Many people assume they know what “fairness opinion” means because they are familiar with the term “fair market value.” Fair market value refers to a price that is reasonable for both a buyer and seller in an open and competitive market. However, a fairness opinion is quite different. This term refers to a report that evaluates the facts of a merger or acquisition or any other type of business purchase.
A fairness opinion is typically in the form of a letter that contains an actual opinion and justification of why a selling price is fair. Of course, there are limitations, as this report is fully based on information that has been provided by the management of the business.
Who Prepares a Fairness Opinion?
A fairness opinion must be prepared by a professional with expertise in business valuation. It is typically done by a business intermediary or appraiser. An investment banker can also prepare a fairness opinion. Although the professional who prepares the fairness opinion may very well have experience in structuring deals, this letter does not include any information or opinion on the deal itself. It also doesn’t include advice or recommendation. In preparing the report, the advisor seeks to look at the deal from the perspective of the investors.
Basically, it is structured to specifically comment on fairness from a financial perspective, based on the information on hand.
Who Uses Fairness Opinions?
You will most frequently see fairness opinions utilized in the sale of public companies by the board of directors. When this document is received, it shows that the board is working to protect the shareholders. Of course, fairness opinions can also be used for private companies. In this case, it can serve to protect the interest of shareholders or family members who may later look to challenge the sales price. However, in most situations that involve middle market private acquisitions, a fairness opinion is not necessary.
In the end, a fairness opinion assists with communication and decision-making. It serves to lower the risks surrounding a deal. This important document can be used in court if a shareholder later decides to file a lawsuit against the director of a company.
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Often selling a business comes down to storytelling. The buyer and seller are the main characters of the story that is being told. The seller is the one relaying the story, and the ideal buyer is the one who truly sees the future opportunity.
A Brokerage Professional Can Help Tell Your Story
The simple fact of the matter is that often even sellers don’t know what the true story of their business actually is. They tend to lack the proper perspective as they are too deeply involved. Sellers may be burnt out or have never really thought through the story of their business in the first place.
Business brokers and M&A advisors serve a great function as a third party who can look at the story from a different perspective. These professionals are numbers people, but it goes beyond that, as they can clearly see your business as a story to be told. And they can help you control that storyline for optimal results.
Embracing the Human Element
In order to tell the story of the business and why a buyer should want to buy it, it is necessary for your business broker or M&A advisor to truly understand your business. This is why good communication is so important. After the interview process, these professionals must precisely arrange all the relevant information in such a way that the buyer can digest it and see the potential within the business. Through that means, a prospective buyer can understand that value and envision him or herself as the hero.
It Goes Beyond the Financials
Business brokers and M&A advisors also help sellers determine the price and work as advisors on pricing. The story of the business does start with the financials and the facts. But this is only the beginning of the process. Brokerage professionals will want to interview you to learn how to weave together your story.
In the end, every story has a moral. It is important to pull all of these elements together to make an engaging story that will ultimately inspire and motivate a buyer to buy the business.
Storytelling Leads to Successful Deals
When buyers open their minds to the story being told, they are able to envision the future potential of the business and why it is going to be a valuable opportunity. At the end of the day, selling a business isn’t strictly about numbers, figures, facts, profit and loss margins, and other financial variables. Instead, it is also about the people.
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Many buyers view a publicly-held company as virtually being an open book with at least a modest level of transparency, whereas privately-held companies reveal much less about their inner workings, financial, and otherwise. Of course, this means that buyers of privately-held companies are left with no choice but to dig through whatever information is available in an effort to determine if a valuation or price indeed reflects reality.
Comparing Publicly and Privately Held Companies
Determining the price on a privately-held company is typically more time-consuming since privately-held companies don’t have to deal with audited financial statements. But why do most privately-held companies typically forgo the process? Audited financial statements are expensive, and it is this expense that often prevents companies from going public. A publicly-held company is expected to reveal significantly more information, including often sensitive financial information.
What Sellers Can Do
If you’re a seller, you can take steps to make the process a bit easier for buyers. One step is to work closely with your accountant in an effort to ensure that the numbers are not just accurate, but are also presented in a concise and easy to understand fashion. This move serves to boost trust between buyers and sellers and, in turn, can increase the chances of selling your business.
Determining value is another area where sellers of privately-held companies can take steps to assist buyers in determining price or value. Sellers should consider opting for an outside appraiser or expert when it comes to determining the value of their business. The opinion of an outside expert clearly carries more weight, and using an outside expert is yet another step that sellers can take to boost overall trust with buyers.
