Sellers generally desire all-cash transactions; however, oftentimes partial seller financing is necessary in typical middle market company transactions. Furthermore, sellers who demand all-cash deals typically receive a lower purchase price than they would have if the deal were structured differently.
Although buyers may be able to pay all-cash at closing, they often want to structure a deal where the seller has left some portion of the price on the table, either in the form of a note or an earnout. Deferring some of the owner’s remuneration from the transaction will provide leverage in the event that the owner has misrepresented the business. An earnout is a mechanism to provide payment based on future performance. Acquirers like to suggest that, if the business is as it is represented, there should be no problem with this type of payout. The owner’s retort is that he or she knows the business is sound under his or her management but does not know whether the buyer will be as successful in operating the business.
Moreover, the owner has taken the business risk while owning the business; why would he or she continue to be at risk with someone else at the helm? Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which an earnout can be quite useful in recognizing full value and consummating a transaction. For example, suppose that a company had spent three years and vast sums developing a new product and had just launched the product at the time of a sale. A certain value could be arrived at for the current business, and an earnout could be structured to compensate the owner for the effort and expense of developing the new product if and when the sales of the new product materialize. Under this scenario, everyone wins.
The terms of the deal are extremely important to both parties involved in the transaction. Many times the buyers and sellers, and their advisors, are in agreement with all the terms of the transaction, except for the price. Although the variance on price may seem to be a “deal killer,” the price gap can often be resolved so that both parties can move forward to complete the transaction.
Listed below are some suggestions on how to bridge the price gap:
- If the real estate was originally included in the deal, the seller may choose to rent the premise to the acquirer rather than sell it outright. This will decrease the price of the transaction by the value of the real estate. The buyer might also choose to pay higher rent in order to decrease the “goodwill” portion of the sale. The seller may choose to retain the title to certain machinery and equipment and lease it back to the buyer.
- The purchaser can acquire less than 100% of the company initially and have the option to buy the remaining interest in the future. For example, a buyer could purchase 70% of the seller’s stock with an option to acquire an additional 10% a year for three years based on a predetermined formula. The seller will enjoy 30% of the profits plus a multiple of the earnings at the end of the period. The buyer will be able to complete the transaction in a two-step process, making the purchase easier to accomplish. The seller may also have a “put” which will force the buyer to purchase the remaining 30% at some future date.
- A subsidiary can be created for the fastest growing portion of the business being acquired. The buyer and seller can then share 50/50 in the part of the business that was “spun-off” until the original transaction is paid off.
- A royalty can be structured based on revenue, gross margins, EBIT, or EBITDA. This is usually easier to structure than an earnout.
- Certain assets, such as automobiles or non-business-related real estate, can be carved out of the sale to reduce the actual purchase price.
Although the above suggestions will not solve all of the pricing gap problems, they may lead the participants in the necessary direction to resolve them. The ability to structure successful transactions that satisfy both buyer and seller requires an immense amount of time, skill, experience, and most of all – imagination.
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There is no doubt about it, it can be exciting to buy a new business. However, in the process, it is very important that you don’t become unrealistic about future growth. Keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases, if a business is poised to quickly grow substantially, the seller would be far less interested in selling.
Richard Parker’s recent article for Forbes entitled “Don’t Be Delusional About Growth When Buying a Business” seeks to instill a smart degree of caution into prospective buyers. Parker notes that when evaluating a business and talking to the owner, many buyers come away with a sense that enormous growth is just “sitting there” waiting to be seized. In particular, Parker cautions those buyers who are buying into an industry that they know nothing about; those individuals should be very careful.
When buying into an industry where one has no familiarity, there can be a range of problems. The opportunities that you see may not have been tapped into by the existing owner for a range of reasons. You couldn’t possibly guess what these reasons might be without more of a knowledge base. Since you are an outsider, you likely lack the proper perspective and understanding. In turn, this means you may see growth opportunities that may not exist, as the seller may have already tried and failed. Summed up another way, until you actually own the business and are running it on a day to day basis, you simply can’t make a proper assessment of how best to grow that business.
The seductive lure of growth shouldn’t be the determining factor when you are looking for a business. A far more important and ultimately reliable factor is stability. The real question, the foundation of whether or not a business is a good purchase option, is whether or not the business will maintain its revenue and profit levels once you’ve signed on the dotted line and taken over. You want to be sure that the business doesn’t have to grow to remain viable.
As Parker points out, the majority of small business buyers will buy in a sector where they don’t have much experience, and that is fine. What is not fine is assuming that you can greatly grow the business. Of course, if new buyers can achieve that goal, that is great and certainly icing on the cake. But don’t depend on that growth.
In the end, everyone has some ideas that work and some that don’t. You may take over a business and, thanks to having a different perspective than the previous owner, are able to find ways to make that business grow. But realize that many of your ideas for growing the business may fail completely.
A professional business broker will be able to help you determine what business is best for you. A business broker will help keep you focused on what matters most and steer you clear of the mistakes that buyers frequently make when buying a business.
Every year countless great deals, deals that would have otherwise gone through, are undone due to a failure to properly utilize and follow confidentiality agreements. A failure to adhere to this essential contract can lead to a myriad of problems. These issues range from employees discovering that a business is going to be sold and quitting to key customers learning of the potential sale and taking their business elsewhere. Needless to say, issues such as these can stand in the way of a sale successfully going through. Maintaining confidentiality throughout the sales process is of paramount importance.
