Burnout: An Ever-Present Threat

Burnout is an often-used reason for an owner selling his or her business. Potential buyers may have trouble accepting this as a valid reason for sale. However, burnout is a valid reason for selling one’s business.

A business owner can experience burnout even with a business that’s successful and growing. Many independent business owners feel they’ve worked hard, made their money, and now is a good time to cash out and move on, before burnout endangers the health of the business.

The following warning signs should remind a business owner that cashing out beats burning out:

You are overwhelmed on a daily basis.

When a business owner is a one-man show, even small tasks and minor decisions can seem bigger than Mount Everest. These owners have been shouldering the burden alone for too long, and the isolation has taken its toll.

You sense a failure of imagination.

Burnt-out owners are so close to their work that they lose perspective. Prioritizing becomes a major daily challenge, and problem solving sometimes goes no further than the application of business Band-Aids that cost money in the long run rather than increasing profits.

The joy is gone.

Although owning a business is hard work, it should also provide a good measure of enjoyment. When the work day begins with dread or boredom, the owner probably needs a change of scenery and a new challenge.

You are simply exhausted.

Being “just too tired” is a complaint heard just as often from the owner of the successful business as from the business that’s struggling to survive. In fact, a business that is growing will create increased demands of time and energy.

No matter what the status of the operation, the sheer work of keeping a business going day after day, year after year, is enough to encourage a business owner to make a change. This kind of schedule is not for everyone; in fact, statistics show that it’s hardly for anyone on a long-term basis.

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How Long Does It Take to Sell a Business?

Recent studies indicate that it now takes, on average, about eight to ten months to sell a small business. This figure seems to increase yearly. Why does it take so long to sell a business?

Price and terms are the biggest reasons!  It is very important not to overprice the business at the beginning of the sales process. A business will also sell more quickly if there is a reasonable down payment with the seller carrying the balance.  Having all of the necessary information right from the beginning can also greatly reduce the time period.  Finally, being prepared for the information a buyer may want to review or having the answers available for the questions a buyer may want answered is another key.

Here is the basic information a prospective acquirer will want to review and a seller should have prepared to help facilitate a quicker sale:

Copies of the financials for the past three years.

A copy of the lease and any assignments of the lease from previous sales.

A list of the fixtures and equipment that will be included in the sale. Note: If something is not included in the sale, it is best to remove it from the premises prior to the sale or at least have a list that specifies which items are not included.

A copy of the franchise agreement, if applicable, or any agreements with suppliers or vendors.

Copies of any other documentation pertaining to the business.

Supporting documents for patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.

Sales brochures, press releases, advertisements, menus or other sales materials.

In addition, here are some key questions that buyers may likely ask.  A prepared seller should have ready answers and information to support those answers.

Is the seller willing to train a new owner at no charge?

Are there any zoning or local restrictions that would impact the business?

Is there any pending litigation?

Are any license issues involved?

Are there any federal or state requirements, or environmental OSHA issues that could affect the business?

What about the employee situation? Are there key employees?

Are there any copyrights, secret recipes, mailing lists, etc?

What about major suppliers or vendors?

A prepared seller is a willing seller, and having the answers to the above items can significantly reduce the time it takes to sell a business.

Using the services of a professional business broker can also greatly reduce the time period.  Business brokers are knowledgeable about the current market, they know how to market a business, and they can advise a seller on price and terms.  They can also recommend professional advisors if a seller doesn’t have them already.  Using advisors who are transaction experienced can also shorten the time it takes to close the sale.

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When to Create an Exit Strategy

There is the old saying that the time to develop an exit strategy is the day you open for business. Sounds good, but it’s not very realistic. Further, it also isn’t very optimistic. On the day you open for business, thoughts about how you get out of it aren’t pleasant, or helpful, thoughts. However, as you get the business to a place where you have a bit of extra time to plan, you will find that the things you need to do to improve your business are some of the very things you will need to work on to plan an exit strategy.

You can’t predict misfortune, but you can plan for it. One never knows when an accident or illness will force one to sell. When the drive to your business becomes filled with dread, maybe it’s time to consider selling. The following ideas will improve your business, even if you’re not currently considering selling. Dealing with these areas will also supply the information a buyer will most likely be looking at when the time does come to sell.

Buyers want cash flow.

This, at least on the surface, is the thing a potential buyer will want to look at.

Appearances are important.

You may think everything about the business looks fine, but the two letters on the neon sign that don’t work indicate to a possible buyer that the seller may have lost interest in the business, causing them to also wonder what else doesn’t work or has been neglected.

