A Closer Look at 3 Major Factors to Consider When You Buy a Business

The simple but undeniable fact is buying a business is one of the single greatest financial decisions a person can make.  Buying a business can lead to great financial success or great financial failure.  This fact helps to underscore why it is so important to work with an experienced broker who can help guide you through the often labyrinthian process of buying a business.

In a July 2019 article from Smallbusiness.co.uk, author Kyle Carins explores three key factors that everyone should consider before they buy a business.  The first factor covered in Carins’ article, “3 Things to Consider When Buying a Business,” is appeal vs. viability. 

Appeal Vs. Viability

Not surprising, the most important variable for most prospective owners is that the business is indeed viable.  Not being able to differentiate between an appealing business and one that is viable can lead to financial disaster. 

As Carins points out, “Do you want to make money or do you want to fulfill a dream?”  Sometimes those two variables can intersect, but not always and not often.  In the end, it is vital to know whether a given business is, in fact, potentially lucrative. 

However, as Carins points out, it is also important that you choose a business that you will enjoy.  Nothing can be more spirit crushing than running a business that you truly hate, even if it is lucrative.  Selecting the right business for you is something of a balancing act that must take in a variety of often competing variables.

Considering Hidden Costs

The second factor that Carins looks at is the issue of “hidden costs.”  One of the key reasons that it is so important to work with a business broker is that a business broker understands these kinds of factors that you might otherwise overlook.  Due diligence is amazingly important.  For those who have never bought a business before, working with a business broker offers substantial protection against making a potentially serious mistake.

Second Opinions

The third factor examined in Carins article is “Getting a second opinion.”  For Carins, getting a second opinion is actually linked to due diligence.  He feels that additional opinions regarding a given business should go beyond working with professionals and should also include talking to friends and family who know you well.  Additional opinions can help one see angles that might otherwise be missed. 

Again, buying a business is complicated and will take up a good deal of one’s time and mental energy.  Your friends and relatives, understand your personality and your wants and desires.  Their input can be particularly beneficial.

Finding an experienced business broker can help you do more than simply establish whether or not a given business is a “good deal.”  Brokers with years of proven experience can also help you determine whether or not a specific business is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Business Buyers Can Leverage SBA Lending

Finding the money to start your own small business can be a challenge.  Over the decades, countless people have turned to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for help.  A recent Inc. Magazine article, “Kickstart Your Business Dreams with SBA Lending,” by BizBuySell President, Bob House, explored how SBA lending can be used to the buyer’s advantage.

The article covers the basics of an SBA loan and who should try to get one.  House notes that the SBA doesn’t provide loans itself, but instead facilitates lending and even micro-lending with a range of partners.  The loans are backed by the government, which means that lenders are more willing to offer a loan to an entrepreneur who might not typically qualify for one.  The fact is that the SBA will cover 75% of a lender’s loss if the loan goes into default. 

Entrepreneurs can benefit tremendously from this program.  In some cases, an SBA loan even means skipping the need for collateral.  SBA loans can be used for those looking to open a business, expand their existing business or open a franchise.

House points out that getting an SBA loan has much in common with receiving other types of loans.  For example, it is necessary to be “bank ready.”  By “bank ready,” House means that all of your financial documentation should be organized, clear to understand and ready to go. 

Next, a buyer would need to check that he or she qualifies, find a lender and fill out the necessary SBA forms.  In order to be eligible for an SBA loan, it is necessary that the business is a for-profit venture and that it will do business in the United States.  Once the necessary forms have been submitted, it can take between 2 to 3 months for an application to be processed and potentially approved.  

The simple fact is that the SBA helps thousands of people every year.  If you are looking to buy a business or expand your current business, then working with the SBA could be exactly what you need.  Of course, business brokers are experts on what it takes to buy.  Working with a broker stands as one of the single best ways to turn the dream of owning a business into a reality.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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How Employees Factor into the Success of Your Business

Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business.  Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late.  Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you.  Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them.  In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.

Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business. 

As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.”  This statement does not only apply to buyers.  Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.

There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees.  It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering.  If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.

In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees.  Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor.  Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit.  Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed.  Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.

It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business.  The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely.  But sellers should understand what employees are key and why.  Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so.  Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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5 M&A Myths and How to Deal with Them

Where your money is concerned, myths can do damage.  A recent Divestopedia article from Tammie Miller entitled, Crazy M&A Myths You Need to Stop Believing Now, Miller explores 5 big M&A myths that can get you in trouble.  Miller points out that many of these myths are believed by CEOs, but that they have zero basis in reality.

Myth 1

The first major myth Miller explores is the idea that the “negotiating is over once you sign the LOI.”  The letter of intention is, of course, important. However, this is by no means the end of the negotiations and it is potentially dangerous to think otherwise.  The negotiations are not concluded until there is a purchasing agreement in place. As Miller points out, there is a great deal that can go wrong during the due diligence process.  For this reason, it is important to not see the LOI as the “end of the road.”