Establish Your Bottom Line
Another key step is for sellers to establish their wish price. The wish price can be thought of as what price the seller would ultimately like to receive. It is also helpful for sellers to know well in advance what their lowest possible price for their business would be.
When establishing a price, there are several areas of the business where sellers can expect buyers to pay special attention. Here are a few areas that buyers are likely to explore:
- Size and scope of customer base
- Needs for capital expenditures
- Overall stability of the market
- Stability of earnings
- The general landscape of competitors
- Businesses relationships with suppliers
As with all transactions, the marketplace will have the final word regarding the sale of any business. Sellers should expect to receive a price somewhere between their asking price and their lowest price. But taking the right steps throughout the process can definitely make the process go more smoothly and boost the chances of success.
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Just as every person is different, the same invariably holds true for buyers. No two buyers are the same. Further, no two buyers have the same mindset, emotional makeup, or approach to business. The simple fact is that buyers opt to buy businesses for a very wide range of reasons. The bottom line is that it is up to business brokers and M&A advisors to find serious buyers so as not to waste everyone’s time. In this article, we will examine how we zero in on serious buyers.
A serious buyer, one that wants to achieve success and isn’t just window shopping, will want to understand both the business they are considering buying and the industry as a whole. Consider this rough analogy for a moment. Someone serious about winning a game will work to understand the rules before jumping in and playing. You’ll want to look for a buyer who wants to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a business. He or she will also want to comprehend the strengths and weaknesses of competitors as well as potential industry wide problems both now and in the future.
Savvy business people realize that wages and salaries make up a huge percentage of the typical business’s operating cost. A serious buyer will endeavor to understand not just the wages and salaries of employees, but also additional related costs. These can include retirement related costs, the cost of training new employees, the rate of employee turnover and more. Smart buyers are looking for stability throughout the business, and that includes its employees.
The kind of buyers you want to attract are the ones that are not just “thinking about buying” a business. You’ll want to only deal with buyers who have carefully thought through what it means to buy a business. A key aspect of buying a business, as simple as it sounds, is to fully understand what is being sold. For example, serious buyers will dive in and understand capital expenditures. They will also examine and evaluate machinery and equipment so that they understand what kinds of equipment might need to be repaired or replaced. Replacing and repairing equipment can mean substantial costs. That’s why quality buyers can be expected to evaluate all equipment extremely carefully.
Buyers who understand what it means to buy a business will even go beyond evaluating the stability of employees and the state of machinery and equipment. You can expect a serious buyer to want to know if there are any environmental concerns, they will check and evaluate the lease, and they will want to inspect the state of all buildings. They will want to know who the key clients and key suppliers are and determine if those relationships are stable or if they put the business at long term risk.
At the end of the day, the kind of buyer that you’ll want to work with is a buyer who is proactive. Quality buyers will be accessing every aspect of a business to determine its long-term viability. A buyer who goes far beyond “kicking the tires” is exactly the kind of buyer you want.
Owning and operating a business can be rather demanding and that means from time-to-time details can slip through the cracks. All too often, businessowners don’t fully comprehend their leases and this can lead to a variety of problems. For example, if your business location is a key part of your success, it is incredibly important that you are well aware of all the essential points in your lease. Many businesses, ranging from restaurants and service businesses to retail stores, can be very location sensitive.
Don’t Let Key Details Slip by You
Regardless what kind of business you own, it is vital that you understand every aspect of your lease. You may even have to get an attorney involved to help you understand the implications of the minor points. A failure to do so could translate to the failure of your business.
The Length of Your Lease
The length of your lease tops our list of lease related factors you need to understand. While there are many variables that will affect you, in general, the longer your lease the better. It should come as no surprise that a longer lease gives your business an increased level of stability.
Exit and Exclusivity Clauses
If you are negotiating a lease, it is prudent to include an option for getting out of the lease. Just as having a longer lease provides you with greater flexibility, the same holds true for being able to exit your lease if the need arises.
A lease is not a one-dimensional document, just as your location is not one-dimensional either. The location in which your business is located matters. If you are signing a lease to locate your business in a strip mall or shopping mall, you should try to have written into your lease agreement that you are the only business of your type that will be located in the mall. After all, the last thing you want is to see a similar business opening up nearby.
Transferring Your Lease
Negotiating a long lease and having a way out of your lease are critically important, but so is being able to transfer your lease. At some point in the future, you may need to sell your business. For this reason, it is in your interest to have a clear understanding of how, and under what circumstances, you can transfer your lease to a new owner.
