Three Overlooked Areas to Investigate Before Buying

Before you jump in and buy any business, you’ll want to do your due diligence. Buying a business is no time to make assumptions or simply wing it. The only prudent course is to carefully investigate any business before buying, as the consequences of not doing so can in fact be rather dire. Let’s take a quick look at the three top overlooked areas to investigate before signing on the dotted line and buying a business.

1. Retirement Plans

Many buyers forget all about retirement plans when investigating a business prior to purchase. However, a failure to examine what regulations have been put into place could spell out disaster. For this reason, you’ll want to make certain that the business’s qualified and non-qualified retirement plans are up to date with the Department of Labor. There can be many surprises when you buy a business, but this is one you want to avoid.

2. 1099’s and W-2’s

Just as many prospective buyers fail to investigate the retirement plan of a business, the same is often true concerning 1099’s and W-2’s. In short, you’ll want to be sure that if 1099’s have been given out instead of W-2’s that it has been always done within existing IRS parameters. There is no reason to buy a business only to discover a headache with the IRS.

And speaking of employees, does the business you are interested in buying have employee handbooks? If so, you’ll want to make sure you review it carefully.

3. All Legal Documents

The simple fact is that you never want the business you are interested in buying to have its corporate veil pierced once you take over. You should carefully review all trademarks, copyrights and other areas of intellectual property to be sure that everything is completely in order. You’ll want to obtain copies of all consulting agreements, documents involving inventions as well as intellectual property assignments.

Everything should be protected and on legally sound footing. If you see any problems in this category you should run for the hills and find another business to buy.

Protect Yourself from a Potential Lifetime of Regret

Evaluating overlooked areas is essential in protecting your investment. For most people, the purchase of a business is the largest of his or her lifetime. It leaves little room for error.

Not only is it vital to investigate the major areas, but it is also essential to explore the smaller details. However, the truth of the matter is that when you’re buying a business there are no “small details.” No one realizes this fact more so than business brokers. Business brokers are experts in what it takes to buy and sell businesses. Working with a business broker is a significant move in the right direction. The time you invest in properly exploring and evaluating a business is time well spent and may literally save you from a lifetime of regret.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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5 Tips for Buyers of International Businesses

The decision to buy an international business is no doubt quite serious. There are numerous factors that must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not an international business purchase is the right move. Let’s take a closer look.

Tip #1 – Relocating Vs. Hiring a Manager

Buying an international business can also mean a substantial life change. Before jumping into the process, it is critical that you know whether you will be relocating or hiring a manager to run your newly acquired business.

Obviously, owning a business is a substantial responsibility and you’ll want to ensure that you know exactly what is going on with your new acquisition. Sometimes that means actually being there. The bottom line is that you will either have to relocate or hire a manager.

Tip #2 – Regulations

Understanding regulations, taxes and customs are another must for buyers of international businesses. A failure to factor in these elements can literally undo one’s business or at the very least place you at a competitive disadvantage. The time and money you invest in learning how regulations, taxes and customs work in this new territory is time and money well spent.

Tip #3 – Research Similar Businesses

You will want to invest your time into research. In particular, you will want to research similar businesses that already exist in the place where you are investing. Why are those businesses successful? What could you do to improve on their model or approach? Don’t assume that just because you know how businesses fare in the United States that this knowledge will always translate over to other countries.

Tip #4 – Be Aware of Potential Cultural Differences

It is important to be aware of cultural differences during the negotiation process, but this is really just the beginning. Cultural differences do not end once the negotiation process is over. They have ramifications in areas including everything from dealing with your staff and vendors to getting professional assistance from people such as local accountants and lawyers. You will need to be aware of cultural differences and perhaps even learn to speak the language if you want your business to be a thriving success.

Tip #5 – Hire a Business Broker

Business brokers are experts in buying and selling all kinds of businesses and that includes international businesses. There are many layers to owning an international business and business brokers can help you navigate the waters. The sizable expertise that a business broker brings to the table can help save you considerable amount of frustration and confusion.

These five tips are invaluable for helping you determine whether you should opt for an international business and/or how to proceed once you’ve decided to move forward. There can be big opportunities in owning an international business, but it is critical to proceed with a clear cut strategy.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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5 Reasons Buying a Business is Preferable to Starting a New One

If you are considering running your own business, one of the first questions that might pop in your mind is: should I start a new one or buy an established business. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the age-old dilemma of buying an existing business verses starting a new one from scratch.

