No one likes to think about the deals that didn’t succeed. However, the fact of the matter is that sometimes things go wrong during the process and a sale doesn’t successfully close. We have pinpointed the most common reasons why this happens into three main categories. By understanding the issues that can prevent a deal from finalizing, we are able to dramatically maximize the odds of success for clients.
1. Issues with the Seller
If a seller lacks a strong reason for wanting to sell his or her business, that seller is often unable to be flexible on the terms of a deal. As a result, when complexities arise during the sales process, the seller doesn’t have the patience, commitment and/or stamina to work to overcome those issues. In many cases, a seller has presented an unrealistic price for the business and simply cannot be realistic about the true value the business will sell for on the market. Another common issue that arises with sellers is that they are not fully transparent with the potential buyer. For example, they might be neglecting to mention serious problems with the business, such as new competition on the horizon.
2. Issues with the Buyer
Just like circumstances surrounding the seller may interfere with the sale of a business, the same is true for buyers. In some cases, the buyer is just mildly interested in being a business owner. As a result, he or she doesn’t have the wherewithal to continue on and navigate the complexities that can arise during the stages leading up to a successful deal. There are other issues that often pop up with buyers as well. For example, they also may have unrealistic expectations regarding price. Some buyers are not willing to pay the fair market value for a given business. In other cases, once they find out the amount of work that will be required to make the business successful, they are unmotivated to continue.
3. Third Party Interference
In some instances, there is no issue regarding the buyer or seller. Instead, it is a third party that interferes. An example of this would be a landlord being unwilling to transfer a lease or grant a new one. Or unexpected issues with the federal or local government could cause problems. Another problem that involves a third party occurs when outside advisors, such as attorneys, overlook the fact that the goal is to put together a deal that will work. Instead, they get so caught up in protecting the best interests of their clients that they erect too many roadblocks for a deal to succeed. These types of problems are often completely unexpected by either the buyer or seller.
It is hard to argue with the fact that if a buyer isn’t really committed to selling, perhaps it is not the best choice for them in the long run. The good news is that if potential problems are handled at the appropriate stage of the deal, most business deals do come to a successful conclusion. Business brokers and M&A advisors are specialists when it comes to resolving and circumventing potential issues.
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Most business owners don’t give a second thought to the idea of going to the doctor for an annual physical. So why do they not give the same level of care and consideration to their company? The fact of the matter is that many executives literally go decades without giving their companies a “physical.” They only stop to truly evaluate their business when required by regulations or another matter forcing them to do so.
Consider an Annual Valuation
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why business owners should get an annual valuation. The first issue concerns the curveballs life often throws at us. At any given time, you and your business could be unexpectedly hit with everything from partnership issues or life changes like a divorce to changes in bank relationships. When you keep careful track of the value of your business, you will know in advance how potential changes would affect you. Perhaps even more importantly, you will gain an understanding of the health of your business.
Monitor Business Growth
It’s critical to be aware of how your business compares from one year to the next. Are values definitely increasing? If not, you would surely want to know immediately and start making necessary adjustments. If a major problem were to surface, you would want to know about it right away so that you can take action. Otherwise, you might just let the years pass you by while this issue goes unchecked. This is the kind of data you will gain when you commit to regular valuations.
Be Prepared for the Unknown
You might feel far from ready to sell. However, you should always be ready if the situation does present itself. What if an amazing opportunity showed up on your doorstep? On the flip side of the coin, what if a life issue like illness put you in a situation where a sale was suddenly necessary? If you are not ready both mentally and with the necessary paperwork for your business prepared, you might miss out on a legitimate opportunity.
Statistics gathered from a prominent accounting firm showed that 65% of business owners do not know what their company is worth. However, at the same time 75% of the net worth of these business owners is tied up in their business. The problem with these statistics is quickly evident. Be sure to take as good of care of your business as you would take of yourself.