There is probably more value than you think.

Business owners often don’t look at things that do create real value such as: customer lists, secret recipes, specialized computer systems, programs, customer loyalty programs, etc.

Eliminate the surprises.

Make sure the lease is transferable and that your landlord is willing to cooperate.  Resolve that issue with town hall.  Resolve the problem with that angry customer. Minor problems and issues will often raise their ugly heads during sensitive times, spooking a possible buyer. So, the time to resolve them is before going to market.

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Five Kinds of Buyers

Buyers are generally categorized as belonging to one of the following groups although, in reality, most buyers fit into more than one.

The Individual Buyer

This is typically an individual with substantial financial resources, and with the type of background or experience necessary for leading a particular operation.

The individual buyer usually seeks a business that is financially healthy, indicating a sound return on the investment of both money and time.

The Strategic Buyer

This buyer is almost always a company with a specific goal in mind — entry into new markets, increasing market share, gaining new technology, or eliminating some element of competition.

The Synergistic Buyer

The synergistic category of buyer, like the strategic type, is usually a company. Synergy means that the joining of the two companies will produce more, or be worth more, than just the sum of their parts.

The Industry Buyer

Sometimes known as “the buyer of last resort,” this type is often a competitor or a highly similar operation. This buyer already knows the industry well, and therefore does not want to pay for the expertise and knowledge of the seller.

The Financial Buyer

Most in evidence of all the buyer types, financial buyers are influenced by a demonstrated return on investment, coupled with their ability to get financing on as large a portion of the purchase price as possible.

Almost all the purchasers of the smaller businesses fall into the individual buyer category. But most buyers, as mentioned above actually fit into more than just one category.

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© Copyright 2013 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Why Deals Don’t Close

Sellers

  • Don’t have a valid reason for selling.
  • Are testing the waters to check the market and the price. (They are similar to the buyer who is “just shopping.”)
  • Are completely unrealistic about the price and the market for their business.
  • Are not honest about their business or their situation. The reason they want to sell is that the business is not viable, it has environmental problems or some other serious issues that the seller has not revealed, or new competition is entering the market.
  • Don’t disclose that there is more than one owner and they are not all in agreement.
  • Have not checked with their outside advisors about possible financial, tax or legal implications of selling their business.
  • Are unprepared to accept seller financing or now unwilling to accept it.

Buyers

  • Don’t have a valid reason to buy a business, or the reason is not strong enough to overcome the fear.
  • Have unrealistic expectations regarding price, the business buying process, and/or small business in general.
  • Aren’t willing (many of them) to do the work necessary to own and operate a small business.
  • Are influenced by a spouse (or someone else) who is opposed to the purchase of a business.

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Seller Financing: The Basics

Seller financing has always been a mainstay of business brokerage.  Buyers don’t have the capital necessary to pay cash, are unable to borrow the money, or are reluctant to use all of their capital.  Buyers also feel that a business should pay for itself and are wary of a seller who wants all cash or who wants the carry-back note secured by additional collateral. What sellers seem to be saying, at least as perceived by the buyer, is that they don’t have a lot of confidence in the business or in the buyer or perhaps both.  However, if you look at statistics, it’s apparent that sellers usually receive a much higher purchase price if they accept terms.

Studies reveal that, on average, a seller who sells for all cash receives only about 80 percent of the asking price.  Sellers who are willing to accept terms receive, on average, 86 percent of the asking price. The seller who asks for all cash receives, on average, a purchase price of 36 percent of annual sales while the seller who will accept terms receives, on average, 42 percent of annual sales.  These are compelling reasons for a seller to accept terms.  Business brokers have long been aware that reasonable terms are necessary if sellers are serious about selling their businesses.

The primary reason sellers are reluctant to offer terms is their fear that the buyer will be unsuccessful.  If he or she should stop making payments, the seller will be forced to take back the business, hope that the buyer can resell the business, or forfeit the balance of the note.  Another reason is that sellers feel that they can do more with cash than with the receipt of monthly payments. How often do sellers say that they need cash so they can buy another business?  That is probably not the real reason, but selling their business (or house) may be the only time that they can get a “chunk of cash.”  A business broker can help alleviate these fears by pointing out some of the ways sellers can protect their investment and by explaining some of the advantages of carrying the balance of the purchase price.  Equally important is how the deal itself is structured.

