The 5 Must-Do’s When Considering Buying Any Business

There is no doubt that buying a business can be a very exciting idea; however, it is critical that prospective buyers don’t lose track of what is truly important. Let’s explore the five most important steps that any buyer needs to take when evaluating a business. The simple fact is that as a buyer, you have no choice but to look beyond the sizzle and work to find the steak. In other words, it’s essential to determine the true worth of a given business.

#1 – Evaluate What is Actually Being Sold

No buyer should assume that he or she understands everything that is, or is not, being sold when buying a business. One of the most important tasks for any buyer is to carefully evaluate the business under consideration and invest the time to understand what the business does and what is included in the sale. This is a task that your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will perform as well. 

#2 – Understand Business Performance

Understanding the performance of a business can be more complex than it initially appears. On one hand, the numbers don’t lie, and it is possible to quickly evaluate the bottom line. 

However, in the process of evaluating the business, you and your Business Broker or M&A Advisor might discover that there are many flexible factors that could quickly alter how well the business performs. For example, you’ll want to take into account the number of hours the current business owner is working and if key employees are contributing enough to the business. These are just two of a wide variety of factors that could influence overall performance.

#3 – Look at the Financials

Ultimately, there is no replacement for understanding the current financials of a business. Perhaps a business has all the potential in the world, and you can easily see that potential. However, remember that almost all buyers must obtain financing; this means that it is usually critical that the business has strong financials in its current state. Before considering any business, you and your team of professionals will want to carefully evaluate profit and loss statements, tax returns, balance sheets, and other important financial documents.

#4 – Evaluate the Business Plan

Understanding the current owner’s goals and what steps they’ve outlined to achieve those goals is a key step. As a new owner, you’ll want to know that there is a path forward for growing your business, and a business plan is essential for achieving that goal.

#5 – Look at the Demographics

One of the single best ways to grow your business is to understand your customers. For this reason, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the demographics of the business and why customers should remain loyal. If there are challenges on the horizon, such as an expanding competitor or new competitor entering the arena, then you’ll want to know this information as well.

Evaluating a business is not a simple process. Working closely with a brokerage professional who has years of experience in evaluating all types of businesses is essential. This is an excellent first step towards buying the right business for your needs.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Important Points for Selling to a Family Member

Eventually every business owner will have to turn over control of their business to someone else. There are many options for how this can play out. They range from selling the business to a prospective buyer or selling to a competitor, to turning your business over to a family member. It is key that you start thinking about these options years before you end up in a situation where you actually have to sell. 

Working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one way to determine what sales options are optimal for you based on your specific situation. Let’s explore some of the variables you’ll want to consider when you decide to transfer your business to a family member.

Tax Advantages

There are some significant advantages to transferring your business to a family member. No doubt topping the list of advantages of going this route is the fact that the transfer can be considered a gift. One advantage of this approach is that you’ll reduce your real estate taxes. Depending upon how the agreement is written, you also may be able to maintain some control over the business. For many business owners, this factor can be a big advantage. 

Seller Financing

One issue you’ll want to explore when opting to transfer your business to a family member is seller financing. Seller financing is a common practice when it comes to buying and selling businesses in general. This type of financing is even more common where transfers to relatives are concerned. 

Seller financing opens up the versatile option of implementing a private annuity. A private annuity can serve to spread payments out across a long period of time. This could be a win-win situation for both you and your relative. You would receive a long-term stream of income as a result of ongoing payments. In turn, this decision may very well make ownership more financially realistic for your relative. 

Legal Agreements 

Keep in mind that if you sell your business to a relative, this in no way negates the need for a buy-sell agreement. Even when you are dealing with your most trusted family members, legal agreements must be firmly in place. A buy-sell agreement is an invaluable tool that protects everyone involved. 

This contract clearly outlines all aspects of the arrangement. Your buy-sell agreement should include such key information including the value of the business, amount being paid, information on which employees will be retained, the current business owner’s level of future involvement, and much more.

Working with Professionals

Ultimately, there are a range of potentially powerful benefits associated with transferring a business to a relative. While it is true that you can expect the IRS to closely evaluate the sale, this should not dissuade you from considering this option. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at buying and selling businesses, and they understand the specifics of transferring a business to relatives. Working with professionals early in the selling process can help you gain tremendous insight into the best way to proceed. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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How to Circumvent Three Legal Mistakes Sellers Make

After decades of hard work, selling your business can be an exciting and rewarding time. Yet, many business owners overlook the importance of focusing on the legal matters associated with sales. In this article, we’ll explore three of the most significant mistakes sellers make. 

1. Use an NDA

The first critical mistake that business owners should be guarding against is skipping the use of a non-disclosure agreement. Simply stated, a business owner should always make sure that a non-disclosure agreement is in place before disclosing to any buyers that a business is on the market.

NDA’s stand as an invaluable way to restrict who does and does not know your business is for sale. After all, the last thing any business owner looking to sell his or her business wants is for competitors or employees to learn confidential information. 

2. Hire an Attorney

The second critical mistake that many business owners make is they skip working with an attorney. There is no way around the fact that if you are selling a business, or for that matter anything of significant value, you need to work with a lawyer experienced in the area of sales. 

Business owners become accustomed to doing a great many things themselves and learning on the job. There is no doubt that this is a personality trait that has served them well over the years. However, when it comes time to sell your business, there is zero room for “on the job training” or relying on your own instincts. One of the best ways that you as a business owner can protect your future is to work with a lawyer when selling your business. In fact, a Business Broker or M&A Advisor can be a vital resource for helping you to find a proven lawyer with a background in the buying and selling of businesses. 

3. Get a Letter of Intent

A third significant mistake that business owners frequently make when selling their business is that they fail to get a letter of intent. Much like an NDA, a letter of intent is a key legal document in the process of selling a business. All too often business owners will skip requesting a letter of intent out of fear of slowing down the process and potentially disrupting a deal. 

The letter of intent is designed to both clearly spell out expectations, while simultaneously protecting your interests as a business owner. When a buyer signs a letter of intent, it indicates that he or she is taking the process seriously. This will protect you from wasting your time. 

The process of buying or selling a business is complex in many different ways. Whether it is dealing with human psychology, organizing your books, thinking about what information prospective buyers are likely to want to see, or addressing a wide array of legal issues, it is a complex and time-consuming process. Working closely with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the fastest ways that you can increase your chances of a successful sale.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Put Your Strengths First When Selling Your Business

You understand the finer points and potential of your business better than anyone; however, that doesn’t mean that prospective buyers will instantly see your business’s various strengths. When you are looking to sell your business, you have two very important jobs. The first is to get your business ready to be sold. A second essential job is to showcase your business’s greatest strengths. At the end of the day, you must be the one to articulate why your business is worth buying. This effort, of course, will be supported by your Business Broker or M&A Advisor. 

Understand Who Will Buy Your Business 

Most people have never sold a business before and don’t fully understand what is involved in positioning one’s business for sale. The bottom line is that not every business is a good fit for every buyer. Finding the right buyer for your business will greatly expedite the process. This is yet another reason why it is critically important to work with experienced professionals. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors not only know what buyers are looking for, but also what sellers need to do to get their business ready to sell.

How to Navigate Roadblocks 

Selling a business, especially if you attempt to do so without professional help, is a very time-consuming and often draining process. Successfully running a business requires attention to detail and focus. Unfortunately, these can both suffer when owners attempt to put on yet another hat and handle the sale of their business. 

While you are attempting to sell your business, it is critically important that you maintain normal operations. The last thing you want is to weaken the finances of your business while you are waiting to find a buyer. Remember that it takes months, a year, or even longer to find a buyer for the typical business. Don’t let your business suffer damage in the interim. 

Think Like a Buyer

Preparing your business to be sold isn’t as simple as making a few cosmetic changes and calling it day. Instead, you’ll want to think like a buyer. 

What would you want to see if you were buying a business? You would want to know a great deal about that business and how it operates, who its key employees are, how likely those key employees are to stay, who the main customers and suppliers are, and the strength of the business location and competitors. Of course, you would also want a very detailed picture of the business’s financial situation. 

In short, you would want to clearly understand what the business does and what it’s really worth, how financially healthy it has been in the past, what the business’ prospects are moving forward and, in general, how much effort the business will take to operate. These are exactly the kind of key facts that any serious buyer will want to know. It’s only to be expected that a buyer would expect to learn this information before making a decision. 

At the end of the day, working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the easiest ways to streamline the sales process. Thanks to years of experience, they already understand the pitfalls that you may experience as well as what is needed to position your business so that you can find the right buyer quickly and receive the best price possible. 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Often-Overlooked Importance of Leases

When buying or selling a business, it is critically important that you evaluate the lease. It is a strange phenomenon that otherwise savvy business people will treat leases as a secondary concern. However, problematic terms in a lease can literally force you to pack up a business and move. This would not only be a jarring experience, but a very costly one as well. 

Finding a good location is of paramount importance to both the profile and profitability of your business. You may feel that there are more important issues when buying or selling a business. But by the end of this article, you’ll see the wisdom in placing a lease near the top of your “to evaluate” list.

There are three different kinds and types of leases: a new lease, an assignment lease and the sublease. All three of these options are most definitely different from one another and can potentially impact your business in different ways.

The New Lease

A new lease, as the name indicates, is the result of a lease that has expired. That means that the buyer must work with the landlord to establish a new lease. Buying a business only to discover that you don’t have a lease and the landlord isn’t interested in keeping your business at its current location is most definitely a shock that no business owners want to encounter. Buyers should be one-hundred percent certain that they have a lease in place before they buy a business.

Assignment of Lease 

The second type of lease is the assignment of lease; this form of lease is quite common. It involves the buyer of a business being granted the use of the location where the business is currently located and operating. Through the assignment of the lease, the seller is able to assign the buyer the rights associated with the lease. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the seller is not acting as the landlord, but instead, simply has the ability to assign the lease. 

The Sublease 

The third option for lease is the sublease. The sublease is basically a lease within a lease, and it comes with some important distinctions that must be understood. A sublease generally requires the permission of the landlord and that permission should not be viewed as a “foregone conclusion” or “automatic.”

The bottom line is that no new business owner wants to discover that their new business doesn’t have a home. There are an array of very important issues to work out when buying a business, and it is critically important that buyers never overlook what kind of lease is involved. A savvy seller will highlight what kind of lease they have, especially if the terms are favorable. But buyers should always be proactive and ask questions about the status of the lease and make certain that lease terms are clearly defined.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Buying/Selling a Business: The External View

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.

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Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Makes Your Company Unique in the Marketplace?

There are unique attributes of a company that make it more attractive to a possible acquirer and/or more valuable. Certainly, the numbers are important, but potential buyers will also look beyond them. Factors that make your company special or unique can often not only make the difference in a possible sale or merger, but also can dramatically increase value. Review the following to see if any of them apply to your company and if they are transferable to new ownership.

Brand name or identity

Do any of your products have a well recognizable name? It doesn’t have to be Kleenex or Coke, but a name that might be well known in a specific geographic region, or a name that is identified with a specific product. A product with a unique appearance, taste, or image is also a big plus. For example, Cape Cod Potato Chips have a unique regional identity, and also a distinctive taste. Both factors are big pluses when it comes time to sell.

Dominant market position

A company doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 firm to have a dominant position in the market place. Being the major player in a niche market is a dominant position. Possible purchasers and acquirers, such as buy-out groups, look to the major players in a particular industry regardless of how small it is.

Customer lists

Newsletters and other publications have, over the years, built mailing lists and subscriber lists that create a unique loyalty base. Just as many personal services have created this base, a number of other factors have contributed to the building of it. The resulting loyalty may allow the company to charge a higher price for its product or service.

Intangible assets

A long and favorable lease (assuming it can be transferred to a new owner) can be a big plus for a retail business. A recognizable franchise name can also be a big plus. Other examples of intangible assets that can create value are: customer lists, proprietary software, an effective advertising program, etc.

Price Advantage

The ability to charge less for similar products is a unique factor. For example, Wal-Mart has built an empire on the ability to provide products at a very low price. Some companies do this by building alliances with designers or manufacturers. In some cases, these alliances develop into partnerships so that a lower price can be offered. Most companies are not in Wal-Mart’s category, but the same relationships can be built to create low costs and subsequent price advantages.

Difficulty of replication

A company that produces a product or service that cannot be easily replicated has an advantage over other firms. We all know that CPA and law firms have unique licensing attributes that prevent just anyone off of the street from creating competition. Some firms have government licensing or agreements that are granted on a very limited basis. Others provide tie-ins that limit others from competing. For example, a coffee company that provides free coffee makers with the use of their coffee.

Proprietary technology

Technology, trade secrets, specialized applications, confidentiality agreements protecting proprietary information – all of these can add value to a company. These factors may not be copyrighted or patented, but if a chain of confidentiality is built – then these items can be unique to the company.

There are certainly other unique factors that give a company a special appeal to a prospective purchaser and, at the same time, increase value. Many business owners have to go beyond the numbers and take an objective look at the factors that make their company unique.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Advantage of Buying an Existing Business

Most people think of starting a business from scratch, developing an idea, building a company from the ground up. Starting from scratch, however, has its disadvantages including – developing a customer base, marketing the business, hiring employees and creating cash flow … without any history or reputation to rely on.