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When you’re in the process of buying a business, it’s important to stay logical. No matter how good the opportunity may seem at first glance, be sure to carefully evaluate the business in a step-by-step manner. Regardless of how excited you might be about the prospect of ownership; you’ll want to have your guard up when you go through the due diligence process. Let’s take a look at 5 of the most important questions to ask yourself before signing on the dotted line.
1. Do you have a personal interest in the business?
Needless to say, owners have made businesses successfully thrive even if they lack a personal interest in what is being sold. However, you might want to stop and ask yourself if you do indeed have a passion for the goods or services offered by the business in question. If you are uninterested, you may find it harder to make a long-time commitment.
2. What is the business plan like?
It’s helpful to see the goals of the current owner and evaluate which of these goals have actually been achieved. If there is no business plan, this should give you pause.
3. How does the business perform?
Take a look at the business’s overall performance. Do you get the feeling that the business requires many hours of intensive work from the owner? If so, remember that this owner putting in all of those hours could be you in the near future. Is there a reliable manager to oversee operations in your absence?
4. What are the demographics?
Who are the key customers? Are there several main accounts that the business depends upon or a wide variety of customers and clients? Needless to say, if the business relies on just a few key accounts, this could be problematic if things were to change. Further, do you see a clear way to add new customers in the future? Before you buy a business, you’ll want to feel confident that you can help it thrive and grow.
5. Are you satisfied with the financials?
Once you’ve successfully signed the necessary written agreements, you’ll want to take a deep dive into the business’s financials. Make sure that everything has been provided including:
- Tax returns
- Profit and loss statements
- Balance sheets
- Bank statements
The bottom line is that you will want to be careful when purchasing a business and watch for any red flags. The last thing you want is to make a hasty decision that you regret later on.
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Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a business owner like a legal mistake. The best way to ensure that you will avoid serious legal issues is to work with a trusted and experienced team. Otherwise, it’s easy to accidentally miss necessary steps.
When you’re selling a business, there are a lot of moving pieces, and that means that there are ample opportunities for things to go wrong. It’s always best to be prepared. When mistakes are made, it can not only mean a significant expenditure of your time, but also your money. These kinds of issues can also bring your sales process to a total halt and perhaps derail your deal completely.
There are more than a few sellers who overlooked the importance of working with an attorney. When you are selling a business, it should come as no surprise that there is a great deal of paperwork. Your attorney will guide you to make sure that all necessary preparations have been made from a legal perspective. When your prospective buyer sees that your legal “ducks are in a row,” he or she will feel more confident in your organization and level of professionalism.
One document that often is skipped is the Letter of Intent (LOI). Sellers assume that things will move along more quickly if they forego this document. Keep in mind that the LOI truly has its place in almost any deal. After all, it not only outlines both parties’ expectations in writing, it also works to protect your best interests. Once projective buyers have signed this document, it proves they are serious about the deal. That means it is not so easy for them to walk away without consequences.
What if your deal falls through completely? Will your buyer then reveal to the public that your business was for sale and even the potential terms that were on the table? This could indeed occur if you were not backed up by an NDA. Don’t skip this very important document either. Your business broker or M&A advisor will be very well acquainted with NDAs and guide you in the best way possible.
Warding off these kinds of issues is one great reason to be equipped with a small team of professionals to turn to for advice. This team should include your business broker or M&A advisor, accountant, and attorney.
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The buyer loves your business; it’s just what he or she has been looking for. He has reviewed your financial statements and has made an offer contingent on several items. You’ve reviewed the offer and it looks fine, so what’s next? The contingencies in the deal mean that the buyer or his or her advisors have some concerns. In larger deals, this process might be called due diligence. However, in the smaller business sale, the items of concern are usually spelled out as opposed to a general review of everything. The reason for this is that larger businesses or companies have a lot more areas of concern than the typical smaller business.
