Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a business owner like a legal mistake. The best way to ensure that you will avoid serious legal issues is to work with a trusted and experienced team. Otherwise, it’s easy to accidentally miss necessary steps.
When you’re selling a business, there are a lot of moving pieces, and that means that there are ample opportunities for things to go wrong. It’s always best to be prepared. When mistakes are made, it can not only mean a significant expenditure of your time, but also your money. These kinds of issues can also bring your sales process to a total halt and perhaps derail your deal completely.
There are more than a few sellers who overlooked the importance of working with an attorney. When you are selling a business, it should come as no surprise that there is a great deal of paperwork. Your attorney will guide you to make sure that all necessary preparations have been made from a legal perspective. When your prospective buyer sees that your legal “ducks are in a row,” he or she will feel more confident in your organization and level of professionalism.
One document that often is skipped is the Letter of Intent (LOI). Sellers assume that things will move along more quickly if they forego this document. Keep in mind that the LOI truly has its place in almost any deal. After all, it not only outlines both parties’ expectations in writing, it also works to protect your best interests. Once projective buyers have signed this document, it proves they are serious about the deal. That means it is not so easy for them to walk away without consequences.
What if your deal falls through completely? Will your buyer then reveal to the public that your business was for sale and even the potential terms that were on the table? This could indeed occur if you were not backed up by an NDA. Don’t skip this very important document either. Your business broker or M&A advisor will be very well acquainted with NDAs and guide you in the best way possible.
Warding off these kinds of issues is one great reason to be equipped with a small team of professionals to turn to for advice. This team should include your business broker or M&A advisor, accountant, and attorney.
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Each quarter, the Market Pulse Report issues a report revealing information about market conditions The report is supported by M&A Source and the International Business Brokers Association. The data that is analyzed is based on a comprehensive survey of business brokers and M&A advisors. The report focuses on Main Street businesses (with values up to $2MM) and the lower middle market (values between $2MM and $50MM.)
The research is conducted and then the report is published each quarter to reflect the state of the industry. In this article, we will look at some of the key takeaways of the report and what it reveals about the path ahead for buyers and sellers.
Tracking the Labor Shortage
For the second quarter, the report revealed a variety of interesting information. One massive data point from the report is that the labor shortage continues to be a significant variable for business owners. A staggering 92% of report respondents state that the labor shortage has negatively impacted their business with 54% stating that the shortage has had a “very negative impact” and 35% stating that the impact is “somewhat negative.”
The report further indicated that it is taking about seven months for a business to close. They noted that it takes about six months to a year to sell a well-priced business or a well benchmarked business. The report noted that approximately 60-120 days are spent in the due diligence or execution stage, once the letter of intent has been signed.
The Strongest Industries
In terms of what kinds of businesses are selling, the report points to restaurants making a solid comeback. It is interesting to note that restaurants valued from less than $500K to $1 million are enjoying a particularly strong rebound. Business services, personal services, construction and manufacturing remain steady.
The latest Market Pulse Report is pointing in several directions. Currently, three factors are impacting business owners, namely, the labor shortage, inflation, and supply chain issues. Many businesses have had no choice but to give large raises to employees, and others have been able to pass the costs on to consumers and buyers.
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When it comes to selling a business, there is more to it than just relaying the facts. It’s also important to emphasize the story behind the business. Business brokers and M&A advisors are also storytellers, as they must convey to buyers the story behind the business and how it can ultimately be transformed.
It is through storytelling that humans organize the information they have about the world. In short, storytelling is an exceptional way to learn lessons in life and a great way to frame information about a business to sellers.
Telling Your Story
Everything begins with the financials, in short, the facts of the business. When a business broker or M&A advisor begins working with a seller, he or she will look to gather those details. Once that information has been gathered, it is possible to begin to create a story. That story can be presented in many ways, including through a confidential business review or confidential information memorandum.
While many, if not most, buyers and sellers may think that when it comes to business, they are cold and methodical like a reptile on the hunt, the truth is more complex. Human emotion always comes into play. It is no accident that well-crafted stories, with their power to motivate and guide, play a role in the art of buying and selling businesses.
Decisions are Guided by Emotion
If we want to make the best decisions, it is important to consider the role of emotions in our decision-making. “In order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it,” said scientist Herbert Simon who is an American Nobel Laureate. 
Good stories grab the imagination and enable people to expand their definition of what is and is not possible. When buyers are considering buying a business, it is important that they can picture themselves as being the hero that transforms that business and takes it to a new level. It is a story of evolution and reaching new heights while simultaneously achieving one’s own goals.