It is important to discuss the possibility of selling your business with the landlord before going to market to understand if the lease will be able to convey. While the landlord cannot restrict the sale of your business, you could get left holding a personal guarantee in order for the lease to remain in place for the remainder of the existing lease term. Then the new owner would be left to negotiate the lease renewal on their own.
Assignment of Responsibilities
Rounding out our list of key factors to consider for your lease are what you are responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for handling. If you as the business owner are to shoulder responsibilities related to the property, then those responsibilities should also be clearly outlined in the lease.
There is no doubt there are many variables involved in owning and operating any business. The physical location of your business should be among your top concerns. You should do everything possible to understand your lease. When signing a new lease, try to negotiate a lease that will be as helpful to you as possible.
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If you’re getting ready to sell your business, you’ll want to be on high alert for potential warning signs that could potentially derail the deal. Of course, time is of the essence when it comes to finalizing your deal. Why spend time negotiating with a buyer who is either not really interested or is simply not qualified to buy? Let’s take a look at some of the top buyer warning signs.
1. Lack of Buyer Experience
When it comes to individual buyers, you’ll want to see if they have experience in your industry. If a prospective buyer is not knowledgeable about your business, they might initially seem very excited but then get cold feet once they dive in and learn more about the industry.
The same can be said for a potential buyer who has never purchased a business before. If you’re dealing with a newbie, you’ll want to feel confident that this individual understands the ins and outs of buying a business before you dedicate too much time to their deal. After all, the process of buying a business can be long and complicated. Inexperienced buyers might find that they no longer want to continue progressing once they get a better idea for what is involved.
2. Undisclosed Financial Information
Along similar lines, you’ll want to work with a buyer who is open about their financials. If you are denied access to financial statements, you will have no way to verify that this buyer is actually equipped to purchase your business.
3. Early Communication Issues
Another common red flag to watch for is that a company says they are interested in buying your business, but the company’s actual decision makers are uninvolved in the communication. If a company is legitimately interested in purchasing your business, you will be communicating with a key player like the President or CEO.
Protect Your Interests
When your business is on the market it is a very important time to make sure that things stay consistent. If a legitimate buyer sees dips in sales or quality of your offerings, it could put a future deal on the line. That’s why you will want to protect your time by not wasting it with buyers who are not a good fit or who lack a high level of interest. Along the way, be sure to trust your intuition. If you sense something might be “off” with a potential buyer, this might very well be the case.
When you work with a business broker or M&A advisor, it will offer you a high degree of protection against falling into a rabbit hole when you should be focusing on keeping your business running as successfully as possible. Your brokerage professional will carefully vet buyers to ensure that they are actually viable candidates.
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While brokerage professionals are working to sell your business, it’s important for you to keep running things in a smooth and seamless manner. In countless cases, sellers have made the mistake of letting things slide simply because they are distracted while trying to sell. You’ll want to make sure things remain the same, as prospective buyers will otherwise start to become nervous. Be sure to keep the premises in tip top condition. Things such as operating hours and inventory levels should remain unchanged. After all, if sales and earnings decrease, that will raise a red flag for buyers.
Business brokers and M&A advisors will help tremendously with various details and events that will take place during the sales process. From start to finish, they will keep their eye on the prize so that you have the time and energy to focus on running your business. The same holds true for other professionals who may help you, such as attorneys and CPAs.
Get Professional Advice on Pricing
You may have a pre-established figure in your mind of what your business is worth and how much you expect to make when you sell. However, the truth is that you will only receive what the market will allow. That’s why it’s so important to get a professional valuation before you decide on a price. If you set too high of a price on your business, it will only slow down or even halt your journey towards successful results.
Keep Things Confidential
Until your sales transaction is completed, you’ll also want to make sure the highest standards of confidentiality are held. If your vendors and employees know that you are selling, it could lead to circumstances that are detrimental to the value of your business. For example, key employees could seek employment elsewhere and/or vendors could terminate contracts.
Decide On Your Strategies
Will you be willing to stay on in some capacity? In many cases, this decision can help increase what you receive for your business. Buyers will often pay more when a seller stays on for a designated period of time as they see this as a reduction in their risk. Would you be willing to offer seller financing? Again, buyers will see this as a sign that you believe in the future success of the business.
Prepare in Advance
It’s always best to prepare when you are not experiencing external pressures. You never know when life could take its toll and force you to sell. That’s why so many sellers start preparing years in advance by taking actions such as cleaning up paperwork, handling litigation and/or environmental issues, and organizing documents.