Most contingencies concern the review of financial statements and/or business tax returns. Others may involve lease issues, the seller staying on for a set period of time, or some very specific issue such as repaving the parking lot, if the landlord won’t or isn’t required to.
Unfortunately, some contingencies may be hiding other ones such as a list of fixtures and equipment included in the sale. Sounds easy on the surface, but the seller forgot that two pieces of equipment currently not in use need repair or the walnut desk in the office belongs to Grandfather Smith and is not included. Or, while reviewing the lease, the buyer discovers that the landlord requires that the business must close by 9:00 PM or some other restriction applies and was not disclosed. Deals have fallen apart over similar issues.
Most contingency problems can be resolved prior to the business being placed on the market. The seller should do all of the following:
- Check the status of all furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). Remove any that are not included in the sale or are inoperable if not in use – or make repairs.
- Review any contract such as the lease, any equipment leases, and contracts that will be assumed by the buyer. Make sure there aren’t “clinkers” in them. If there are, disclose them to a potential buyer out front – and be sure your business intermediary is also aware of them.
- Be prepared to answer questions such as:
- Are there any environmental, governmental or legal issues?
- How long will you be willing to stay and work with a new buyer – at no cost?
- Will the employees stay?
- Why was last year the worst one in years?
- Why was last year the best one in years?
The list could go on and on, but sellers need to be ready. Buyers don’t like surprises. A business broker professional knows the process like a book and can be invaluable in preparing the business for the marketplace.
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Are you thinking of transferring your business to a family member? This occurrence is fairly common, especially among small businesses. Here are some considerations that will help with your planning and decision making.
Do You Have a Good Contract?
Sometimes close family members are tempted to skip a contract, but it’s always a mistake not to have things in writing. When you create a buy-sell agreement, it helps keep things clear between the parties involved. Make sure that your documentation is thorough. It should cover a wide variety of details including the amount being paid, your continued involvement, and the business value.
Does Your Family Member Need Financing?
When it comes to selling businesses to family members, seller financing is common. You could even consider agreeing to a private annuity. This will allow payments to be spread out over many years. One benefit to providing financing assistance is that you will receive a steady stream of income along with interest on the loan as well.
You could also consider a self-cancelling clause on your installment note. This would allow debt to attach to your will in case of your untimely passing before the payments were complete.
Are You Selling or Gifting Your Business?
Gifting a business takes place more often than you might think, due to the tax benefits involved. Also, when you gift a business, you can still maintain some level of control.
The federal gift tax exemption changes every year. In 2022, the annual gift tax exclusion is $16,000. The lifetime gift exemption limit is $12 million. While you may owe some federal gift taxes if the amounts exceed the exemption limits, the good news is that after you have transferred your business, any future growth of the business won’t affect your financials.
Is Everything Accurate?
Unfortunately, many business owners have acted unethically when it comes to transferring their business to their family members. As a result, the IRS tends to give this kind of transaction extra scrutiny. You will want to ensure that all your paperwork is in proper order and highly accurate.
You may very well want to hire the services of a lawyer and accountant to assist you with this matter. Of course, a business broker or M&A advisor will also help you with the details of this agreement and figuring out what benefits you and your family members.
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There have been countless instances when someone has gone into business with a relative or close friend and made the mistake of skipping a formal agreement. No matter how good a friend may be, you will always want to get the terms of the partnership in writing. A partnership agreement is a vitally important document that is designed to protect all parties. It will reduce the possibility for disagreements or misunderstandings down the line. When you make sure you have everything documented legally, it will greatly serve you and your partner(s).
Building Your Partnership Agreement
Your partnership agreement should first and foremost address the general rules of the partnership. This means it should cover who owns what, and how you will handle profits and losses. It should cover the basics of issues that may seem obvious, such as what are each partner’s roles and duties. And it should also address the details pertaining to resolving small potential problems that you may never expect to actually arise.
