How do you know the right time to sell your company? One answer to this age-old question is that the time to sell is when someone else is willing to invest more in your business than you are.
When you start a business, nobody is willing to invest in its success more than you. You’ve already worked a 40-hour week by Wednesday and, if you’re like most founders, you’ve invested a big chunk of your liquid assets in getting your business going.
You’re all in.
In the early days, you are willing to risk your business on a new strategy because the business is pretty much worthless. As the Bob Dylan lyric goes, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
As your business grows and becomes more valuable, you may find yourself becoming more conservative, unwilling to risk the equity you have created inside your business on your next big idea. You have reached a point where someone else may be willing to risk more time and money for your business than you are.
Peach New Media
David Will is the founder of Peach New Media, which he started back in 2000 as a reseller of web conferencing. In the early days, Will changed his business strategy frequently, trying to find an idea with legs. After a number of pivots, he landed on selling learning management software to associations.
The business grew nicely and by 2015 Peach New Media had 40 employees and then received an attractive acquisition offer from a large private equity company. Will was conflicted. He loved his business and treasured the team he had built. At the same time, the acquirer was offering him a life-changing check.
In the end, Will realized that he had become somewhat more conservative as his business had grown and the potential acquirer was willing to make a big bet on integrating Peach New Media into another one of its acquisitions. Will realized he had reached a point where his appetite for risk in his own business was lower than his potential acquirers. Will decided to sell.
When To Sell
The point where a buyer is willing to risk more than you are happens at a different stage for everyone. Let’s say you have a business worth $1 million today. Would you be willing to risk the entire thing on a new strategy for a shot at making it a $10 million company? Many entrepreneurs would take that bet.
Now imagine you have a company worth $10 million and your business represents the bulk of your net worth. Most would argue $10 million is life-changing money. Would you be willing to risk your entire company for a chance to make it a $100 million company? The marginal utility of an extra $90 million is minimal—we all only need so many cars—but the risk is significant. Fewer owners would bet $10 million for a chance at $100 million.
What if your business was worth $100 million? Would you risk it all for a long shot at becoming a billion-dollar company? It is hard to imagine any one person betting $100 million dollars on anything, but if you’re the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation with ambitious growth goals, $100 million is a bet you may be willing to make.
When someone else is willing to invest more in your business than you are, it is probably time your company finds a new owner.Read More
3 Surprising Reasons To Offer A Subscription
You can now buy a subscription for everything from dog treats to razor blades. Music subscription services are booming as our appetite to buy tracks is replaced by our willingness to rent access to them. Starbucks now even offers coffee on subscription.
Why are so many companies leveraging the subscription business model? The obvious reason is that recurring revenue boosts your company’s value, but there are some hidden benefits to augmenting your business with a subscription offering.
Free Market Research
Finding out what your customers want is expensive. By the time you pay attendees, rent a room with a one-way mirror and buy the little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a focus group can cost you upwards of $6,000. A statistically significant piece of quantitative research, done by a reputable polling company, might approach six figures.
With a subscription company, you get instant market research for free. Netflix knows which shows to produce based on the viewing behaviour of its subscribers. No need to ask viewers what they like, Netflix can see what they watch and rate.
For you, a subscription offering can allow you to test new ideas and gives you a direct relationship with your customers so you can see what they like first hand.
Subscription companies are often criticized for being hungry for cash. Many charge by the month and then have to wait months—sometimes years—to recover the costs of winning a subscriber.
That assumes, however, that you’re charging for your subscription by the month. If you’re selling your subscription to businesses, you may get away with charging for a year’s worth of your subscription up front. That’s what the analyst firm Gartner does, and it means they get an entire year’s worth of cash from their subscriber on day one. Costco charges its annual membership up front, which means it has billions of dollars of subscription revenue to float its retail operations.
Customers can be promiscuous. You may have a perfectly satisfied customer but if they see an offer from one of your competitors, they might jump ship to save a few bucks. However, if you lock your customers into a subscription, they may be less tempted to try a competitor since they have already made an investment with you.
One of the reasons Amazon Prime is so profitable is that Prime subscribers buy more and are stickier than non-Prime subscribers. Prime subscribers want to get their money’s worth, so they buy a wider swath of products from Amazon and are less tempted by competitive offers.
The obvious reason to launch a subscription offering of your own is that the predictable recurring revenue will boost the value of your company. And while that’s certainly true, the hidden benefits may even be more important.
