or key manager. Usually, they don’t have enough cash, or interest, to purchase the business. And, like offspring, they may not be able to manage the entire business. (3) Selling the business to an outsider is always a possibility. Get the highest price and the most cash possible and go on your way. (4) Liquidate the business – this is usually the worst option and the last resort.
When to Start Working on Your Exit Plan
There is another old adage that says, “you should start planning to exit the business the day you start it or buy it.” You certainly don’t want to plan on misfortune, but it’s never to early to plan on how to leave the business. If you have no children or other relative that has any interest in going into the business, your options are now down to three. Most small and mid-size businesses don’t have the management depth that would provide a successor. Furthermore liquidating doesn’t seem attractive. That leaves attempting to find an outsider to purchase the business as the exit plan.
The time to plan for succession is indeed, the day you begin operations. You can’t predict misfortune, but you can plan for it. Unfortunately, most sellers wait until they wake up one morning, don’t want to go to their business, drive around the block several times, working up the courage to begin the day. It is often called “burn-out” and if it is an on-going problem, it probably means it’s time to exit. Other reasons for wanting to leave is that they face family pressure to start “taking it easy” or to move closer to the grandkids.
Every business owner wants as much money as possible when the decision to sell is made. If you haven’t even thought of exiting your business, or selling it, now is the time to begin a pre-exit or pre-sale strategy.
There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.
The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?
The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”
Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.
Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.
Burnout is an often-used reason for an owner selling his or her business. Potential buyers may have trouble accepting this as a valid reason for sale. However, burnout is a valid reason for selling one’s business.
A business owner can experience burnout even with a business that’s successful and growing. Many independent business owners feel they’ve worked hard, made their money, and now is a good time to cash out and move on, before burnout endangers the health of the business.
The following warning signs should remind a business owner that cashing out beats burning out:
You are overwhelmed on a daily basis.
When a business owner is a one-man show, even small tasks and minor decisions can seem bigger than Mount Everest. These owners have been shouldering the burden alone for too long, and the isolation has taken its toll.
You sense a failure of imagination.
Burnt-out owners are so close to their work that they lose perspective. Prioritizing becomes a major daily challenge, and problem solving sometimes goes no further than the application of business Band-Aids that cost money in the long run rather than increasing profits.
The joy is gone.
Although owning a business is hard work, it should also provide a good measure of enjoyment. When the work day begins with dread or boredom, the owner probably needs a change of scenery and a new challenge.
You are simply exhausted.
Being “just too tired” is a complaint heard just as often from the owner of the successful business as from the business that’s struggling to survive. In fact, a business that is growing will create increased demands of time and energy.
No matter what the status of the operation, the sheer work of keeping a business going day after day, year after year, is enough to encourage a business owner to make a change. This kind of schedule is not for everyone; in fact, statistics show that it’s hardly for anyone on a long-term basis.Read More
- Three years of profit and loss statements
- Federal taxes for the same three years
- Current list of fixtures and equipment
- The lease and related documents
- Franchise agreement (if applicable)
- List of encumbrances, loans, equipment leases, etc.
- Approximate amount of inventory on hand
- Names of outside advisors with contact information
- Marketing materials, catalogs, promotional pieces, etc.
- Operations Manual (if available)
- Brief history of business
Most business owners think that their business is unique. There are obviously many different attributes that can make a business stand out from others. However, there are some key factors that make a business both unique and, at the same time, make it more valuable in the marketplace and more desirable by prospective purchasers. Just as importantly, these unique factors also need to be generally transferable to a new owner. Here are some key ones:
One example of an intangible asset could be a long-term lease for a great location that is transferable to a new owner. Other examples include a mailing list of current and past customers, a popular franchise relationship, a well-known product line such as Hallmark, or a well-established mailing program designed to attract new customers or clients. Trademarks and copyrights are some other examples of intangible assets.
Difficulty of Replication
For example, in most jurisdictions, liquor licenses are doled out by population or on some other limited basis. One can not just decide to rent some space and open a liquor store. Franchises often limit the number of units in a geographical area. Selling certain brand collectibles is a license not granted to just any store.
Proprietary Products, Services or Technology
A business owner may have developed, or have had developed, software unique to their business which is a key to its success. Or the proprietary item could be something as simple as a secret recipe for a food item, sauce or other food product unique to a restaurant.
There is the pharmacy that is known all over town for delivering prescriptions or other medical needs. And there is the hardware store that will still sharpen knives or fix screens. Then there are the local businesses that have “just what you need” or that special something that makes them known all over town. While these characteristics make these businesses unique, it is up to a new owner to continue them.
When looking at businesses to buy, buyers should look beyond the numbers for the unique qualities that separate a particular business from the pack.Read More
There are three good questions to consider before selling your business.
First, “Do you really want to sell this business?” If you’re really serious about selling and have a solid reason (or reasons) why you want to sell, it will most likely happen.
Second, “Do you have reasonable expectations?” You increase your chances of selling if you can answer “yes” to this second question. This can include your expectations about the selling price, the time it will take to sell your business, and the amount of seller financing you are willing to offer.
Third, “What will you do once your business sells?” The time to consider this is before you place your business on the market. This may seem obvious, but many transactions fall through because the business owner did not consider what he or she would do once the business was sold.
A “yes” answer to the first two questions plus having an answer to the third question (other than “I don’t know”) means you are serious about selling.Read More