A good part of your partnership agreement should address issues related to money. As you can imagine, misunderstandings about earnings can quickly become huge disagreements if the details are not plainly stated in writing. On a very practical level, you’ll want your document to cover what percentage of earnings both you and your partner will receive. You will even want to go into detail about how money is distributed. What if money is required to keep the business operational and thriving? You’ll want to cover the details of who will contribute any necessary funds and how this will be handled.
Another decision you’ll want to make now will cover the nature of decisions themselves. For example, how will you make business decisions? Is it a vote, and if so, how does that vote work? You can also include other situations that could arise, such as what happens in the instance of the unfortunate death of one of the owners? What happens if you decide to bring in an additional partner or partners?
Getting Assistance with Your Legal Documents
While it might seem possible to create your partnership agreement on your own, the best thing you can do is hire a competent professional to help you. That way you’ll know that your partnership agreement is written in the most accurate way possible.
When you have this document established, you can proceed with your partnership with confidence that any potential problems down the line are addressed. It may take some extra time and consideration now, but in the long run, you’ll be able to run your business smoothly and more efficiently. The fact of the matter is that if you address everything now in a partnership agreement, it will benefit your business for years to come.
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When one sells their house, the best deal is usually the highest price. When one decides to sell their business, there may be other factors to consider. Many buyers are similar to the “overlooked” buyer described below, serious and qualified; and most sales of businesses are win-win transactions. However, there are a few exceptions, and sellers should consider them carefully, balancing their prerequisites to the goals of the buyer.
Selling to a Competitor – Many company owners think this is the best way to go. They read about the mega-mergers such as Bank of America and Fleet bank, or the pending deals such as Federated and the May Company Department Stores, and U.S. Air and American West. Consolidation may play a major role in large public companies; this is not the case in middle market companies.
Many owners of middle market firms look at these mega-deals and think it might work for them. However, upon further consideration, they realize that by disclosing a lot of confidential information to a competitor, their business could suffer irreparable damage if the deal would fall apart – and many do.
Selling to a Strategic Acquirer – This may bring the highest price, but there are several reasons why this may not be in the company’s best interest. Many owners have worked with key employees for years and would not like to see them replaced. The strategic owner might not only replace members of management, but might also move the company to another part of the country.
Selling to a Financial Buyer – This buyer may not be willing to pay the seller’s price and is usually buying a company with intentions of selling it at a profit in three to five years. This leaves the company and its employees in limbo waiting for a new owner to take over.
Other Buyers – The employees may decide to buy the company (ESOP). However, this usually means a long-term payout for the owner. An individual buyer may come along such as a Warren Buffett, but what are the chances? A key member or members of management might decide to purchase the company, but generally they won’t pay the price. If a sale is not consummated, the key management member(s) will most likely leave.
The “Overlooked” Buyer – There are many individuals who want to own their own company. They might be former executives of major companies who want to do something on their own. Some buyers have access to large amounts of investment capital. There are many qualified individual buyers in the market place. Russ Robb, the editor of a leading M& A newsletter, M&A Today, has written a book, Buying Your Own Business, for those individuals interested in buying their own company. This book has sold over 20,000 copies, which indicates the large number of people who are interested in buying a company.
There Is No Magic Answer – Selling a company comes with no guarantees. When Badger Meter Company, a public company headquartered in Milwaukee, acquired Data Industrial Corporation based in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, this appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. Their respective product lines fit like a glove, their corporate cultures seemed compatible, and sales expansion by cross-selling was evident.
This strategic acquisition would have been fine except for one change. The parent company moved Data Industrial’s operation to Kansas, and every employee’s job was terminated. However, one should not construe that all acquisitions by strategic or competitive acquirers end up in a similar fate. Furthermore, for price considerations, the seller can draft restrictions in the Purchase & Sale agreement to prevent the transfer of the business, at least for a specified time period.
