There are many things that you should be doing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the top of the list is to be proactive. Now is the time to be thinking about how best to position your business after the economy has returned to something near normal. Now is not the time for self-pity. In fact, not preparing for the relaunch of the economy will cost you.
In David Finkel’s recent Inc. article entitled, “10 Things Every Small-Business Owner Needs to Do to Deal with the Impact of COVID-19 on Their Business,” Finkel outlines the 10 key steps business owners should take immediately. Finkel is the author of 12 business books and CEO of Maui Mastermind business coaching company.
There is no way of knowing how long the COVID-19 fueled economic downturn will last, and that means time is of the essence. Business owners, regardless of their particular sector, need to prepare as though the economy could relaunch tomorrow.
Finkel’s 10 Things:
- Take steps to protect your staff and customers from getting sick.
- Tell your customers what safety steps you’re taking.
- Educate your staff on how to stay healthy at work and at home.
- Engage in scenarios planning to deal with how markets could change.
- Enlist vendors and suppliers for help. You should ask them to negotiate payment terms.
- Take steps to plan out your cash flow.
- Open a dialogue with your management team.
- Go on the offensive and look for opportunities.
- Get your team together and brainstorm.
- Be sure your key leaders communicate in a united fashion.
There are definitely some commonalities amongst these 10 important steps. You’ll notice that communication and education are at the heart of most of these points.
There is a lot of fear and uncertainty out there. More than almost any time in modern history now is the time to communicate. All business owners should be advised to communicate with their customers, clients, suppliers, staff, and management team in a clear fashion. Effective communication based around a consistent and logical message can help to reduce fear. The fear sections of the brain are driven by our primordial ancestors’ dread of the unknown lurking in the darkness. Part of being a good leader is to reduce those fears whenever possible.
Another common thread is planning, which includes looking for new opportunities. Whenever there is chaos and fear, there are also opportunities. You should be looking for those opportunities, whether it is improving your own business practices or looking for other companies to buy.
Good communication and planning can help you navigate these choppy waters. Planning for the recovery from COVID-19 pandemic could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.
In her recent April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams,” author Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, explored how to get the most out of telework. This highly timely article covers some very important territory for many companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s explore Agarwal’s key points so that you can help your team get the most out of telework.
Agarwal notes that people may tend to shy away from sharing personal information and feelings while in the office. But via video conferencing, the story can be different. For this and other reasons, it is necessary for employers to keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing. This will also often be the case when your employees speak with one another.
She prudently cautions business owners from taking a “business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation, as it can make them look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality. On the flip side, however, it is also important to not dwell on the negative aspects of the pandemic. Offering some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is a smart move as well.
How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance. On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed. But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic. After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees.
It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals. The keyword here is “balance.” Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values. This is the best antidote for anxiety.”
From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility. First, there has to be good communication. For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually. She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all.
The second factor to consider is socialization. As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.” Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks.
In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins. Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue.
Agarwal’s third key is flexibility. Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience. Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge. Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.
It goes without saying that telework presents challenges. However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable. There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.
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Thinking about whether or not you are ready to exit is an important question. It’s something that every business owner will have to address at some point. Importantly, you don’t want to wait until the 11th hour to prepare to sell your business. There are far too many pieces in this particular puzzle to wait until the last minute. You’ll want to begin the process sooner by asking yourself some key questions.
First, you’ll need to determine the actual value of your business. It is a harsh truth, but what you think your business is worth and what the market feels that it is worth may be two very different things.
This point serves to underscore the importance of working with a business broker or M&A advisor early in the process. An experienced broker knows how to go about determining a price that will generate interest and seem fair. Remember that at the end of the day, it will be the marketplace that determines the value of your business, but working with a seasoned professional is an excellent way to match your offering price with what the market will ultimately bear.
Secondly, you’ll want to consider whether or not you truly want to sell. It is not uncommon for business owners to begin the process of selling their business only to realize a few hard facts. Wanting to sell and the time being right to sell are often two different things.
