If you’re selling your business and things are looking positive with your buyer, you might be tempted to start resting easy. If you have a signed letter of intent, you might be even more tempted to think that things are pretty settled. However, the fact of the matter is that much can be uncovered during the due diligence process, and that is often when deals start to fall apart. Due diligence is an essential step that protects buyers, and sellers should be well-prepared to have things in good shape far in advance. Let’s take a closer look at some areas where a deal can potentially go awry.
Products and Equipment
When the sale involves a business that handles manufacturing, equipment is carefully evaluated during due diligence. Buyers will be thinking about any potential environmental issues that could affect the business. If you’re selling a business and have loose ends with your equipment or facility, this should be handled in advance if possible.
Buyers will also be looking at the various product lines and inventory. They will be considering how the sales are spread among the product lines. For example, if one product makes up the majority of sales, that can raise red flags in the mind of a buyer. They will also think about supplies and how likely they are to be stable once the business switches hands.
Buyers will want to look at breakdowns of customers so they can consider the company’s market share and also where the sales are coming from. Similarly, to only having one product, if a business only has one or two key buyers, that can be a source of concern for buyers.
When you are selling a business, your buyers will also be thinking about the assets like intellectual property. Will all trademarks, patents and copyrights be transferred during the sale? If not, it can be a big source of concern for buyers.
Buyers will also consider the state of the human resources department. Sellers should be aware that buyers will be typically looking for established staff members who are unlikely to leave. This is another area where sellers have the opportunity to prepare in advance to achieve optimal results.
Your prospective buyer will want to carefully examine accounts receivable. So if you have bad debt, you might want to sort out these kinds of issues before the due diligence phase. They will also want to have a firm understanding of everything that is included in the sale. Oftentimes during due diligence, a buyer finds out that equipment or patents are not included with the sale, and it quickly derails the deal.
If you’re selling a business, you’ll want to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and consider what you would want to see if you were buying a business. Anything that you can do in advance to improve your workforce, equipment, premises, and financial records is highly recommended. The goal is to have a smooth transition for the buyer, and anything that could stand in the way of that taking place should be analyzed and improved if possible. When you work with a business broker or M&A advisor to sell your business, you will have an expert in your corner to help sort out the details.
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Selling your business is typically quite an involved process that takes a series of months. Sellers typically experience a variety of ups and downs during that time. This is true even in the case of the most successful deals. That’s why you will want to keep your eyes open during the process so that you will be equipped to vet your potential buyers.
This article will take a look at various aspects of the sales transaction that could be concerning and could mean that a deal is less likely to be successful. It’s a good idea to identify these types of situations so you’ll be better prepared to notice them if they were to occur. After all, the last thing you’ll want to do is waste your time and energy dealing with a prospective buyer that is not a good candidate for buying your business.
Signs of Lack of Interest
There are countless instances when sellers have been approached by prospective buyers, but the parties controlling the purchase are never involved. If a company expresses interest in your business, but the President or CEO seems to be too busy to talk to you, it more than likely means that there is something off about the situation. If communication starts to fizzle out during the process, it very well could also mean that your buyer is not truly interested.
What if you’re dealing with an individual buyer? If an individual says that he or she is interested in buying your business, but has no experience in your industry and no history of owning businesses in the past, this can be a red flag. Even if this buyer does have serious intentions, he or she may become nervous and start to feel overwhelmed as things progress with your deal. In the early stages when you are being approached by potential buyers it is a good idea to not get too wrapped up in buyers that do not appear to be completely legitimate.
There are situations where caution should be warranted in the later stages of a deal as well. For example, in some instances, sellers have not been allowed to see the buyer’s financial statements. Clearly, that could mean that the buyer doesn’t have the resources actually necessary to proceed.
When you work with a business broker or M&A advisor, you will find that you have built in protection from buyers that are not the right fit. Most brokerage professionals have seen it all and tend to be able to sense when something is too good to be true, or just simply not quite right. Also, when challenges do occur, having a third party involved can go a long way in effectively getting things back on track.
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There is no underestimating the importance of negotiation when you are buying or selling a business. Let’s take a look at some of the most often used strategies and our recommendations.
The Direct Approach
One approach in negotiations is what we often refer to as the “take it or leave it” strategy. In this scenario, the buyer makes an offer, and the seller then counters that offer. There is little negotiation work necessary, as both parties are direct and simple about the numbers and terms they propose. The drawback to this approach, however, is that when it doesn’t work, there is little to no recourse. When this “direct approach” offer isn’t accepted by one of the parties, there is little opportunity for flexibility on either side. Therefore, the direct approach can be somewhat of a risk.
Focusing on Influential Details
There are typically certain aspects of a deal where a buyer or seller is unwilling to compromise. Sometimes this aspect isn’t even financial in nature. It could be anything from the desire to move the business to a new site, to employment of a friend or relative. Once the negotiations embrace and include these non-negotiables, it can help expedite a successful deal.
Splitting the Difference
A common approach that is seen when buying or selling businesses is that one side offers to split the difference. Unlike the direct approach, there is a good deal of flexibility here. When one party shows that they are open to split the difference, it is often seen as a way to keep negotiations going. Another point in favor of this approach is that communication continues. Obviously when one or both sides stop talking, the deal has not been successful.