To avoid these challenges, buying an existing business may prove to be the better solution.  Buying an existing business has its advantages – including, but not limited to:

The Business Is Established.

An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location with furniture, fixtures, and equipment in place. The term “turnkey operation” may be overused, but an existing business is just that, and more. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business opportunity, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch with all the disadvantages stated above.

The Business Has Existing Relationships.

In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are valuable assets to the company. A buyer may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not – the existing business/owner does, and they can readily be transferred to the buyer as part of the acquisition.

The Business Isn’t “A Pig in a Poke”.

Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money you invest, there’s still a big risk in starting a business from scratch. An existing business has a financial track record along with established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of a business – when sales are high and low, what the true expenses of the business are, and how much money an owner can make, and more. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay on to teach and work with a new owner – sometimes free of charge.

An Existing Business Comes with A Price and Terms.

As stated above, an existing business has everything in place. The business is in operation and typically has an established selling price. Opening a new business from scratch comes with a great degree of uncertainty and can become a proverbial “money pit”. When purchasing an established business, a buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for their money. In many cases, a seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.

The “Unwritten” Guarantee.

By financing the purchase price, a seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.

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12 Ways to Increase the Value of Your Company

1. Build a solid management team. A business with sales of $5 million and up needs a full complement of officers and directors. Such a team might include: a COO, a CFO, a sales manager and, depending on the of type business, an IT director. It is also beneficial to create a Board of Directors with at least two outside members. This professionalization of management can remove the stigma of “the one man band.” Not only will this build a stronger company, it will increase the value to a possible acquirer. Smaller firms should also build a strong management team, and creating an outside advisor group is also a good idea.

2. Loyal employees.  Happy and loyal employees make for a strong company. Top management should have non-compete and/or confidentiality agreements.  Solid benefits plans for all employees should be in place. A company’s greatest asset is its employees and perhaps its biggest value-increaser.

3. Growth. Some smaller companies are kept small to maximize the owner’s benefits – the proverbial “cash cows.” However, if building value is the goal, then developing new products or services, building market share, expanding markets or opening new ones, is critical. This generally requires a financial investment, but building a strong growth rate also builds value.

4. Understanding your market. The value of a company may be contingent on its industry, its place in the industry and the direction of the industry itself. How big is the industry, is it headed up or down, who is the competition and how big is the company’s market share? Is it time to change direction or diversify?

5. Size counts. Companies with less than $5 million in sales and an EBITDA of less than $1 million can be perceived as small. Therefore, they may be dependent on continuing outside financing and lack the critical mass for both buying and selling power. These companies can be perceived as too small for acquisition or are penalized when it comes to value. However, over the past few years corporate buyers, as well as private equity firms, have seen the advantages of purchasing smaller firms. Obviously, companies with $10 million or more in sales and an EBITDA of $1 million or more are considered as solid and able to stand on their own.

6. Changing direction.  Small companies can be very adept at changing course and implementing change. They have to be able to change and move quickly to take advantage of new markets, to fill voids in existing markets and even to add or change products or services.

7. Documentation. Business plans, financial plans and personnel plans should all be in writing – and kept current. Terms of employment agreements should be spelled out and in writing. Business planning and company objectives, etc., should also be in writing and reviewed periodically. Contracts should be reviewed and maintained on a current basis.

8. Diversification. A major problem with many small companies is that their business is concentrated on one or two major customers or clients. Ideally, no customer or client should represent more than 10 percent of sales. Expanding to new markets, introducing new products, and finding new customers must be considered without deviating too far from the company’s core business.

9. Name and brand identity. Nothing beats the name Walt Disney, or Kleenex® or the soft drink called Coke® – they are household names. Small firms may not have the brand or name recognition of these companies, but they can work at it. This recognition is especially powerful in the consumer product area. But franchising has expanded this name or brand recognition to many different types of businesses.

10. Taking advantage of proprietary and other assets. Patents, brand names, copyrights, alliances, and joint ventures are all examples of not only proprietary assets, but, in many cases, valuable ones. Even equipment can be used in several different ways. Large landscape companies in cold climates put snow plows on their trucks, utilize their existing workforce and become a snow plowing company for their regular landscaping customers — office complexes, apartment and condo developments, etc.

11. “Lean and Mean.”  Many companies lease their real estate needs, outsource their payroll, have their manufacturing done offshore, or have UPS handle all of their logistical needs. Since all non-core requirements are done by someone else,  the company can focus its efforts on what they do best.

12. Do it now! The owners of small firms, even large ones, have an attitude that says, “I don’t have time now, I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too busy now putting out fires.” So the real challenges of building the business, and value, get sidetracked or put off indefinitely. Creating value is critical to the long-term (and short-term) success of the business.

Keep in mind that the best time to consider selling is when business is good, the business is running profitably, and many of the above “value-adders” are in place. By contacting your local professional intermediary you can explore which of the above will add the most value to your firm, so it will be ready to sell when you are.

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How Understanding Psychology Can Benefit Your Deals

We work closely with our clients to preserve the integrity of deals so that they have the best chance of a successful closing. An often-overlooked aspect of the process is understanding and embracing human psychology. In this article, we will explore some of the most common ways that psychology comes into play. 

The Element of Time

It is critical that both buyers and sellers feel well prepared at every stage of the process. It is also essential that a certain momentum is established through every stage of the deal. When too many delays happen, this can start to derail deals. 

Think about the Buyer and the Seller 

For both parties, the buying or selling of a business is a life-changing event. For this reason, it is important that you invest the time to think about the point of view of the other people involved. No doubt, buying and selling can be stressful, so it’s important to take other people’s thoughts and feelings into account. You are not the only one who may be experiencing a little stress. 

The Issue of Non-Active Partners

In some deals, non-active partners can pose challenges to finalizing deals. They often have different motivations than the seller who is in the role of running the business. In a situation where two sellers have divergent goals, it can pose a challenge to a deal. The best thing to do is to try to understand the point of view of each seller and help them both reach their respective goals. 

Identify Influencers

Influencers and recommenders can have a powerful sway over both buyers and sellers. By influencers, this could mean accountants, lawyers, relatives, etc. In order for a deal to go through successfully, often these influencers must be identified and their viewpoints must be addressed. On a practical level, there are also other people involved that can interfere with a deal, such as landlords. It’s important to make sure that these individuals feel as though they will benefit from the success of the deal as well. 

There are many moving parts needed to get to the finishing line. Human psychology plays a huge role in what decisions get made. It’s vitally important to take the time to consider what others involved in the deal might be thinking or doing. Your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will benefit you by getting to know all parties involved and taking the appropriate actions to ensure things are done to the satisfaction of all parties. 

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How to Achieve High Buyer Success Rates

Both buyers and sellers have a lot of emotion wrapped up in their respective decisions. It’s completely natural to feel that way. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors can assist clients with their concerns and fears by giving them more information about how the sales process works and also discussing common pitfalls to avoid. In this article, we’ll go over some of the various issues impacting buyers. If you are able to anticipate potential issues that could interfere with the deal, you’ll be more likely to be able to overcome those issues. 

The Initial Intake Process 

Buyers should understand that they will need to sign an NDA and treat the non-disclosure process seriously. Brokers representing a seller will be requiring a good deal of information, including financial details, and often even your resume. So don’t be surprised when you’re asked for this information. It’s all a normal part of the process. 

The Lending Process

It’s important to realize ahead of time that the lending process can be slow. It is also very common for lenders to ask for more and more information before the approval goes through. If this happens to you, don’t panic or worry. This too is a standard method of operation. 

Working with Lawyers 

While lawyers are obviously necessary in the process of buying and selling a business, they can also be a source of anxiety. In their efforts to protect their clients, they also can often kill a deal. Of course, get the facts and logistical information that you need from a lawyer, but always remember that lawyers and other business advisors are not the decision makers. If you’re buying a business, the decision is ultimately yours. 

The Non-Binding Offer 

A non-binding offer allows both the buyer and seller to walk away from a deal if terms cannot be agreed upon in a set amount of time. A non-binding offer shows the seller that the buyer is interested in acquiring the business, but this form of agreement isn’t legally binding. The benefit of the non-binding offer is that it allows discussions and negotiations to move forward.  

The Due Diligence Process

The due diligence process is another aspect that allows the buyer to move forward, while simultaneously having protection. At this point, the buyer will receive confidential and sensitive information about a business, such as the financials, inventory, and legal matters. Buyers will also have the ability to conduct additional research and ask the sellers questions. Like the non-binding offer, the due diligence process also means that you have the right to walk away. It is important to have this step available so that buyers can make the most informed decisions possible.

Business brokers and M&A advisors are essential in order to help buyers find the best fit. We not only save our buyers time and energy, but  we also help to ensure that the transaction goes as smoothly as possible.

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10 Mistakes that Sellers Make

1. Not knowing what the business should sell for

One of the most costly errors a business owner can make is not knowing the approximate price of his or her business prior to entering the selling process. Although the marketplace ultimately determines the final price, an owner needs to know what the approximate price his or her business is prior to placing the business on the market. Before making the decision to sell, owners should work with someone qualified to place a price on their company.

An experienced business broker has both the technical ability and the market experience to produce the most realistic pricing opinion. The business broker will also be the only alternative for supporting his or her opinion by selling the business.

Fair Market Value

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.

2. Not preparing the business for sale

Determining the starting price point is only the first step. Prior to exposing the business to the marketplace, preparation is necessary. A business is certainly not a house, but the same attention to appearance prior to sale is necessary. Financial and legal affairs should be current. Anything a potential purchaser might want to see should be up-to-date, accurate and available for review.

Momentum is very important in business transactions and can make or break a deal. The constant need to develop information for a serious prospect will destroy momentum and with it, possibly, the deal. Demonstrating preparedness places the business in a favorable light and prospective buyers will feel comfortable that everything is in order. Being unprepared can delay a closing, create costly expenditures to play catch-up, and cause prospective purchasers to lose confidence in the deal itself. Too much time almost always works against the deal happening.

3. Not being able to see their business through the eyes of a buyer

This can be very difficult for any seller. It is only natural to see one’s own business in a most favorable light and overlook the blemishes or problems inherent in any business. Sellers have to approach their business realistically, knowing that a potential buyer will be doing the same. By recognizing the deficiencies of their business, sellers are in a much better position to deal with the concerns of the buyer. In fact, the best way to handle any potential problem areas is to bring them up in the very beginning.

4. Not really knowing the buyer

The better you know the buyer, the smoother the transaction. By knowing the buyers, their motives, their interests and their backgrounds, the better equipped a seller is to make informed decisions about whether they are the right people to operate the business. When final negotiations begin, knowing the buyers can help resolve some of the issues that will arise. Are their interests the same as yours? If you, as the seller, are financing the deal, do you feel confident that they can make the payments? The more you know about why a buyer wants to buy your business, the better position you are in to know when to be firm in the negotiations and when to be flexible.

5. Trying to sell the company to a buyer who doesn’t want to buy

There are usually many more potential buyers than there are businesses for sale. The question is — how serious are they? A buyer may indicate a great deal of interest but when it gets down to the wire, he or she may back out of the deal. Some buyers want to buy only on their terms and conditions, some may have too many decision-makers to please, and others only want to buy the “perfect” business. Wasting time on those who aren’t serious about purchasing a business takes away valuable time from those buyers who really want to buy.

6. Being your own worst enemy

Many business owners feel that no one knows their business like they do. They think they can do a deal by themselves. They don’t need, or want, any help. They think they are lawyers, accountants, business brokers and outside advisors all rolled up into one person. Then when the going gets tough, they become impatient and inflexible. They then blame others, usually the buyer, when the deal blows up. As the old saying goes: “The attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The same could be said for the business owner who thinks he can sell his or her own business. Not using outside advisors, such as a professional business broker, is a serious mistake.

7. Not understanding the structure of the deal

Regardless of the size of the deal this could be the scenario: an offer is presented, the seller takes one look at the price, immediately says “no” and refuses to look any further. The price, within reason, is immaterial. The real crux of the deal is how it is structured. Consider the negotiating axiom “You can name the price if I can name the terms.” The terms and conditions are important. A seller may be ecstatic about price only to find that the devil is in the details.

8. Not being able to walk away from the deal

Too many sellers get so involved in trying to put a deal together that they don’t see the big picture. They don’t realize that the deal isn’t a good one. In other words, it’s time to walk away from the deal and go on to the next one. Many sellers don’t want to let the deal get away. Since they have invested a lot of time and effort, and probably expenses, it’s often difficult to just end it. However, in some cases that’s exactly what must be done. If the deal isn’t right, and can’t be fixed, there is no other choice. It’s much better not to do the deal than to do a bad one!

9. Waiting too long to sell

Too many owners wait until the last minute to decide to sell their business. They wait until business is down, or they are completely burned-out, or their business partnership has soured completely. The time to sell is before the emergency happens. The time to sell is when business is good. The time to sell is prior to when exasperation hits. The old adage is that a business owner should think about and plan the eventual sale of the business the day after it is started or purchased.