Upon placing your business on the market for sale, you may learn that you’re not emotionally or financially ready. If this happens to you, consider it a learning experience that will serve you well down the line.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
If you have done a financial assessment, a little soul searching and have begun working with a business broker or M&A advisor to determine that now is a good time to sell your business, then there are several steps you’ll need to take. You can be sure that any serious prospective buyer will want a good deal of information regarding your company.
At the top of the list of items potential buyers will want to see are three years of profit and loss statements as well as federal income tax returns for the business. Other important documents ranging from lease and lease related documents, lists of loans against the business and a copy of a franchise agreement, when applicable, are all additional documents that you will need to provide. You should also have a list of fixtures and equipment, copies of equipment leases, lists of fixtures and equipment, and an approximate amount of inventory on hand. A failure to not have this information organized and ready to present at a moment’s notice could be a costly mistake.
Working with professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and brokers, is a savvy move. Owning and operating a business can be a complex process, and the same holds true for selling a business. Investing the time to seek out experienced and professional advice is the first step in selling your business.
Business acquisitions are red hot, and all kinds of businesses are being snapped up. Some people are under the impression that only large businesses are being acquired, but this is far from the reality of the situation. It would surprise many to learn that so much of the “action” is, in fact, small businesses buying other small businesses.
In his Forbes article, “Take Advantage of the Golden Age of Business Acquisitions,” author Christopher Hurn explores the true state of the “acquisitions game.” His conclusions are quite interesting. In Hurn’s opinion, there has never been a more active time in the realm of business acquisitions.
If you own a business and are looking to grow, then you may want to consider acquiring a competitor in order to consolidate the market. As Hurn points out, there are many reasons that you might want to consider acquiring a business in addition to consolidating the market. These reasons include acquiring a new product or service, acquiring a competitor that has superior technology or even identifying a business that you believe is primed for substantial growth.
Yet, there are other forces at work that are combining to make this moment the “golden age of acquisitions.” At the top of the list of why now is a good time to investigate acquiring a business is demographics. According to a 2019 study by Guidant Financial and Lending Club, a whopping 57% of small business owners are over the age of 50. The California Association of Business Brokers has concluded that over the next 20 years about $10 trillion worth of assets will change hands. A mind-blowing 12 million businesses could come under new ownership in just the next two decades! As Hurn phrased it, “The stars are aligning for the Golden Age of business acquisitions.”
This all points to the fact that now is the time to begin understanding what kind of acquisition would best help your business grow. Hurn believes that turning to the Small Business Administration in this climate of rapid acquisition is a savvy move.
In particular, he points to the 7(a) program and a host of reasons that the SBA can benefit small businesses. Since the SBA lowered equity injection requirements, it is now possible to finance a staggering 90% of business acquisition deals with loan terms up to 25 years and lower monthly payments. Additionally, the SBA 7(a) program can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from expanding or purchasing an existing business to refinancing existing business debt.
Hurn truly does have an important insight. Baby Boomers will retire by the millions, and most of them will be looking to sell their businesses. With 12 million businesses scheduled to change hands in just the next 20 years, now is a highly unique time not only in the history of acquisitions but also in the history of business.
Business brokers understand what is involved in working with the SBA and acquisitions. A seasoned business broker can point you towards opportunities that you may have never realized existed.
Determining when it’s finally the right time to sell can be a tricky proposition. If you are thinking about selling your business, one of the best steps you can take is to contact a business broker. A good business broker will have years, or even decades, of proven experience under his or her belt. He or she will be able to guide you through the process of determining what you need to do in order to get your business ready to sell.
One major reason you should contact a business broker long before you think you might want to sell is that you never know when the right time to sell may arise. Market forces may change, unexpected events like a large competitor entering your area, or a range of other factors could all lead you to the conclusion that now, and not later, is the time to sell.