Myth 2

Another myth that Miller wants you to be aware of is that you don’t have to take a company’s debt as part of the purchase price.  Many business brokers, such as Miller, recommend that buyers don’t take seller paper.

Myth 3

A third myth that Miller explorers is a particularly dangerous one.  The idea that everyone who makes an offer has the money to follow through is, unfortunately, simply not true.  Oftentimes, people will make offers without securing the money to actually buy the business.  No doubt, this wastes everyone’s time.  As the business owner, it can derail your progress.  If you are not careful, it could actually prevent you from finding a qualified buyer.

Myth 4

Another myth is built around the notion that sellers don’t need a deal team in order to sell their business.  Again, this is another myth that has no real foundation in reality.  While it may be possible to sell your business without the assistance of an experienced M&A attorney or business broker, the odds are excellent that doing so will come at a price.  According to Miller, those working with an investment banker or business broker can expect, on average, 20% more transaction value!

Additionally, there are other dangers in not having a deal team in place.  A business broker can handle many of the time-consuming aspects of selling a business, so that you can keep running your business.  It is not uncommon for business owners to get stretched too thin while trying to both run and sell a business and this can ultimately harm its value.

Myth 5

Miller’s final myth to consider is that you must sell your entire business.  It is true that most buyers will want to buy 100% of a business, but a minority ownership position is still an option.  There are many reasons to consider selling a minority stake, so don’t assume that selling your business is an “all or nothing” affair.

Ultimately, Miller lays out an exceptional case for the importance of working with business brokers when selling or buying a business.  Business brokers can help you avoid myths.  In the end, they know the lay of the land.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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10 Questions Everyone Should Ask Before Signing on the Dotted Line

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.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Step by Step Overview of the First Time Buyer Process

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.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Deal Is Almost Done — Or Is It?

The Letter of Intent has been signed by both buyer and seller and everything seems to be moving along just fine. It would seem that the deal is almost done. However, the due diligence process must now be completed. Due diligence is the process in which the buyer really decides to go forward with the deal, or, depending on what is discovered, to renegotiate the price – or even to withdraw from the deal. So, the deal may seem to be almost done, but it really isn’t – yet!

It is important that both sides to the transaction understand just what is going to take place in the due diligence process. The importance of the due diligence process cannot be underestimated. Stanley Foster Reed in his book, The Art of M&A, wrote, “The basic function of due diligence is to assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”

Prior to the due diligence process, buyers should assemble their experts to assist in this phase. These might include appraisers, accountants, lawyers, environmental experts, marketing personnel, etc. Many buyers fail to add an operational person familiar with the type of business under consideration. The legal and accounting side may be fine, but a good fix on the operations themselves is very important as a part of the due diligence process. After all, this is what the buyer is really buying.

Since the due diligence phase does involve both buyer and seller, here is a brief checklist of some of the main items for both parties to consider.

Industry Structure

Figure the percentage of sales by product line, review pricing policies, consider discount structure and product warranties; and if possible check against industry guidelines.

Human Resources

Review names, positions and responsibilities of the key management staff. Also, check the relationships, if appropriate, with labor, employee turnover, and incentive and bonus arrangements.

Marketing

Get a list of the major customers and arrive at a sales breakdown by region, and country, if exporting. Compare the company’s market share to the competition, if possible.

Operations

Review the current financial statements and compare to the budget. Check the incoming sales, analyze the backlog and the prospects for future sales.

Balance Sheet

Accounts receivables should be checked for aging, who’s paying and who isn’t, bad debt and the reserves. Inventory should be checked for work-in-process, finished goods along with turnover, non-usable inventory and the policy for returns and/or write-offs.

Environmental Issues

This is a new but quite complicated process. Ground contamination, ground water, lead paint and asbestos issues are all reasons for deals not closing, or at best not closing in a timely manner.

Manufacturing

This is where an operational expert can be invaluable. Does the facility work efficiently? How old and serviceable is the machinery and equipment? Is the technology still current? What is it really worth? Other areas, such as the manufacturing time by product, outsourcing in place, key suppliers – all of these should be checked.

Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights

Are these intangible assets transferable, and whose name are they in. If they are in an individual name – can they be transferred to the buyer? In today’s business world where intangible assets may be the backbone of the company, the deal is generally based on the satisfactory transfer of these assets.

Due diligence can determine whether the buyer goes through with the deal or begins a new round of negotiations. By completing the due diligence process, the buyer process insures, as far as possible, that the buyer is getting what he or she bargained for. The executed Letter of Intent is, in many ways, just the beginning.