Outlined below are a few unexpected aspects of the business exit process that can pop up and often create issues. Sometimes they severely impact the turnaround time of a sale.
If you can understand these potential issues better, you will be better prepared to try to circumvent them.
1. Do You Have Time on Your Side?
It’s helpful to use an intermediary who will assist with the filtering of prospects vs. “suspects.” However, the inclusion of yet another party, in addition to both the business seller and potential buyers, increases the amount of time required to navigate the process.
Sellers are typically unaware of the time and documentation needed to compile the required Offering Memorandum. Once completed, the seller must provide both the intermediary and potential buyer more time to review and propose meetings and pricing. In the interim, owners are faced with the challenge of keeping their business thriving.
2. Trying to Do Too Much
It’s not surprising when a company owner is also its founder that individual is typically used to making all of the decisions. That’s why business owners in the midst of selling will soon find themselves challenged with the desire to fully be a part of both the selling process and the running of the business.
Delegation to someone else, such as the Sales Manager, can be truly invaluable. Think of your top people as extremely valuable resources. They may have first-hand knowledge regarding additional concerns such as competition and potentially interested acquirers. Bringing in trusted employees to be part of the sales process can be tremendously beneficial. But many important items should be considered “before” speaking to any employees about your exit. In some cases, it may be best to hold off telling employees until after the sale.
3. Delays Due to Stockholders
When mid-sized, privately held companies are supported by minority stockholders, these individuals must be included in the selling process—however small their share may be. The business owner will need to firstly obtain their approval to sell by using the sale price and terms as influencers. Of course, issues such as competing interests, pricing disagreements, and even inter-family concerns may cause conflict and further delay the process.
4. Money Issues
Once sellers decide upon a price that they would like to see, it is sometimes difficult for them to accept or even consider anything less. After all, a business owner likely created the company and may have a strong emotional attachment.
Another factor that often interferes with a successful sale occurs when sellers instantly turn down offers because they don’t meet with their desired asking price. There’s a say in the business sales industry- “You can’t separate the “price from the terms.”
That’s when the intermediary can often come in to salvage the deal. A business broker often serves as a negotiator. He or she can work out a deal that is structured in a manner that works for both sides.Read More
It is no great secret that sellers often aim high. The logic sellers use is simple, “I can always reduce my price.” While that is true, sellers do need to remember that if the asking price is initially too high, buyers won’t even take a serious look. In short, your selling price must be bound by reality and what the market will bear.
Pricing Does Matter
When an asking price is too high buyers will simply move on. But in the meantime, you may have lost a qualified buyer that would have been very interested at a lower price. Pricing isn’t a factor that should be played with, instead it should always be treated in as professional of a manner as possible.
Instant Millionaire? Maybe and Maybe Not
Some sellers want to become instant millionaires and sell their business for top dollar. Sometimes this is warranted and sometimes the numbers don’t support lofty valuations. Every situation and every business is different. It pays to be realistic.
Studies have shown that there is usually about a 15% difference between what sellers want and what the market will bear. For example, when a business is over $1 million, sellers usually sell for 90% of their asking price. Smaller businesses, valued under a million, usually sell for about 85% of their initial asking price. (Now, that stated, it is important to keep in mind that only data on sold businesses factors into this statistic.)
Business Brokers Help Determine an Accurate Valuation
A business broker has considerable expertise when it comes time to calculate a reasonable asking price for a business. They know that it is essential that they come up with a price that is fair. As a result, business brokers take many diverse issues into consideration. A few of the factors that business brokers consider are location, competition, and annual sales variations.
Prospective Buyers Can’t Read Your Mind
An experienced business broker can help you determine the right value for your business and determining the right value is key. The last thing you want is to have an evaluation that is far too high as you will immediately eliminate many prospective buyers. While you may know that you are willing to negotiate and perhaps even reduce your asking price substantially, prospective buyers do not know this fact. A realistic and appropriate asking price is of paramount importance and a business broker can help guide you towards the best decision.
Market Forces Have the Ultimate Say
In the end, it is the market, not the seller, that determines the correct selling price. If no one is willing to pay a certain price than a given business is overpriced. That may be a brutal fact, but it is also quite true.
“Independent business owner” is a phrase with two meanings. Of course, it means being the owner of an independent business. But another way to look at “independent business owner” is to let this phrase define the very personality of the person at the helm. Independent. Confident. Self-assured. Strong-willed. These are vital entrepreneurial attributes, but, ironically, they can sometimes work against a business owner when it comes to selling businesses.
