Today’s Business Buyer
For a business to sell, there has to be a seller – and a buyer. The buyer of today is a bit different than the one of yesterday. Today’s buyer is not a risk-taker, is concerned about the financials, and seems to be overly concerned about price. Unfortunately, buyers have to understand that they cannot buy someone else’s financial statements. The statements might be a good indication of what a new buyer can do with the business, but everyone does things differently. It is these differences that ultimately determine how the business will do. The price may not be the right question for the buyer to ask. What is usually the most important question is how much cash is required to buy it.
Today’s buyer is finicky, due certainly in part to the fact that, he or she is not a risk taker. Quite a few buyers enter the business buying process and, at the last minute, cannot make the leap of faith that is necessary to conclude the sale. The primary reason that buyers actually buy is not for the reason one might think. Money or income is about third, maybe even fourth on the list.
Buyers buy because they are tired of working for someone else. They want to control their own lives. In some cases, they have lost their job, or are being transferred to a place that they don’t want to move to, or are very unhappy in their job. Surveys indicate that about half of the people in the county are unhappy in their jobs. People buy a business to change their lifestyle. A recent newspaper article quoted a very successful business woman, who left her job and bought a book store because she was “looking for a change, a way to be more rooted and be at home more.”
The make-up of a typical buyer
The typical small business buyer usually has many of the following traits:
- 90 percent are first-time buyers. In other words, they have never been in business before.
- Almost all of them are looking to replace a job. Business brokers primarily sell income substitution.
- Most buyers will have about $50,000 to $100,000 in liquid funds to use as a down payment.
- Most buyers are looking at businesses priced at about $100,000 to $250,000.
- Most buyers will not have sufficient funds to pay cash for a business.
Obviously, many other types of people go through the process of looking for a business. However, those buyers who will eventually purchase a business have most of the characteristics outlined above. Going a step further, the serious prospective buyer usually possesses the attributes described below:
Who is a serious buyer?
- Has the necessary funds and they are readily available
- Can make their own decisions
- Is flexible in the type and location of a business he or she will consider
- Has a realistic and sincere need to buy
- Has a reasonably urgent (within three to four months) need to buy a business
- Is cooperative and willing to listen
Sellers should take a second look at those who express interest in their business. If the prospect has very few of the above traits, perhaps the seller should move on to the next potential buyer. On the other hand, if you are a buyer, or think you are, take a second look at the traits of the serious buyer. If you don’t have many of them, you may not be as serious as you think. You might want to rethink the reasons for owning a business and be sure that this is the right decision for you.
Dispelling a Buyer Myth
Most prospective business buyers really don’t know from the outset the exact type of business they want to buy. Experienced business brokers and intermediaries know that many business buyers end up with what is sometimes a far cry from what first captured their imagination.
Take, for example, the old story of the buyer who saw (and probably smelled) a doughnut shop in his business dreams. This was the business he was sure he wanted to own and operate – until he discovered that someone, most likely him, had to get up at 3 a.m. to make the day’s baked goods. It is important that, before making the dream a reality, those prospective buyers understand just what the business is and how it fits their personalities – what they want to do and what they don’t want to do! Obviously, if getting a good night’s sleep is important, owning a doughnut shop is not a good idea.
In searching for the right business, here are some of the crucial questions a prospective business buyer might ask himself or herself:
Does the business look exciting and interesting to me?
Do I feel that I can improve the business?
Would the business offer me pride of ownership?
Would I feel comfortable operating the business?
Professional business brokers can offer many different businesses for a prospective buyer to consider. Prospective business buyers can discuss their needs and wishes with a professional business broker who can then show them opportunities that they might never discover on their own.
A Buyer’s Quandary
Statistics reveal that out of about 15 would-be business buyers, only one will actually buy a business. It is important that potential sellers be knowledgeable on what buyers go through to actually become business owners. This is especially true for those who have started their own business or have forgotten what they went thorough prior to buying their business.
If a prospective business buyer is employed, he or she has to make the decision to leave that job and go into business for and by himself. There is also the financial commitment necessary to actually invest in a business and any subsequent loans that are a result of the purchase. The new owner will likely need to execute a lease or assume an existing one, which is another financial commitment. These financial obligations are almost always guaranteed personally by the new owner.
The prospective business owner must also be willing to make that “leap of faith” that is so necessary to becoming a business owner. There is also the matter of family and personal responsibilities. Business ownership, aside from being a large financial consideration, is very time consuming, especially for the new business owner.
