What kinds of insights about selling a business might come from experts at private equity firms? This article includes advice for sellers from industry veteran Lamar Stanley. Stanley is a Director at Gen Cap America, which is a lower middle market private equity firm in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1988, Gen Cap America (GCA) has made 60+ investments across seven committed private equity funds.
Before joining GCA, Stanley was with the Nashville based private-equity strategy group, Diversified Trust Company. Stanley holds a B.A. degree from The University of the South and an M.B.A. from The University of Chicago.
Understanding Small Business
Over the decades, Stanley has amassed a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise. He points out that it is easy for people to lose sight of the fact that many so-called “overnight successes” are actually the result of ten or twenty years of hard, thankless work. It is through these years of laser-like focus that entrepreneurs are able to bootstrap their business. Additionally, these business owners need to not only have a vision, but also the insight to bring on great people to help build their business.
The Benefit of a Deal Attorney
Stanley feels that working with a deal attorney can make a tremendous amount of difference, as it can increase the chances of a successful transaction taking place. Deal attorneys understand the deal process, which can make all the difference when it comes to streamlining the process.
“Deal fatigue” can derail what would otherwise be a good deal. This term applies to how deals can sometimes drag on for months. Working with an experienced deal attorney can help expedite the entire deal process. In turn, it can help to avoid the dangers typically associated with deal fatigue.
Preparing in Advance for a Sale
Stanley believes that it is critical for a business owner to think about selling as soon as possible. Ideally, a business owner should be thinking about selling when they start their business. He realizes that most business owners can’t hope to prepare for selling as soon as they create the business. But the point is clear, the sooner they begin the process the better. Business brokers and M&A advisors can best serve business owners by helping them understand that they shouldn’t wait until a month or week before they are ready to sell their business to get their respective houses in order.
There are so many important factors involved in getting a business ready to sell. They range from customer concentration and diversifying suppliers to preparing financial statements and working capital estimates well in advance.
In particular, Stanley points to the danger of business owners having to deal with preparing their business for sale while continuing to operate the business during the sales period. What must be avoided is for business owners to essentially have two jobs at the same time, as this increases the odds of deals falling apart from deal fatigue. The sooner a business broker is involved in the process, the better.
More than likely, selling your business is one of the biggest decisions of your life. Unless you own a business, it is impossible to understand just how all-encompassing of a process it can be. With that stated, it is important for business owners to step back and seriously reflect on whether or not they are truly ready to sell. The psychological aspects of selling are not trivial. Various aspects must be taken into consideration before initiating the process to sell.
There are many reasons why it is vital to step back and think about whether or not you are really ready to sell your business. Far too many business owners believe they are ready to sell, only to discover (much too late) that an executed sale is not optimal for their plans.
Selling When There is No Other Choice
Selling a business because there is no other choice, such as situations concerning failing health, personal issues or problems with a business partner, isn’t a true choice at all. In this situation, the psychology of selling is essentially irrelevant, as you have one option, namely, to sell.
The Case of Burnout
In other cases, owners eventually hit a brick wall and have no choice but to consider selling. As burnout sets in, owners may feel that the time is right to “hang up their hat” and put their business up for sale. However, as the process evolves, even those experiencing some level of burnout can discover that they are not emotionally or psychologically ready to sell. In many cases, people make this realization only once it is too late.
Take the Time for Self-Reflection
Quite often, a company becomes interwoven into a business owner’s sense of self, sense of place in the world and even, to an extent, sense of self-worth and identity. When business owners are unaware of this fact, it can be something of a shock to their system to begin the sales process. Many people simply are unaware of the strong hold that their business has on them.
Owners need to invest some time in self-reflection and ask four key questions: Do I really want to sell? If the answer is yes, then why do I want to sell? Will I regret selling once my business is sold? What will I do after I have sold my business? Answering these questions involves far more than evaluating your business. They also involve diving into emotional issues that could be central to your future.
Are You Really Ready to Sell?
One of the best ways of determining whether you are ready to sell, and preparing your business for that potential sale, is to work with a business broker or M&A advisor. Business brokers are experts at helping business owners deal with every aspect of the process of selling a business. They can act as experienced guides that can use that experience and expertise to help you determine if you are truly ready to sell.
