Before buying any business, a seller must ask questions, lots of questions. If there is ever a time where one should not be shy, it is when buying a business. In a recent article from Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “10 Questions You Must Ask Before Buying a Business”, author Jan Porter explores 10 of the single most important questions prospective buyers should be asking before signing on the dotted line. She points out to remember that “there are no stupid questions.”
The first question highlighted in this article is “What are your biggest challenges right now?” The fact is this is one of the single most prudent questions one could ask. If you want to reduce potential surprises, then ask this question.
“What would you have done differently?” is another question that can lead to great insights. Every business owner should be an expert regarding his or her own business. It only makes sense to tap into that expertise when one has the opportunity. The answers to this question may also illuminate areas of potential growth.
How a seller arrives at his or her asking price can reveal a great deal. Having to defend and outline why a business is worth a given price is a great way to determine whether or not the asking price is fair. In other words, a seller should be able to clearly defend the financials.
Porter’s fourth question is, “If you can’t sell, what will you do instead?” The answer to this question can give you insight into just how much bargaining power you may have.
A business’ financials couldn’t be any more important and will play a key role during due diligence. The question, “How will you document the financials of the business?” is key and should be asked and answered very early in the process. A clear paper trail is essential.
Buying a business isn’t all about the business or its owner. At first glance, this may sound like a strange statement, but the simple fact is that a business has to be a good fit for its buyer. That is why, Porter’s recommended question, “What skills or qualities do I need to run this business effectively?” couldn’t be any more important. A prospective buyer must be a good fit for a business or otherwise failure could result.
Now, here is a big question: “Do you have any past, pending or potential lawsuits?” Knowing whether or not you could be buying future headaches is clearly of enormous importance.
Porter believes that other key questions include: “How well documented are the procedures of the business?” and “How much does your business depend on a key customer or vendor?” as well as “What will employees do after the sale?”
When it comes to buying a business, questions are your friend. The more questions you ask, the more information you’ll have. The author quotes an experienced business owner who noted, “The more questions you ask, the less risk there will be.”
Business brokers are experts at knowing what kinds of questions to ask and when to ask them. This will help you obtain the right information so that you can ultimately make the best possible decision.
A recent article on Businessbroker.net entitled, First Time Buyer Processes by business broker Pat Jones explores the process of buying a business in a precise step-by-step fashion. Jones notes that there are many reasons that people buy businesses including the desire to be one’s own boss. However, he is also quick to point out that buyers should refrain from buying a business that they simply don’t like. In the quest for profits, many prospective owners may opt to do this, but it could ultimately lead to failure.
Step One – Information Gathering
For Jones, there are seven steps in the business buying process. At the top of the list is to gather information on businesses so that one has an idea of what kind of businesses are appealing.
Step Two – Your Broker
The second key step is to begin working with a business broker. This point makes tremendous sense; after all, those new to the business buying process will benefit greatly from working with a guide with so much experience. Business brokers can gain access to information that prospective business owners simply cannot.
Step Three – Confidentiality and Questions
The third step in the process is to sign a confidentiality agreement so that you can learn more about a business that you find interesting. Once you have the businesses marketing package, you’ll want to have your broker schedule an appointment with the seller. It is vitally important that you prepare a list of questions on a range of topics. There is much more to buying a business than the final price tag. By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to learn more about the business and its long-term potential.
Step Four – Evaluation
In the fourth step of the business buying process, you’ll want to evaluate all the information that you have received from the seller. Once again, a business broker can be simply invaluable, thanks to years of hands-on experience, he or she will know how to evaluate a seller’s information.
Step Five – The Decision
In the fifth step, you’ll need to decide whether or not you are making an offer. If you are making an offer, you will, of course, want it to be written and include contingencies.
If your offer is accepted, then the process of due diligence begins. During due diligence, you and your business broker will look at everything from financial statements to tax returns. You will evaluate the company’s assets. Again business brokers are experts at the due diligence process.
Buying a business is an enormous commitment. Making certain that you’ve selected the right business for you is one of the most critical decisions of your life. Having as much competent and experienced help as possible is of paramount importance.
In Divestopedia’s article, “The Myth of Fair Business Valuation: What Professional Valuations Don’t Tell You,” author Chak Reddy is quick to point out that the “type of buyer and method of sale are two important (yet often overlooked) value determinants when finding a starting price for your business.”
Reddy brings up some excellent points. One notion in particular that every business owner should be aware of is that there is “NO fair value for illiquid assets.” He points to the fact that between January 2007 and March 2008, the historic Bear Stearns went from a value of $20 billion dollars to just $238 million. In a mere 14 months, Bear Stearns lost most of its value.
Additionally, the article points to the fact that business owners often suffer enormously from “dramatic valuation compression.” In Reddy’s view, this compression is the direct result of poor planning and a failure on the part of business owners to select the right advisory teams.
Reddy believes that professional valuations can be quite lacking. He feels that they are “contingent on multiple assumptions,” and that the valuations are only as good as the assumptions upon which they are based. In other words, professional valuations can be limited and flawed. In particular, he points to the fact that two of the most important factors in valuations, future growth rate and operational synergies are “highly subjective and no two views on these topics are likely to be identical.” Summed up another way, valuations are inherently a matter of opinion and perspective. Reddy feels that a seller will be “lucky” if the real sales price comes within 10% to 20% of the professional valuation.
In the end, as always, it is the market that determines value. It is the acquirer who will determine the value more than any other factor. The perception of the buyer will play a key role in the process and, further to the point, no two buyers will perceive the business exactly the same way. In other words, valuations can be tricky and certainly do involve a personal element of the individual who is appraising the business’ value. Adding to this point, Reddy states, “From our experience, the type of buyer and the type of sale skew the valuation to such an extent that it is unwise for a business owner to not be familiar with these variables and their impact before the beginning of the sales process.”