10. Changing your mind

The sale is progressing nicely, the buyer is happy and the seller well, the seller is contemplating life without the business. He or she realizes that when the business is gone, they will have nothing to do. The business has been a major part of their life for many years. Just before the closing, the seller decides that he or she can’t live without the business and the deal starts to unravel. Sometimes, seller’s remorse arises because a business acquaintance says the price was too low, or there isn’t enough cash involved or offers some other uninformed reason. If it was a good deal in the beginning, don’t let well-meaning outsiders influence the sale. And, if there is even a speck of doubt about selling the business, don’t begin the process. Wait until there is not one shred of doubt.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Questions Business Buyers Want Answers To

If you are even thinking about selling your business, it’s important to know the questions that buyers generally want answers to. For example, the first question almost always asked by buyers is: If this is such a good business why is it for sale? How you answer this question can make or break a sale. A vague answer can discourage buyers from further consideration of your business, as they may assume the worst.

If you say you are “burned out” or just ready to try something new – that’s fine. If you’ve owned and operated the business for 10 to 15 years, buyers will most likely accept your reason for sale and continue their investigation. However, if you’ve only owned and operated the business for two years or less, a prospective buyer may find it concerning that you are already burned out or ready for something new.

If you’re sick, be open about what the problem is; otherwise buyers will think you are just sick of the business. The worst thing a seller can do is to fudge an answer or not provide a completely honest answer. Buyers will, most likely, see right through the given reason for sale and walk away. So, even if you really are tired of or just plain hate running your own business, be up front and explain why. Honesty is always the best policy.

It is also a good policy to engage the services of a professional business broker. Brokers have been through many transactions and can help a prospective seller deal with the reason for sale as well as the other questions a buyer may have. Here is a brief list of other questions buyers often ask and business brokers deal with all of the time:

•    Why should I buy an existing business rather than start one myself?
•    How are businesses priced?
•    What should I look for?
•    What does it take to be successful?
•    What happens if I find a business I want to buy?
•    Do I need outside advisors?

In addition, buyers often want answers to some more specific questions such as:

•    How long has the business been in business?
•    How long has the present owner owned the business
•    How much money is the business making?
•    Are the books and records readily available?
•    Will the new owner help me learn the business?

These and many other questions are ones that business brokers deal with every day, equipping them to help you prepare honest and useful answers.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Selling Your Business? Do-It-Yourself is Risky Business!

When the owner of a business makes the decision to sell, he or she is taking a giant step that involves the emotions as well as the marketplace, each with its own set of complexities. Those sellers who are tempted to undertake the transaction on their own should understand both the process and the emotional environment that this process is set against. The steps outlined below are just some of the items for a successful sale. While these might seem daunting to the do-it-yourselfer, by engaging the help of a business intermediary, the seller can feel confident about what is often one of the major decisions of a lifetime.

1. Set the stage.

What kind of impression will the business make on prospective buyers? The seller may be happy with a weathered sign (the rustic look) or weeds poking up through the pavement (the natural look), but the buyer might only think, “What a mess!” Equally problematic can be improvements planned by the seller that appeal to his or her sense of aesthetics but that will, in fact, do nothing to benefit the sale. Instead of guessing what might make a difference and what might not, sellers would be wise to seek the advice of a business broker–a professional with experience in dealing regularly with buyers and with an eye experienced in properly setting the business scene.

2. Get the record(s) straight.

Although outward appearance does count, what’s inside the books is even more important. Ultimately, a business will sell according to the numbers. The business broker can offer the seller invaluable assistance in the presentation of the financials.

3. Weigh price against value.

All sellers naturally want to get the best possible price for their business. However, they also need to be realistic. To determine the best price, a business broker will use industry-tested pricing techniques that include ratios based on sales of similar businesses, as well as historical data on the type of business for sale.

4. Market professionally.

Engaging the services of a business broker is the key to the successful marketing of a business. The business broker will prepare a marketing strategy and offer advice about essential marketing tools–everything from a business description to media advertising. Through their professional networks and access to data on prospective buyers, business brokers can get the word out about the business far more effectively than any owner could manage on an individual basis.

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What a Buyer May Really Be Looking At

Buyers, as part of their due diligence, usually employ accountants to check the numbers and attorneys to both look at legal issues and draft or review documents. Buyers may also bring in other professionals to look at the business’ operations. The prudent buyer is also looking behind the scenes to make sure there are not any “skeletons in the closet.” It makes sense for a seller to be just as prudent. Knowing what the prudent buyer may be checking can be a big help. A business intermediary professional is a good person to help a seller look at these issues. They are very familiar with what buyers are looking for when considering a company to purchase.

Here are some examples of things that a prudent buyer will be checking:

Finance

  • Is the business taking all of the trade discounts available or is it late in paying its bills? This could indicate poor cash management policies.
  • Checking the gross margins for the past several years might indicate a lack of control, price erosion or several other deficiencies.
  • Has the business used all of its bank credit lines? Does the bank or any creditor have the company on any kind of credit watch?
  • Does the company have monthly financial statements? Are the annual financials prepared on a timely basis?

Management

  • Is the owner constantly interrupted by telephone calls or demands that require immediate attention? This may indicate a business in crisis.
  • Has the business experienced a lot of management turnover over the past few years?
  • If there are any employees working in the business, do they take pride in what they do and in the business itself?

Manufacturing

  • What is the inventory turnover? Does the company have too many suppliers?
  • Is the business in a stagnant or dying market, and can it shift gears rapidly to make changes or enter new markets?

Marketing

  • Is the business introducing new products or services?
  • Is the business experiencing loss of market share, especially compared to the competition? Price increases may increase dollar sales, but the real measure is unit sales.

When business owners consider selling, it will pay big dividends for them to consider the areas listed above and make whatever changes are appropriate to deal with them. It makes good business sense to not only review them, but also to resolve as many of the issues outlined above as possible.

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Do You Have What It Takes to Find Success in the 21st Century?

There is no doubt that the times are definitely changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift across many industries, and the simple fact is that many industries will never return to the old normal. Success in the 21st century will require a good deal of adaptation and the ability to evaluate where you stand today and where you need to be tomorrow.

Flexible Thinking

One of the cornerstones of being successful in life and in business is to embrace flexible thinking. A flexible approach to problems can lead to finding new and highly effective ways of tackling problems. Being able to find success in the 21st century is about much more than simply riding the next technological wave or trend. Instead, it is about being amongst the first to use flexible thinking to spot trends and developments ahead of the competition and exploit those developments first. Technology and the world are changing faster than ever. Being able to utilize fluid, flexible thinking to identify problems and then seek out cutting-edge solutions to those problems will be a key aspect for success in this century.

A Solid Plan

Flexible thinking is essential for success, but so is having a plan. Just as business leaders needed a plan to achieve final success two-thousand years ago, the same holds true today. In many ways, evolving technology has not reshaped basic logic. 

You’ll want your business plan to strike the right balance between being rigid and flexible. At the same time, you’ll need a solid business plan that includes specific written goals and concrete time frames.

Embracing Technology

The days of ignoring technology or “working around” it are simply gone. The modern business landscape has integrated not just digital marketing, but digital financial transactions as well. This trend is only going to become more pronounced in the coming years. 

The business landscape means understanding and embracing the fact that commerce now has a massive digital component at every level. The pandemic has served to accelerate this fact and has very likely permanently changed how business will be conducted in the future. Whether it is meeting clients or customers online for a Zoom or Skype meeting, embracing digital marketing, or a range of other changes, it is essential for business owners to recognize change and incorporate it into their business and their long-term plans.

You can try to fight the future, but in the end you will fail. Charting the right course for the future means having the right mindset and a great support team in your corner. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at helping business owners prepare their businesses for sale. Demonstrating that your business has adapted to the dynamic and ever-changing environment will help you make your business much more attractive to prospective buyers.

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What You Should Know About Selling Your Business

There can be no doubt that selling your business stands as one of the most complex and important decisions you’ll likely ever make. It is quite often the case that a business represents decades, or even a lifetime, of dedicated work. In this article, we’ll examine some of the key steps that you should take when it comes time to sell.

One of the most important steps that any seller can take is to begin the sales process far in advance of the date that he or she plans to put the business on the market. Working with an experienced business broker or M&A advisor (and doing so preferably years in advance) is one of the single best ways to ensure that you’ll be ready to sell your business when the time comes. It will also help you to avoid the numerous pitfalls that potentially await.

A good brokerage professional can also help identify weaknesses in your business and help you address those issues; however, this is only the beginning. Your broker can help you with everything from strategy and negotiations, maintaining confidentiality and establishing the market value of your business, to connecting you with other seasoned professionals, such as accountants and lawyers.

A third key point that all sellers should consider is their own psychology. It is vital that all sellers remain flexible in their approach to selling their business and also remain respectful of prospective buyers. It is important that you put yourself in the shoes of your buyer and try to think of what they will need to feel confident in their decision. 

The right seller psychology is also absolutely essential. Sellers should not attempt to rush or force a sale or overprice their business. In short, you need to keep “your head in the game” and as much as possible, keep your emotions out of the process. 

Sellers also need to realize that the statistics strongly indicate that seller financing is likely. Only 75% of sellers ultimately receive their asking price, and businesses that are listed as “all cash” generally don’t sell. Reasonable sales terms will greatly increase the chances of successfully selling a business. It is common that sellers fail to realize just how much interest they can generate by financing the sale of their business. A reasonable down payment is also another way to improve the odds of selling a business. Being willing to offer financing makes a clear statement to a prospective buyer that you believe in the business and its ability to generate revenue. From a buyer’s perspective an “all cash” demand can be a red flag.

At the end of the day, an open mind and steady temperament will increase your chances of selling. You may want to sell your business and completely move on to new things. But the reality of selling a business is such that “walking away” may not be feasible. Transitioning your business into the hands of a new owner is usually more of an ongoing process than a “sign on the dotted line and receive a check” type of situation. Understanding this fact, and working closely with a business broker or M&A advisor in advance of selling your business, will help to streamline the sales process and greatly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

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5 Tips for Dealing with Customer Complaints

Companies of all sizes frequently fail to handle customer complaints appropriately.  In the digital era, where complaints can be seen by hundreds, thousands or go viral to millions, it is essential that customer complaints, especially serious ones or ones backed by considerable emotion, are treated seriously and dealt with in a timely manner.

If you are failing to provide good customer service, this should be corrected.  After all, offering decent customer service is neither costly nor overly complicated.  At its core, good customer service can be reduced down to listening to the customer, letting the customer know that his or her complaint has been acknowledged and cataloged, and then working to remedy the situation if possible. 

A good positive attitude and staying calm when dealing with irritated or dissatisfied customers can go a long way towards keeping a customer happy and halting them from expressing their feelings in an online public forum.  Let’s look at five tips for dealing with customer complaints in an effective manner.

Tip #1 – Take a Proactive Stance 

A good attitude and a proactive stance can go a very long way towards diffusing an unhappy or angry customer.  A disappointed customer wants to know that he or she is being heard and that steps are being taken to remedy their situation.  Clearly communicating that you are working to fix the situation and doing so in a positive manner will diffuse most negative customer scenarios.

Tip #2 – Take Quick Action to Fix the Problem

Once a customer is calm and is feeling a little better about your company, there is still more work to do.  When you state that a problem will be addressed, it is essential that the problem is indeed addressed.  This is vitally important for the reputation of your company.  A failure to follow up on a promise to fix a situation could actually backfire and leave customers feeling as though they were initially manipulated.

Tip #3 – Always Stay Calm

If a customer is unhappy enough to write an email or post a negative review online, then they are obviously displeased.  However, if a customer is angry enough to pick up the phone and call, you can be fairly certain that the customer in question is rather upset.  This anger may boil over on the phone call. That’s why customer service people need to be ready to deal with that anger in a calm and collected fashion.  Customer service team members or salespeople should never match the anger of a customer.  Instead, they should focus on demonstrating that they are committed to fixing the problem.  It may benefit you to invest in employee training so that employees are ready to deal with angry or disappointed customers when the time arrives.

Tip #4 – Look for Customer Dissatisfaction Problem Patterns

If the same complaints and issues come up again and again, then it is very likely that there is a larger problem that must be addressed.  Numerous customer complaints from different customers shouldn’t be treated as a “headache.”  Instead, it should be viewed as a great opportunity to improve your goods and/or services.  Once you have detected a negative customer service pattern, be sure that you and your team move quickly to remedy the problem.  Your business will be stronger for doing so in the long run.

Tip #5 – Track Your Success

It is important to never assume that you have successfully addressed customer service issues until customers have, in fact, verified that the situation is resolved.  For this reason, it is wise to follow up with customers and ask for feedback via either questionnaires in the mail, email follow ups, or even phone calls.

Customer complaints that are not appropriately addressed can fester and become larger problems.  The time, effort, and money you invest in boosting the quality of your customer service team will yield significant positive results for the long-term.

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The Top Ten Ways to Avoid Wrecking a Deal

Finalizing a deal is usually a complex process, and there is a good deal of room for error, misunderstandings, miscalculations, and good old-fashioned wild cards.  That is why it is critical to carefully think through the deal process well in advance.  In this article, we’re going to explore the top ten steps you can take to avoid wrecking a good deal.