If it turns out that you are indeed ready to sell, a brokerage professional can help you prepare so that you can achieve the best price possible once your business hits the market.
There are many reasons why small companies are put up for sale. Some of the more common reasons can actually have little to do with the company’s general performance. For example, many small business owners discover that they need to sell for health reasons or personal concerns, such as divorce or partnership issues. While a business downturn or fear of a larger competitor looming on the horizon might prompt many business owners to sell, economic drivers are not the only issue. Owners may want and need to sell, but often it isn’t always that simple.
Many business owners are looking to retire, but are unpleasantly surprised to learn that they simply can’t afford to do so. Still yet, many business owners don’t truly want to retire or sell, but instead they just want more freedom in their lives. The day-to-day responsibilities of owning and operating a small business can take their toll. Many business owners are looking to make a change and would love to be free of this burden. This class of owner has already “checked out” mentally, and this can have profound negative consequences for their businesses.
When an owner wants out but discovers that he or she simply can’t afford to sell or retire, it will come as no surprise that there is usually an accompanying drop off in enthusiasm. Ultimately, the vast majority of owners will start to lose focus. Often, we find that they stop investing the capital necessary to continue the growth of the business, which can trigger other events, such as the loss of key staff members and/or customers. Losing a top customer to a major competitor can further accelerate the downward spiral. The failure of the business to maintain its footing and competitive advantage can lead to a more aggressive posture by existing competitors or even encourage a new competitor to move into the market.
In time, the owner may come face-to-face with the harsh realization that they have no choice but to sell if they are to salvage any of the business’s value. The best way for a business owner to safeguard against this situation is to sell when his or her business is doing well, as this helps to ensure an optimal price.
Working with a business broker, even years before one is interested in selling, is one of the single smartest moves any business owner can make. The time to think about selling your business is now, as no small business owner knows what life or the market will bring.
A small increase in what you charge for your goods and services can make a tremendous difference to your bottom line. The fact is that many businesses could charge more for their goods and services than they do, but fail to do so. Owners often do not realize the great value of charging just one-percent more. In this article, we’ll explore how charging even slightly more can dramatically impact your business.
Let’s consider a hypothetical example. A business owner tells a potential buyer that he or she could safely increase their prices by 1.5% and do so without the price increase causing any negative impact to sales or business disruption. The savvy buyer quickly realizes that the business, which has $70 million in sales, is leaving $1 million dollars on the table by not increasing its prices by 1.5%. A smart buyer realizes that after purchasing the business, all he or she has to do is institute this small price increase in order to achieve a sizable increase in profits.
In his best-selling book The Art of Pricing, Rafi Mohammed explores the often-overlooked area of pricing. He keenly observes that one of the biggest fallacies in all of business is to believe that a product’s price should be based on the cost of the product. In The Art of Pricing, Mohammed points to several examples. One comes from the restaurant industry. He points to the fact that McDonald’s keeps entrée prices attractive with the idea of making up profit shortfalls in other areas, ranging from desserts to drinks and more. Or as Mohammed points out, McDonald’s profits on hamburgers is marginal. However, its profits on French fries are considerable.
Mohammed’s view is that companies should always be looking to develop a culture of producing profits. He states, “through better pricing, companies can increase profits and generate growth.” Importantly, Mohammed points out that it is through what he calls “smart pricing” that it is possible to extract hidden profits from a business. Summed up another way, pricing couldn’t matter more.
All too often business owners, in the course of their day-to-day operations, fail to place sufficient importance of pricing. Any business looking to achieve more will be well served by first stopping and taking a good look at its pricing structure.
Likewise, buyers should be vigilant in their quest to find businesses that can safely increase prices without experiencing any disruption. At the end of the day, small changes to pricing can have a profound impact on a company’s bottom line.
The simple fact is that most of us want to control our own fate. This fact is especially true for entrepreneurs and business owners. However, the truth of the matter is that for most business owners, their fate isn’t completely in their own hands. For example, a variety of forces can prevent businesses from establishing their own prices.
Knowing whether or not your company has pricing power is essential and can influence a range of decisions that you may make. Let’s take a closer look at what steps you can take to control your own pricing.
What is Pricing Power?