1. An Established Concept

The benefits of buying an established business are no doubt huge. At the top of the list is that an existing business will have an established concept. Starting a business from scratch means taking a big risk in the form of a new idea. Will it really work? If the business fails, why did it fail? Both of these stressful questions need not be asked when you buy. An established business, especially one that has been around for years, has already shown that the concept and all the variables that go into it do, in fact, work.

2. Proven Cash Flow

Another massive benefit of buying an existing business is that an existing business has proven cash flow. You can look at the books and, in the process, determine just how much money is flowing in and out. With a new business, you simply won’t be sure how much it will generate. This can make it tricky when you’re trying to figure out how to not only pay your business expenses, but your personal ones as well.

3. The Unproven Element

No matter how good your idea and/or your location, your new business is still unproven. Despite the best of efforts, there may be an unforeseen variable that you or your consultants might have missed. However, when you opt for a proven, existing business, this variable does not apply to you.

4. An Established Staff

A business is often only as good as the people that populate and support it. Starting up your own business means that you have to go out and find all of your own employees. This process is much more than sifting through resumes. A resume only reveals so much. A resume doesn’t reveal if a candidate will be a good fit for the business, and it certainly doesn’t factor in chemistry. As any good coach of any team sport knows, chemistry is one of the greatest factors in winning a championship.

5. Established Relationships

A proven business also comes with an array of business relationships. Working out problems with your supply chain in the early days of your business can mean the end of that business. Many business owners have seen their businesses undone by problems with their supply chains. An existing business can point the way to reliable and consistent suppliers. When buying an existing business, you are acquiring a proven performer. You know that the business had what it takes to provide cash flow over a given period of time. You will also have customers who know who you are, where you are and how to buy from you. Buying an existing business also means gaining access to reliable suppliers and enjoying all the benefits that come with an established brand name and location.

A Buyer’s Quandary

Statistics reveal that out of about 15 would-be business buyers, only one will actually buy a business. It is important that potential sellers be knowledgeable on what buyers go through to actually become business owners. This is especially true for those who have started their own business or have forgotten what they went thorough prior to buying their business.

If a prospective business buyer is employed, he or she has to make the decision to leave that job and go into business for and by himself. There is also the financial commitment necessary to actually invest in a business and any subsequent loans that are a result of the purchase. The new owner will likely need to execute a lease or assume an existing one, which is another financial commitment. These financial obligations are almost always guaranteed personally by the new owner.

The prospective business owner must also be willing to make that “leap of faith” that is so necessary to becoming a business owner. There is also the matter of family and personal responsibilities. Business ownership, aside from being a large financial consideration, is very time consuming, especially for the new business owner.

All of these factors have to be weighed very carefully by anyone that is considering business ownership. Buyers should think carefully about the risks – and the rewards. Sellers should also put themselves in a buyer’s position. The services of a professional business broker or intermediary can help determine the relative pros and cons of the transaction.

The Devil May Be in the Details

When the sale of a business falls apart, everyone involved in the transaction is disappointed – usually. Sometimes the reasons are insurmountable, and other times they are minuscule – even personal. Some intermediaries report a closure rate of 80 percent; others say it is even lower. Still other intermediaries claim to close 80 percent or higher. When asked how, this last group responded that they require a three-year exclusive engagement period to sell the company. The theory is that the longer an intermediary has to work on selling the company, the better the chance they will sell it. No one can argue with this theory. However, most sellers would find this unacceptable.

In many cases, prior to placing anything in a written document, the parties have to agree on price and some basic terms. However, once these important issues are agreed upon, the devil may be in the details. For example, the Reps and Warranties may kill the deal. Other areas such as employment contracts, non-compete agreements and the ensuing penalties for breach of any of these can quash the deal. Personality conflicts between the outside advisers, especially during the
due diligence process, can also prevent the deal from closing.

One expert in the deal-making (and closing) process has suggested that some of the following items can kill the deal even before it gets to the Letter of Intent stage:

  • Buyers who lose patience and give up the acquisition search prematurely, maybe under a year’s time period.
  • Buyers who are not highly focused on their target companies and who have not thought through the real reasons for doing a deal.
  • Buyers who are not willing to “pay up” for a near perfect fit, failing to realize that such circumstances justify a premium price.
  • Buyers who are not well financed or capable of accessing the necessary equity and debt to do the deal.
  • Inexperienced buyers who are unwilling to lean heavily on their experienced advisers for proper advice.
  • Sellers who have unrealistic expectations for the sale price.
  • Sellers who have second thoughts about selling, commonly known as seller’s remorse and most frequently found in family businesses.
  • Sellers who insist on all cash at closing and/or who are inflexible with other terms of the deal including stringent reps and warranties.
  • Sellers who fail to give their professional intermediaries their undivided attention and cooperation.
  • Sellers who allow their company’s performance in sales and earnings to deteriorate during the selling process.