Let’s first take a look at the advantages to the seller of financing the sale:

  • The chances of the business actually selling are much greater with seller financing.
  • The seller will achieve a much higher price for the business with seller financing.
  • Most sellers are unaware of how much the interest can increase their actual selling price. For example, a seller carry-back note at 8 percent carried over nine years will actually double the amount carried.  $100,000 at 8 percent over a nine year period results in the seller receiving $200,000.
  • With interest rates currently low [at this writing], sellers can get a much higher rate from a buyer than they can get from any financial institution.
  • Sellers may also discover that, in many cases, the tax consequences of accepting terms are a lot more advantageous than those on an all-cash sale.
  • Financing the sale tells the buyer that the seller has enough confidence that the business will, or can, pay for itself.
  • The seller may be able to borrow some cash using the note and security agreement as collateral.  It may not be as easy as borrowing against real estate notes, but it’s still better than nothing.

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What Would Your Business Sell For?

There is the old anecdote about the immigrant who opened his own business in the United States. Like many small business owners, he had his own bookkeeping system. He kept his accounts payable in a cigar box on the left side of his cash register, his daily receipts – cash and credit card receipts – in the cash register, and his invoices and paid bills in a cigar box on the right side of his cash register.

When his youngest son graduated as a CPA, he was appalled by his father’s primitive bookkeeping system. “I don’t know how you can run a business that way,” his son said. “How do you know what your profits are?”

“Well, son,” the father replied, “when I came to this country, I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. Today, your brother is a doctor, your sister is a lawyer, and you are an accountant. Your mother and I have a nice car, a city house and a place at the beach. We have a good business and everything is paid for. Add that all together, subtract the clothes, and there’s your profit.”

A commonly accepted method to price a small business is to use Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE). The International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) defines SDE as follows:

Discretionary Earnings – The earnings of a business enterprise prior to the following items:

  • income taxes
  • nonrecurring income and expenses
  • non-operating income and expenses
  • depreciation and amortization
  • interest expense or income
  • owner’s total compensation for one owner/operator, after adjusting the total compensation of all other owners to market value

Here are some terms as defined by the IBBA:

  • Owner’s salary – The salary or wages paid to the owner, including related payroll tax burden.
  • Owner’s total compensation – Total of owner’s salary and perquisites.
  • Perquisites – Expenses incurred at the discretion of the owner which are unnecessary to the continued operation of the business.

Developing a Multiplier

Once the SDE has been calculated, a multiplier has to be developed. The following (just as a guideline) should be rated from 0 to 5 with 5 being the highest. For example, if the business is a highly desirable business in the current market, “desirability” would be rated a 4 or 5. If the business is in an industry that is quickly declining or nearly obsolete, “industry” would be given a 0 or 1 rating.

  • Age: Number of years the seller has owned and operated the business.
  • Terms: Is the seller willing to offer terms?  For example, will the seller accept 40 percent as a down payment with the seller carrying back 60 percent at terms the business can afford while still providing a living for the buyer?
  • Competition: Consider the local market.
  • Risk: Is the business itself risky?
  • Growth trend of the business: Is it up or down?
  • Location/Facilities
  • Desirability: How popular is the business in the current market?
  • Industry: Is the industry itself declining or growing?
  • Type of business: Is the business type easily duplicated?

The average business sells for about 1.8 to 2.5. Obviously, if the SDE is solid and the multiple is above average, the price will be higher. Keep in mind that the price outlined includes all of the assets including fixtures and equipment, goodwill, etc. It does not include real estate or saleable inventory. The price determined above assumes that the business will be delivered to the buyer free and clear of any debt.

Veteran Wisdom

When all else fails, the words of a veteran business broker will work.

Asking Price is what the seller wants.

Selling Price is what the seller gets.

Fair Market Value is the highest price the buyer is willing to pay and the lowest price the seller is willing to accept.

Sellers should keep in mind that the actual price of a small business is about 80 percent of the seller’s asking price.
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Rating Today’s Business Buyers

Once the decision to sell has been made, the business owner should be aware of the variety of possible business buyers. Just as small business itself has become more sophisticated, the people interested in buying them have also become more divergent and complex. The following are some of today’s most active categories of business buyers:

Family Members

Members of the seller’s own family form a traditional category of business buyer: tried but not always “true.” The notion of a family member taking over is amenable to many of the parties involved because they envision continuity, seeing that as a prime advantage. And it can be, given that the family member treats the role as something akin to a hierarchical responsibility. This can mean years of planning and diligent preparation, involving all or many members of the family in deciding who will be the “heir to the throne.” If this has been done, the family member may be the best type of buyer.

Too often, however, the difficulty with the family buyer category lies in the conflicts that may develop. For example, does the family member have sufficient cash to purchase the business? Can the selling family member really leave the business? In too many cases, these and other conflicts result in serious disruption to the business or to the sales transaction. The result, too often, is an “I-told-you-so” situation, where there are too many opinions, but no one is really ever the wiser. An outside buyer eliminates these often insoluble problems.