All of these factors have to be weighed very carefully by anyone that is considering business ownership. Buyers should think carefully about the risks – and the rewards. Sellers should also put themselves in a buyer’s position. The services of a professional business broker or intermediary can help determine the relative pros and cons of the transaction.
Today’s Business Buyer: A Profile
Today’s independent business marketplace attracts a wide variety of buyers eager for a piece of ownership action. Buyers of small businesses are most likely replacing lost jobs or searching for a happier alternative to corporate life. Buyers of mid-sized and large operations are, typically, private investment companies seeking businesses to build and eventually sell for a profit. This is the broadest possible look at the types of buyers out there. Business owners considering putting their business on the market should be aware of the finer “distinctions” among buyers, as well as what they are looking to buy, and why.
1. Individual Buyer
This is typically an individual with substantial financial resources and with the type of background or experience necessary for leading a particular operation. The individual buyer usually seeks a business that is financially healthy, indicating a sound return on the investment of both time and money. If these buyers do not have the amount of personal equity required for acquisition, they most likely will turn to family members or venture capital sources for financing. (Buyers and sellers should be aware that, in many cases, seller financing will be an essential element, benefitting both parties in the long run.)
Even when such sources are available, the individual buyer will hit a strong bottom line when it comes to price. Therefore, these buyers will usually limit themselves to transactions involving less than $1 million, cash.
2. Strategic Buyer
This buyer is almost always a company, having as its goal to enter new markets, to increase market share, to gain new technology, or to eliminate some element of competition. In essence, it is part of this buyer’s “strategy” (hence the name) to acquire other businesses as part of a long-term plan. Strategic buyers can be either in the same business as the company under consideration, or a competitor. Example: a bank in one part of a state purchases or merges with one in another part of the same state. The acquiring bank enters a new market and “eliminates” competition at the same time.
Strategic buyers will be looking chiefly at businesses with sales over $20 million, with a proprietary product and/or unique market share, and effective management both in place and willing to remain.
3. Synergistic Buyer
The synergistic category of buyer, like the strategic type, is usually a company. The difference is that, with this buyer, the acquisition or merger flows from the complementary nature of the purchasing company and the company for sale.
Synergy means that the joining of the two companies will produce more, or be worth more than just the sum of their parts. Example: a large real estate company purchases a mortgage company. It can now use its existing customers (those who buy homes) and offer them the mortgage funds to finance their purchases. The benefits of this type of acquisition help both companies be more competitive and profitable.
4. Industry Buyer
Sometimes known as “the buyer of last resort,” this type is often a competitor or a highly similar operation. This buyer already knows the industry well and, therefore, does not want to pay for the expertise and knowledge of the seller. The industry buyer is interested mainly in combining manufacturing facilities, consolidating overhead, and utilizing the combined sales forces. These buyers will pay for assets (but probably not what the seller thinks they are worth); they will not pay for goodwill, covenants not to compete, or consulting agreements with the seller. There can be some cases in which the industry buyer is also a strategic buyer, with the price determined by motivation.
5. Financial Buyer
Of all the buyer types, financial buyers are most influenced by a demonstrated return on investment, coupled with their ability to get financing on as large a portion of the purchase price as possible. Working on the theory that debt is the lowest cost of capital, these buyers purchase businesses with the sole purpose of making the maximum amount of money with the least amount of their capital invested.
Each type of buyer has distinctive characteristics that correlate to the motivation behind the purchase of a particular company. In addition, the price each is willing to pay for a company is directly proportional to the motive. The relative sizes of acquisitions by different buyer types (compressed into their broader categories), is shown in the accompanying chart (keep in mind that all figures are approximate):
Type of Buyer (Less than $3 million) ($3 to 10 million) ($10 million):
Sole Proprietors (45%) (25%) (5%)
Public Companies (30%) (20%) (20%)
Private Companies (10%) (15%) (15%)
Investment Groups (20%) (30%) (20%)
Why Do Deals Fall Apart?
In many cases, the buyer and seller reach a tentative agreement on the sale of the business, only to have it fall apart. There are reasons this happens, and, once understood, many of the worst deal-smashers can be avoided. Understanding is the key word. Both the buyer and the seller must develop an awareness of what the sale involves–and such an awareness should include facing potential problems before they swell into floodwaters and “sink” the sale.
What keeps a sale from closing successfully? In a survey of business brokers across the United States, similar reasons were cited so often that a pattern of causality began to emerge. The following is a compilation of situations and factors affecting the sale of a business.