Deals obviously fall apart for many other reasons. The reasons above cover just a few of the concerns that can often be prevented or dealt with prior to any documents being signed.
If the deal doesn’t look like it is going to work – it probably isn’t. It may be time to move on.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Family Businesses

A recent study revealed that only about 28 percent of family businesses have developed a succession plan. Here are a few tips for family-owned businesses to ponder when considering
selling the business:

  • You may have to consider a lower price if maintaining jobs for family members is important.
  • Make sure that your legal and accounting representatives have “deal” experience. Too many times, the outside advisers have been with the business since the beginning and just are not “deal” savvy.
  • Keep in mind that family members who stay with the buyer(s) will most likely have to answer to new management, an outside board of directors and/or outside investors.
  • All family members involved either as employees and/or investors in the business must be in agreement regarding the sale of the company. They must also be in agreement about price and terms of the sale.
  • Confidentiality in the sale of a family business is a must.
  • Meetings should be held off-site and selling documentation kept off-site, if possible.
  • Family owners should appoint one member who can speak for everyone. If family members have to be involved in all decision-making, delays are often created, causing many deals to fall apart.

Many experts in family-owned businesses suggest that a professional intermediary be engaged by the family to handle the sale. Intermediaries are aware of the critical time element and can help sellers locate experienced outside advisers. They can also move the sales process along as quickly as possible and assist in negotiations.

Keeping it in the Family

It’s hard to transfer a family business to a younger kin. Below are some statistics regarding family businesses.

  • 30% of family businesses pass to a second generation.
  • 10% of family businesses reach a third generation.
  • 40% to 60% of owners want to keep firms in their family.
  • 28% of family businesses have developed a succession plan.
  • 80% to 95% of all businesses are family owned.
Source: Ted Clark, Northeastern University Center for Family Business

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Two Similar Companies ~ Big Difference in Value

Consider two different companies in virtually the same industry. Both companies have an EBITDA of $6 million – but, they have very different valuations. One is valued at five times EBITDA, pricing it at $30 million. The other is valued at seven times EBITDA, making it $42 million. What’s the difference?

One can look at the usual checklist for the answer, such as:

  • The Market
  • Management/Employees
  • Uniqueness/Proprietary
  • Systems/Controls
  • Revenue Size
  • Profitability
  • Regional/Global Distribution
  • Capital Equipment Requirements
  • Intangibles (brand/patents/etc.)
  • Growth Rate

There is the key, at the very end of the checklist – the growth rate. This value driver is a major consideration when buyers are considering value. For example, the seven times EBITDA company has a growth rate of 50 percent, while the five times EBITDA company has a growth rate of only 12 percent. In order to arrive at the real growth story, some important questions need to be answered. For example:

  • Are the company’s projections believable?
  • Where is the growth coming from?
  • What services/products are creating the growth?
  • Where are the customers coming from to support the projected growth – and why?
  • Are there long-term contracts in place?
  • How reliable are the contracts/orders?

The difference in value usually lies somewhere in the company’s growth rate!

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Are Buyers Looking for in a Company?

It has often been said that valuing companies is an art, not a science. When a buyer considers the purchase of a company, three main things are almost always considered when arriving at an offering price.

Quality of the Earnings

Some accountants and intermediaries are very aggressive when adding back, for example, what might be considered one-time or non-recurring expenses. A non-recurring expense could be:

  • meeting some new governmental guidelines,
  • paying for a major lawsuit, or
  • adding a new roof on the factory.

The argument is made that a non-recurring expense is a one-time drain on the “real” earnings of the company. Unfortunately, a non-recurring expense is almost an oxymoron. Almost every business has a non-recurring expense every year. By adding back these one-time expenses, the accountant or business appraiser is not allowing for the extraordinary expense (or expenses) that come up almost every year. These add-backs can inflate the earnings, resulting in a failure to reflect the real earning power of the business.

Sustainability of Earnings

The new owner is concerned that the business will sustain the earnings after the acquisition. In other words, the acquirer doesn’t want to buy the business if it is at the height of its earning power; or if the last few years of earnings have reflected a one-time contract, etc. Will the business continue to grow at the same rate it has in the past?