Since business owners are the type who know about selling — either products or services– and about making deals — haven’t they had to cope with suppliers, customers, and competitors throughout their business careers? — it’s not surprising that owners approach selling their businesses with these tried-and-true tactics and ideas. Sellers who have spent years building a business are often unaware of how completely different the process of selling a business is.
Savvy sellers, realizing the importance of a selling approach equal to this very important task, will depend on the guidance of a business intermediary. With professional guidance, sellers can benefit from their personal strengths instead of letting them get in the way of the selling process. The following “strong” selling points are signposts on the road leading to a successful transaction.
Price Your Business To Sell
Sellers are good “business people;” they naturally are after the best possible price for their business. Realistic pricing is perhaps the most important factor in selling from a point of strength. Understanding the marketplace, up-to-the-minute and not some high mark just past or in the possible future, is key.
The pricing of a business, different from the simpler means of valuing based on goods or services, depends on industry-tested valuation techniques, with intangibles incorporated to ensure that the business will not be underpriced. The price of a business is arrived at by a variety of factors, one of the chief of which is the intensity of a buyers interest in a particular business.
Know Your Buyer
The seller, although good at “psyching out” customers and vendors, may not be as adept at sizing up potential buyers. Some buyers are professional window-shoppers; talking a good game but never really ready to play. There are also the buyers who would play ball — if they only knew where the action was! First locating and then qualifying buyers is a key function of business brokers. They will use computerized data bases, professional associations and other networks nationally and internationally — all to increase the chances of selling a business at top value.
In addition, the business broker will determine the right buyer for the right business, focusing on those prospects who are financially qualified as well as genuinely (or potentially) interested in the business for sale. As part of qualifying buyers, to take the “fear” out of the likely need for seller financing, the business broker will assess the ability of a particular buyer to run a business successfully. This invaluable work by the broker not only locates the best buyers, it also frees the seller to concentrate on his role in the selling process.
Prepare Your Business for Sale
In addition to the obvious need for the business to appear clean and cared-for, there are important steps the seller must take in advance of putting the business on the market. In most cases, a business will sell based on the numbers. Your business broker will help you create a clear financial picture — in timely fashion — and to prepare statements suitable for presentation to a prospective buyer. Remember that buyers may be willing to buy potential, but they don’t want to pay for it. In fact, sellers should be open to about all aspects of the business that might affect the sale; otherwise, once the real facts are revealed, the deal may self-destruct.
Business owners are accustomed to coping with paperwork, but few have had exposure to the specialized contracts and forms required both before and during the selling process. The business broker, an expert at transaction details, will help guard against delays, problems, and premature (or inappropriate) disclosure of information.
Maintain Normal Operations
Another vital activity for the seller is to keep on top of the day-to-day running of the business. When a business intermediary is on hand to focus on the marketing of the business, the seller can focus on keeping daily operations on-target. Sellers are “people people,” and may have visions of wooing buyers with their great presentation of the business. Even if this were to happen, these sellers fail to visualize the number of buyers they would have to “woo-and-win” if handling the sale on their own.
An adjunct to maintaining the status quo is the important task of maintaining confidentiality. Until a purchase-and-sale agreement has been signed, most sellers do not want to disturb (or jeopardize) the normal interaction with customers and employees; nor do they want to alert the competition. A business broker helps by using nonspecific descriptions of the business, requiring signed confidentiality agreements, and performing a careful screening of all prospects.
To keep the sale of your business on firm ground, be sure that your “strengths” as an independent business owner aren’t actually weakening the sale. Using these key selling points along with the expertise of a business intermediary will keep the process going strong.
Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.Read More
Are you tempted to re-sell someone else’s product to boost your topline revenue?
On the surface, becoming a distributor for a popular product can appear to be a simple way to grow your sales—simply find something that is already proven to be successful elsewhere and negotiate the rights to sell it in your local market.
While distributing someone else’s product may be a relatively easy way to grow your topline, all that revenue growth may do little for your company’s value. A typical distribution company will be lucky to sell for 50% of one year’s revenue, whereas if you control your product or service—and the brand that embodies them—you should be able to do much better.
How Nike Became One of the World’s Most Valuable Companies
For an example of the dangers of not owning your own products, take a look at the evolution of Blue Ribbon Sports into Nike Inc. As Nike co-founder Phil Knight describes in his recent autobiography Shoe Dog, the company started off by negotiating the exclusive rights to sell Tiger running shoes in the United States. Knight’s company was called Blue Ribbon Sports and he imported the shoes from Onitsuka, a Japanese company.