This economic term describes the effect of a change in a product price on the demanded quantity of said product. Your company’s pricing power is linked to the demand for your products or services. If you have a high level of pricing power, you can raise your prices over time and maintain your customers.
Who Has the Greatest Pricing Power?
It is no great secret that the Amazons, Apples, Wal-Marts and auto manufacturers of the world exercise a tremendous amount of power. Part of this considerable, and seemingly ever growing, power resides in the fact that the size of these companies now rivals and even surpasses many nation states. This grand level of power is unique in human history in many ways. Along with it comes the ability to exercise an almost god-like authority over suppliers.
Today, these ultra-powerful companies commonly dictate to vendors what prices they are willing to pay, and the quasi-monopolistic nature of these companies often leaves vendors with no choice to comply. In short, these 900-pound gorillas are telling companies both large and small exactly how much they will pay for a given number of bananas.
Step 1 – Providing a Branded Product or Service
If you discover that your company doesn’t have pricing power, there are steps you can take. One step is to produce a branded product or service. In this way, you are able to offer something of greater value than your competitors. Through having a branded product or service, it is possible to create a higher perceived value in the minds of not just the Amazons of the world, but in the minds of consumers as well.
Step 2 – Innovating
Another path towards achieving pricing power is through innovation. A great example of leading the way in innovation is Apple. While few companies have Apple’s almost ethereal resources, that is not to say that you cannot find ways to innovate within your own sphere or industry. Small innovations can often have an outsized impact and help a business stand out from a crowded playing field. Innovation that leads to patent production is an excellent way to gain a degree of pricing power.
Step 3 – Offering Exceptional Service
A third option for achieving a degree of pricing power is to provide what could be called “mind-blowing” service. By providing service that is truly a cut above what the competitors can match, your company is positioned to achieve pricing power. Providing your customers with something they simply can’t get elsewhere is a key way to setting a price that is more in line with what you desire.
There are many marketplace variables that your business can’t control. The trick is to evaluate your business, your business’s potential and the concrete and practical steps you can take starting today to achieve pricing power.
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John Warrilow is the founder of The Value Builder System and accomplished author. While not a business broker himself, Warrilow has gathered considerable knowledge and expertise on the industry. His previous book Built to Sell was listed as one of the best business books of 2011. In this article, we will explore some of the key points in Warrilow’s latest book, which is entitled The Art of Selling Your Business: Winning Strategies and Secret Hacks for Exiting on Top. This book was released on January 12th, 2021 and is proving to be invaluable for business owners.
Selling When the Time is Right
One key focal point of the book is that business owners should skip trying to find the perfect “magical time” to sell their business. Additionally, Warrilow notes, “I make the strong recommendation in the book that the best time to sell your company is not during some mysterious macroeconomic environment. It is when someone is willing to buy it and you get an offer. And that is because at that point, you’re in the position of strength.”
The DIY Approach
This book reinforces the fact that business owners truly need to work with an intermediary if they are to achieve optimal results. Warrilow even includes his six reasons for why every business owner should hire a business broker or M&A advisor.
Many business owners think that they can simply handle selling their business on their own. But the simple fact is that business owners usually have no experience in selling a business. Add this to the fact that selling their business is likely to be the most important financial decision the business owner ever makes, and it quickly becomes clear that business owners are doing themselves a considerable disservice when they opt to handle everything on their own.
A Business Broker vs. a Lawyer
As Warrilow points out, oftentimes business owners think that rather than working with a business broker or M&A advisor, they can turn to a trusted lawyer who has served them in the past. But this thinking is flawed when it comes to successfully selling a business. As Warrilow states, “a lawyer, almost by default, is going to be very conservative as everything exposes a lawyer to risk. And that is why using a traditional attorney is almost always a mistake.”
If you are planning to sell your business now or in the future, a book like Warrilow’s The Art of Selling Your Business: Winning Strategies and Secret Hacks for Exiting on Top can serve as a uniquely valuable tool in your toolbox.
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No two companies are quite alike, and this also means that there are many reasons why companies can fall into trouble. While the number of variables involved in operating a company are practically endless, there are a handful of reasons why companies can fall on hard times. Let’s take a closer look.
Companies that lack focus can often run into considerable trouble. Not understanding their customers and what they need or want can lead to endless problems. It is vital that companies frequently stop and assess who their customers are and whether or not they are properly servicing their needs.