The key to deciding on a family member as a buyer is threefold: ability, family agreement, and financial worthiness.

Business Competitors

This is a category often overlooked as a source of prospective purchasers. The obvious concern is that competitors will take advantage of the knowledge that the business is for sale by attempting to lure away customers or clients. However, if the business is compatible, a competitor may be willing to “pay the price” to acquire a ready-made means to expand. A business brokerage professional can be of tremendous assistance in dealing with the competitor. They will use confidentiality agreements and will reveal the name of the business only after contacting the seller and qualifying the competitor.

The Foreign Buyer

Many foreigners arrive in the United States with ample funds and a great desire to share in the American Dream. Many also have difficulty obtaining jobs in their previous professions, because of language barriers, licensing, and specific experience. As owners of their own businesses, at least some of these problems can be short-circuited.

These buyers work hard and long and usually are very successful small business owners. However, their business acumen does not necessarily coincide with that of the seller (as would be the case with any inexperienced owner). Again, a business broker professional knows best how to approach these potential problems.

Important to note is that many small business owners think that foreign companies and independent buyers are willing to pay top dollar for the business. In fact, foreign companies are usually interested only in businesses or companies with sales in the millions.

Synergistic Buyers

These are buyers who feel that a particular business would compliment theirs and that combining the two would result in lower costs, new customers, and other advantages. Synergistic buyers are more likely to pay more than other types of buyers, because they can see the results of the purchase. Again, as with the foreign buyer, synergistic buyers seldom look at the small business, but they may find many mid-sized companies that meet their requirements.

Financial Buyers

This category of buyer comes with perhaps the longest list of criteria–and demands. These buyers want maximum leverage, but they also are the right category for the seller who wants to continue to manage his company after it is sold. Most financial buyers offer a lower purchase price than other types, but they do often make provision for what may be important to the seller other than the money–such as selection of key employees, location, and other issues.

For a business to be of interest to a financial buyer, the profits must be sufficient not only to support existing management, but also to provide a return to the owner.

Individual Buyer

When it comes time to sell, most owners of the small to mid-sized business gravitate toward this buyer. Many of these buyers are mature (aged 40 to 60) and have been well-seasoned in the corporate marketplace. Owning a business is a dream, and one many of them can well afford. The key to approaching this kind of buyer is to find out what it is they are really looking for.

The buyer who needs to replace a job is can be an excellent prospect. Although owning a business is more than a job, and the risks involved can frighten this kind of buyer, they do have the “hunger”–and the need. A further advantage is that this category of buyer comes with fewer “strings” and complications than many of the other types.

A Final Note

Sorting out the “right” buyer is best left to the professionals who have the experience necessary to decide who are the best prospects.

Why Sell Your Company?

Selling one’s business can be a traumatic and emotional event. In fact, “seller’s remorse” is one of the major reasons that deals don’t close. The business may have been in the family for generations. The owner may have built it from scratch or bought it and made it very successful. However, there are times when selling is the best course to take. Here are a few of them.

  • Burnout – This is a major reason, according to industry experts, why owners consider selling their business. The long hours and 7-day workweeks can take their toll. In other cases, the business may just become boring – the challenge gone. Losing interest in one’s business usually indicates that it is time to sell.
  • No one to take over – Sons and daughters can be disenchanted with the family business by the time it’s their turn to take over. Family members often wish to move on to their own lives and careers.
  • Personal problems – Events such as illness, divorce, and partnership issues do occur and many times force the sale of a company. Unfortunately, one cannot predict such events, and too many times, a forced sale does not bring maximum value. Proper planning and documentation can preclude an emergency sale.
  • Cashing-out – Many company owners have much of their personal net worth invested in their business. This can present a lack of liquidity. Other than borrowing against the assets of the business, an owner’s only option is to sell it. They have spent years building, and now it’s time to cash-in.
  • Outside pressure – Successful businesses create competition. It may be building to the point where it is easier to join it, than to fight it. A business may be standing still, while larger companies are moving in.
  • An offer from “out of the blue” – The business may not even be on the market, but someone or some other company may see an opportunity. An owner answers the telephone and the voice on the other end says, “We would like to buy your company.”

There are obviously many other reasons why businesses are sold. The paramount issue is that they should not be placed on the market if the owner or principals are not convinced it’s time. And consider an old law that says, “The time to prepare to sell is the day you start or take over the business.”

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?