Selling a business can be highly distracting for business owners. That’s why most reach out to a business broker or M&A advisor. In fact, the best policy is for business owners to start talking to brokerage professionals quite a few years in advance. That way they can make sure everything is optimized for positive results.
Whether you are thinking of buying or selling a business, it’s worth taking a look at the quarterly BizBuySell reports. The findings from these publications are taken from analysis of sales and listing prices of approximately 50,000 businesses across the United States. The report covers the statistics of sales prices and successful transactions. It also discusses the trends that are at play. Regardless of your role in the business world, these trends likely will have some sort of impact on you.
A Boom for Sellers
The latest BizBuySell report, which covers Q4 of 2021, found that now is a very positive time for sellers. Q4 actually surpassed the pre-pandemic numbers of the fourth quarter of 2019. Of course, this is a major shift away from the sales numbers in 2020. It is typical to see transitions dip in the fourth quarter; however, 74% of brokers stated that their sales were steady during this time period. Experts say that this strength has carried into early 2022.
Other notable sales statistics include the following:
- 8,647 closed transactions were reported in 2021, an increase from 7,612 in 2020
- Sales prices increased 16% year-over-year
- Median cash flow grew 10% year-over-year
Buyers are Looking for Quality
In terms of what buyers are currently looking for, 60% of surveyed buyers indicated that strong financials were simply a “must have” when they were considering a business. This number is in stark contrast to 18% of buyers who responded that discounted opportunities were a top consideration.
Labor Shortages a Factor
The BizBuySell report also discussed the prevalent factor of labor shortages. In fact, 64% of owners surveyed say that this issue has impacted them. Business brokers agree that labor shortage is currently the largest problem for small businesses. Another corresponding issue is that of supply chain disruptions, which 75% of the business owners responding to the survey said had an impact on them.
A More Balanced Landscape
In the survey, brokers were asked if they believed that owners were more or less likely to sell their business in 2022 versus 2021. The general trend was towards brokers believing that there would be more businesses sold this year as compared to last year. Last year, the view was that buyers had the edge over sellers. However, now it seems as though brokers feel that the landscape has shifted and become more balanced overall.
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Family businesses are critical to both the US and World economies. In fact, in the US alone, there are approximately 5.5 million family owned and controlled businesses. While much of the world’s wealth is a byproduct of family-owned businesses, the fact is that most are not actually prepared to sell in a way that will profit the owners for their life’s work.
Many owners of family businesses care deeply about the legacy that they built and want it to remain in their family or with someone that will continue it with the same mission, vision, and values on which it operates. This is often difficult as the owners lack an established succession plan or exit strategy.
Studies show that about one-third of family owners never even plan to retire. As a result, they have no succession or exit plan in place. In some cases, the business is forced to form a strategy by default when the business owner becomes burned out, disabled or worse, passes away. This is clearly not the best path when it comes to maximizing profits.
Pros and Cons of Conveying Your Business to Family Members
According to Businessweek.com, the average lifespan of a family-owned business is 24 years. About 40% of family-owned businesses are successfully passed down to a second-generation with only about 13% passed down to a third generation.  With the fourth generation and beyond, the survival rate is 3% or less. Regardless of whether a family business owner intends to convey their business to a third party or have it remain in the family, it is important to maintain confidentiality and have the proper documentation in place for a successful transition.
There are disadvantages that need to be considered if you plan to sell your business to a family member. One key disadvantage is that a family business owner will typically receive less value for their business than engaging the sale with an independent third party. Selling to an independent third party can often force a family business owner to also paradoxically agree to a lower value in an effort to negotiate the retention of jobs and incomes for the family members they wish to remain with the business after the sale. It is important to prepare the remaining family members that they will have to accept the fact that they now answer to new ownership and management with the business.
Handling Multiple Owners and/or Decision Makers
If there are multiple owners and/or decision makers in the family-owned business and the business is being sold to a third party, it is important to appoint one family member to represent the negotiations. Having multiple decision makers at this critical step in the process of conveying the business to a third-party owner can lead to numerous issues and headaches for both the buyer and seller. Many times, multiple decision makers cause failure in the ability to transition the business to third-party ownership, as the parties involved have competing priorities with the sale of the business that prevents satisfying everyone involved in the process. Keep in mind that all family members must be in consensus with the price, terms and sale of the business or it will never happen. This fact can be true even if the family members involved are just employees or active/passive investors in the business. Disagreements among family members often derail the possibility of a deal happening.