The Seller Fails To Reveal Problems
When a seller is not up-front about problems of the business, this does not mean the problems will go away. They are bound to turn up later, usually sometime after a tentative agreement has been reached. The buyer then gets cold feet–hardly anyone in this situation likes surprises–and the deal promptly falls apart. Even though this may seem a tall order, sellers must be as open about the minuses of their business as they are about the pluses. Again and again, business brokers surveyed said: “We can handle most problems . . . if we know about them at the start of the selling process.
The Buyer Has Second Thoughts About the Price
In some cases, the buyer agrees on a price, only to discover that the business will not, in his or her opinion, support that price. Whether this “discovery” is based on gut reaction or a second look at the figures, it impacts seriously on the transaction at hand. The deal is in serious jeopardy when the seller wants more than the buyer feels the business is worth. It is of prime importance that the business be fairly priced. Once that price has been established, the documentation must support the seller’s claims so that buyers can see the “real” facts for themselves.
Both the Buyer and the Seller Grow Impatient
During the course of the selling process, it’s easy–in the case of both parties–for impatience to set in. Buyers continue to want increasing varieties and volumes of information, and sellers grow weary of it all. Both sides need to understand that the closing process takes time. However, it shouldn’t take so much time that the deal is endangered. It is important that both parties, if they are using outside professionals, should use only those knowledgeable in the business closing process. Most are not. A business broker is aware of most of the competent outside professionals in a given business area, and these should be given strong consideration in putting together the “team.” Seller and buyer may be inclined to use an attorney or accountant with whom they are familiar, but these people may not have the experience to bring the sale to a successful conclusion.
The Buyer and the Seller Are Not (Never Were) in Agreement
How does this situation happen? Unfortunately, there are business sale transactions wherein the buyer and the seller realize belatedly that they have not been in agreement all along–they just thought they were. Cases of communications failure are often fatal to the successful closing. A professional business broker is skilled in making sure that both sides know exactly what the deal entails, and can reduce the chance that such misunderstandings will occur.
The Seller Doesn’t Really Want To Sell
In all too many instances, the seller does not really want to sell the business. The idea had sounded so good at the outset, but now that things have come down to the wire, the fire to sell has all but gone out. Selling a business has many emotional ramifications; a business often represents the seller’s life work. Therefore, it is key that prospective sellers make a firm decision to sell prior to going to market with the business. If there are doubts, these should quelled or resolved. Some sellers enter the marketplace just to test the waters; to see if they could get their “price,” should they ever get really serious. This type of seller is the bane of business brokers and buyers alike. Business brokers generally can tell when they encounter the casual (as opposed to serious) category of seller. However, an inexperienced buyer may not recognize the difference until it’s too late. Most business brokers will agree that a willing seller is a good seller.
Or…the Buyer Doesn’t Really Want To Buy
What’s true for the mixed-emotion seller can be turned right around and applied to the buyer as well. Buyers can enter the sale process full of excitement and optimism, and then begin to drag their feet as they draw closer to the “altar.” This is especially true today, with many displaced corporate executives entering the market. Buying and owning a business is still the American dream–and for many it becomes a profitable reality. However, the entrepreneurial reality also includes risk, a lot of hard work, and long intense hours. Sometimes this is too much reality for a prospective buyer to handle.
And None of the Above
The situations detailed above are the main reasons why deals fall apart. However, there can be problems beyond anyone’s control, such as Acts of God, and unforeseen environmental problems. However, many potential deal-breakers can be handled or dealt with prior to the marketing of the business, to help ensure that the sale will close successfully.
A Final Note
Remember these components in working toward the success of the business sale:
- Good chemistry between the parties involved.
- A mutual understanding of the agreement.
- A mutual understanding of the emotions of both buyer and seller.
- The belief, on the part of both buyer and seller, that they are involved in a good deal
A Private Equity Glossary
“Deep-pocketed investors often set aside money to buy into private equity funds. Such investments tend to be riskier but can generate higher returns than stocks or bonds. Here are some of the key players and terms in the world of private equity investments.
• Private equity firms: A broad category. It includes venture capitalists and buyout specialists who raise money from limited partners and use it to help companies develop products and markets.
• Limited partners: Investors in venture capital or buyout funds. These are typically pension funds, foundations, university endowments, insurance companies, or wealthy individuals.
• Venture capital firms: Firms that use their investment funds to finance start-ups, often in their early stages and typically in the technology, life sciences, or telecommunications fields.