  1. Confidentiality – At the top of our “how not to wreck a deal list” is confidentiality.  It is vital that everyone involved in the deal takes steps to avoid a breach.  Experienced business brokers are experts at maintaining confidentiality.
  2. Flexibility  – The second tip on our list is to be flexible. A lack of flexibility can absolutely destroy a deal. You shouldn’t go into a deal expecting to have all of your terms met.
  3. Be Open to Negotiations – Just as it is critical to be flexible, it is also important to embrace the concept of negotiation.  Sellers are used to being their own bosses, but when it comes to successfully selling a business, no factor is quite as important as a willingness to negotiate.
  4. Advance Preparation – Next on our list of musts to avoid wrecking a deal is to prepare for the sale well in advance.  Sellers will want to make sure that they have several years of records as well as legal and accounting documentation ready and well-prepared.  You can be 100% certain that any serious buyer will want to see your records and take a look at your financials.
  5. A Reasonable Selling Price – An inflated price will decrease the number of buyers that take a serious look at a business.  Additionally, an unreasonable price may make a seller look uninformed.  Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts at handling valuations.  One of the single best ways to boost your chances of finalizing a sale is to establish a fair and justifiable price for your business.
  6. Maintain Operations – Far too often sellers lose track of the day-to-day operations once their business goes on the market.  It is absolutely vital that sellers continue operating their business as though it may never sell.  The bottom line is that it can take months, or even years to sell.  The last thing any seller wants is for their business to lose value when they are in the process of trying to sell.
  7. Keep up the Momentum – A lack of momentum can kill a deal.  Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an easy way to make sure you maintain momentum throughout the process.
  8. Consider Your Buyer’s Needs – Serious buyers will need a variety of information from sellers in order to obtain financing.  You can expect buyers to need appraisals of assets, information on environmental regulations, and more.  Sellers should have this kind of key information ready and waiting.
  9. Encourage Competition – Another great way to avoid wrecking a deal is to achieve leverage via buyer competition.  In general, it is a good idea to create a competitive situation – one in which prospective buyers know that there is more than one interested party.  Brokerage industry professionals understand the delicacies of presenting this information.
  10.  Seller Participation – Finally, sellers must stay involved in the entire process, and that includes being willing to assist during the transition. Showing a willingness to help during the transition period will help to foster goodwill and trust.

There are many reasons why a deal could potentially fall apart.  You may not be able to control every single variable, but by following the ten key tips outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to increasing your chances of successfully completing a deal.

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“Hello” is a Key Part of Making the Right First Impression

Just as people will form judgments and ideas about you as a person based on first impressions, the same holds true for your company.  It is always best to put your “best foot forward,” and this is true whether we’re talking about your personal life or business.  Periodically, it is prudent for every company to step back and evaluate its initial point of communication with customers and clients.

In today’s digitally interconnected world, it is critical that customers and clients feel as though they are not just being listened to; they really want to be heard.  Emails must be responded to promptly.  This is true regardless of whether the email is from a customer requesting more information about your goods or services, or if it’s a message with a question or complaint.  If your company is unresponsive, this fact can quickly spread on social media.

Of course, customers and clients still pick up their phones and make calls.  While many people’s first impressions of your business are increasingly likely to be via your website, there is no denying the importance of the phone call experience.  When callers reach your business, it is vital that they receive a professional and warm reception.  Whether the point of contact is a live person or a message, the experience should be a trouble-free and low stress experience. 

Far too many businesses overlook this variable, but you can be quite certain that not all of their competitors are doing so.  If you have a navigation system, it should be easy to navigate.  If possible, there should be an option to talk to an operator so that callers don’t get lost within a labyrinthian phone maze filled with dead ends.  Callers might not remember a positive phone experience, but you can bet that they will remember a stressful one.

When a team member greets a caller, the response should be pleasant and should include some version of “How may I help you?”  Every operator should know company basics, such as your times of operation and the key names of your personnel.  They should also demonstrate a willingness to help.  Your team members should understand that their job depends on the success of the company and that they are on the frontlines of maintaining a positive business-customer relationship.  Professionalism is a must, and team members should never lose sight of this fact.

Finally, your key management executives should invest the time to experience your company’s sphere of communication.  What is it like to call your company and interact with team members?  What improvements could be made? 

In this very digital era, it is important to remember that there is still no replacement for human interaction.  When a caller reaches out to your company for information or assistance, it is best to use technology judiciously.  Try to opt for the human touch when possible.  While the person answering the phones at your business might not be the highest paid person on your payroll, always remember that their job is an essential part of your company’s image.

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Can Sellers Use Buyer Warning Signs to Their Advantage?

When buyers are looking to make a purchase, the most important step they can take is to perform due diligence on both the business and the seller.  Yet, it is important to note that a large percentage of sellers fail to do their due diligence on buyers. 

Deals fail all the time.  Sadly, this means that all parties lose a tremendous amount of time and effort.  Additionally, sellers not only waste time, but often lose money due to business disruptions during the process of working with a prospective buyer. 

Let’s dive in and look at a few warning signs that you should look for when dealing with a buyer.  The sooner you spot these red flags, the sooner you can avoid potential problems.

There are several key questions that sellers should ask. The list includes:

-What, if any, other businesses have you considered to date? 

-How much equity will you be committing? 

-Do you have any experience with my kind of business? 

It is important to look for warning signs early on, as this is the way that sellers can avoid wasting considerable time.  It should also be noted that sellers shouldn’t be afraid to listen to their gut instincts.  If you feel that a prospective buyer isn’t serious and may only be window shopping (or if you feel that the buyer is looking for a far greater deal than you are willing to provide), then simply move on.  When you cut your losses early on, this can free you up to focus on prospective buyers that are a better fit. 

What if your intermediary informs you that there has been no communication from the prospective buyer after they received the memorandum?  Simply stated, this lack of communication could mean that the prospective buyer has changed his or her mind, or was never that serious in the first place. 

Another red flag you might see is when the process is turned over to a junior member of the prospective buyer’s management team.  In other cases, the prospect may fail to provide details or information concerning their financial capability to successfully complete the deal.  If any of these three red flags pop up, you should consider being proactive.  You and your broker might want to reach out to the prospective buyer and ask to meet to discuss the situation. 

Warning signs can also occur just prior to closing.  Even after the letter of intent has been signed, there is still room for problems to arise.  An inexperienced attorney representing the buyer, one that simply doesn’t understand what is involved in a deal, can spell doom for what could have otherwise been a good deal. The same is true for an over aggressive attorney.  One potential remedy for this situation is for your own attorney to intervene and discuss the situation.

Spotting warning signs is about more than not wasting everyone’s time. When you can observe these indicators and act effectively to address them, it can help keep deals on track. Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an excellent way to not only spot red flags, but also to know how to respond appropriately.  The end result will be more successfully completed deals. 

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The Transformative Benefits of the Entrepreneurial Operating System®

Damon Neth is a Professional EOS Implementer™ of the Entrepreneurial Operating System®.  He co-authored a best-selling book entitled X-Formation: Transforming Business Through Interim Executive Leadership.  He also has founded five companies and acquired four other companies.  Additionally, Damon Neth is an accomplished entrepreneur and a leading EOS® business coach.

EOS® is a powerful set of business tools that provide a framework that empowers companies to create a clear vision throughout their entire organization, and in the process, boost the health of the company as a whole.  This article discusses EOS® and how it could potentially transform your organization.

What is EOS® All About?

EOS® is based on the book Traction: Getting a Grip on Your Business, which is written by Gino Wickman.  The effectiveness of EOS® is underscored by the fact that EOS® is currently utilized by over 10,000 companies around the globe. 

EOS® is a powerful set of tools that, as Neth explained, “are being used by businesses every single day to grow, transform and capitalize on opportunity and deal with problems.  These tools provide strategic advantages and strategic tools that many organizations implement to become better, to beat their competition, to become stronger.”

How Can EOS® Benefit Your Company?

Through EOS®, it is possible to establish a clear vision for your organization.  Neth points out that cultivating this vision is about finding clarity of purpose so that every team member is pulling in the same direction.  When used from the top to the bottom of a company, the tools provided by EOS® can have a transformative effect.  Discipline and accountability are key focal points of EOS®, as it is through discipline and accountability that the health of companies can be enhanced greatly.

At the core of EOS® is the concept that everyone should share the same company vision.  That means that there must be good, consistent and steady communication.  In order to facilitate this level of communication and understanding, it is necessary to have a transparent system in order to remove barriers, blockers and impurities.  When properly utilized, EOS® creates an opportunity through which everyone can not only identify their own issues, but also find ways to solve those issues.

Managing People

The most important asset that any company has is its people.  As a result, it is absolutely essential to not only find the right people, but also to guide those people as efficiently and effectively as possible.  As Neth explained, “You’ve got to be clear and transparent with people about what you need and about what success ultimately looks like.  You want to make certain that everyone in the organization understands their job.” 

In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, the role of the generalist is quickly being eroded.  In its place, we discover that people’s roles within companies are, by necessity, becoming more and more specific.  All of this points to the increasing importance of clarifying people’s roles within companies, and what is expected of them.  Gray areas need to be eliminated as they impair team members’ understanding of their duties and responsibilities.

Communication is Key 

Everyone in the organization should understand not only the role of their respective department, but also their role within that department and the organization as a whole.  Once again, the key to success boils down to good communication and clarity of purpose and roles within the organization.  Everyone must be rowing in the same direction, and it is through weekly measurables that true progress can take place.

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A Private Equity Firm Veteran’s Advice for Business Owners Preparing to Sell

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.

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The Psychology of Selling – Are You Sure You’re Ready?

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.

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When Should You Think About Selling Your Small Business?

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.

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Is Your Business Charging Enough For Goods & Services?

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.

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3 Steps for Achieving Pricing Power

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’s The Art of Selling Your Business

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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Why Businesses Get Into Trouble

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.

Lacking Focus

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.

Management Problems

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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Maximizing Your Time by Rating Buyer Seriousness

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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Ownership Transition Survey Results

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.

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The Importance of Owner Flexibility

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.

Be Patient

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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Getting the Most Out of Confidentiality Agreements

When it comes to buying or selling a business, there is no replacement for a solid confidentiality agreement.  One of the key ways that business brokers and M&A advisors are able to help buyers and sellers alike is through their extensive knowledge of confidentiality agreements and how best to implement them.  In this article, we will provide you with an overview of what you should expect out of your confidentiality agreements.

A confidentiality agreement is a legal agreement that essentially forbids both buyers and sellers, as well as related parties such as agents, from disclosing information regarding the transition.  It is a best practice to have a confidentiality agreement in place before discussing the business in any way and especially before divulging key information on the operation of the business or trade secrets. 

While a confidentiality agreement can be used to keep the fact that a business is for sale private, that is only a small aspect of what modern confidentiality agreements generally seek to accomplish.  Confidentiality agreements are used to ensure that a prospective buyer doesn’t use any proprietary data, knowledge or trade secrets to benefit themselves or other parties.

When creating a confidentiality agreement, it is important to keep several variables in mind, such as what information will be excluded and what information will be disclosed, the term of the confidentiality agreement, the remedy for breach, and the manner in which confidential information will be used and handled. 

Any effective confidentiality agreement will contain a variety of key points.  Sellers will want their confidentiality agreement to cover a fairly wide array of territory.  For example, the confidentiality agreement will state that the potential buyer will not attempt to hire away employees.  In general, this and many other details, will have a termination date.

The specifics of how confidentiality is to be maintained should also be included in the confidentiality agreement.  Parties should agree to hold conversations in private; this point has become increasingly important due to the use of mobile phones and in particular the use of mobile phones in out-of-office locations.  Additionally, it is prudent to specify that principal names should not be used in outside discussions and that a code name should be developed for the name of the proposed merger or acquisition. 

Safeguarding documents is another area that should receive considerable attention.  Digital files should be password protected.  All paperwork should be kept in a safe location and locked away for maximum privacy when not in use.

In their enthusiasm to find a buyer for their business, many sellers have overlooked the confidentiality agreement stage of the process.  Most have regretted doing so.  A confidentiality agreement can help protect your business’s key information from being exploited during the sales process.  Any experienced and capable business broker or M&A advisor will strongly recommend that buyers and sellers always depend on confidentiality agreements to establish information disclosure perimeters.

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How to Optimize Your Chances of Selling Your Business

The simple fact is that selling your business is likely to be the single most important financial decision you’ll ever make.  With this important fact in mind, it is essential that you prepare far in advance.  Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the key items you’ll want to check off your list before placing your business on the market.

Think About Legalities

When it comes to selling a business, legal issues should be at the forefront of your thoughts; after all, selling your business does involve the creation and execution of a complex and detailed legal agreement.  There are many times in life where it is possible to cut corners, but hiring a good lawyer or law firm is not one of those times.  Moreover, you’ll want to settle all litigation, environmental issues or other issues that could potentially derail a sale.

Deal with Serious Buyers

Working with a good business broker or M&A advisor is an essential part of the selling process, as these professionals will help you to weed out “window shoppers” as well as prospective buyers who are simply not a good fit for your business.  Any serious buyer should be willing to submit a Letter of Intent.  Everyone should be on the same page as far as price and terms as well as what assets and liabilities are to be assumed.  This second point reinforces the first point.  It is essential to have an experienced lawyer helping you through various aspects of the sales process.

Be Flexible on Price

You should also be prepared to accept a lower price than you might ideally want.  There are many reasons that this may occur, ranging from a lack of management depth and a lack of geographical distribution to a dependence on a limited number of clients.  Reliance on a small number of customers and/or clients can give potential buyers pause, as it could raise concerns regarding the stability of your business.  Addressing these issues years before placing your business on the market can help you best achieve the price point you desire.  This is yet another reason to work with a business broker in advance.