Utilizing a confidentiality agreement, often referred to as a non-disclosure agreement, is a common practice and one that you should fully embrace. There are many and diverse benefits to working with a business broker; one of those benefits is that business brokers know how to properly use confidentiality agreements and what should be contained within them.
By using a confidentiality agreement, the seller gains protection from a prospective buyer disclosing confidential information during the sales process. Originally, confidentiality agreements were utilized to prevent prospective buyers from letting the world at large know that a business was for sale.
Today, these contracts have evolved and now cover an array of potential seller concerns. A good confidentiality agreement will help to ensure that a prospective buyer doesn’t disclose proprietary information, trade secrets or key information learned about the business during the sales process.
Creating a solid confidentiality agreement is serious business and should not be rushed into. They should include, first and foremost, what areas are to be covered by the agreement, or in other words what is, and is not confidential. Additional areas of concern, such as how confidential information will be shared and marked, the remedy for breaches of confidentiality and the terms of the agreement, for example, how long the agreement is to remain enforced, should also be addressed.
A key area that should not be overlooked when creating a confidentiality agreement is that the prospective buyer will not hire any key people away from the selling company. Every business and every situation is different. As a result, confidentiality agreements must be tailored to each business and each situation.
When it comes to selling a business, few factors are as critical as establishing and maintaining confidentiality. The last thing any business wants is for its confidential information to land in the hands of a key competitor. Business brokers understand the value of maintaining confidentiality and know what steps to take to ensure that it is maintained throughout the sales process.
Selling a business is more than a big decision, as it is also quite complex. Finding the right buyer for a business is at the heart of the matter. In the recent Forbes article, “Ready to Sell Your Business? Follow These 3 Tips to Find the Best Buyer,” author Serenity Gibbons outlines that selling a business is a multifaceted process with a lot of moving parts.
A central variable for those looking to sell a business is to have a coherent and well thought out exit strategy in place. She points out that at the top of your to-do list should be selling your business the right way, and that means having a great exit strategy in place. In fact, many experts feel that you should have an exit strategy in place even when you first open your business.
Another key variable to keep in mind is that, according to Gibbons, only an estimated 20% to 30% of businesses on the market actually find buyers. This important fact means that business owners, who usually have a large percentage of their wealth tied up in their businesses, are vulnerable if they can’t sell. It is vital for business owners to make their businesses as attractive as possible to buyers for when the time comes to sell.
This article points to author Michael Lefkowitz’s book “Where’s the Exit.” This book outlines what business owners need to do to get their business ready for their exit. Updating your books, ensuring that a good team is in place and ready to go and taking steps to “polish the appeal of your brand” are some of the important topics covered.
Gibbons notes that “not every buyer with cash in hand is the right buyer for your company.” Mentioned are three key variables that must be addressed when looking to find the right buyer: consider your successor, explore your broker options and find a pre-qualified buyer.
In the end, working with a business broker is the fastest and easiest way to check off all three boxes. An experienced professional knows the importance of working exclusively with serious, pre-qualified buyers. Since a good business broker only works with serious buyers, that means business brokers can greatly expedite the process of selling your business.
In her article, Gibbons supports the fact that working with a business broker is a smart move. Those looking to get their business sold and reduce an array of potential headaches along the way, will find that there is no replacement for a good business broker.
Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business. Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late. Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you. Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them. In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.
Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business.
As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.” This statement does not only apply to buyers. Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.
There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees. It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering. If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.
In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees. Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor. Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit. Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed. Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.
It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business. The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely. But sellers should understand what employees are key and why. Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so. Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.
Leases should never be overlooked when it comes to buying or selling a business. After all, where your business is located and how long you can stay at that location plays a key role in the overall health of your business. It is easy to get lost with “larger” issues when buying or selling a business. But in terms of stability, few factors rank as high as that of a lease. Let’s explore some of the key facts you’ll want to keep in mind where leases are concerned.
The Different Kinds of Leases
In general, there are three different kinds of leases: sub-lease, new lease and the assignment of the lease. These leases clearly differ from one another, and each will impact a business in different ways.
A sub-lease is a lease within a lease. If you have a sub-lease then another party holds the original lease. It is very important to remember that in this situation the seller is the landlord. In general, sub-leasing will require that permission is granted by the original landlord. With a new lease, a lease has expired and the buyer must obtain a new lease from the landlord. Buyers will want to be certain that they have a lease in place before buying a new business otherwise they may have to relocate the business if the landlord refuses to offer a new lease.
The third lease option is the assignment of lease. Assignment of lease is the most common type of lease when it comes to selling a business. Under the assignment of lease, the buyer is granted the use of the location where the business is currently operating. In short, the seller assigns to the buyer the rights of the lease. It is important to note that the seller does not act as the landlord in this situation.
Understand All Lease Issues to Avoid Surprises
Early on in the buying process, buyers should work to understand all aspects of a business’s lease. No one wants an unwelcomed surprise when buying a business, for example, discovering that a business must be relocated due to lease issues.
Summed up, don’t ignore the critical importance of a business’s leasing situation. Whether you are buying or selling a business, it is in your best interest to clearly understand your lease situation. Buyers want stable leases with clearly defined rules and so do sellers, as sellers can use a stable leasing agreement as a strong sales tool.