Obtaining Outside Assistance
To increase your probability of success with conveying a family-owned business to future generations or new independent ownership, having a third-party guide you through the process who is not emotionally involved like the various family members involved, can be critical in making the deal happen. That’s why a variety of professionals including business brokers, M&A advisors, lawyers, and accountants should be brought in to help.
This article highlights just a few of the myriad of issues and process involved in conveying your business to new ownership once you decide it is time to retire or move on to a new venture. If you are just beginning or actively considering transitioning your business to new ownership, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for advice and assistance.
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All too often a business owner decides to sell, only to learn a number of harsh realities. For example, oftentimes a business owner discovers that their lack of financial data represents a major problem. The simple fact is that prospective buyers will dive in and scrutinize every aspect of EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation & Amortization) when looking at their perceived value of your business. This will most likely take place through what is called a Quality of Earnings Analysis Report (Q of E). General Accepted Accounting Principles serves as the key basis and language for financial reporting (known as GAAP Accounting). GAAP Accounting and Reports often represent a marked departure for how many companies handle their general and day-to-day accounting. The end result of all this can be a substantial shift in EBITDA as compared to what the actual number really is.
Potential buyers will ultimately receive numerous documents that outline the financial and operational health of your business during what is called the due diligence process in acquiring a business. This means that you, as a business owner, must be ready to invest a good deal of time in the process of disclosing as much accurate information as you can, in support and defense of the true and accurate EBITDA of your business. In short, preparing your business to be sold is no small affair when it comes to making sure that information is fully disclosed and in defense of the actual quality of financial and operational health to ensure the highest and best acquisition price.
EBITDA is one of the most common ways to value a business based on multiples of that number. When engaging your business for acquisition in the open market, you should expect that any buyer or potential investor will perform a review of your income statement for adjustments in order to arrive at an adjusted EBITDA that makes sense for THEM.
You need to be ready and fight back as to what the true Adjusted or Normalized EBITDA is, that serves as the basis for a purchase price of your business creating a value used with a multiple to negotiate a final price and terms that make sense for both parties. Miss out on the correct EBITDA for your business by $100,000 on a 3 multiple and you just gave up $300,000 in acquisition cost of your business – as an example.
There are three common EBITDA adjustments:
- First, items related to conversion based on a GAAP Accounting basis; this number can have a considerable range.
- Second, one-time events such as legal expenses, PPP loan forgiveness, insurance settlements, unusual expenses associated with issues/growth of the business can greatly factor into an adjusted EBITDA amount.
- Third, certain personal expenses a business owner takes that would typically not be part of the future cash flow of your business is another potential impact on EBITDA.
It is important not to ignore balance sheets when it comes to representing the financial health and aspects of your business as well. Smaller businesses typically focus strictly on profit, and this factor can result in balance sheets not being reviewed as often as they should be. A balance sheet needs to be recast in a way that the potential buyer truly understands the assets and liabilities that convey in a sale. It is better to recast the balance sheet upfront to what truly conveys with the business as the end result can be items popping up during due diligence causing hiccups in deal making and negotiations.
As an example – many times we see that business owners may park large amounts of cash in their business and on their balance sheets – over and above what is normally necessary. The minute a potential buyer sees a $1,000,000 cash position on a business when a $60,000 working capital position is needed, they are going to want that $940,000 cash to convey with the business. That’s fine if they are willing to pay $940,000 more for the business but not if they want the sale price of the business on a “cash free, debt fee” basis when the business conveys to stay the same with a reasonable sale price.
The same is true with liabilities. If you intend to convey the business without debt – if $500,000 in liabilities is relieved from the business, the value and burden of debt on the business logically increases by an adjusted amount in cash flow that is not needed by the business moving forward. This mathematically (and logically) increases the value of the business based on the cash flow used against the multiple used for valuation. Relieve $100,000 debt service to the business against a 3 multiple for the value equates to an additional $300,000 in value and price that the business should sell.
There are three key points that business owners should keep in mind when they are planning on selling their business:
- Make sure that managers and key employees are able to step in and run the business during the transition period.
- Review your financials, and get ready for GAAP reporting requirements during due diligence with a potential acquisition.
- Consider having a Quality of Earnings analysis performed with your business before going to market so you truly understand the financial health with your business.
As this article underscores, selling a business is a process with numerous moving parts. Well organized and solid financials – defensible EBITDA and operational health, represents to buyers and investors a sound and well-run business with an owner that is professional and realistic in their expectations.
Bottom line? Even if you believe it will be years before you place your business on the market, it is never too early to begin preparing.
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