It is no accident that so many of today’s mass culture storytelling revolves around sequels. The notion that there is a “storytelling continuum” where a buyer can plug into something that already has a history can be a powerful motivating force. Most epic stories have the hero as part of some sort of continuum. In other words, the hero does not simply appear out of nothingness. It is the hero’s mission to transform the world, in some fashion, for the better.
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Are you thinking of transferring your business to a family member? This occurrence is fairly common, especially among small businesses. Here are some considerations that will help with your planning and decision making.
Do You Have a Good Contract?
Sometimes close family members are tempted to skip a contract, but it’s always a mistake not to have things in writing. When you create a buy-sell agreement, it helps keep things clear between the parties involved. Make sure that your documentation is thorough. It should cover a wide variety of details including the amount being paid, your continued involvement, and the business value.
Does Your Family Member Need Financing?
When it comes to selling businesses to family members, seller financing is common. You could even consider agreeing to a private annuity. This will allow payments to be spread out over many years. One benefit to providing financing assistance is that you will receive a steady stream of income along with interest on the loan as well.
You could also consider a self-cancelling clause on your installment note. This would allow debt to attach to your will in case of your untimely passing before the payments were complete.
Are You Selling or Gifting Your Business?
Gifting a business takes place more often than you might think, due to the tax benefits involved. Also, when you gift a business, you can still maintain some level of control.
The federal gift tax exemption changes every year. In 2022, the annual gift tax exclusion is $16,000. The lifetime gift exemption limit is $12 million. While you may owe some federal gift taxes if the amounts exceed the exemption limits, the good news is that after you have transferred your business, any future growth of the business won’t affect your financials.
Is Everything Accurate?
Unfortunately, many business owners have acted unethically when it comes to transferring their business to their family members. As a result, the IRS tends to give this kind of transaction extra scrutiny. You will want to ensure that all your paperwork is in proper order and highly accurate.
You may very well want to hire the services of a lawyer and accountant to assist you with this matter. Of course, a business broker or M&A advisor will also help you with the details of this agreement and figuring out what benefits you and your family members.
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When it’s time to sell a business, you will want to keep confidentiality first and foremost in your mind. The reality is that many deals do not succeed when confidentiality is breached and others learn that your business is for sale. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.
What Can Occur When Confidentiality is Compromised?
If vendors or suppliers find out that your company is for sale, it can negatively impact your business in different ways. One common occurrence is that vendors begin to change the terms they have established with you. Even a small change might end up not being minor at all, as it could impact cash flow. The same can be said for word of your business being for sale reaching your creditors, as they could also suddenly change their terms.
Another major issue that could be caused when confidentiality is breached is that your employees and customers might begin to worry. Employees could even start looking for new jobs. Your customers might worry about the new ownership and preemptively stop patronizing your business.
It goes without saying that you won’t want your competitors knowing that you are selling your business. This might make them more aggressive, and they could even start using this knowledge to take your customers.
On some occasions, business owners set out to sell their business on their own. Unfortunately, this decision can put them at higher risk for confidentiality breaches to occur, which start to cause things to go wrong. When you are in the process of selling your business, you will want everything to appear as steady and reliable as possible.
Keeping Up Appearances
When a buyer is carefully vetting your business for a potential acquisition, you won’t want anything showing up on the radar that could give them pause. It’s important to show that the business is continuing to operate in a successful manner and there have been no recent changes.
The good news is that business brokers and M&A advisors have proven strategies that will keep the news that your business is for sale confidential. Your brokerage professional will be sure to vet all prospective buyers, and they will use the most reliable confidentiality agreements that will protect your best interests.
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No one ever said selling a business was predictable. However, the truth of the matter is that every sale is different. Even the reasons behind a business owner deciding to sell his or her business vary tremendously. If you are getting ready to sell, it’s important to be aware of the various aspects that could catch you off-guard. If you are prepared for the unexpected, you’ll be mentally ready for the sales process, which often does not go as planned. Even the smoothest and most streamlined sales encounter a few road bumps along the way.
When it comes to the price structure for a potential sale, many business owners have numbers in their minds that do not meet with reality. As a result, a potential offer could be far less than what they expected, and this causes conflict and delays. Your brokerage professional will prepare you with a thorough valuation so you can have a clear idea of the fair market price of your business. Be sure to ask any questions that you might have so that you feel fully informed when it comes to prices.