• Buyout firms: They usually raise larger funds and invest them in more mature, later-stage companies of all kinds, often taking controlling interests and sometimes buying the companies outright. (The terms “private equity” and “buyouts” are often used interchangeably.)”
Source: Robert Weisman, in an article from The Boston Globe
Women Business Owners: Coming on Strong
If there were any doubt that women owners are an ever-growing force on the independent business scene, new studies of leading female entrepreneurs around the world supplies incontrovertible proof. The National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO) has been hard at work, researching the small business climate for women and identifying strong trends.
Fifty Top Women Show Trends
In one study done jointly with IBM, the NFWBO used as its subjects 50 top women business owners (plus 10 more up-and-coming) to compile these findings:
- These women owners cover a wide range of industry categories, for example: 27 percent in manufacturing, 25 percent in retail trade, and 10 percent in real estate.
- Slightly less than half (46 percent) of these women inherited their businesses, and more than half began their own: 34 percent by themselves, and 17 percent with others.
- As a group, the study subjects generate $139 billion in revenue and employ more than 150,000 workers. And, the numbers keep increasing.
The Majority of Women Owners Prefer “Small”
More research from the NFWBO shows another picture: that women owners, taken as a whole, prefer pared-down operations — the very smallest, in fact. Among the approximately eight million women-owned businesses in the U.S., 75 percent of these are one-person operations with no employees. Ownership of such a small business gives women maximum flexibility with work schedules and offers a better chance of keeping their home lives healthy as well.
Ignoring the big-business gurus who claim that small does not equal successful, women owners continue to prefer keeping their businesses small. Although the NFWBO research reveals that fewer than one percent of these businesses have more than $1 million in sales, women owners are showing strength in numbers and gaining respect from many quarters necessary for their support and growth. The Small Business Administration, for example, offers a number of free counseling and assistance programs, as well as its loan guarantee program–all helping the woman-owned business to flourish.
Women Owners Triumph over Bank Loan Inequities
Another NFWBO study shows that women business owners, for the first time ever, are experiencing access to business loans from banks nearly equal to that of male owners. A number of U.S. banks, among them BankAmerica and Wells Fargo, offer special loan programs for women business owners. Partly thanks to the rise of women to high bank positions, the woman-owned business is being seen for its untapped potential.
With easier access to loans, women owners can now be less dependent on high-cost credit card loans for financing, and they have more leeway to reinvest earnings. According to the NFWBO, all this means that women-owned businesses have developed into more sophisticated operations.
Although male and female entrepreneurs may have equal access to loans, a related NFWBO finding shows that the sexes still approach the use of credit differently. Men owners tend to use this money to help out with cash flow or to consolidate debt; women put the dollars towards business growth.
In addition to these specific discoveries, NFWBO studies also showed that, on an international scale, women owners come from similar backgrounds and voice the same concerns about important business issues. They constitute between one-fourth and one-third of the world’s independent business owners. They are also vocal, as was evidenced at an international conference in Paris sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Approximately 350 delegates from 35 countries attended the multilingual sessions and workshops.Read More
Saying “Hello” — More Important than You Think
The telephone rings, the caller receives a message welcoming them, then she is asked to dial the extension of the person she wants to talk to. Since she doesn’t know the extension, she has to wait and listen to the office directory; then presses the extension number only to discover that the person being called is not there.
Most Americans have called a credit card company, their bank or any other large company only to get lost in the maze with no way of talking to an actual person. Then there is the “hold music,” the commercial while you wait, with more “amusements” popping up all the time. Who knows what the future holds in telephone communication.
While it used to be that the telephone was a visitor’s first contact with your business, that tradition is changing. Now it is your Web site. Today’s busy buyer now goes to the Internet to look for whatever he or she is considering purchasing. It is even easier for potential clients or customers to find your telephone number from your Web site rather than the telephone book. They can even get directions to your place of business.
In business every call or Web site visitor is a potential customer or client. You can’t afford to lose even one. After all, if someone goes to the trouble of finding your telephone number or locating you on the Web, they must be at least half-serious.
Make sure your telephone system is as user-friendly as you can make it. If it isn’t, change it. One sale or new client will more than pay for this improvement. What is the status of your Web site? Pay a little extra to insure that it is also user-friendly. Your Web site should provide interesting and useful information on your company, your products or services, your personnel (including contact information), and anything else that will make you look like the well-established professional that you are. The more user-friendly and informative the site, the more business you will get.