Improving Your Chances for Success

In terms of achieving the price that you want for your business, there are other steps you can take.  Increasing the visibility and profile of your business is always a savvy move.  Consider attending trade shows, boost your online profile via stepping up your social media game and explore creating a coherent public relations program.

Finally, selling a business is often a waiting game.  You have to be psychologically prepared to wait a considerable period of time before your business is sold.  The fact is that most businesses do indeed sit on the shelf for a considerable period of time before they are sold.

Preparation, patience and good organization will dramatically increase your chances of selling your business and achieving an appropriate price.  The sooner you begin organizing your business and working with experienced professionals, the greater the chances of success will be.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Insights from BizBuySell’s 3rd Quarter Insight Report

Most business buyers and sellers are wondering what 2021 and beyond will bring.  BizBuySell and BizQuest President Bob House provided a range of insights stemming from BizBuySell’s 3rd Quarter Insight Report and a survey of over 2,300 business owners. 

The simple fact is that the pandemic has most definitely had a major impact on the buying and selling of businesses.  This fact is obvious.  But diving deeper, there are a range of insights that can be gleaned. 

First, owners do understand that COVID is a massive force in business right now.  According to the survey, 68% of owners feel that they would have received a better price for their business in 2019 than in 2020.  Only 37% of respondents felt that they would receive a better price this year.  Of owners who felt that they would receive a lower price in 2020 than in 2019, 71% of these owners said that their assessment was directly tied to the pandemic and its accompanying economic impact.

A question on the survey asked owners if the pandemic had impacted their exit plans.  55% responded that the pandemic had not changed their exit plans.  Additionally, 22% said that they now planned on exiting later, and 12% stated that they planned on exiting earlier.  In short, the majority of business owners were not changing their exit plans.

On the other side of the coin, buyers are acknowledging that the present seems to be a very good time to buy.  A staggering 81% of buyers stated that they felt confident that they would be able to find an acceptable price point.  In terms of their purchasing timeline, 72% of respondents stated that they were planning on buying a business soon.  Survey follow-ups indicated that large numbers of buyers were also planning on buying in 2021.

Generational differences are playing a role as well.  Baby Boomers tend to be more optimistic than non-boomers as far as their overall views on the recovery.  43% of Baby Boomers now expect the economy to recover within the next year as compared to just 30% of non-Boomers.  House pointed out, “Baby Boomers are the generation that did not plan, which makes it harder for them to adjust transition plans if they were preparing to retire, as small businesses don’t have the infrastructure and management teams in place to wait out a bad cycle.”

Based on the information collected by BizBuySell’s 3rd Quarter Insight Report and their survey, it is clear that there is a new wave of buyers on the horizon.  The report supports the notion that the pandemic has made small business ownership an attractive option for new entrepreneurs.  Factors driving new entrepreneurs into the marketplace include everything from being unemployed and wanting more control over their own futures to a desire to capitalize on opportunities. 

Finally, House notes that 2021 could be a “perfect storm for business sales,” as 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each and every day.  This means that the supply of excellent businesses entering the marketplace will likely increase dramatically.

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Zeroing in on Goodwill

Goodwill is a term that might cause a little confusion for some.  But at its heart, it is a relatively straight-forward concept.  Goodwill is generally viewed as a term that encapsulates everything from a business’s reputation to the goods, services and products it provides.  The key idea is that there is goodwill if the business is viewed as a true and functioning business that has longevity in the marketplace. 

The Importance of Reputation

It is important to point out that many of the aspects that go into defining goodwill are not easily noted on a balance sheet.  One of those elements has already been mentioned in the form of reputation.  A good reputation is an intangible asset that is hard to put an exact dollar amount on.  Imagine that you had a choice between two businesses that were almost identical.  However, one business enjoyed a strong reputation while the other had a reputation for poor customer service and goods and services.  This decision would be an easy one for most prospective buyers.

Going Beyond the Numbers

When a buyer pays more than the recognized value of a business, goodwill usually plays a major role.  There are many variables that can be included into goodwill such as quality and track record of management; strength of the local economy; the loyalty of the customer base; good relationships with suppliers; copyrights; trademarks and patents; name or brand recognition; specialized training and knowhow.  The list goes on.  Business brokers and M&A advisors will be sure to highlight these goodwill factors to prospective buyers.  Factors that impact the longevity of a business, and its long-term potential, should not be overlooked.

The Evolving Meaning of Goodwill

In recent years, the accounting profession has changed how it deals with the concept of goodwill and how it is factored into decisions.  Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, many large companies were built around the ownership and use of heavy equipment and machinery; however, in the last two decades there has been a shift away from tangible assets and towards intangible assets. 

Assets under the umbrella of intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, brand names and more, are now considered key aspects of goodwill.  In short, in the last twenty-years, goodwill has taken on a more complex and varied meaning.  Today, businesses are not necessarily based around massive factors and huge assembly lines.  Workers and management in the world’s largest companies 50 years ago would be hard pressed to explain the inner workings of some of today’s corporate juggernauts.

Goodwill is more complicated than ever before.  This factor serves to underscore the value, and importance, of working with an experienced, capable and proven business broker or M&A advisors.  The goodwill elements within a business need to be highlighted so that prospective buyers fully understand the business’ real value. 

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What Makes a Deal Close?

For every reason that a pending sale of a business collapses, there is a positive reason why the sale closed successfully.  What does it take for the sale of a business to close successfully?  Certainly there are reasons that a sale might not close that are beyond anyone’s control.  A fire, for example, the death of a principal, or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado.  There might be an environmental problem that the seller was unaware of when he or she decided to sell.  Aside from these unplanned catastrophic events, deals abort because of the people involved.  Here are a few examples of how a sale closes successfully.

The Buyer and Seller Are in Agreement From the Beginning

In too many cases, the buyer and seller really weren’t in agreement, or didn’t understand the terms of the sale.  If an offer to purchase is too vague, or has too many loose ends, the sale can unravel somewhere along the line.  However, if prior to the offer to purchase the loose ends are taken care of and the agreement specifically spells out the details of the sale, it has a much better chance to close.  This means that a lot of answers and information are supplied prior to the offer and that many of the buyer’s questions are answered before the offer is made.  The seller may also have some questions about the buyer’s financial qualifications or his or her ability to operate the business.  Again, these concerns should be addressed prior to the offer or, at least, if they are part of it, both sides should understand exactly what needs to be done and when.  The key ingredient of the offer to purchase is that both sides completely understand the terms and are comfortable with them.  Too many sales fall apart because of a misunderstanding on one side or the other.

The Buyer and Seller Don’t Lose Their Patience

Both sides need to understand that the closing process takes time.  There is a myriad of details that must take place for the sale to close successfully, or to close at all.  If the parties are using outside advisors, they should make sure that they are deal-oriented.  In other words, unless the deal is illegal or unethical, the parties should insist that the deal works.  The buyer and seller should understand that the outside advisors work for them and that most decisions concerning the sale are business related and should be decided by the buyer and seller themselves.  The buyer and seller should also insist that the outside advisors keep to the scheduled closing date, unless they, not the outside advisors, delay the timing.  Prior to engaging the outside advisors, the buyer and seller should make sure that their advisors can work within the schedule.  However, the buyer and seller have to also understand that nothing can be done overnight and the closing process does take some time.

No One Likes Surprises

The seller has to be up front about his or her business.  Nothing is perfect and buyers understand this.  The minuses should be revealed at the outset because sooner or later they will be exposed.  For example, the seller should consult with his or her accountant about any tax implications prior to going to market.  The same is true for the buyer.  If financing is an issue it should be mentioned at the beginning.  If all of the concerns and problems are dealt with initially, the closing will be just a technicality.

The Buyer and Seller Must Both Feel Like They Got a Good Deal

If they do, the closing should be a simple matter.  If the chemistry works, and everyone understands and accepts the terms of the agreement, and feels that the sale is a win-win, the closing is a mere formality.

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Turn to the Professionals for Best Results

There is a direct relationship between the asking price and the amount of cash on the table at the time of the sale.  Buyers and sellers alike should keep one fact in mind.  Most businesses involve some level of seller financing.  It is customary for both buyers and sellers to have concerns regarding this kind of financing; after all, sellers don’t want to take their businesses back from the buyer.  Buyers want to generate enough money to help the business thrive and make a living.  One proven way to ensure the successful sale of a business is to turn to the experts.

Screen out Window Shoppers

The simple and very established fact is that when you choose to work with the professionals, it can streamline the entire sales process.  Business owners are typically very busy people.  That means they don’t have time to waste with window shoppers.  They also don’t want to divulge confidential information to parties that don’t possess the means to actually follow through with a successful sale. 

Business brokers and M&A advisors know that most prospective buyers are just dreamers or will ultimately fail to qualify.  When you work with the professionals, it means that you have a shield to protect you and your valuable time.  Experienced brokers have a range of techniques that screen out unqualified candidates and match you with buyers who are the best fit. 

Maintain Confidentiality 

Anyone who has ever sold a business, or even contemplated selling a business, knows all too well that confidentiality is of the utmost importance.  Sellers need to know that the information they reveal will not spill out all over the web.  Brokers are experts maintaining confidentiality and impressing upon prospective buyers the tremendous importance of honoring the agreements they sign. 

It is important to note that leaks regarding the sale of a business can cause a range of often unexpected problems.  Key employees may get nervous about their future prospects and begin looking for a new job, competitors may begin attempting to poach employees, or customers and key suppliers may get nervous and turn to your competitors.  In short, serious buyers and sellers alike benefit from maintaining confidentiality.

Matching the right seller with the right buyer is truly an art and a science. Many factors are involved ranging from financing to psychology. When the right match is made, then it is possible to move through the process of seller financing more quickly and with fewer roadblocks or complications.  Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is the single most important step that any buyer or seller can make to help ensure that seller financing, and in fact the entire sales process, progresses as smoothly as possible.

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Successfully Navigating Seller Financing

Only a small percentage of the population is able to go through life without using some form of financing at some point.  Most people have little choice but to finance everything from their home and car purchases to their college education.  Now, with that stated, most business owners would love to receive an all-cash offer for their business.  But the reality of the situation is quite different.  The facts are that owner financing is very common, and it is sometimes the only way to put a deal together.

Sellers have to be ready and willing to entertain the idea that they may, ultimately, be called upon to handle some aspect of financing if they want to sell their business.  It surprises many to learn that if a seller is not willing to finance the sale, then buyers begin to worry and may even see this as something of a “red flag.”  The reason for this is that many buyers feel that if a business is a solid investment, then the business will be profitable and repaying the seller should be no problem. 

Buyers may worry that if a seller isn’t willing to help with financing there could be a “hidden” problem with the business.  It might occur to them that sellers are “jumping from a sinking ship.”  It is important that sellers keep this important aspect of buyer psychology in mind when addressing whether or not they are willing to finance.

Buyer psychology plays a major role in another aspect of seller financing and that comes in the form of collateral.  Sellers may want to have some form of outside collateral to secure the loan on their business.  While this may seem perfectly understandable to the seller, buyers can have something of a nervous response to this issue as well.  As much as buyers worry that a seller’s refusal to provide financing is a red flag, the same holds true for sellers who seek collateral.  Once again, the concern is that if the business was healthy and thriving there should be no need for collateral.  The buyer is left wondering, “What is going on here?  How worried should I be?  Why do they need collateral if this business is so great?” 

Typically, buyers are “maxed out” when buying a main street business.  They are allocating most of their available funds to the down payment on the business.  That means they will be unlikely to “push all their chips in” and gamble everything by also putting up the home, retirement funds or other collateral in the process.  Sellers need to see the situation from the buyer’s perspective and remember that a collateral requirement could mean that if the business fails, the buyer could be left with nothing.

Navigating the complex interaction between buyers and sellers is no easy feat.  It requires a careful balancing of several different skills, ranging from understanding finance to psychology.  Working with an experienced business broker can help buyers and sellers connect and find workable agreements so deals can get made.

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Four Common Seller Mistakes

Sellers are just like everyone else in that they can make mistakes.  In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common mistakes that we see along with some of the repercussions. 

1. Not Seeing the Buyer’s Point of View

The first major mistake that sellers make is that they simply fail to look at the situation from the buyer’s perspective.  One of the smartest moves any seller can make is to step back and ask themselves two key questions. 

 “What information would I expect to see if I was thinking about buying this business? 

“Would I trust the information being presented to me if I was the buyer?” 

While there are many other questions sellers can ask to help reframe their thinking, these two simple questions can orient a seller’s thinking towards a buyer’s perspective.  Additionally, investing the time to understand the buyer’s position can help avoid a range of problems and help smooth out the negotiation process.

2. Neglecting the Business During the Sales Process

Another seller mistake we see is that the seller neglects the business during the sales process.  This can have significant negative long-term consequences.  Sellers must understand that they must maintain the day-to-day operations as though the business is still theirs.  The old saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched,” most definitely applies to selling any business.  Business deals fall apart all the time.  This is true from small deals to corporate acquisitions. 

3. Overall Lack of Preparation 

Any seller who is truly serious about selling his or her business will have all of their documentation available and well organized.  This list would include financial records, environmental studies, business forecasts and more.  It is important to make a good impression and convey to prospective buyers that a business is well organized and ready to be sold.  Disorganization on any level could make prospective buyers worry that the business isn’t being operated in a professional manner.