Despite their exclusive agreement with Blue Ribbon, Onitsuka started to court other American dealers. When Knight protested the obvious breach of their contract, Onitsuka threatened a hostile takeover of Knight’s business or to shut him down outright. Knight’s company was tiny at the time and so deeply reliant on Onitsuka for supply, he could do virtually nothing to enforce their agreement.
Given its dependence on Onitsuka, Knight’s company would have scored close to zero out of a possible 100 on what we call The Switzerland Structure, a measure of your company’s reliance on a supplier, employee or customer. The Switzerland Structure is only one of eight value drivers we measure, but abysmal performance on any one factor can be a significant drag on the value of your business. Similar to having a high customer concentration, having all your eggs in only a few “supplier baskets” can have a real impact on the value of your business from a buyers lens.
Onitsuka’s snub became Knight’s impetus to start Nike, which gave him control of his marketing, supply and product development. Instead of simply re-selling someone else’s shoes, Nike developed their own designs and contracted the manufacturing of their products to other factories. By owning its own products and brands, Nike has become one of the world’s most valuable companies and regularly trades north of 20 times earnings.
To see how your business performs on The Switzerland Structure and the other seven factors that drive your company’s value, take 13 minutes and complete the Value Builder questionnaire now.Read More
When the day comes to sell your business, it is important that prospective buyers understand why you have made this decision. Having a valid reason why it is time for you to sell can make your business more attractive to prospective buyers. After all, it is only natural that you will have to retire at some point even if the business is thriving. In fact, it is safe to state that buying a successful business from an owner that is retiring is just the kind of the situation that most buyers like.
Owning a business and retirement, of course, is far different than retiring from a job. You likely have many friends ranging from vendors and employees to customers, clients and other business owners. It is vital that your departure does not disrupt the operation of your business and that prospective buyers understand that you have taken steps to ensure a smooth transition. In short, you want to create a situation in which everyone is happy once you have sold your business.
Helping to ensure a smooth transition has many parts. One of those parts is finding a buyer who will treat your people well. Another key aspect of a smooth transition is to automate as much of your work as possible before you leave. No one knows your business as well as you do, which means that you are the best source to automate and simplify the processes of your business. Outlining what steps you’ve taken to automate and simplify your business will help make it more attractive to buyers.
A key aspect of streamlining, simplifying and organizing your business is to pick out, well in advance, your second in command. Once you have decided on which person would be the best candidate, it is important that you begin grooming that person so they can take over day-to-day operations once you leave. Having a capable person who is committed to staying is a very attractive commodity for prospective buyers. A capable second in command can prove invaluable not just during the transition period but also for the long term operation of the business.
Finally, you should have set up a retirement account on which you can draw upon. Statistics indicate that roughly 50% of business owners do not have a retirement account set up in advance. If you don’t have an account set up, don’t panic, instead set one up as soon as possible.
Working with a business broker is one of the single best ways to handle the process of selling your business and getting ready for retirement.
A business broker can help you with everything from finding qualified prospective buyers to establishing the value of your business. The sooner you begin working with a business broker, the easier your transition will be.
BizBuySell.com’s 4th quarter report showing 2016 was a strong year for small business transaction counts
Below is an excerpt from BizBuySell.com’s 4th quarter report showing 2016 was a strong year for small business transaction stats.
Improved business financials have helped make 2016 a hot market for business sales.
“San Francisco, CA – BizBuySell.com, the Internet’s largest business-for-sale marketplace, reported today that the annual small business transaction count reached record levels in 2016, topping 2015’s totals by 8.6 percent and 2014’s previous high by 4.6 percent. The full results are included in BizBuySell’s annual and Q4 2016 Insight Report, which aggregates statistics from business-for-sale transactions reported by participating business brokers nationwide.”
Here are a couple key stats from the 2016 report:
- A total of 7,842 closed transactions were reported in 2016, the highest yearly total of small business sales since BizBuySell first started tracking data in 2007.
- The median revenue from each business transaction grew 5.2 percent from $449,462 in 2015 to $472,798 in 2016.
- Median cash flow also increased, up to $107,551 from $102,000 the year prior.