Understand that the first contact potential customers or clients have with your business is either the telephone or your Web site – and probably both.
Lessons Learned: Comments from Those Who Failed
The following appeared in a study, Financial Difficulties of Small Businesses and Reasons for Their Failure, prepared for the Small Business Administration (SBA). They are statements made by individuals whose business was in financial difficulty and subsequently failed. Their comments are listed under the stated reason for failure.
- IRS stepped in and took over the bank account.
- The IRS threatened to repossess [our] tools of trade if [we] did not pay the $20,000 back taxes immediately.
- When the IRS agent told us that they will put padlocks on our doors if we can’t come up with the money in one month.
- Pressure from IRS. The IRS is “merciless.”
- IRS was attempting to reach the non-debtors wife’s income (i.e., levy) for the tax liabilities, which all preceded her marriage to the debtor.
- The IRS changed the locks on the business, and the business had to declare bankruptcy in order for the owners to be able to even get into the building.
- Bank was not going to refinance her business because of divorce settlement.
- Inability to control blood glucose level, cholesterol, etc. due to stress of dealing with creditors.
- His wife has a nervous breakdown. He just knew they couldn’t handle their bills.
- The injury to his arm.
- She could not pay her medical bills. She had filed bankruptcy as soon as she couldn’t pay her bills, rather than get behind in payments.
- Creditors were hounding him to pay his wife’s credit card. He had not canceled the cards after the divorce. He returned his but never closed the accounts.
- “I had lost court case in trying to settle child support but lost. Was given 48 hours to settle $36,000 of debt which was impossible.”
- And, finally, some comments regarding those who suffered a calamity that pushed them into failure, and subsequent bankruptcy.
- The engine blew in the truck and they couldn’t afford to buy another one.
- His van was stolen and he could no longer transport the equipment necessary to carry on his business.
- The organization they were linked with sold out and was taken over by another organization that was hard to work with.
- The gas explosion.
- Death of foreman.
- The State came in and tore up the road.
Despite the above comments, the study also suggests that entrepreneurs are often not the callow amateurs they are portrayed as being, but business veterans who have the gumption to take the risks inherent in starting a new enterprise. They are people who are often prepared to shrug off the effects of a business failure and try again; a process made possible by the “fresh start” philosophy of U.S. bankruptcy laws. Failure does not always have to be viewed negatively. It can offer an opportunity for the entrepreneur to learn and gain from the experience in order to do a better job next time.
The Independent Contractor Revisited
As the federal government and the state governments look for more ways to bring in money, the independent contractor status is a likely place for them to look. After all, by using independent contractors rather than employees, employers don’t have to withhold taxes, provide workers’ compensation, contribute to unemployment compensation, or provide any benefits such as 401-k programs, health insurance or other benefits. Plus you can use and discontinue independent contractors as needed.
Certainly, in this age of home-based businesses, the use of outside sources makes a lot of sense. Outsourcing a lot of business needs has been done for years and will only increase with growth of small business. Most one-person and small businesses don’t need full-time employees. Many requirements can be outsourced to independent contractors who in turn outsource many of their requirements.
It is the use of workers who are classified as independent contractors, but are really employees that can cause legal issues. FedEx Ground has been in the middle of this type of legal dispute for several years. FedEx claimed that their drivers were franchisees and therefore independent contractors; several drivers (and later the IRS) challenged that status, claiming that the drivers were really employees.
Here are some basic distinctions between independent contractors and employees:
Lack of employers’ direction is one major difference. In other words, the worker is left to his or her devices and does what the particular job requires without direction from the employer.
Is the worker working primarily for one employer or working for several employers on an as needed basis?
The worker is not in the same general business as the employer. A full-time consultant in the same line of business as the employer might be considered an employee. If the employee has his or her own business and also works for other companies, he probably would be considered an independent contractor.
Just because the worker creates an LLC or even an S-corporation doesn’t necessarily protect both sides from being classified as an independent contractor.
The federal government and the states are narrowing the definition of an independent contractor. One must definitely be truly independent to be considered an independent contractor. FedEx franchises (for lack of another term) wear FedEx garb, have FedEx logos on their trucks, and deliver FedEx packages on defined routes. However, we understand that they buy their own trucks and can sell their FedEx routes. But, consider the old saying: If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck and makes duck-like noises, there is a very good chance it is a duck. The battle goes on, but the penalties for violating the status of your people can be very expensive.