Ultimately, finding the right buyer is essential and this is where a business broker can prove simply invaluable. And finding that right buyer may take time.
How should the purchase of a business be structured? This is a point that you’ll want to address early in the sale process. For most people, buying or selling a business is one of the most, if not the most, important business decision that they will ever make. For this reason, it is vital not to wait until the last minute to structure your deal. Let’s turn our attention to the most significant questions that you need to answer when entering the sales process.
1. What is My Lowest Price?
The first question you should ask yourself is, “What is the lowest price I’m willing to take?” If an offer is made, the last thing you want is to be sitting around trying to decide if you can take a given offer at a given price. You need to be ready to jump if the right offer is made.
2. What are the Tax Implications?
Secondly, you’ll want to seriously consider the tax consequences of any sale. Taxes are always a fact of life and you need to work with a professional, such as an accountant or business broker, to understand the tax implication of any decision you make.
3. What are the Interest Rates?
The third factor you want to consider is interest rates. If you get a buyer, what is an acceptable interest rate for a seller financed sale?
4. Are there Additional Costs Involved?
A fourth key question to ask yourself is do you have any unsecured creditors that have not been paid off? Additionally, you’ll also want to determine whether or not the seller plans on paying for a part of the closing costs.
5. Will the Buyer Need to Assume Debt?
Finally, will the buyer need to assume any long-term or secured debt? The issue of long term and/or secured debt is no small issue. Be sure to clarify this important point well in advance. Also keep in mind that favorable terms typically translate to a higher sales price.
Business brokers are experts at buying and selling all kinds of businesses. When it comes time to structure a deal that benefits both the buyer and the seller, business brokers can prove to be invaluable. At the end of the day, working with a business broker is one of the single biggest steps you can take to ensure that your business is sold and sold as quickly as possible.
Divestopedia published a rather insightful article, “Letting the Market Bridge the Valuation Gap.” In this October 2018 article, Dave Kauppi dives in and explores how fair market value can be used as a way for business owners to “bridge the gap between the valuation they feel they deserve and that which they’re likely to receive.” This, of course, increases the chances of a deal actually taking place. Let’s turn our attention to some of the key points in Kauppi’s informative article.
Understanding the Reality of Selling a Business
One key point is that only a low percentage of businesses actually sell on their first attempt. The article points out that a mere 10% of businesses that are for sale are actually sold three years later; this is a simply brutal fact. Few facts, if any, help underscore the value of working with a business broker more than this point. Selling a business can be difficult under even the best of circumstances. The process is complex, and most sellers have never actually sold a business before.
Divestopedia believes that it is critical for business owners to have realistic expectations regarding valuation. As the article points out, the market doesn’t care “how much money you need for retirement,” or how much you’ve invested.
Four Points to Consider
According to the article, it is important that business owners understand that a few business characteristics will ultimately drive the sale. There are four key factors to consider: contractually recurring revenue, durable competitive advantage, growth rate and customer concentration.
There is a lot packed into these four points, but here are a couple of big takeaways. In terms of customer growth, if a large percentage of your business is derived from a single customer, then that is going to be seen as a problem. As Divestopedia points out, if your company is dependent and partially dependent on a single customer, then you can expect a lot of pressure for you, as the business owner, to stick around a lot longer to ensure that this key customer isn’t lost. If intellectual property, such as software, is involved, then things can get even more complex. In the end, determining value in technology-based companies can be more challenging.
In the end, working with a seasoned business broker, one that understands valuation and how best to get there, is a must. You want to receive the best possible price for your business. An experienced business broker will help you understand how to navigate the complex process of determining a price. However, and most importantly, a business broker will help you achieve a fair market value, so that your business doesn’t remain unsold for years.
Business appraisals are not one-dimensional. In fact, a good business appraisal is one that factors in a wide range of variables in order to achieve an accurate result. Indisputable records ranging from comparables and projections to EBITDA multiples, discount rates and a good deal more are all factored in.
It is important to remember that while an appraiser may feel that he or she has all the information necessary, it is still possible they have overlooked key information. Business appraisers must understand the purpose of their appraisal before beginning the process. All too often appraisers are unaware of important additional factors and considerations that could enhance or even devalue a business’s worth.
There Can Be Unwritten Value
Value isn’t always “black and white.” Instead, many factors can determine value. Prospective buyers may be looking at variables, such as profitability, depth of management and market share, but there can be more that determines value.
Here are some of the factors to consider when determining value: How much market competition is there? Does the business have potential beyond its current niche? Are there a variety of vendors? Does the company have easy access to its target audience? At the end of the day, what is the company’s competitive advantage? Is pricing in line with the demographic served? These are just some of the key questions that you’ll want to consider when evaluating a company.
There are Ways to Increase Both Valuation and Success
No doubt, successful businesses didn’t get that way by accident. A successful business is one that is customer focused and has company-wide values. Brian Tracy’s excellent book, “The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business,” notes that it is critical for businesses to have a company-wide focus on three key pillars: marketing, sales and, of course, revenue generation. Tracy also points out that trends can be seen as the single most vital factor and bottom-line contributor to any company’s success and, ultimately, valuation. For 2018 and beyond, projected trends include an increase in video marketing, the use of crowdfunding as a means of product validation and more.
No Replacement for Understanding Trends
If a company doesn’t understand trends, then it can’t understand both the market as it stands and as it may be tomorrow. Savvy business owners understand today’s trends and strive to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors while simultaneously learning from their competitors’ successes.
Tracy accurately states that while there are many variables in determining value, finding and retaining the best people is absolutely essential. One of the greatest assets that any company has is, in the end, its people.