Throughout the sales process, confidentiality must be carefully guarded. Otherwise, this too can interfere with a sale. Your business broker or M&A advisor will have effective strategies to help maintain the highest levels of confidentiality. Even with the best safeguards in place, there is a small chance that a rumor could begin to circulate and word could get out to your employees, customers or supplies. In the case of this incident, it’s important to have a contingency plan in place to quell the rumors.
Oftentimes, business owners of privately owned companies forget that their minority stockholders have rights too. You will not be able to sell your business without dealing with all parties involved. When you get a “fairness opinion,” it can go a long way to convince your shareholders of the best price and terms. Even if your shareholders are members of your family, they will have to be successfully dealt with before the sale goes through.
Expect to Allocate Time
You may have hired an experienced business broker or M&A advisor, but you should still be prepared to spend some time dealing with the sale of your business. You’ll be expected to do everything from prepare documents to meet with prospective buyers. This fact that selling will take up your time is particularly true if you haven’t begun making preparations years in advance. That’s why we advise clients to start working with us early on.
You’ll want to make sure that despite your need to focus on elements pertaining to the sale of your business, it is necessary to keep your business running smoothly. Otherwise, any signs of weakness could interfere with your potential sale and your efforts could backfire. This issue just stresses the importance of preparing to sell years in advance.
Through the sales process you must still run your company as well as ever. You’ll want to make sure things are progressing nicely, even if you don’t plan to own the company in the near future. Obviously, your buyer will want things to look reliable and any dips can trigger a red flag.
There have been countless instances when someone has gone into business with a relative or close friend and made the mistake of skipping a formal agreement. No matter how good a friend may be, you will always want to get the terms of the partnership in writing. A partnership agreement is a vitally important document that is designed to protect all parties. It will reduce the possibility for disagreements or misunderstandings down the line. When you make sure you have everything documented legally, it will greatly serve you and your partner(s).
Building Your Partnership Agreement
Your partnership agreement should first and foremost address the general rules of the partnership. This means it should cover who owns what, and how you will handle profits and losses. It should cover the basics of issues that may seem obvious, such as what are each partner’s roles and duties. And it should also address the details pertaining to resolving small potential problems that you may never expect to actually arise.
A good part of your partnership agreement should address issues related to money. As you can imagine, misunderstandings about earnings can quickly become huge disagreements if the details are not plainly stated in writing. On a very practical level, you’ll want your document to cover what percentage of earnings both you and your partner will receive. You will even want to go into detail about how money is distributed. What if money is required to keep the business operational and thriving? You’ll want to cover the details of who will contribute any necessary funds and how this will be handled.
Another decision you’ll want to make now will cover the nature of decisions themselves. For example, how will you make business decisions? Is it a vote, and if so, how does that vote work? You can also include other situations that could arise, such as what happens in the instance of the unfortunate death of one of the owners? What happens if you decide to bring in an additional partner or partners?
Getting Assistance with Your Legal Documents
While it might seem possible to create your partnership agreement on your own, the best thing you can do is hire a competent professional to help you. That way you’ll know that your partnership agreement is written in the most accurate way possible.
When you have this document established, you can proceed with your partnership with confidence that any potential problems down the line are addressed. It may take some extra time and consideration now, but in the long run, you’ll be able to run your business smoothly and more efficiently. The fact of the matter is that if you address everything now in a partnership agreement, it will benefit your business for years to come.
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Many business owners are truly committed to their businesses. As a result, it is very difficult for them to step away even when they approach retirement age. It is not uncommon for business owners to keep working into their golden years. But the truth of the matter is that at some point almost everyone will need to embrace retirement whether it is for health issues, moving to a new location, or simply for greater peace of mind.
If you see this path approaching for you in the near future, it could feel overwhelming. After all, most people have not sold a business before. As a result, they feel unclear about the process and don’t know where to start. However, everyone should be thinking about the eventual sale of their business because this future event should determine many of your current activities and decisions.
Let’s take a look at some things you can do well in advance to ensure that an eventual sale of your business goes as smoothly as possible.
When prospective buyers look at your business, they will want to be able to easily envision it operating smoothly without you involved. Because a good portion of business owners are so integral to the functioning of their businesses, it can be difficult for them to figure out how to decouple themselves from operations. In some cases, this process can take years.
Now is a good time to consider this issue and what you can do to make sure your business can function without you one day. Give some thought to who at your organization could be a second in command. When a buyer sees that a competent and knowledgeable employee will be staying on to assist them, it can go a long way in allaying any concerns.