Not too surprisingly, many companies can run into trouble because of poor management. Management problems are not one-dimensional, but instead take a variety of shapes. Management that isn’t focused, is incompetent, or simply doesn’t care about the business can translate into a business’s premature death.
Under the umbrella of “management problems” also falls such missteps as poor financial controls, quality control problems, operational issues, and/or not keeping up with technological advancements. At the end of the day, many of the problems on our list have at least some management issue missteps at their heart.
Loss of Key Employees or Clients
The loss of a key employee or a key client can spell serious trouble. Of course, no management team can predict every eventuality. However, when there is a loss of a key employee or client, and there is no plan for replacement, then management does shoulder at least some of the blame. The savviest companies take steps to ensure that there are ways to replace the most important employees and clients.
Failure to Compete
More than one business has been buried by the competition or failure to see a new wave of competition coming. For example, countless mom and pop video rental stores were absolutely bludgeoned by the introduction of Blockbuster Video a generation ago.
While it is true that sometimes market forces are so aligned against a business that survival is almost impossible, that is normally not the case for most businesses on a year-to-year basis. The most effective and competent management can see the competition out on the horizon. Or at bare minimum, they have an emergency plan in the event that the competition becomes more intense.
All too often by the time a business realizes that it is in trouble, it is already too late. If the problems can’t be fixed, then it may be time to consider selling the business. But such decisions must be made quickly in order to prevent additional bloodletting.
Optimally, a business is sold while it is doing well. Regardless of whether a business is thriving or experiencing difficulties, a business broker or M&A advisor can be an invaluable ally in helping a business reach its full potential.
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Your time is your most valuable commodity. The simple fact of the matter is that many “buyers” are not truly buyers. In contrast, they are often window shopping or acting out a fantasy of buying a business. In other cases, they would only plan to buy if they were to find the “deal of the century.” The last thing you want to do is waste your time trying to work out deals with people who aren’t serious or qualified buyers.
The Plus and Minus System
The best way to find a serious buyer is to use a “plus and minus” system. This system will help you weed out the window-shoppers from buyers that are truly worth your time.
First, let’s evaluate factors for which you’ll want to deduct points. If a buyer needed outside financing, then subtract 4 points. Likewise, if a buyer has been looking for 6 months or more, you’ll want to also subtract 4 points. If a buyer has no cash available, you should subtract 3 points. Additionally, if a buyer is currently working in the corporate world, you should also subtract 3 points. These are the 4 largest reasons to subtract points, but they are not the only reasons.
Below are a few reasons to subtract 2 or 1 points from a buyer’s rating.
- You learn the spouse is not supportive – Subtract 2
- Prospective buyer uses a legal pad or clipboard and takes copious notes – Subtract 2
- The buyer indicates that they are in “no rush” and want to find the perfect business – Subtract 2
- The buyer is under the age of 25 or over the age of 62 – Subtract 1
- The buyer is currently renting even though he or she has lived in the area for some time – Subtract 1
Factors to Add Points In
There are also many factors that would make a buyer fall onto the “plus” side. If the prospective buyer does not currently have a job or has just resigned from their job, then add 3 points. Likewise, if a prospective buyer acknowledges that books and records are not the only metrics by which to judge a business, add 3 points.
Add 2 points if a buyer has enough money to buy the business and another 2 points if the buyer currently has no dependents. If a close relative or family member currently owns or has owned a business in the past, then add 2 points. If the buyer is between the ages of 25 and 62 add 1 point. If he or she is a skilled worker or professional, add 1 point. Finally, if the buyer does not consider location to be a prime consideration, add 1 point.
This streamline, straightforward and relatively simple system does work. Use this system consistently, and you will quickly eliminate a large percentage of window shoppers. While no system is perfect, this “plus-minus” system for accessing prospective buyers will save you countless hours and many potential headaches.
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Mass Mutual Life Insurance produced an ownership transition survey back about a decade ago. The survey results were based on feedback and answers from family-owned businesses. It produced some very interesting results, and is worth examining even today. While the survey at this point is quite outdated in terms of the timeline, there are still many valuable nuggets of information to be gleaned from it. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the numbers and what they can tell us for 2021 and beyond.