4. Holding Misconceptions Around a Business’ Value

Finally, a real “deal killer” can be when sellers don’t understand (or have a mental block) concerning the real value of their business.  This issue can lead many business owners to set a price that is simply too high or even completely unrealistic.  Many sellers have put years of blood, sweat and tears into a business.  Learning that their business isn’t as valuable as they had hoped can be an emotional, psychological and financial blow all in one.  But sellers also have to adjust to the realities of what the market will bear. 

Avoiding seller pitfalls is incredibly important.  Working with a skilled and proven business broker or M&A advisor is a way for buyers and sellers alike to avoid an array of significant problems that could otherwise arise.

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Unraveling the Seller’s Predicament

Selling a business isn’t always 100% about the price.  It is not like selling a house where typically the most important factor is who places the highest offer.  In the end, if the seller is to achieve the most optimal results, there are other variables that should be considered. 

The idea of selling to a competitor is one that seems attractive to many business owners.  After all, a competitor has the built-in advantage of understanding the business and thus can theoretically understand the value of the business better than an outsider.  But while this point is quite valid, selling to a competitor comes with its own problems.  Selling means disclosing a great deal of confidential information, and that could prove to be very risky if the deal were to fall apart.

A second avenue that sellers will often explore is selling to a financial buyer.  A financial buyer is likely not to be a competitor.  But on the downside, a financial buyer may be unwilling to pay the seller’s price.  It is important to remember that a financial buyer is considering buying the business with the intention of selling it for a profit within a few years.

The highest selling price may come from a strategic acquirer.  But this doesn’t necessarily mean selling to a strategic acquirer is the most prudent course of action for a seller.  A strategic acquirer may not have the best interests of the company at heart.  When a strategic acquirer takes ownership, key employees and management may be replaced.  The company may even be moved.  Many owners are unprepared for the shock that may come along with a strategic acquisition.

There are other potential buyers, many of whom are frequently overlooked, who may be the optimal fit for a given business.  It is possible that the best buyer for a company could be one of its employees.  However, this option comes with risks as well.  Key employees and management may leave if the deal falls through, as they now know that the company is for sale.

Finding overlooked buyers is what business brokers do best.  Matching the right buyer with the right business is both a science and an art.  Teaming with the right business broker or M&A advisor can open up a range of new avenues and help a seller reach the kind of buyer that is as close as possible to the perfect fit.

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Buying a Distressed Business 

It is safe to state that Howard Brownstein, President of The Brownstein Corporation, is a true expert in providing turnaround management and advisory services to companies, as well as their stakeholders.  Brownstein serves as an independent corporate board member for both publicly held as well as privately-owned companies and nonprofits.  During his career, he has been named a Board Leadership Fellow by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and served as Board Chair and President of its Philadelphia Chapter.  He also serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Corporate Governance Committee and has been named a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.  He has been a speaker at many of the world’s top universities including Harvard Business School and Wharton.  Brownstein received his J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Brownstein is considered to be one of the world’s top experts in distressed businesses.  He believes it is essential to remember that not all distressed businesses are, in fact, the same.  There is simply no way to know how bad things are for a given distressed business until one begins to “look under the hood,” and get a full view of what problems may lurk underneath. 

Brownstein firmly believes that distressed businesses can represent a real and often overlooked opportunity for buyers.  The recent economic downturn brought about by COVID-19 means that there will likely be a great deal more distressed businesses on the market in the coming months or even in the next couple of years. 

Why is a Given Business Distressed? 

Before you consider purchasing a distressed business, you absolutely must understand the core reasons for the distresses.  Without a proper and detailed understanding of why the business entered a state of distress in the first place, it is impossible to clearly articulate why the business will potentially be valuable in the future.  It is essential to be able to convey “what went wrong” and how the problems can be fixed.

Brownstein points out that while there are many reasons for a business to enter distress, two symptoms top the list.  The first is cash flow issues and the second issue relates to management.  Often it turns out that the management was simply not rigorous enough.  He also notes that companies will tend to gravitate to external issues as a way to explain away their failure.

Of course, no two distressed businesses are failing from 100% identical causes.  Brownstein suggests a series of questions that you need to ask when you begin exploring a distressed business.

  1. What is the business’ potential value?
  2. Is there something of value under the problems?
  3. Under better or different circumstances, could the business be viable?

These are all questions that your business broker or M&A advisor can assist with.  It’s important to gain a clear understanding of the business’ past, present and future. 

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How Should Your Company Deal with an Orphaned Product?

Keeping a product or service around that isn’t pulling its weight might prove to not be a very good idea.  You may have invested a good deal of time and resources into its development, but if that product or service is no longer contributing to your bottom line, it might be time to cut it loose.  Even if your product is pulling its weight, but doesn’t fit into your overall core business, then you should still consider getting rid of this “orphaned product.”  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might want to keep or remove, an orphan product from your company.

There are four main reasons why a company might want to divest itself of a product line or service completely:

  1. An orphaned product line can be a distraction that takes away from core business operations. 
  2. Funds allocated to an orphaned product could be used instead to build the core business or make improvements that are not in the current budget. 
  3. Another good reason to remove an orphaned product from your lineup is that while it could ultimately be profitable with increased resources, the funds would be better allocated elsewhere.
  4. Your orphaned product could be profitable.  Some buyers, companies and private equity groups are looking for product lines they can use to augment their existing ones.  In fact, some buyers may even want to build a new business around a given product line.

Of course, it isn’t always as simple as “pulling the plug” and moving on.  It is important to step back and consider the negative impacts of jettisoning an orphaned product, such as the fact that the product line could have key employees attached to it.  Or there could be company culture issues related to removing the product, such as causing disruption within your company.  You must also consider if the orphaned product could ultimately play a role in the sale of your company.

At the end of the day, an acquiring company may feel that the orphaned product line is a great fit for their existing distribution chain.  Additionally, your offering might fit into a new product line that the acquiring company has launched.  It is important that you evaluate every aspect of an orphaned product before making the decision to remove it from your company. 

Understanding the needs and goals of your most likely buyers should play a role in your decision making.  Working with an experienced business broker is an easy way to increase your chances of making the right decision.

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Price or Terms: The Structure of the Deal

An old saying in negotiating the sale of a business goes like this: The buyer says to the seller, “You name the price, and I get to name the terms.”

Another saying used to explain the actual value of the term full price: “If we could find you a business that nets you $250,000 a year after debt service, and you could buy it for $100 down, would you really care what the full price was?”

It seems that everyone is concerned only about full price.  And yet, full price is just part of the equation.  If a seller is willing to accept a relatively small down payment and carry the balance, a higher full price can be achieved.  On the other hand, the more cash the seller wants up front, the lower the full price. If the seller demands all cash, barring some form of outside financing, full price lowers – and, in most cases, the chance of selling decreases as well.  Even in cases where outside financing is used, such as through SBA, etc., the lender will do everything possible to ensure that the price makes sense.

Sellers should understand that both what they hope to accomplish in the sale of their business and the structure of the actual sale can dramatically influence the asking price.  Price is obviously important, but other factors may be even more important.  For example, consider a seller with health issues who needs to sell as quickly as possible.  In his case, timing becomes more essential than price.  Another seller may place more importance on her business remaining in the community.  In her case, finding a buyer who will not move the business may supersede price or certainly influence it.

Likewise, the structure of the deal can both influence price and be a more significant factor than price to either the buyer or the seller.  The structure can dictate how much cash the seller receives up front, which may be more important than price for some sellers.  On the other hand, sellers should also be aware how much the interest on their carry-back can add up to.  If cash is not an immediate concern, monthly payments with an above-average interest rate may be enticing.

These examples all demonstrate the importance of the business broker professional sitting down with the seller prior to recommending a go-to-market price.  During this meeting, the broker should find out what is really important to the seller, as these issues may have a direct bearing on the price.

Sellers should look at the following factors and rank them according to importance on a scale of one to five, with five being extremely important.

•    Buyer Qualifications
•    Full Price
•    Amount of Cash Involved
•    Financing
•    Confidentiality
•    Commission/Selling Fees
•    Closing Costs
•    Exclusive Listing
•    How the Business is Shown
•    Advertising/Marketing
•    How a New Owner Continues the Business

By ranking these items and discussing them with a professional Business Broker, a seller can receive helpful advice from the broker on price, terms, and structuring the sale.

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Considering Generational Strategies

When you are buying or selling a business, you might very well end up making a deal with someone from another generation.  Therefore, it only makes sense to take the time to understand that individual’s background and how that might cause behavioral differences.  It is important to understand and reflect upon where many of them are coming from and the collective experiences and trends that shaped their identities and perspectives.  At the same time, you can identify your own biases, strengths and weaknesses that may be caused by your own upbringing.

The strategies in this article originated from Chuck Underwood who is considered a leading expert in the diversity of communication styles between generations.  He is the author of a major book on the subject as well as host of the long-running “America’s Generations with Chuck Underwood” on PBS. 

Generational Sensitivity 

Underwood’s perspective is that people of each generation were molded by their unique formative years.  The decisions that buyers and sellers make will be impacted by their generation.  Mostly likely, the buyers or sellers you will be coming into contact with will be either Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials. 

Working with Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are a major force in the business world.  While they often possess a patriotic passion to improve the country, they were also witness to a time of great change via many movements including the civil rights and women’s movement. 

When you’re dealing with Baby Boomers, it is important to remember that they will want to build relationships and get to know you.  Common courtesy is very important to Baby Boomers.  That means they’ll expect you to show up on time and turn your phone off during meetings. 

You’ll want to keep in mind that older Baby Boomers may be experiencing hearing and eyesight loss.  As a result, you’ll want to keep your type and font size larger, and make text easy to read. 

When you’re working with your clients, it only makes sense to pay attention to the generation during which they were raised and adapt your approach accordingly.  Understanding generational differences will help you get a leg up on the competition while at the same time helping your clients achieve their goals.

What is Generation X?

Generation X (or Gen X) had a wildly different formative experience than the Baby Boomers.  Generation X is generally defined as being born from 1965 to 1980.  This generation spent its formative years from the 1970’s through the 1990’s.  In stark contrast the relatively more pleasant and optimistic childhoods of the Baby Boomers, Gen X had a rougher ride. 

America became more mobile during the time period during which Generation Xers grew up.  As a result, many children were uprooted and separated from their friends, family and hometown roots.  Growing up, these individuals witnessed a variety of scandals ranging from political and religious figures to sports figures.  Gen Xers witnessed the systematic dismantling of the American middle class and with it a general lowering of quality of life, opportunities and confidence in corporations.  In the end, Gen X was quite literally left home alone and lived as “latch key kids.”  It is no wonder that this neglected generation has some issues.

Individuals growing up during this time learned early on that they had to be ready to fend for themselves.  Since Gen Xers have been met with consistent and systematic disappointment and even wide scale institutional betrayal, this generation, on average, is more distrustful of organizations. 

Gen Xers are self-reliant and independent and one of their core values is survival of the fittest.  In his view, Gen Xers are self-focused, individualistic and want everyone to skip the nonsense and get to the point.  They have no real interest in getting to know you or playing a round of golf.

Working with Millennials

Millennials spent their formative years in the 1980s and early 90s.  They are a very optimistic and tech savvy generation.  They are also the most classroom educated generation in history.

It is also very important to note that Millennials are the most adult supervised generation in history.  So-called “helicopter parents” who work to protect their children from setbacks are the norm.  Employers find that Millennials are entering adulthood, but are still relying upon their parents to help them make decisions and even career choices.

Where Gen Xers are distrustful of the “wisdom of their elders,” Millennials actively seek out such advice.  Likewise, Millennials tend to volunteer a good deal and look for ways to solve the world’s largest problems.

You will find that Millennials will enjoy building a relationship with you.  Keep in mind these individuals tend to be quite socially conscious and they may very well expect you to agree with their views.  Additionally, there is a chance that they will have their parents involved in their business dealings. 

Keep in mind that the de facto tech addiction, or at the very least acute overreliance on technology, has led to issues with Millennials’ soft skills.  They can often lack the ability to read another person’s body language and adjust accordingly.

In the end, regardless of what generation you are working with, it is important that you continually adapt.  This will greatly increase the odds of cementing a successful deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Confidential Business Reviews Should Establish Trust

When you are selling a business, your business broker or M&A Advisor will likely create a Comprehensive Business Review, or CBR.  This comprehensive document can then be presented to prospective buyers once they have signed all necessary confidentiality documentation.  It is essential that this document builds trust between both parties, as this will go a long way towards achieving a successful deal. 

Be Honest

The bottom line is that your CBR will be 95% positive.  The majority of the document will be dedicated towards selling and promoting your business.   Therefore, it only makes sense to disclose some potential problems.  When handled correctly, the disclosure of problems can actually be a strong asset. 

For example, current weaknesses of your business could become strengths in the mind of the buyer.  For example, a business with a very poor online presence represents a substantial opportunity for a buyer to improve marketing and communications.  Summed up another way, don’t be afraid to include negative information, especially if that information represents an opportunity.

Sharing Information

It is important that there is an element of trust between the parties.  Creating that sense of trust begins with the CBR’s seller section. 

Buying a business is radically different from buying a home.  When someone buys a home, they usually don’t care too much about the person who they are buying the home from.  But buying a business is usually a different experience.  Your buyer will want to feel as though they have a fairly clear understanding of who you are and what you are about. 