Verification of Information

Is the information provided by the selling company accurate, timely, and is all of it being made available? A buyer wants to make sure that there are no skeletons in the closet. How about potential litigation, environmental issues, product returns or uncollectible receivables? The above areas, if handled professionally and communicated accurately, can greatly assist in creating a favorable impression. In addition, they may also lead to a higher price and a quicker closing.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Reasonable Price for Private Companies

Putting a price on privately-held companies is more complicated than placing a value or price on a publicly-held one. For one thing, many privately-held businesses do not have audited financial statements; these statements are very expensive and not required. Public companies also have to reveal a lot more about their financial issues and other information than the privately-held ones. This makes digging out information for a privately-held company difficult for a prospective purchaser. So, a seller should gather as much information as possible, and have their accountant put the numbers in a usable format if they are not already.

Another expert has said that when the seller of a privately-held company decides to sell, there are four estimates of price or value:

  1. A value placed on the company by an outside appraiser or expert. This can be either formal or informal.
  2. The seller’s “wish price.” This is the price the seller would really like to receive – best case scenario.
  3. The “go-to-market price” or the actual asking price.
  4. And, last but not least, the “won’t accept less than this price” set by the seller.

The selling price is usually somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price set by the seller. However, sometimes it is less than all four estimates mentioned above. The ultimate selling price is set by the marketplace, which is usually governed by how badly the seller wants to sell and how badly the buyer wants to buy.

What can a buyer review in assessing the price he or she is willing to pay? The seller should have answers available for all of the pertinent items on the following checklist. The more favorable each item is, the higher the price.

  •  Stability of Market
  •  Stability of Historical Earnings
  •  Cost Savings Post-Purchase
  •  Minimal Capital Expenditures Required
  •  Minimal Competitive Threats
  •  Minimal Alternative Technologies
  •  Reasonable Market
  •  Large Market Potential
  •  Reasonable Existing Market Position
  •  Solid Distribution Network
  •  Buyer/Seller Synergy
  •  Owner or Top Management Willing to Remain
  •  Product Diversity
  •  Broad Customer Base
  •  Non-dependency on Few Suppliers

There may be some additional factors to consider, but this is the type of analysis a buyer should perform. The better the answers to the above benchmarks, the more likely it is that a seller will receive a price between the market value and the “wish” price.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Who Is the Buyer?

Buyers buy a business for many of the same reasons that sellers sell businesses. It is important that the buyer is as serious as the seller when it comes time to purchase a business. If the buyer is not serious, the sale will never close. Here are just a few of the reasons that buyers buy businesses:

  • Laid-off, fired, being transferred (or about to be any of them)
  • Early retirement (forced or not)
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Desire for more control over their lives
  • Desire to do their own thing

A Buyer Profile

Here is a look at the make-up of the average individual buyer looking to replace a lost job or wanting to get out of an uncomfortable job situation. The chances are he is a male (however, more and more women are going into business for themselves, so this is rapidly changing). Almost 50 percent will have less than $100,000 in which to invest in the purchase of a business. In many cases the funds, or part of them, will come from personal savings followed by financial assistance from family members. The buyer will never have owned a business before, and most likely will buy a business he or she had never considered until being introduced to it.

Their primary reason for going into business is to get out of their present situation, be it unemployment or job disagreement (or discouragement). Prospective buyers want to do their own thing, be in charge of their own destiny, and they don’t want to work for anyone. Money is important, but it’s not at the top of the list, in fact, it probably is in fourth or fifth place in the overall list. In order to pursue the dream of owning one’s own business, buyers must be able to make that “leap of faith” necessary to take the risk of purchasing and operating their own business.

Buyers who want to go into business strictly for the money usually are not realistic buyers for small businesses. Keep in mind the following traits of a willing buyer:

  • The desire to buy a business
  • The need and urgency to buy a business
  • The financial resources
  • The ability to make his or her own decisions
  • Reasonable expectations of what business ownership can do for him or her

What Do Buyers Want to Know?

This may be a bit premature since you may not have decided to sell, but it may help in your decision-making process to understand not only who the buyer is, but also what he or she will want to know in order to buy your business. Here are some questions that you might be asked and should be prepared to answer:

  • How much money is required to buy the business?
  • What is the annual increase in sales?
  • How much is the inventory?
  • What is the debt?
  • Will the seller train and stay on for awhile?
  • What makes the business different/special/unique?
  • What further defines the product or service? Bid work? Repeat business?
  • What can be done to grow the business?
  • What can the buyer do to add value?
  • What is the profit picture in bad times as well as good?