The Sign Businesses For Sale Blog
Since one often hears the term “fair value” or “fair market value,” it would be easy to assume that “fairness opinion” means the same thing. A fairness opinion may be based to some degree on fair market value, but there the similarities end. Assume that you are president of a family business and the other members are not active in the business, but are stockholders; or you are president of a privately held company that has several investors/stockholders. The decision is made to sell the company; and you as president are charged with that responsibility. A buyer is found; the deal is set; it is ready to close — and, then, one of the minority stockholders comes out of the woodwork and claims the price is too low. Or, worse, the deal closes, then the minority stockholder decides to sue the president, which is you, claiming the selling price was too low. A fairness opinion may avoid this or protect you, the president, from any litigation.
A fairness opinion is a letter, usually only two to four pages, containing the factors or items considered, and a conclusion on the fairness of the selling price along with the usual caveats or limitations. These limitations usually cite that all the information on which the letter is based has been provided by others, the actual assets of the business have not been valued, and that the expert relied on information furnished by management.
This letter can be prepared by an expert in business valuation such as a business appraiser or business intermediary. The content of the fairness opinion letter is limited to establishing a fair price based on the opinion of the expert. It does not provide any comment or opinion on the deal itself or how it is structured; nor does it contain any recommendations on whether the deal should be accepted or rejected.
Fairness opinions are often used in the sale of public companies by the board of directors. It helps support the fact that the board is protecting the interests of the stockholders, at least as far as the selling price is concerned. In privately held companies, the fairness opinion will serve the same purpose if there are minority shareholders or family members who may elect to challenge the price the company is being sold for.
Placing a price on a privately-held company is usually more complex than placing a value, or a price, on a publicly-held company. There are many reasons for this fact, but one of the top reasons is that privately-held companies don’t have audited financial statements.
Why are Audited Financial Statements Lacking in Privately-Held Companies?
Preparing an audited financial statement is expensive and, as a result, many companies that have not gone public simply forego the expense. On the other hand, publicly held companies reveal much more information regarding their finances as well as a range of other kinds of information.
Compared to a privately-held company, a publicly held company can often seem like an “open book.” Buyers are left with the proposition of having to dig out a lot more information from a privately-held company in order to assess whether or not a valuation or price is accurate.
What Can You Do to Overcome this Factor?
You, as the seller, can help streamline this process. By having as much information available as possible and having your accountant make sure that your numbers are presented in a manner that is easy to understand and follow, you will increase your chances of selling your business.
Experts agree that there are several steps a seller of a privately-held company can make when he or she is establishing a price or a value. First, use an outside appraiser or expert to determine a value. Next, establish what your “go-to-market” price is. Third, know your “wish price.” A seller’s “wish price” is the price that he or she would ideally like to see. Finally, it is critical that sellers establish the lowest price that they are willing to take. You should know in advance how much you are willing to sell for as this can help a negotiation move along.
The Marketplace Will Ultimately Decide
It is common that the final sale price for the company be somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price established in advance by the seller. Yet, it is important to note, that on occasion a selling price may, in fact, be lower than any of the four we’ve outlined above. At the end of the day, the undeniable fact, is that the marketplace will establish the final sales price.
Here are a few of the areas that you can expect a buyer to review when establishing the price that he or she is willing to pay: stability of the market and stability of earnings, the potential of the market, product diversity, the size of the customer base, the number and seriousness of competitive threats, how broad the customer base is, the relationship with suppliers, the distribution network in place, needs for capital expenditures and other factors. The more favorable each of these points are, the more likely it is you’ll receive a higher price.
Are you looking for a way to perfect your presentation? Understanding what the typical serious buyer wants will help you get your business ready for selling.
Let’s turn our attention to looking at what these types of individuals and entities really want. After all, your time is precious.
1. An Interest in the Industry
First, prospective buyers will want to have a better understanding of your industry. Any serious buyer will want to understand the industry as a whole, as well as your existing customers, prospective customers and the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Key factors, such as threats from competition, will also be a major factor for prospective buyers.
2. Seeking Knowledge about Discretionary Costs
Secondly, expect buyers to take a long look at discretionary costs. Sellers will often look to reduce their expenses in a range of discretionary areas including advertising, research and development and public relations; this is done to help make a business appear more attractive to a buyer. However, it is important to note, that a savvy prospective buyer will notice reduction in discretionary expenses.
3. Inquiries about Wages and Salaries
Wages and salaries is another area that receives attention from buyers. If your business is paying minimum wage or offers a limited retirement program then employee turnover is likely to be high. Buyers may be concerned that employee stability may be low, which, of course, can potentially disrupt business.
4. Questions about Cash Flow and Inventory
No serious buyer will ignore the issue of cash flow. Any prospective buyer will want to know that the business they are considering buying will continue to generate profits both now and in the future.
Inventory is another area that will not be ignored. If your business is carrying a large amount of antiquated, unsalable or simply unusable inventory, then expect that to be factored into a prospective buyer’s decision-making process. It is best to disclose such inventory instead of hiding it, as it will be discovered during due diligence.
5. Seeking Capital Expenditure Details
Finally, capital expenditures will be examined by buyers. You can expect buyers to carefully evaluate machinery and equipment to ensure that there will be no expensive surprises looming on the horizon.
These give areas are definitely not the only areas that buyers will explore and investigate. Everything from financial agreements and environmental concerns to government control will be examined in depth. You should invest some time thinking about the situation from the perspective of a buyer, as this will help you discover many potential problems and try to secure viable workarounds. Working closely with a business broker is another way to ensure that you can successfully anticipate the needs of buyers.