Buying a Business – Some Key Consideration

  • What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Is real estate included? Is some of the machinery and/or equipment leased?
  • Is there anything proprietary such as patents, copyrights or trademarks?
  • Are there any barriers of entry? Is it capital, labor, intellectual property, personal relationships, location – or what?
  • What is the company’s competitive advantage – special niche, great marketing, state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, well-known brands, etc.?
  • Are there any assets not generating income and can they be sold?
  • Are agreements in place with key employees and if not – why not?
  • How can the business grow?  Or, can it grow?
  • Is the business dependent on the owner? Is there any depth to the management team?
  • How is the financial reporting handled? Is it sufficient for the business? How does management utilize it?

What Do Buyers Really Want to Know?

Before answering the question, it makes sense to first ask why people want to be in business for themselves. What are their motives? There have been many surveys addressing this question. The words may be different, but the idea behind them and the order in which they are listed are almost always the same.

  1. Want to do their own thing; to control their own destiny, so to speak.
  2. Do not want to work for anyone else.
  3. Want to make better use of their skills and abilities.
  4. Want to make money.

These surveys indicate that by far the biggest reason people want to be in business for themselves is to be their own boss. The first three reasons listed revolve around this theme. Some may be frustrated in their current job or position. Others may not like their current boss or employer, while still others feel that their abilities are not being used properly or sufficiently.

The important item to note is that money is reason number four. Although making money is certainly important and necessary, it is not the primary issue. Once a person decides to go into business for himself or herself, he or she has to explore the options. Starting a business is certainly one option, but it is an option fraught with risk. Buying an existing business is the method most people prefer. Purchasing a known entity reduces the risks substantially.

There are some key questions buyers want, or should want, answers to, once the decision to purchase an existing business has been made. Below are the primary ones; although a prospective buyer may not want answers to all of them, the seller should be prepared to respond to each one.

  • How much is the down payment?  Most buyers are limited in the amount of cash they have for a down payment on a business. After all, if cash were not an issue, they probably wouldn’t be looking to purchase a business in the first place.
  • Will the seller finance the sale of the business?  It can be difficult to finance the sale of a business; therefore, if the seller isn’t willing, he or she must find a buyer who is prepared to pay all cash. This is very difficult to do.
  • Why is the seller selling?  This is a very important question. Buyers want assurance that the reason is legitimate and not because of the business itself.
  • Will the owner stay and train or work with a new owner?  Many people buy a franchise because of the assistance offered. A seller who is willing, at no cost, to stay and to help with the transition is a big plus.
  • How much income can a new owner expect?  This may not be the main criterion, but it is obviously an important issue. A new owner has to be able to pay the bills – both business-wise and personally. And just as important as the income is the seller’s ability to substantiate it with financial statements or tax returns.
  • What makes the business different, unique or special?  Most buyers want to take pride in the business they purchase.
  • How can the business grow?  New owners are full of enthusiasm and want to increase the business. Some buyers are willing to buy a business that is currently only marginal if they feel there is a real opportunity for growth.
  • What doesn’t the buyer know?  Buyers, and sellers too, don’t like surprises. They want to know the good – and the bad – out front. Buyers understand, or should understand, that there is no such thing as a perfect business.

Years ago, it could be said that prospective buyers of businesses had only four questions:

  1. Where is the business?
  2. How much is it?
  3. How much can I make?
  4. Why is it for sale?

In addition to asking basic questions, today’s buyer wants to know much more before investing in his or her own business. Sellers have to able to answer not only the four basic questions, but also be able to address the wider range of questions outlined above.

Despite all of the questions and answers, what most buyers really want is an opportunity to achieve the Great American Dream – owning one’s own business!

Key Factors on the Acquirer’s Side

Photo Credit: Clearly Ambiguous via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Clearly Ambiguous via Compfight cc

There are several key factors on the acquirer’s side of a sale, most of which are necessary to achieve a successful closing. Just as a seller has to deal with quite a few factors, the acquirer must also. Some of the more important ones on the acquisition side are:

  • Sufficient financial resources to complete the deal as specified.
  • Depth of capable staff to run the existing business and also execute an acquisition at the same time.
  • A rational approach to the type, size and geographic location of target companies.
  • The willingness to “pay-up” for acquisitions such as 6x EBITDA and, if necessary, the willingness to pay 100% cash, whether the sale is one of assets or a stock transaction.
  • Assuming the acquisition search generates satisfactory deal flow, a willingness to stay the course for 6 to 12 months in the search process.
  • A confirmation by the board of directors of their commitment to complete a deal.
  • A “point person” in the search process, preferably the CEO, CFO or Director of Development who is reachable on a daily basis to discuss relevant matters.
  • Complete access to sales manager and others by the business intermediary to discuss suggestions of target companies.

Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

Photo Credit: Victor1558 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Victor1558 via Compfight cc

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.