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
There’s an old saying that “Time and Surprises” will kill a deal. The key is for both the seller and buyer to keep this in mind and be as transparent and keep the deal moving along best you can.
Many courts and the Internal Revenue Service have defined fair market value as: “The amount at which property would exchange between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell and both having a reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” You may have to read this several times to get the gist and depth of this definition.
The problem with this definition is that the conditions cited rarely exist in the real world of selling or buying a business. For example, the definition states that the sale of the business cannot be conducted under any duress, and neither the buyer nor the seller can be pushed into the transaction. Such factors as emotion and sentimental value cannot be a part of the sale. Surprisingly, under this definition, no actual sale or purchase has to take place to establish fair market value. That’s probably because one could never take place using the definition.
So what does make up the value of a privately held business? A business consists of tangible and intangible assets. The tangible assets are the most visible and the ones on which buyers too often base a judgment on the value of a business. Factors of value, fixtures, equipment and leasehold improvements are often valued first by the buyer. Well maintained equipment and attractive interior surroundings are the first things a buyer sees when visiting a business for sale. Make no mistake, regardless of what prospective buyers may say, the emotional impact of a physically well-maintained business can be a very positive factor. In addition, it is much easier to finance tangible assets than intangible ones.
However, buyers have to consider what is really behind those well-maintained tangible assets. There are many businesses, especially today, in which physical assets play a very small part in the success of the business. These intangible factors include: the business’ reputation with its customer or client base, and within its industry; mailing lists and customer/client lists; quality of product or service; reputation with its vendors and suppliers; strength of the business’ technology and other systems; plus many other factors that can add a lot more value to the price of the business than can shiny equipment.
Although the intangible assets listed above cannot be seen, they are certainly an important part of the business – and purchase price. Businesses that don’t need expensive fixtures and equipment can, in many cases, be expanded more quickly and inexpensively because they do not require cash-intensive equipment purchases. Buyers, to their own detriment, do not want to pay the same price for equivalent cash flow for businesses that do not have lots of equipment. They want to buy tangible assets.
Business brokers and intermediaries know how to point out to prospective buyers the advantages of businesses that may not require lots of equipment but have those all-important intangible assets that create steady cash flow. Business owners who have a service or other type of business that does not rely on the heavy use of tangible assets and are considering selling, should talk to their professional business broker/intermediary who can point out the pluses and the hidden assets of the business.
© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.Read More
In a recent article on Axial, 5 simple but important tips are mentioned to consider before selling your business. With the main message being Plan, Plan, and Plan now! No matter when a business owner is going to exit their business it’s NEVER TOO LATE to start planning. Of course there are many items to consider but this list of 5 can have a large impact on the sale of a business.
- Early in the process, consult key decision-makers and those who will be affected by the deal.
- Determine whether and for how long you would like to continue to work after the sale.
- Organize your documents in advance.
- Determine whether you want a partial or total exit.
- Have realistic expectations of value.
For more details on these 5 items please click here to check out the full article. If you’re interested in learning about your selling options, getting a professional business valuation, or learning about the Value Builder System, please feel free to give Evolution Advisors a call at 916.993.5433 or visit our website: www.EvoBizSales.com
Tri Counties Bank locally in the central valley is presenting four 2-day Business Financial Management seminars in Grass Valley, Sacramento, Chico, and Redding in September and October. Here’s a brief summary and for more information on attending click here.
“Businesses face tough challenges and unique opportunities. The financial success or failure of a business lies in its owner’s ability to manage through the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities. Now you can learn to proactively control the finances of your company through business-tested financial management techniques and maximize profits through more informed decision-making.
This two-day seminar explains in simple, clear language what financial management is and why it can greatly improve your profitability. We guarantee that you will walk away with tangible tools that you can put to use immediately in your own company.”
September 15-16, 2015 Grass Valley
September 29-30th, 2015 Sacramento
October 13-14th, 2015 Chico
October 27-28th, 2015- Redding
To learn more and register on line click here.
August was a rollercoaster ride for stockholders. Triple digit wins followed by even larger losses left the average investor reeling and were a good reminder that markets move in both directions.
Valuations of privately held business have also been somewhat turbulent of late. The average offer extended to users of The Value Builder System was 4.2 pretax profit in Q1, 2015, but dropped to 3.9 in Q2.
Does that mean you have missed the opportunity to sell your business at the peak?
Maybe. But should you care? Probably not.
The thing many of us forget is that when you sell your company—possibly your largest asset and the biggest wealth-creating event of your lifetime—you have to do something with the money you make.
These days, that means you’ll have to turn around and invest your windfall into an asset class that is arguably somewhat bubbly in historical terms. The stock market has more than doubled since 2009. The price of residential real estate has been growing at a rate of 1 percent per month in many major centers. The same trend can be seen in many markets that offer exclusive beach houses or ski chalets.
Who Is Richer: Samantha or Scott?
Indulge us in a hypothetical example. Let’s look at two imaginary business owners, each running a company generating a pretax profit of $500,000. Let’s imagine that Samantha sold her business into the teeth of the recession for three times her pretax profit back in 2009. She would have walked with $1.5 million pretax to invest in the stock market.
Now let’s imagine business owner Scott who decides to try and time the market. Scott waited out the recession and sold his business last month for four times pretax profit, walking away with $2 million before deal costs. At first glance, Scott looks like the winner because he sold at the peak and got four times profit instead of Samantha’s three times. But when we take a closer look, Samantha would probably be better off today. Assuming she had invested her $1.5 million in the stock market back in 2009, when the Dow was trading below 7,000 points, she would now have more than $3 million, or a third more than Scott, who waited and sold at the “peak.”
Timing the sale of your business on the basis of external markets is often a zero-sum game, because unless you’re going to hide the proceeds of a sale under your mattress, you’re probably buying into the same market conditions from which you’re selling out.
A better approach is to optimize your business against the eight things acquirers look for when they buy a business, regardless of what’s happening in the economy overall.
Find out how you score on the eight factors that drive your company’s value by completing the Value Builder questionnaire here.