For the owners of most private companies, selling is a new and daunting process. Capitalizing on the value of the business in such a situation can be difficult for the unprepared. If you are considering selling your business, careful planning early in the process can help you ensure the process runs smoothly and ends with the best results.
1. Know Your Goals.
Before taking any steps, you should first have a clear understanding of why you are selling. A sophisticated buyer will question why they should buy your business if you no longer want to own it. It is important to be prepared to answer this question both for the buyer and for yourself. If your goal is to retire, you should have a firm understanding of how much money you will need to receive for your business to maintain the lifestyle you want during retirement. A qualified financial planner can assist you in making that determination. If your goal is not to retire, you should carefully consider how selling the business will affect you. Most buyers will require you to sign a non-competition agreement, prohibiting you from competing with the business for several years after the sale. If you cannot retire on the sale proceeds, can you afford to be out of work in the industry for several years? If not, you may need to negotiate an exit that provides for your continued involvement in the business after the sale or reconsider whether a sale to a third party is the proper exit for you. Other options include an installment sale to a key employee or succession planning to a family member.
2. Understand your company’s value.
A realistic expectation of your company’s value is needed to make these tough decisions. While business owners typically have a general idea of their company’s worth, they may not have a firm grasp of its actual current market value. Obtaining a valuation from a professional source can provide you with a realistic expectation for your exit and help you negotiate proper value for your business based upon defensible information.
3. Put your house in order.
Before proceeding to market, make sure your business is ready to go under a microscope. Potential buyers will typically conduct in-depth due diligence on your business before acquiring it. If their review uncovers any potential risks, they could be scared off or reduce the purchase price. By carefully reviewing your business in advance, you can identify potential weaknesses, eliminate red flags, alleviate a buyer’s potential concerns and maintain your bargaining position. Make sure your corporate records and financial statements are accurate and up-to-date, important arrangements are properly documented, your key employees are retained, lawsuits have been settled and there are no skeletons likely to pop out of your company’s closet.
4. Keep it quiet
News of a potential sale may cause suppliers, customers or employees to look for opportunities elsewhere due to the company’s uncertain future, which can decrease the company’s value. It is important to maintain confidentiality by restricting disclosure of the proposed sale to those individuals needed for the sales process and requiring nondisclosure agreements when prudent.
5. Stay focused on your business.
Selling your business can be a full-time job. Don’t forget that potential buyers will be scrutinizing the profitability of your business. If revenues falter or other concerns arise because you have not concentrated sufficiently on your business, buyers may seek to reduce your purchase price or back out of the deal entirely.
6. Learn and manage the process.
Commencing the sales process, identifying the right buyer, negotiating the terms of the sale and closing the transaction can take longer than expected. Depending on the risk adversity of the buyer, due diligence alone may take 30 to 60 days, or in some cases longer. Understanding the sales process will allow you to be prepared, plan accordingly and start the process at the right time to maximize the marketability of your business. You should also identify upcoming issues, such the expiration of critical licenses, leases or other agreements, and be ready to deal with them. Don’t let surprises derail your transaction.
7. Get the right help.
Most business owners have little, if any, experience selling a business and find themselves negotiating with experienced buyers. Engaging professional advisors that are experienced in mergers and acquisitions early in this process will level the playing field, help maximize the value you receive for your business and ensure you are protected in the process. The sale of your business is not the time to hire a family friend or relative that is not an experienced mergers and acquisitions professional. The right professionals will guide you through the entire sales process and help you avoid common mistakes and pitfalls that can be difficult and expensive to fix in order to get your deal back on track.
It is never too early to begin this process. By taking the steps to evaluate your options, understand your company’s value, put your business in order and obtain professional assistance, you are strategically planning for the successful exit you want.