In the seller’s section, the buyer should get a decent idea of who you are.  Your broker or M&A Advisor will want to interview you to gain ample information to include in your CBR.  Your broker may even want to find out about your family, hobbies, interests and more.  You may even want to consider including photos of yourself and your family.  

The bottom line is that a potential buyer should be able to pick up the CBR and get a good feel for what you are like.  If no level of trust is ever established between the buyer and seller, then it will be much more challenging for the deal to be successful.

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What You Need to Know About Foreign Buyers

There is a potentially lucrative group of buyers that many sellers don’t initially think about.  We are talking about foreign buyers.  While there are some hurdles to working with these types of buyers, it is important to note that there are many huge advantages as well.  Let’s take a closer look.

How Are Foreign Buyers Different? 

At the top of the list of ways in which foreign buyers are different is that they are often seeking a visa.  Another commonality among foreign buyers, one that will surprise many, is that they may want access to the U.S. educational system. 

It is common for foreign buyers to want to buy a business so that they can get their children into a particular U.S. school district or college.  Sometimes the desire to be eligible for state tuition also plays a role in the selection of a business and the decision-making process.  In this sense, business location takes on a level of importance that it might not have for domestic buyers. 

It is important to keep in mind that there are cultural and business differences that play a role with foreign buyers.  Everything from a different use of business terminology to expectations can play a role.  This could impact negotiations. 

What About Visas and Immigration?

One of the most important things to remember is that foreign buyers are often navigating the complex world of visas and immigration.  Whether or not a visa is issued can dramatically impact whether or not a deal ultimately takes place.  This fact is often built into agreements.  For example, a purchase condition may be conditional upon visa approval.  Nonrefundable deposits may also play a role in the process.

What Do Foreign Buyers Really Want? 

Foreign buyers have been impacted by the pandemic too.  Yet, some factors remain unchanged.  Not too surprisingly, they will want to see that a business is profitable.  In this regard, you should be able to showcase profitability in a clear fashion.  You can expect foreign buyers to want to see tax returns and all the typical documentation that you’d need to provide to any buyer.

A second factor that foreign buyers are interested in is longevity.  If your business has successfully operated for decades, this will be a major advantage.  

Ultimately, most of what domestic buyers are looking for in a business will translate over to what foreign buyers are seeking as well.  With that stated, however, there are factors that are often unique to foreign buyers.  As mentioned above, navigating the often-complex visa process can add a wrinkle to the entire process.

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Essential Meeting Tips for Buyers & Sellers

The buyer-seller meeting is quite often a “make or break” meeting.  Your business broker or M&A Advisor will do everything possible to ensure that this meeting goes as well as possible. 

It is vitally important to realize that rarely is there an offer before buyers and sellers actually meet.  The all-important offer usually comes directly after this all-important meeting.  As a result, you want to ensure that meetings are as positive and productive as possible.

Buyers need to understand how the process of selling a business works and what is expected of them from the process.  Buyers also need to understand that following their broker’s advice will increase the chances of a successful outcome. 

Sellers should be ready to be honest and forthcoming during the meeting.  They also want to be sure to not say or do anything that could come across as a strong-armed sales tactic. 

Asking the Right Questions

If you are a buyer preparing to meet a business owner for the first time, you’ll want to make sure any questions you ask are appropriate and logical.  It is important for buyers to place themselves in the shoes of the other party. 

Buyers also shouldn’t show up to the buyer-seller meeting without having done their homework.  So be sure to do a little planning ahead so that you are ready to go with good questions that show you understand the business. 

Building a Positive Relationship

Buyers should, of course, plan to be polite and respectful.  They should also be prepared to avoid discussing politics and religion, which often can be flashpoints for confrontation.  When sellers don’t like prospective buyers, then the odds are good that they will also not place trust in them.  

For most sellers, their business is a legacy.  It quite often represents years, or even decades, of hard work.  Needless to say, sellers value their businesses.  Many will feel as though it reflects them personally, at least in some fashion.  Buyers should keep these facts in mind when dealing with sellers.  A failure to follow these guidelines could lead to ill will between buyers and sellers and negatively impact the chances of success.

Sellers Should Be Truthful

Sellers also have a significant role in the process.  While it is true that sellers are trying to sell their business, they don’t want to come across as a salesperson.  Instead, sellers should try to be as real and honest as possible.

Every business has some level of competition.  With this in mind, sellers should not pretend that there is zero competition.  A savvy buyer will be more than a little skeptical.

The key to a successful outcome is for business brokers and M&A Advisors to work with their buyers and sellers well in advance and make sure that they understand what is expected and how best to approach the buyer-seller meeting.  With the right preparation, the odds of success will skyrocket.

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The Main Street Lending Program

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 situation seems to change with each and every day.  The disruption and chaos that the pandemic has injected into both daily life and business is obvious.  Just as it is often difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, the same can be stated for keeping up to speed on the government’s response and what options exist to assist companies of all sizes. 

 In this article, we’ll turn our attention to an overlooked area of the government’s pandemic response and how businesses can use a whole new lending platform to navigate the choppy waters. 

As the pandemic continues, you will want to be aware of the main street lending program, which is a whole new lending platform.  It was designed for businesses that were financially sound prior to the pandemic.  Authorized under the CARE Act, the main street lending program is quite attractive for an array of reasons.  Let’s take a closer look at what makes this program almost too good to be true.

This lender delivered program is a commercial loan.  Unlike the PPP, there is no forgivable component.  However, the main street lending program does have one remarkable feature that will certainly grab the attention of all kinds of businesses.  It can be used to refinance existing debt at a rate of around 3%.  With that stated, it is also important to note that businesses cannot refinance existing debt with the current lender.  Instead, a new lender must be found.  Generally, loans are a minimum of a quarter million dollars and have a five-year term.  In another piece of good news, there is a two-year payment deferment period.

The main street lending program can be used in a variety of ways.  In short, the program is not simply for refinancing existing debt.  Additionally, there is no penalty for prepayment.  The way the program works is that lenders make the loans and then sell 95% of the loan value to the Fed.  This of course means that the lender is only required to retain 5% of the loan on their balance sheet.  The end result is that lenders can dramatically expand the amount of loans they can make.

Whether it is the PPP or a program like the main street lending program, there are solid options available to help you.  Businesses looking to restructure debt or put an infusion of cash to good use may find that the main street lending program offers a very flexible loan with great interest rates.

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Why Does Your Business Need Google Reviews?

In today’s business climate, reviews are the differentiator.  Years ago, people commonly asked for references when they were vetting a product or service.  But these days when people are searching for a local business to work with, they are likely to conduct research on their own and read online reviews. 

Google reviews can give businesses a big credibility boost without having to spend a dime.  Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.

Increased Credibility & Trust

According to statistics, approximately 91% of consumers read reviews to determine credibility of a local business.  In fact, 84% of consumers say the positive reviews have helped them gain trust.  Without the reviews, that level of trust would not have been established. 

Needless to say, people trust Google.  The fact that these reviews are on a 3rd party website increases transparency.  These reviews have much higher value than testimonials posted on the actual business website.

Improved Business Conversions

Once a potential customer gains trust in your company through reading Google reviews, it is more likely the conversation will get converted to an actual business transaction. 

Customer Feedback Loop

When your customers write reviews about your business and post them on Google, these reviews often clearly mention details about your product or service.  Through this means, future customers become educated.  These reviews can also serve as a feedback loop for you if things need improvement.

Increases Online Reputation & Visibility

The power of online marketing methods you might be using to promote your business will be amplified, as users will become more attracted to your business due to 5-star reviews.  This factor increases online traffic to your website and an increase in leads and business.

Another fact to be conscious of is that your clients will review your products or services whether you want them to or not.  If you fail to set up Google reviews, you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain a level of control and visibility.

How to Set Up Google Reviews

  • Create a Google My Business account.  – Visit https://business.google.com/ to sign in or create a Google account for a business.  Complete the step by step process by filing required information like email, phone number, business details, etc.
  • Ask clients to review your services. – Start sharing your Google My Business URL with clients and ask them to post a review about your services.  When asking for reviews, you can mention to clients that their review will help everybody else make an informed decision when they are looking for help.  It is important to ask about the review within a few days of closing your transaction.  If more time goes by, the client may be less motivated to post a review for you.
  • Remind clients. – Everybody is busy.  Therefore, there is a chance that your client might forget to write a review.  In this case, we recommend reminding them to do so.  You can also politely inquire if they need any help posting the review that you discussed.

Through the above-mentioned process, you can begin generating reviews for your business.  Of course, it goes without saying that you can only guarantee good reviews when you are providing excellent customer service along with a top-notch product or service.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Seller Financing: It Makes Dollars and Sense

When contemplating the sale of a business, an important option to consider is seller financing.  Many potential buyers don’t have the necessary capital or lender resources to pay cash.  Even if they do, they are often reluctant to put such a hefty sum of cash into what, for them, is a new and untried venture.

Why the hesitation?  The typical buyer feels that, if the business is really all that it’s “advertised” to be, it should pay for itself.  Buyers often interpret the seller’s insistence on all cash as a lack of confidence–in the business, in the buyer’s chances to succeed, or both.

The buyer’s interpretation has some basis in fact.  The primary reason sellers shy away from offering terms is their fear that the buyer will be unsuccessful.  If the buyer should cease payments–for any reason–the seller would be forced either to take back the business or forfeit the balance of the note.

The seller who operates under the influence of this fear should take a hard look at the upside of seller financing.  Statistics show that sellers receive a significantly higher purchase price if they decide to accept terms.  On average, a seller who sells for all cash receives approximately 70 percent of the asking price.  This adds up to approximately 16 percent difference on a business listed for $150,000, meaning that the seller who is willing to accept terms will receive approximately $24,000 more than the seller who is asking for all cash.

Even with these compelling reasons to accept terms, sellers may still be reluctant.  Selling a business can be perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the cash jackpot.  Therefore, it is important to note that seller financing has advantages that, in many instances, far outweigh the immediate satisfaction of cash-in-hand.

  •  Seller financing greatly increases the chances that the business will sell.
  • The seller offering terms will command a much higher price.
  • The interest on a seller-financed deal will add significantly to the actual selling price. (For example, a seller carry-back note at eight percent carried over nine years will double the amount carried.  Over a nine-year period, $100,000 at eight percent will result in the seller receiving $200,000.)
  • With interest rates currently the lowest in years, sellers can get a much higher rate from a buyer than they can get from any financial institution.
  • The tax consequences of accepting terms can be much more advantageous than those of an all-cash sale.
  • Financing the sale helps assure the success of both the sale and the business, since the buyer will perceive the offer of terms as a vote of confidence.

Obviously, there are no guarantees that the buyer will be successful in operating the business.  However, it is well to note that, in most transactions, buyers are putting a substantial amount of personal cash on the line–in many cases, their entire capital.  Although this investment doesn’t insure success, it does mean that the buyer will work hard to support such a commitment.

There are many ways to structure the seller-financed sale that make sense for both buyer and seller. Creative financing is an area where your business broker professional can be of help. He or she can recommend a variety of payment plans that, in many cases, can mean the difference between a successful transaction and one that is not. Serious sellers owe it to themselves to consider financing the sale. By lending a helping hand to buyers, they will, in most cases, be helping themselves as well.

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Negotiating the Price Gap Between Buyers and Sellers

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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Getting Back to Business After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Historians have long known the historical relevance and impact of epidemics and pandemics.  Despite our various technological advances and the complexity of our society, disease can instantly change the course of history.  Not having a robust global system for dealing with disease and pandemics comes with a hefty price tag.  In the case of the COVID-19 economic crisis, the price tag will no doubt be in the trillions. 

You can’t control what has happened, but you can focus on what to do when the pandemic is over and life begins to slowly return to normal.  In his recent article, “How to Hit the Ground Running After the Pandemic,” author Geoffrey James explores what businesses need to do to jumpstart their operations once the pandemic is in the history books.

James wants his readers to understand that the pandemic will end and that business owners need to be ready to charge back in when the pandemic is over and the economy rebounds.  As James points out, if history is any indicator, the economy will eventually rebound. 

Almost everything about this economic downturn is unique.  Take, for example, the fact that the U.S. has just seen its largest-ever economic expansion.  The gears and wheels of the economy were spinning along quite quickly before the pandemic hit.  This could help restart the economy faster than in past severe economic downturns.  In short, many experts feel that this particular economic downturn could be short, but of course, this is speculation.  There is no way to know for sure until COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

James correctly asserts that businesses need to put together a plan for how they will get up and running as soon as the pandemic is over.  His recommendation is to divide your plan and thinking into four distinct categories: Facilities, Personnel, Manufacturing, and Marketing.

Each of these categories has three key questions that business owners should be asking themselves so that their businesses are ready to hit the ground running when COVID-19 is over.  Below are a few of the key questions James recommends asking.

  1. How can we create the most sanitary and disease-free workplace possible?
  2. Which employees will continue to work from home?
  3. When there’s a spike in demand, how will we ramp-up?
  4. What will be our “We’re Back!” marketing message?

The pandemic caught everyone except the experts off guard.  Moving forward, business leaders, think tanks, and politicians alike need to work to develop and implement robust plans to minimize the damage caused by pandemics.  Humanity, and business, has been “lucky” several times in recent years, as we dodged bullets ranging from Ebola to SARS. 