Put Yourself in the Buyer’s Shoes
Imagine you were buying your business. What kinds of issues might be of concern to you? Chances are these will be the same issues that could concern potential buyers. Once you have identified any spots of weakness, you can start to zero in on figuring out how to handle them.
First and foremost, you will want your buyer to feel confident that there will be a smooth transition and that they can almost immediately begin to profit from their purchase of your business. Anything that you can do to help ensure that is true will benefit the sales process.
Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts in the world of buying and selling businesses. They will help you to properly evaluate your business and look for these areas of weakness. Through this means when you do decide it is time to retire, the process will go more quickly and seamlessly.
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The Market Pulse Report Survey is a resource that has a variety of information that business brokers and M&A advisors regularly utilize to better understand the business landscape. The most recent survey was conducted April 1st to April 15th 2022 and had 360 broker and advisor respondents. It also marked the 40th edition of the quarterly report. The Executive Summary of the report can be accessed here https://www.ibba.org/resource-center/industry-research/
The Main Street Market
One notable fact included in the latest report is that in the Main Street market, between 70% to 80% of buyers are likely to come from within a 20-mile radius. However, with larger companies, it is common for buyers to originate from a distance of over 100 miles away or greater.
The survey also indicated there are two key “headwinds” that businesses are currently facing. These include labor shortages and supply chain issues. Not surprisingly, labor issues are currently creating problems for organic growth. Likewise, supply chain issues can cause prospective buyers to shy away from a business.
The Profile of Current Buyers
The survey also indicated that Main Street buyers not only include the “typical” first-time business buyer. These individuals are often looking for a job in the form of owning a business. Serial entrepreneurs who have made money off previous deals are also now seeking to jump back in and buy another business. The survey indicates that about one-third of buyers who purchased businesses in the $500K to $1M range are serial entrepreneurs.
Additionally, there is a great deal of money flooding into the industry. The money is mostly coming from private equity, family offices, and corporations. Feeling burned by the lack of bank credit by the 2008-2009 economic downturn, these buyers don’t want to get caught in a similar situation again.
A Seller’s Market
The survey indicates that it is currently a seller’s market and that record setting multiples have been occurring. In Q1, an impressive 97% of businesses were receiving their asking price. However, nothing lasts forever. If you’re considering selling your business, it’s a good idea to start making progress now before this trend stops benefitting sellers.
Even with the strong sales track record last quarter, it’s important to note that a fast sale is still improbable. Even in the best economic conditions, it typically takes many months to sell a business.
There are many factors currently benefiting sellers, such as low interest rates, SBA involvement, and people not wanting to work for corporations. However, it’s important not to wait for the “right moment” as often that moment never comes.
It’s always a good idea to begin taking steps to prepare for the sale of your business as soon as possible. This can make a tremendous difference toward fostering a positive final outcome.
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If you are like most business owners, you have never sold a business before and might not have a clear idea of what the process is like. We recommend preparing your business in a way that makes the sale and transition process as easy for your buyer as possible. It should come as no surprise that buyers will like the idea of an easy transition.
It will be very beneficial if you take the time in advance to evaluate the steps and think about what you can do on your end to benefit your buyer. Since you’re the expert on your business, you have unique insights into what would make the transition the most seamless for the other party. When you prepare for the sale with your buyer’s experience in mind, you will likely not only speed up the sales process, but also increase the selling price.
1. Automate Processes
Just like you may have never sold a business before, your buyer may have never bought a business before. If you can figure out how to automate as many processes as you can, it will help with their workflow and reduce the level of intimidation your buyer may be feeling about taking over.
2. Establish a Second in Command
One thing you can do is have a second in command on your staff. If there is a competent employee that your buyer can depend upon for assistance and support, that fact alone will be tremendously attractive. If you do not yet have that person in place, you might have an eye on choosing a person and preparing them for this role. Speaking of staff, you will want to make sure your entire staff is well-trained and any HR issues are resolved in advance.
3. Keep Things Consistent
As you get closer to the time you will put your business up for sale, you will want to begin to work with vendors and key customers. You will want to ensure that the supply chain and significant customers are consistent. Otherwise, this could cause major disruptions for your buyer and impede his or her success. Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll want to keep the potential sale of your business completely confidential. If customers, vendors, and even employees learn about an upcoming sale, this fact alone can lead to a chain reaction of disruptions and problems.
A business broker or M&A advisor can help in a wide variety of ways when you are getting ready to sell. They are experts in maintaining confidentiality while taking you through the sales process from start to finish. Brokerage professionals will also assess your business and inform you of any areas that could be improved to make your business more attractive to buyers.
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