Certainly selling to the overlooked type buyer doesn’t guarantee all of the seller’s concerns, but knowing the interests of some of the various buyer types can help insure that the goals of both buyer and seller are met. Sellers should determine their goals prior to attempting to sell their business. A consultation with a professional intermediary is a good start to this process.
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Have you been thinking that business ownership is for you? Many people are committed to the idea of owning a business and work hard to pursue this goal. Of course, the path towards buying a business is indeed complicated and requires a significant investment of not only money but also time. As a result, you’ll want to ensure that you are fully committed to business ownership before beginning the process. Let’s take a look at some common reasons why individuals choose to buy a business.
Desire to Grow Your Income
Most people will say that they would like to make more money. However, keep in mind that while owning a business will likely mean you grow your income, it also requires a significant amount of work, especially in the early stages.
Research shows that the longer you own your business, the more profits you will generate. Those who have owned their business for more than a decade will typically earn more than 100K a year. Of course, owning a business always comes with a degree of financial risk, but if you do successfully run your company for a series of years, you will likely succeed financially. Just be prepared for the possibility that the first few years may not generate as much income as you had hoped.
On the positive side, owning your own business allows you to have control over your financial destiny. You have the ability to make decisions that will grow your business
Interest in Shaping Your Lifestyle
When you work for someone else’s business, the way your life is organized is dictated by the rules and regulations of the company. For example, you may want to work at home, but your job requires you to spend 40 hours a week in the office.
If you want to make key decisions that impact your day-to-day life, owning a business will be quite attractive to you. You will be able to decide not only where you work, but also how many hours you work and with whom you work. You have the power and ability to shape many aspects of not only your life, but the life of your employees as well.
You are Willing to Take on Some Risk
The personality of a typical business owner is a person who is comfortable with taking on some risks. After all, not all businesses succeed. At some level, you are always risking your time, money, and energy. Of course, this aspect will vary dramatically depending on the kind of business you acquire.
It is also important to consider that many business owners find that they are working around the clock. They simply cannot go home and forget about their job at the end of the day. In sharp contrast, they are always on call and actively thinking about their business and relevant decisions. You also may not get a paid vacation or sick days.
Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute studied the ideal personality traits for a business owner and found that successful owners are action oriented, curious, self-fulfilled, tech-savvy, and future focused. They surveyed over 1,000 small businesses to generate this data. If you resonate with these traits, it is likely you are indeed cut out to own a business.
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Many people assume they know what “fairness opinion” means because they are familiar with the term “fair market value.” Fair market value refers to a price that is reasonable for both a buyer and seller in an open and competitive market. However, a fairness opinion is quite different. This term refers to a report that evaluates the facts of a merger or acquisition or any other type of business purchase.
A fairness opinion is typically in the form of a letter that contains an actual opinion and justification of why a selling price is fair. Of course, there are limitations, as this report is fully based on information that has been provided by the management of the business.
Who Prepares a Fairness Opinion?
A fairness opinion must be prepared by a professional with expertise in business valuation. It is typically done by a business intermediary or appraiser. An investment banker can also prepare a fairness opinion. Although the professional who prepares the fairness opinion may very well have experience in structuring deals, this letter does not include any information or opinion on the deal itself. It also doesn’t include advice or recommendation. In preparing the report, the advisor seeks to look at the deal from the perspective of the investors.
Basically, it is structured to specifically comment on fairness from a financial perspective, based on the information on hand.
Who Uses Fairness Opinions?
You will most frequently see fairness opinions utilized in the sale of public companies by the board of directors. When this document is received, it shows that the board is working to protect the shareholders. Of course, fairness opinions can also be used for private companies. In this case, it can serve to protect the interest of shareholders or family members who may later look to challenge the sales price. However, in most situations that involve middle market private acquisitions, a fairness opinion is not necessary.
In the end, a fairness opinion assists with communication and decision-making. It serves to lower the risks surrounding a deal. This important document can be used in court if a shareholder later decides to file a lawsuit against the director of a company.
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