In a recent The Tokenist article, “When is the Best Time to Sell a Business?”, author Tim Fries covers a variety of factors in determining when is the best time to sell. At the top of Fries’ list is growth. If your company can demonstrate a consistent history of growth, that is a good thing. Or as Fries phrases it, “What never varies, however, is the fact that growth is a key component, buyers will look for.” Growth will be the shield by which you justify your price when you place your business on the market.
If your business is experiencing significant growth then you have a very strong indicator that now could be the time to sell. Fries points to a quote from Cerius Executives’, CEO, Pamela Wasley who states, “When your business has grown substantially, it might be time to consider selling it. Running a business is risky, and the bigger you get, the bigger the risks you have to face.” Again, growth is at the heart of determining whether or not you should sell.
Knowing the “lay of the land” is certainly a smart move. For example, have there been a variety of businesses similar to your own that have sold or were acquired recently? If the answer is “yes,” then that is another good indicator that there is substantial interest in your type of business.
Reviewing similar businesses to your own that have sold recently can help you determine how much buyers are paying for comparable businesses. This can help you spot potential trends. In short, you should be aware of market factors. As Fries points out, everything from relatively low taxes and low interest rates to strength in the overall economy and an upward trend of sales prices can impact the optimal times for a sale.
Now, as in this exact moment, might not be the right time for you to sell. Getting your business ready to sell takes time and preparation. Fries points out that smart sellers “look for a good time, not the perfect time” to sell a business. Working with a business broker is a great way to determine if now is the right time to sell your business and what steps you have to take in order to be prepared for when the time is right.
It is never too early to start thinking about what tax structure you should use when it comes time to sell your business. A simple, but undeniable, rule of life is that taxes matter and they can’t be overlooked. Author Tim Fries at The Tokenist has written an excellent and quite detailed overview article on what tax issues business owners need to consider before selling their business. His article, “What Tax Structure Should You Use When Selling Your Business?” explores many aspects of a topic that many business owners fail to invest enough time in, namely taxes.
As Fries astutely points out, the taxes involving the sale of a business can be complex and are usually unknown to those selling a business for the first time. Your tax structure can influence how much money you receive at the closing of your deal, so it’s a very good idea to pay attention to all aspects of taxation and your business. It is key to remember, “When you are selling your business – as far as taxes are concerned – you’re ultimately selling a collection of assets.”
Fries points out that taxes and selling a business are no small matter. It is possible that up to 50% of the sale of a business can go to taxes. Don’t worry if you are learning this for the first time and feel more than a little shocked. However, this fact does a good job of illuminating the importance of setting up the right tax structure for your business. While you might not be able to get around taxes altogether by investing the time and effort to set up the right structure for your business, you can keep from paying more taxes than is necessary.
There are a lot of variables that go into how much you will ultimately have to pay in taxes. Let’s take a look at some of the key questions Fries raises in his article.
- Is your sale considered ordinary income or is the sale considered capital gains?
- Are you operating as an LLC, a sole proprietorship, a partnership or are you operating as a corporation?
- What portion of the sale price goes to tangible assets as compared to intangible assets?
- Is there a difference between your tax basis and the proceeds from your sale?
- What does your depreciation look like?
- Don’t expect that the buyer will instantly agree to your terms.
- Realize that the decisions you make during negotiations with a buyer will have tax implications.
- Is an installment sale right for your business?
- With C corporations, sellers usually want a stock sale whereas buyers generally prefer an asset sale.
- Cashing out immediately, where you receive all your funds at once, will increase your tax liability.
- Have you considered switching to an S corporation?
- Have you consulted with experts to decide which tax structure is best for you?
- Have you consulted with a business broker?
Selling a business is obviously complicated. Finding a seasoned business broker can help you demystify many aspects of buying and selling a business. Ultimately, having the best deal structure and finding the right buyer can be a labyrinthian process. Having the very best professional help in your corner is simply a must.