Third Party Involvement
When it comes to finding solutions and resolutions, having a third party involved is tremendously beneficial. When you bring in a business broker or M&A advisor, that individual can then help facilitate the negotiated solutions. This third party is seen as skilled, yet also more of an impartial party. Business brokers and M&A advisors also have many years of experience encouraging buyers and sellers to understand and work with one another.
Your brokerage professional can help both parties agree to a fair price while handling the aspects of all the small details involved in buying and selling businesses. Negotiations almost always benefit from having a professional involved, as they bring a different, and much needed, perspective to the table.
If you’re planning to buy or sell a business that involves a lease, this can lead to an extra level of complication. Oftentimes, such as in the case of a restaurant or retail establishment, the location is essential to the success of the business itself. That means that if you’re buying a business, you’ll have to make sure any lease issues you might encounter are straightened out before you sign on the bottom line. But even if you’re buying a business that isn’t location-sensitive, you’ll still want to iron out all the details about your lease ahead of time.
Negotiating a Lease
If you’re buying a business with a lease, one word of advice is to have a clear way out of the lease in the near future. After all, with a business so new to you, you might make changes in the short term. The general recommendation is to negotiate a one-year lease that has an option for a longer period of time.
In many instances, the buyer of a business with a lease will find that he or she doesn’t have too much leverage. However, buyers typically find that there is more opportunity to negotiate if the lease is close to its expiration date or the business is performing poorly.
When you’re first negotiating your lease, you may also want to think about the big picture. For example, if your business is in a mall, you might want to confirm that no future tenants will be allowed to move in and be your competition. Along similar lines, some businesses located in shopping centers seek to outline a reduction of rent if the shopping center’s anchor store were to close, as that could negatively impact the business.
When you negotiate your lease, you’ll also want to think about the far-off future when you’d like to sell the business. You will want to make sure that the landlord allows for lease transfers, and you’ll want to confirm the requirements necessary for a potential transfer.
Another thing to consider is what if the property did become available in the future? If this were to occur, you might want to negotiate the option to potentially buy the property. Otherwise, you might find yourself in an unfortunate situation where you are forced to move your establishment.
Basics for Your Lease
A lease should always outline your responsibilities as well as those of your landlord. Make sure you carefully review the lease with your attorney. You’ll want to be sure that you thoroughly understand all the terms. It should cover various issues that might arise in the future and how they will be handled. For example, if there were a fire or disaster, who would pay to rebuild the building? How are the taxes, fees and maintenance handled for the property?
Unfortunately, in some situations a landlord’s lack of flexibility with a lease has even sunk a deal. If the landlord is unwilling to agree to a new lease or offer concessions to an ongoing one, buyers often will find the situation too restrictive. In certain instances, however, sellers have been willing to offer concessions to buyers to counterbalance issues with a lease.
The fate of your business could literally depend on your lease. If you set things up correctly in the beginning, it will most likely benefit you tremendously in the long run.
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No one wants to waste their time and energy trying to sell their business to someone who isn’t actually planning to buy. That’s why it’s so important for you and your business broker or M&A advisor to focus on the most qualified and serious buyers. But how can you really make these kinds of assessments about a buyer’s viability until they sign on the dotted line? Let’s take a look at some signs that will help you figure out your buyer well in advance.
Do they have a history of ownership?
When someone has owned a business in the past, they have a firm understanding of what is involved. As a result, they are more likely to be a serious buyer. It also means they are more likely to move forward. You will also find that they have the ability to make a substantial down payment and financing options. While they might want you to help them with financing, you should still be looking to ensure they will put their own capital at risk as well.
Are they seeking information about your cash flow?
If a buyer is serious, it goes without saying that they will want to make sure the business is profitable. They should be asking a lot of questions about not only your cash flow, but also your inventory. If you have unusable inventory this could be of concern to a buyer. Be sure to disclose this information upfront, as it will likely be discovered in the due diligence process regardless.
Are they asking about the health of your staff?
Any real buyer would want a dedicated and reliable staff. If your buyer is asking about salaries, it is a good sign that they are serious. After all, if you’re only paying minimum wage, chances are that your staff will not have a lot of staying power. These days, many companies are suffering due to staffing issues, and it’s something that should be front and center in any serious buyer’s mind.
Do they have an interest in the industry?
If your prospective buyer is asking questions about the industry, that is another good sign. After all, who would really want to buy a business without detailed knowledge about the industry they are about to enter? Along the same lines, if you know your buyer has experience in a given industry, it means they are more likely to go through with a purchase. If they lack experience in your industry, do they at least seem passionate about the industry? If they seem like they are not asking probing questions, this might mean they are wasting your time.
Are they asking about capital expenditures?
Your prospective buyer will want to know how money is being spent. You can expect them to make sure that major expenses have already been paid for as they will want to make sure they won’t be caught off guard by large pending purchases.
Do you have professional assistance?
The bottom line is that the more in-depth questions a person is asking, the more serious they are likely to be. Your business broker’s job is to screen prospective buyers. Years of experience doing so helps them know the warning signs that pop up when buyers profess to be interested, but are not likely to go through with the sale.
When you are trying to sell your business, it is critical that you focus your time wisely. Your brokerage professional will help ensure that you do not waste time working with people who are just kicking the tires.
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