- The median asking price remained flat from 2015 at $225,000, while the median sale price increased a mere half a percentage point to $200,000.
|Asking Price to Cash Flow (avg)|
|Contra Costa-Alameda-Solano, CA||3.01|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA||2.91|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||2.84|
- Neglecting the day-to-day running of their business with the reasoning that it will sell tomorrow– keeping your eye on the business is extremely important as buyers are looking to purchase successfully operated businesses. If your business slides so will your offers.
- Starting off with too high a price with the assumption the price can always be reduced- a proper valuation should be done to determine the best price to not leave any money on the table, yet not too high where buyers do not show any interest.
- Assuming that confidentiality is a given- proper steps can and should be taken to keep the sale of your business confidential but we are dealing with people and things happen. Proper steps will help reduce the risk and a business broker can help put these in place.
- Failing to plan ahead to sell / deciding to sell impulsively– business owners should really plan ahead 1-2 years plus when selling their business. Truly it is never too early to start planning.
- Expecting that the buyers will only want to see last year’s P&L– typically the last 3 years financials will need to be provided, and sometimes more. This is one of easiest and most overlooked items- you MUST keep your books accurate and up to date.
- Negotiating with only one buyer at a time and letting any other potential buyers wait their turn– theres a saying in the business sales industry- “one buyer is no buyer.” A broker can help manage this process to attract multiple buyers and offers at the same time.
- Having to reduce the price because the sellers want to retire and are not willing to stay with the acquirer for any length of time- naturally transition time is very important in the buyers eyes. Buyers simply will move on to another business where the seller will help with the transition improving the odds of success after the purchase. This is also a negotiation “term” to go along with the sale price.
- Not accepting that the structure of the deal is as important as the price– simply put… “You can’t separate the price from the terms.” Along with every offer not only will the price be different but so will the terms.
- Trying to win every point of contention- negotiating is just that… negotiating. Deals get done when both sides are will to compromise to reach a common goal- the sale of the business.
- Dragging out the deal and not accepting that time is of the essence– The 2 biggest items that kill deals are “time” and “surprises.” Think of it as a tennis match… as each offer or counter offer is made… you have “received the ball,” the idea is to quickly “return the ball” to the other player and not leave the ball in your court. This will help determine if a deal can be made and in a timely fashion saving time for all parties.
Imagine you’re a farmer and you’ve been tending to your crops all year. It’s harvest season and finally time to collect the spoils of your labor.
You start harvesting your crops only to find out that pesky rodents have been quietly eating away at your fields. You’re devastated as you come to the realization that much of what you have been working so hard to cultivate has already been taken.
Feeling like there is not much field left to harvest is what acquirers and investors are trying to avoid as they evaluate buying your business. Metaphorically speaking, acquirers want to know that if they buy your business, there will be plenty of fresh farmland left for them to till.
Investors call it your company’s “addressable market” and it is one of the main factors buyers will look at when they evaluate the potential of acquiring your company.
Business 101 tells us we should strive for market share so we can control pricing. Market share is a worthy goal if your objective is to maximize your profits. However, if your primary objective is to increase the value of your company, you want to be able to communicate that you have relatively low market share across the entire addressable market. In other words, there is plenty of field left to plough.
Consider the following ways you might expand the way you are currently thinking about the addressable market for what you sell:
Demographics involve segmenting a market by objective measures like gender, income, age and education level. Marriott is a hotel chain but they have created a variety of brands to address the various demographic segments they want to serve. Ritz Carlton is a Marriott brand that appeals to well-heeled travelers, but if all you want is a basic room, you could opt for a Courtyard Marriott. It’s the same company, but they have expanded their addressable market by focusing on different demographic segments.
Psychographics involve segmenting your market according to the way people think. Toyota produces the Prius, which gets 50 miles per gallon and is a favorite among environmentalists. Toyota also produces the thirsty Tundra pickup truck and, at just 15 miles per gallon, attracts a different psychographic segment.
Success in your local market is good but if you want to really boost the value of your company in the eyes of an acquirer, you need to demonstrate that your concept crosses geographic lines. McDonald’s has more than fourteen thousand locations in the United States but they have also demonstrated that the golden arches can draw a crowd in other markets. McDonald’s has nearly three thousand stores in Japan, two thousand in China and more than a thousand locations in each of the European countries of Germany, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
You don’t actually have to become a global giant like Marriott, Toyota or McDonald’s to increase your company’s value but you do need to be able to communicate that your concept could work in other markets and that there is still good land left to plough.Read More