As James points out in his article, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Businesses need to plan for the recovery and they need to plan for another pandemic because another one is quite possible especially if better planning and decision making are not firmly entrenched in place.

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COVID-19 Advice for Hospitality Businesses

Clearly, some industries are taking a bigger hit from COVID-19 than others.  Any industry that requires a great deal of interaction with the public, or where people gather in large groups, are obviously having very tough times.  Movie theaters and restaurants, for example, have essentially gone dark.  Some restaurants are easing the bloodletting a bit by providing delivery, but in the vast majority of cases, revenue pales in comparison to what it was prior to the pandemic. 

While there is no doubt that the hospitality industry is suffering right now, business owners should understand that there are concrete steps they can take now to improve their odds of surviving the pandemic.  In this article, we’ll explore a few of these key ideas.

One of the areas every decision maker and business owner in the hospitality industry should be thinking about right now is staff.  During a recent industry roundtable discussion, John Howe, chairman of the International Association of Business Intermediaries, pointed out that staffing problems will continue long after the pandemic has paused or is over.  He believes that hospitality businesses will have a tough time getting the staff they need, especially in the short run. 

His key piece of advice is to work to have a line on people for key positions.  This will allow you to at least get back up and running with basic operations.  While it may be a while before hospitality businesses are at “full steam,” it is critical that they are able to open up in some fashion, as this will translate into much needed revenue.  Hospitality businesses looking to survive the pandemic should focus on making certain that key positions have been filled.  In this way, the post-pandemic relaunch can be as smooth as possible.

Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, Scott Bushkie, explained that there are a lot of hospitality industry people out of work right now, and this represents a real opportunity.  Now, is the perfect time to potentially upgrade staff.  There are plenty of experienced and proven hospitality people looking for positions.  The new people you bring may come with extra benefits such as bringing their customers, suppliers, and other relationships with them.  For those in the hospitality industry who may have always wanted to upgrade their team, now is perhaps the best time in history to do so.

Employees are a foundational element of your business.  Improving your staff means you’ve improved your business and boosted your odds of survival.  Bringing in new team members can help you prepare for the post-pandemic business environment.  It also offers up the potential for you to upgrade an important element within your business.

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Dealing with COVID-19’s Economic Impact: Planning and Communication are Key

There are many things that you should be doing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the top of the list is to be proactive.  Now is the time to be thinking about how best to position your business after the economy has returned to something near normal.  Now is not the time for self-pity.  In fact, not preparing for the relaunch of the economy will cost you.

In David Finkel’s recent Inc. article entitled, “10 Things Every Small-Business Owner Needs to Do to Deal with the Impact of COVID-19 on Their Business,” Finkel outlines the 10 key steps business owners should take immediately.  Finkel is the author of 12 business books and CEO of Maui Mastermind business coaching company.

There is no way of knowing how long the COVID-19 fueled economic downturn will last, and that means time is of the essence.  Business owners, regardless of their particular sector, need to prepare as though the economy could relaunch tomorrow.

Finkel’s 10 Things: 

  1. Take steps to protect your staff and customers from getting sick.
  2. Tell your customers what safety steps you’re taking.
  3. Educate your staff on how to stay healthy at work and at home.
  4. Engage in scenarios planning to deal with how markets could change.
  5. Enlist vendors and suppliers for help.  You should ask them to negotiate payment terms.
  6. Take steps to plan out your cash flow.
  7. Open a dialogue with your management team.
  8. Go on the offensive and look for opportunities.
  9. Get your team together and brainstorm.
  10. Be sure your key leaders communicate in a united fashion.

There are definitely some commonalities amongst these 10 important steps.  You’ll notice that communication and education are at the heart of most of these points. 

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty out there.  More than almost any time in modern history now is the time to communicate.  All business owners should be advised to communicate with their customers, clients, suppliers, staff, and management team in a clear fashion.  Effective communication based around a consistent and logical message can help to reduce fear.  The fear sections of the brain are driven by our primordial ancestors’ dread of the unknown lurking in the darkness.  Part of being a good leader is to reduce those fears whenever possible. 

Another common thread is planning, which includes looking for new opportunities.  Whenever there is chaos and fear, there are also opportunities.  You should be looking for those opportunities, whether it is improving your own business practices or looking for other companies to buy.

Good communication and planning can help you navigate these choppy waters.  Planning for the recovery from COVID-19 pandemic could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.

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How to Make Remote Teams Accountable

One of the many, many changes that COVID-19 has ushered in is the extreme uptick in people working remotely.  Social distancing has made working from home a necessity for millions. 

The technology that is allowing remote working to take place has matured greatly in the last decade.  Today, it is possible for team members to work from virtually any location.  Of course, as with most technologies, there is a potential downside.  Accountability can become a significant challenge with remote workers.  Of course, the more remote workers you have at a given time, the greater the potential challenges will be. 

Many businesses are struggling with the phenomenon of remote working, as it is something new for them.  Under normal circumstances, large numbers of employees working remotely simply wouldn’t happen.  In a recent article, “The Right Way to Keep Your Remote Team Accountable,” author Elise Keith, Co-Founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings, explores the key steps businesses should take to help ensure that their employees stay on target while working from home.

Starting Slow

Keith believes that for remote working to be effective that there are 4 major mistakes that should be avoided.  One of the biggest mistakes that employers, especially those unfamiliar with remote work, make is that they demand too much productivity right out of the gate. 

She points out that remote teams can, in fact, be very productive and even outperform their in-office counterparts.  Summed up another way, remote work can be extremely productive.  Keith’s perspective is that businesses should “identify the highest priority tasks right now and relax the rest.”  Business owners need to remember that they are not the only ones under stress.  The simple and undeniable fact is that your employees are feeling the stress of COVID-19 as well.

Getting Good at Working Remotely

The second major mistake she points to is that people are assuming the current pandemic situation is temporary.  Other crises will occur in the future, and it makes sense to be prepared.  As she phrases it, why not “get good at working remotely?”  Teams with good remote working skills are proving to be rather resilient right now.

Being Open to Technology

A third mistake she points out is businesses shouldn’t disallow the use of non-approved tools.  In short, now is not the time to worry too much about what software tools people are using.  Instead, she suggests creating an expedited process for the adoption of new tools.  If your team finds a new tool that boosts productivity, you should consider buying it. 

She astutely points out, “Software costs pale when compared to the costs of lost opportunity.”  At the heart of this point is the fact that now, more than any time in decades, is the time to set aside restrictive thinking and become more open-minded and flexible.  After all, your number one goal, and the number one goal of your clients, is to stay in business until the pandemic has passed.

Staying Flexible

Keith’s fourth mistake centers on management’s design to dictate hours and response times.  Remote work is, by its nature, going to be more flexible.  Trying to micromanage every move digitally is simply not a savvy move and will hurt morale. 

Instead, she feels businesses should opt for having a daily meeting via phone or videoconference with the team.  Additionally, she puts forth the idea of having a one-on-one meeting with every team member as well.

For many businesses and many situations, remote work may be the “only game in town.”  Trying to carry on business as usual is only going to cause headaches for everyone.  Remote work can be highly effective for you, especially when used correctly.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Now is the Time for Focus

As of late April 2020, there is one thought at the forefront of the vast majority of businesses around the globe, namely, what steps do I need to take to stay in business until the COVID-19 pandemic is over or recedes?  There is no doubt about it, this is the “big question” of the day. 

The global economic structure hasn’t seen this much uncertainty since WWII, and some would argue that we’ve never seen this level of simultaneous global economic disruption.  Knowing what steps you need to take to keep your business up and running is of paramount importance. 

In short, business owners must be sure that their businesses are in good shape.  You should take every step possible to position yourself for when the economy is back up and running at full steam.  Right now, there is a degree of chaos and uncertainty, but this will not last.  As a business owner, you need to focus on getting your house in order.

Now is not a time to take a vacation.  Instead, you should be focused like never before on the inner workings of your business.  You should be striving to find ways to improve every single aspect.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  There is a real psychological hurdle, as for many people it seems as though everything has “stopped.”  While customers, clients, and staff interactions have been dramatically reduced, now is not the time for you to “check out” mentally and wait for things to get better.

Rarely, if ever, has it been more important for owners to invest as much of their time and energy as possible.  After all, as a business owner, you have already shown a great deal of drive and determination, as well as at least some level of out of the box thinking.  You have proven that you have what it takes to get through the recent challenges. 

Many will feel dejected right now.  But you should pool on the same skill sets that allowed you to create a successful business in the first place.  What obstacles did you overcome in life to create your business?  Was your business created during a prior economic downturn?  The odds are that you already have skill sets and strengths that will allow you to survive the fallout of COVID-19.

For business owners who truly want to survive the economic stress of the pandemic, ultimately, focus is key to survival.  The odds are excellent that there are revenue streams and different approaches that may have been overlooked.  Your job is to identify and then exploit those avenues.

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Questions for Helping Businesses Survive the COVID

Developing Your 90-Day Plan

Those who want to make sure their businesses survive this pandemic will want to achieve a laser-like focus.  It is important to realize that the forced downtime triggered by the pandemic affords you the opportunity to work on potentially neglected aspects of your business. 

Summed up another way, now is the time for dynamic and focused action.  In this article, we’ll address what you can do to help your business survive this unusual time period. 

Reevaluating Your Business

It’s time to step back and look at every aspect of your business, including your processes.  You should be encouraged to find new ways of doing things.  In short, now should be viewed as a time of opportunity to reboot your business.  That way when the pandemic has subsided, and your business picks up once more, it is more efficient, more effective, and more competitive.

Scott Bushkie, Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, recommended that business owners create 90-day plans where they look for ways to innovate.  This strategic plan should focus on what they are going to do and what they want to accomplish.  It is critical that there is an actual plan that achieves tangible results and not simply a list of things that should be accomplished.  Listed below are a few questions you should be pondering.

  1. How can I outperform the competition?
  2. How can I innovate?
  3. How can I increase my use of technology?
  4. How can I deliver my products and services in a different way?
  5. How can I reduce my operational costs?
  6. Have I reached out to my suppliers and creditors for assistance?
  7. Have I applied to applicable SBA COVID-19 focused programs?
  8. What do I want to accomplish in the next 90-days? 

It’s Time to Reboot

The main point is that businesses should not look at this pandemic situation as some sort of “miserable and stressful vacation,” but instead as an opportunity to reboot what is not working, and look for ways to make improvements in every aspect of your business.  This process begins by asking the right questions and striving to find the answers.

In answering these questions and finding ways to help boost your rates of survival, you should turn to every asset at your disposal.  Why not ask your management team as well as all of your employees for ideas that could help their business?  Everyone should understand that owners are looking for ways to keep their business healthy while navigating the pandemic.

Now is the time for reflection, short-term and long-term planning, and tangible actions.  Business owners should also consult with a range of business professionals, including, of course, business brokers and M&A Advisors.  Brokers are uniquely positioned to help business owners through this crisis.

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6 Tips and 90 Days to Protect Your Business

There can be no way around it, Inc. contributor Brian Hamilton’s April 2020 COVID-19 centered article, “6 Actions to Take in the Next 90 Days to Save Your Business,” isn’t pulling any punches.  Hamilton, Founder of the Brian Hamilton Foundation, believes that the next 90-days could be make or break days for business owners looking to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.  His latest Inc. article provides readers with 6 actions they should take now to survive the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tip #1 Vigorously Control What You Can

Hamilton’s first tip is to “Vigorously control what you can.  Vigorously ignore what you can’t control.”  As Hamilton points out, you can’t control the economy; instead, you need to focus on what you can control.  His view is that there has never been a more important time to focus, “More than ever, you’ll need to go to war with things within your control.”  Now is the time to exercise control.

Tip #2 Guard Morale

During tough economic times, employee morale can be a real issue.  This brings us to Hamilton’s second point, “guard employee morale.”  Significant drops in employee morale can lead to serious problems with your business, which is exactly what you don’t want to see right now.  Hamilton notes that you have to be the general that helps his or her troops rise above potential panic.

Tip #3 Preserve Cash

Hamilton’s third tip is to “preserve cash where you can.”  He states, “Right now, your motto should be: Live to fight another day.”  The pandemic means that you need to keep expenses down and watch every dollar.  No one knows what the next few months, or the next couple of years, could have in store.

Tip #4 Be First in Line

“Be first in line,” is Hamilton’s fourth point.  Hamilton wisely pushes business owners to be the first in line for government assistance.  This is very good advice, as SBA and other funds are likely to be limited.

Tip #5 Get Back to the Basics

Fifth, Hamilton recommends, “Get back to the basics…starting with monomaniacal customer service.”  As always, customers, whether existing or new, are the lifeblood of your business.  You can’t afford to lose customers now and for this reason, you need to have a laser-like focus on customer service. 

Tip #6 Pivot your Product or Service 

Hamilton’s sixth tip is to “Pivot your product or service to new conditions.”  Small changes to your business can open up new streams of revenue.  Even if these streams of revenue are comparatively small, they could mean the difference between sink or swim!  Try to step back and look at your business with fresh eyes and strive to find ways to offer something new to your customers.  Whatever you offer should be based on your existing goods and services and not require a new, large expenditure.

The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously disruptive, but it won’t last forever.  Hamilton’s advice of focusing intensely on the next 90 days is sound advice.  You won’t regret looking for ways to safeguard your business for the next 3 months.

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