While the Mass Mutual Life Insurance ownership transition survey had a range of important points, the one that leaps right off the page is the fact that a whopping 80% of family-owned businesses are still being controlled by their founders. A large percentage of those founders are Baby Boomers who will have little choice but to retire in the next few years.
The survey indicated that 55% of CEOs over the age of 61 or older have yet to choose a successor. This fact serves to emphasize the fact that a “retirement wave” will hit family-owned businesses, and this will lead to some interesting shifts and opportunities. And while the survey indicated that 13% of CEOs state they will never retire, the reality of the situation is that ownership will eventually change hands. Business brokers can expect to see an unprecedented wave of interest in their services. Additionally, prospective buyers will also have a highly unique opportunity to buy established businesses.
The survey also indicated that 30% of family-owned businesses will be changing leadership within the next five years. Of course, with that change of leadership, many possibilities open up, including the possibility of selling. However, it is important to note that while there will be a “retirement wave” amongst the Baby Boomers, not all businesses currently owned by Baby Boomers will be placed on the market.
The survey noted that 90% of businesses currently plan on remaining family-owned, and 85% of businesses plan on having their next CEO be a family member. However, it is important to keep in mind that even if these numbers were to hold true, that means at least 10% of businesses will be up for sale.
It is likely that this number is far higher now than when the survey was conducted due to the aging nature of the Baby Boomer population and owners looking to sell because of pandemic related issues. Simply stated, there will be no shortage of businesses for sale in 2021 and beyond.
Another important aspect of the survey to consider is the fact that family-owned businesses are not prepared to sell. According to the survey, 20% of family-owned businesses have not completed any form of estate planning, and 55% of family owners do not have any formal company valuation for estate tax estimates. Combine these statistics with the fact that 60% of businesses do have a written strategic plan, and it becomes clear that family-owned businesses, especially those considering selling in the future, are most definitely in need of professional assistance. Many family-owned businesses are ill prepared for the future and have a range of vulnerabilities. Business brokers and M&A advisors are uniquely positioned to provide those services.
You shouldn’t expect to sell your company overnight. For every company that sells quickly, there are a hundred that take many months or even years to sell. Having the correct mindset and understanding of what you must do ahead of time to prepare for the sale of your company will help you avoid a range of headaches and dramatically increase your overall chances of success.
First, and arguably most importantly, you must have the right frame of mind. Flexibility is a key attribute for any business owner looking to sell his or her business. There are many variables involved in selling a business, and that means much can go wrong. An inflexible owner can even irritate prospective buyers and inadvertently sabotage what could have otherwise been a workable deal.
Be Flexible on Price
A key part of being flexible is to be ready and willing to accept a lower price. There are many reasons why business owners may fail to achieve the price they want for their business. These factors range from lack of management depth and lack of geographical distribution to an overreliance on a handful of customers or key clients. Of course, one way to address this problem is to work with a business broker or M&A advisor in advance, so that such price issues are minimized or eliminated altogether.
Be Prepared to Compromise
In the process of selling your business, you may want to achieve confidentiality and sell your business quickly and for the price you want. However, the fact is that most sellers find that it is possible to have confidentiality, speed, and the price you want, but not all three. Ultimately, you’ll have to pick two of the three variables that are most important to you.
A third way in which business owner flexibility can boost the chances of success is to embrace the virtue of patience. By accepting the fact that businesses can “sit on the shelf” for a considerable period of time, you are shifting your expectations. This realization can help reduce your stress level. The fact is that stressed out owners are far more likely to make mistakes.
Sometimes Losing is Really Winning
A fourth way in which business owners should be flexible is realizing that you and your lawyer will not win every single fight. There will be many points of contention, and a smart dealmaker realizes that it is often better to have a good deal than a perfect deal. You may have to make sacrifices in order to sell your company. Simply stated, you shouldn’t expect the other side to lose every point.
At the end of the day, a savvy business owner is one that never loses sight of the final goal. Your goal is to sell your business. Seeing the situation from the buyer’s perspective will help you make better decisions on how you present your business and interact with prospective buyers. Maintaining a flexible attitude with prospective buyers helps to position you as a reasonable person who wants to make a deal. Goodwill can go a long way when obstacles do arise.
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